Category: Mad Men

'Mad Men' Q&A: Jared Harris on Lane's tragic episode

Jared Harris stars as Lane Pryce in "Mad Men."

[Warning: Spoilers ahead!]

In Sunday night's episode of "Mad Men," beleaguered partner Lane Pryce, facing financial and professional ruin, took his life in a suicide that is likely to have a devastating impact on the agency. Via telephone from London, the veteran actor Jared Harris spoke to Show Tracker about Lane's untimely demise, how series creator Matthew Weiner broke the news to him, and what it's like to film his own death. 

You must be doing a lot of talking today.

Just in the last hour or so. But I haven’t seen the episode yet.

They don’t send you screeners?

No, gosh, no.

So you haven’t seen yourself dead yet?

I saw it in the makeup trailer. That was me, what happened on that was me, we did some makeup tests. They did the makeup and I put a brown paper bag over my head and an umbrella so no one could know what I looked like. I went round the back, they hung me from the harness, and brought the actors over so their reaction is the first time they saw me.

Was that difficult for you to film?

For me I had to resist the temptation to sort of burst into song. I wanted to sit there and go, “Always look on the bright side of life.” You know?  

Is it a relief for the secret to be out of the bag? 

It is. I kept it secret from just about everybody, my agents, my managers. Matt [Weiner] very kindly made it possible for me to go and shoot this Spielberg film, “Lincoln,” while I was shooting those last three episodes. And he made it possible for me to do the press tour of “Sherlock Holmes” that was happening at the same time. Part of the understanding then was I would not go up for any of the new-season pilots because obviously then if I was under contract to a new show, people would realize something had happened. There was a very deliberate attempt to make sure it did not get out. I understood that from my point of view, it would obviously be beneficial to me if it was as big a surprise as possible.

Did Matthew Weiner warn you that this might be coming, or did you just find out when you read the script?

He told me after the Episode 10 read-through. After every read-through, he says to everyone, “Don’t run away, hang around, this is my last chance to talk to you.” He was working his way around the room, giving people notes. He kept on leaving me for last, and then once he spoke to everybody he said come up to my office. Now that is a bad sign. Then he offered me really expensive brandy. That was my second bad sign. And then he said, "I’ve got something to tell you." And I went, “Uh-oh.” And he went, “Yeah...”

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'Mad Men' recap: 'A moment before you need more happiness'

Mad Men Don Lane

The specter of death has loomed over “Mad Men” from the very beginning of Season 5, and now we know why. Despondent over the discovery of his embezzlement and facing almost certain financial ruin, Lane decides to take his own life. Though it’s not as thematically unified as last week’s “The Other Woman,” “Commissions and Fees” is all about life passages: While Lane is dying, Sally and Glen are moving into adulthood. As the title suggests, the episode also explores a question that has lately become central to “Mad Men”: What price are we willing to pay for success?

By my count, Lane’s suicide is the third tragedy to befall the agency during business hours. Two seasons ago, there was the maiming of Lane’s nemesis — and fellow Englishman -- Guy Mackendrick. Then came the unceremonious death of Miss Blankenship near the end of last season. By now, you might think the employees of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce would be inured to this kind of human suffering in their midst, but no: Even the weasely Pete Campbell, who was far from friendly with Lane, is stunned and upset by the news. 

For the viewer, however, Lane’s demise was somewhat less shocking. His storyline was forced to the back burner for most of this rather crowded season, but Lane came back with a vengeance two weeks ago in “The Christmas Waltz.” At the time, I complained that Lane’s financial crisis was overly manufactured, and I still believe it was. His scheme was transparently stupid, to be sure, but the basic impulse wasn’t entirely out of keeping with what we know of Lane, a man who will do anything to preserve his dignity. From the moment he forged Don’s signature, we all knew this wasn’t going to end well for poor old Lane.

If anything, it’s something of a miracle that it’s taken so long for Lane’s malfeasance to come to light (it’s also odd that Bert Cooper, and not Joan or Scarlet, is the first person to notice the check). Bert assumes that Don went behind the backs of the other partners and gave Lane a bonus. It’s a convenient assumption, one that allows Don to quietly ask Lane for his resignation without anyone being the wiser. The scene is wrenching, not quite as devastating as Peggy’s farewell last week but difficult to watch nonetheless. When Don asks why Lane didn’t just ask for the money -– an entirely reasonable question –- Lane’s explanation speaks multitudes: “Why suffer the humiliation for a 13-day loan?”

Though Lane’s excuses are not terribly convincing, it’s hard not to sympathize with him somewhat. “I have never been compensated for my contributions to this company,” he complains, his sense of entitlement no doubt inflated by his appointment to the 4A’s financial committee earlier that day. While Lane was dutifully tending to the company’s books, Roger was busy taking three-martini lunches, napping in his office and bungling the Lucky Strikes account -– a screw-up almost as egregious and far more destructive than Lane’s. Can you blame the guy for getting mad? 

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'Mad Men' recap: A woman's worth

In this week's episode of "Mad Men," Joan and Peggy each learn the hard way exactly what they're worth
You know you've got a dramatic "Mad Men" when Peggy leaves the agency and it’s only the second most stunning thing that happens in the episode. In "The Other Woman," Joan finally gets the partnership she's long deserved but she has to pay an almost unimaginable price to make it happen. Meanwhile, Peggy makes the painful decision to leave Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce -- or should I say Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Harris? -- because someone else is willing to pay her what she's actually worth.

The episode's title is, of course, an allusion to the misogynist Jaguar pitch, and to Joan's degrading but profitable tryst with the repellent Herb Rennet -- a character so thoroughly vile he's named after the gunk they use to make cheese. But to me, it also hints at the stark contrast between Peggy and Joan, two characters who have so very much in common yet, when it comes down to it, are playing by diametrically opposite rules.

Joan, a woman whose considerable business savvy will always be secondary to her sex appeal, represents the endgame of the pre-feminist playbook. She's essential, but she'll always be devalued because she does "women's work." Peggy is every bit as competent as Joan, but she's a creative and therefore gets ahead by effectively neutering herself -- by dressing like a boy and tossing back whiskey like it's water.

Both women grapple with the same question in "The Other Woman" -- just how much am I worth? -- but they come up with completely different answers. This may be the saddest thing in one of the saddest episodes of "Mad Men" I can recall: Despite their shared experiences, there's a gulf between Peggy and Joan that can never quite be bridged.

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Joan has long been one of my favorite characters on "Mad Men" because of her tragic mix of confidence and vulnerability. When I think of the most poignant moments in the history of the series, I inevitably go back to Joan -- to her brief tenure as a script reader, to that heartbreaking accordion performance, to the time her fiance raped her on the floor of Don Draper's office.

But Joan beats her own record in "The Other Woman" by agreeing to sleep with Herb in exchange for a 5% stake in the agency. Like Lane's miraculous back taxes from last week, it's a plot development that feels schematic and rather contrived. (It reminds me of nothing so much as "Indecent Proposal.") It's hardly subtle, but it's also in keeping with the blunt direction the series has taken this season. Joan has always used her sexuality to get ahead, but now she's literally sleeping her way to the top.

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'Mad Men' recap: 'Money solves today but not tomorrow'

Harry Paul Mad Men

In its fifth season, “Mad Men” has taken some big risks. The most noticeable change to the series is its shift to a more obvious style of storytelling. Mostly gone is the inscrutability that made the series, in its first three seasons, such a maddening pleasure to watch. Now “Mad Men” is rife with portentous symbols like toxic fog and empty elevator shafts, and the overall tone is more Gothic than brooding. I like to think that these changes are intentional, that the higher emotional register is Matthew Weiner’s way of dealing with the turbulent era we’re moving in to. In several episodes, like the wonderfully unsettling “Far Away Places,” this approach has worked beautifully.

“The Christmas Waltz” is another thing entirely. It’s an episode of “Mad Men” that’s almost totally lacking in subtlety: The Lane plot is transparent and soapy; the long-awaited reappearance of Paul Kinsey as a Hare Krishna provides an easy joke about the counterculture; and even Don’s growing rift with Megan feels contrived. While I recognize that the real purpose of “The Christmas Waltz” is to set up the narrative for the remaining three episodes — it doesn’t take a genius to realize that Lane’s actions are going to have some terrible consequences for him and possibly the agency too — but it all feels rather clumsy and needlessly cynical. To put it bluntly, this is probably my least favorite episode of the season so far. Though I appreciate most of the chances “Mad Men” has taken this year, there is one truly risky thing the show hasn’t, and probably never will, do: allow any of its characters to be happy. Now that would be something, wouldn’t it?

It’s been a very long time since we last saw Lane — he’s one of several supporting characters whose thread has gotten lost this season — which perhaps makes his story feel more manufactured than it already does. In the opening scene, we’re parachuted into the middle of his crisis, as he surreptitiously takes a late-night phone call from his lawyer. Lane owes $8,000 in back taxes to the British government, and he has two days (!) to pay up. Yes, there were hints earlier this season that Lane was under some financial strain, but this twist still feels like it came out of a grab bag of dusty old plot devices.

As desperate and proud as Lane is, it’s hard to believe he’d pull something as transparent as taking out a new line of credit, lying to his fellow partners about the agency’s profits and then forging a check to himself. And where was Joan for all this? Lane intentionally doesn’t invite her to the partners’ meeting, but it’s not like she wasn’t in the office when all of this was going down. “Mad Men” is rarely the kind of show that I feel the need to nitpick, which is why the holes in this story feel almost egregious. Even still, I do feel some sympathy for poor Lane. I give credit for this to Jared Harris, who lends his character a tragic dignity. It's all very manipulative, and yet I do feel for him in the end. I'm rooting for a miracle.

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'Mad Men' recap: 'Every man for himself'

Betty Megan Mad Men

“Dark Shadows” is an episode of “Mad Men” that is deceptive in its simplicity: Because nothing terribly dramatic happens, it’s easy to overlook just what a complex and meticulously plotted hour of television it really is. While it’s fairly obvious that this episode is all about rivalries — Betty versus Megan, Peggy and Don versus Ginsberg, Roger versus Pete — what’s really impressive about “Dark Shadows” is how these seemingly isolated feuds feed off one another, creating a toxic web of resentment and jealousy. Series creator Matthew Weiner has a habit of crafting lines of dialogue that point to broader thematic concerns. Last season, there was Henry’s warning to Betty: “There is no fresh start”; this time around, as Weiner himself suggested in an interview just before the season premiere, it’s Roger who acts as a sage when he tells Peggy, “It’s every man for himself.”

At the risk of being pelted with rotten tomatoes, I must say I’m thrilled to have Betty back. While she’s far from the most sympathetic character on “Mad Men,” Betty is, I think, a vital part of the series. I strenuously object to the idea, espoused by many fans, that Betty is somehow superfluous because she’s no longer married to Don. As the quintessential Unhappy Housewife, she represents millions of women of her era. But more specifically, she also still has has a very potent effect on her children and, by extension, her ex-husband and his new wife. To quote Megan, Betty is still capable of poisoning them from 50 miles away, which means she's still very much a part of the "Mad Men" story.

Since we last saw her, Betty has adopted a strict diet routine and managed to shed a few pounds. She’s even gained a modicum of self-awareness, which, for Betty, represents an enormous step forward. Her weekly Weight Watchers meetings have done more to boost Betty’s emotional intelligence than her various stints in therapy, and she’s conscious, in a way that we’ve never seen before, of the link between her unhappiness and her various bad habits.

But just as Betty appears to be evolving, she reverts to her favorite form of emotional release — the spiteful act of sabotage. (Her second-favorite: surreptitious mouthfuls of canned whipped cream.) It’s something we’ve seen time and time again from Betty, first when she orchestrated an affair between Arthur and Sara Beth, and more recently when she fired Carla out of misdirected anger toward Glen. This time around, though, it’s Sally who becomes a pawn in her mother’s juvenile act of vengeance.

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Critic's Notebook: Of 'Mad Men' and a long-lost Beatles cartoon

Jon Hamm as Don Draper
In what must be the most talked-about licensing of a song in television history, "Mad Men" ended its Sunday episode with "Tomorrow Never Knows," the last track on the 1966 Beatles album "Revolver." Acquired for a reported $250,000, this track -- which Depression-child Don Draper, listening at home on the suggestion of his young wife, takes off halfway through -- capped an hour that played, like the song, with themes of death and transfiguration, being and nothingness. (The episode took its title, "Lady Lazarus," from a Sylvia Plath poem about suicide.)

A quarter of a million dollars is a lot of money to pay for a song, you might reasonably think -- the hour also had the ad men discussing cheaper alternatives to licensing a track from the Beatles -- but one can see why creator Matt Weiner, who also wrote the episode, found it necessary: Even as psychedelia, "Tomorrow Never Knows" resists nostalgia; no other track on "Revolver," or any contemporaneous recording, would have said so well that the world had changed or betokened the historical moment's combination of existential ecstasy and dread. With its insistent, jagged drum pattern, its dropped-in tape loops, pedaling bass and oceanic C major drone, it is a blast from the future; formally, it has more to do with millennial electronica than with the pop music of its time, or, indeed, anything else the Beatles would record.

This was not, however, the first time, the song was used in a TV show. Back when the Fab Four were not even halfway through their recording career, they licensed their images and catalog to an American cartoon series, "The Beatles." (The mind reels, a little.) It had already been airing for a year, Saturday mornings on ABC, when "Revolver" was released. With speaking voices performed by Paul Frees (the voice of Boris Badenov, Ludwig von Drake and Disney's Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean rides) and British actor Lance Percival, the animated moptops enjoy brief Hope & Crosby/Bowery Boys-type adventures, each thematically linked (by a hair) to a Beatles song, make fun of Ringo's nose and are chased by girls.

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'Mad Men' recap: A little something on the side

Mad Men Don Peggy Ken Cool Whip

I’m going to start this week’s recap with a provocative question: Is Pete Campbell going to kill himself? While I'm not the first person to suggest this theory, I nevertheless find it increasingly compelling, especially after this week’s episode, “Lady Lazarus.”

Let’s count the clues, shall we? First, there’s the cryptic title, borrowed from a poem by Sylvia Plath, who famously died by her own hand. Then there’s the fact that Pete’s entire storyline this week revolves around his life insurance policy, and his bizarrely chipper reference to the suicide coverage in his current plan (“After two years, it covers suicide!” he says). Clearly, this is a man who’s been thinking about his own death, and isn’t entirely uncomfortable with the idea.

And, oh yeah, Pete is also totally miserable. The latest incarnation of his malaise is a brief assignation with Beth, the similarly unhappy wife of Howard, his life-insurance-shilling train buddy. Her motives are, at best, mysterious. There’s a sense that she’s getting back at Howard for his various infidelities — a la Betty and that handsome young guy in the bar way back in Season 2 — but whatever’s driving her, she’s not interested in an ongoing affair. Pete, however, gets carried away by the promise of hot sex without the tedious routine of marital life.

While it’s not the most groundbreaking development —a man bored by marriage? Well, I never! — what’s interesting is how Pete chooses to deal with these feelings. Rather than looking inward, he sees himself as the powerless victim of the mercurial, domineering women in his life — Beth, Trudy, and no doubt Peggy, too. “Why do they get to decide what’s going to happen?” he asks Harry in a terrific scene. This sentiment is astonishing, really, given how Pete is prone to taking what he wants from women, with or without their consent. But what matters isn’t reality, it’s Pete’s perception of it and, of course, how he chooses to deal with it. The specter of Pete’s death is so overwhelming at this point, it almost makes me think it won’t happen for this very reason, but then how else can he put a stop to the misery?

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AMC picks up 'Low Winter Sun,' LaGravenese-Goldwyn project

 

Lowwint

 

The network of "Mad Men" is feeling criminal.

AMC has given pilot orders for "Low Winter Sun," a crime drama based on a dark British miniseries, as well as a new legally themed show from Hollywood veterans Richard LaGravenese and Tony Goldwyn, according to people familiar with the projects who were not authorized to talk about them publicly.

Though both shows are only pilots at this point, there's a strong likelihood they'll end up on the network: AMC has never produced a pilot that it didn't later pick up to series. The new shows could be on the air by the end of next year.

"Cold Case" veteran Chris Mundy will act as writer, executive producer and show runner for "Sun," which examines corruption and revenge among police forces. Relocated from the U.K. to Detroit, it centers on a detective who kills a fellow cop, and the fallout and drama that ensues from that murder.

Produced by a subsidiary of the Dutch television giant Endemol, the original starred Mark Strong as the murderous detective and hit the airwaves six years ago in the United Kingdom, where it scored a BAFTA TV nomination for best drama. Endemol will co-produce the American version with AMC.

The as-yet-untitled LaGravenese/Goldwyn show is an original concept that will center on a district attorney who, when new edvidence comes to light years after the fact, reopens a high-profile murder case involving white defendants and black victims. The show, which will be produced by AMC, is expected to look at the case’s moral dimensions as much as the criminal ones, with an emphasis on racial themes

Oscar-nominated LaGravenese, known for writing films such as "The Fisher King" and "Water for Elephants," will executive produce and write the show. Goldwyn, who most recently directed a legal thriller when he helmed Hilary Swank’s “Conviction” in 2010, will serve as executive producer and director.

The new shows mark the latest turn for a network that, after years of staying away from established genres, tried a cop drama last year for the first time with "The Killing." (It also recently began airing CSI: Miami in syndication.) Despite their familiar settings, the new projects are expected to hew closer to the serialized "The Killing" in tone and character than to the self-contained procedurals on network television.

Among the projects on AMC's recent development slate that did not get picked up in this round were “Sacred Games,” a period Indian crime drama based on an epic novel, and “Turn,” a story of spies during the Revolutionary War; "Sacred Games" remains in development at the network. This marks the first time in its history that AMC is ordering two scripted pilots at one time.

AMC is coming off its biggest hit to date in "The Walking Dead," whose second-season finale last month drew nine million viewers. The network continues to garner acclaim for "Mad Men," which is currently in its fifth season. But executives have been eager to get new shows into the pipeline: AMC last ordered a new pilot nearly two years ago.

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-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Brian McCardie, left, and Mark Strong star in the British version of "Low Winter Sun." Credit: Channel 4

 

'Mad Men' recap: A night with the grown-ups

Mad Men Don Sally

When it comes to “Mad Men,” I have three basic requests: More Sally, more Roger, more Joan. “At the Codfish Ball” is a relatively subdued hour, especially compared with last week’s doozie. But it’s nevertheless a rich and satisfying installment, one that compensates for its lack of jaw-dropping revelations with some quiet insight into the relationship between parents and their children. Plus, it’s got plenty of Roger and Sally, and Joan doling out relationship advice. What more could a “Mad Men” fan ask for?  

Megan’s Heinz campaign works rather nicely as a summary for the overall theme of “At the Codfish Ball”: When it comes to parents and their children, external factors might change, but the fundamental relationship stays the same. This week we finally meet Megan’s parents. Her mother, Marie (played by Julia Ormond, an unusually big guest star for this show), is beautiful but unhappy, driven to act out in unhealthy ways by her philandering husband. (She’s the Betty Draper of the north.) Megan’s father, Emile, is a left-leaning professor whose resentment of Don is fueled by his own failures as a writer. Emile is openly critical of Megan’s splashy New York lifestyle, and not just because of his Marxist — or Maoist or socialist or whatever — beliefs. He also thinks his daughter has traded in her dreams to be with the man she loves. What those dreams might be, exactly, he never says, though we can probably guess he’s referring to Megan’s thwarted acting career.

His comments, which arrive near the end of the episode, help put Megan’s strangely placid reaction to the Heinz victory in context. She very clearly saved the day, not just with her campaign, but with her fleet reaction to Alice Geiger’s ladies-room confession and the gentle way she forces Don to make a pitch on the spot. (Notice, too, how easily she changes some of the key details of their evening; maybe Megan’s doing more acting than her father realizes.) Don is turned on by his supremely competent wife. “You’re good at all of it,” he moans in the cab, barely able to contain himself. So Megan should be over the moon, right? But at the office the next day, she reacts with discomfort to Peggy’s sincere words of congratulations. At the end of last season, I think many viewers underestimated Megan because of her subservient job, but she’s obviously one smart cookie. The real question is whether she’ll ever be satisfied shilling beans alongside the man she loves.

This episode also marks the welcome return of Sally, a character we last saw passed out under the couch after Pauline slipped her a sleeping pill (I’m not counting last week’s flashback). Don is both proud and slightly terrified of how quickly his daughter is maturing. She handles Pauline’s accident like a pro, but unfortunately growing up also means she wants to wear go-go boots and makeup to the American Cancer Society dinner. Sally’s night with the grown-ups starts off well. Roger takes her on as his “date,” and they have a nice little rapport. Roger is nothing if not a charmer, and he sure knows how to make a lady, whatever her age, feel wanted. “Every business card I get, you’re going to put it in your purse and say, ‘Go get ‘em, Tiger!’” he says. He even gets her a Shirley Temple from the bar. It’s cute!

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'Mad Men' recap: Straight trippin'

Roger Mad Men LSD trip

A correction has been added to this post. See below for details.

“Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner is not, as a rule, the kind of guy who caters to the desires of his audience; if anything, he aggressively flouts their expectations. But in “Far Away Places,” he delivers a moment millions of “Mad Men” fans have been waiting for: The show’s first acid trip. Part of the distinct pleasure of “Mad Men” is watching the age of Camelot give way to the age of Aquarius, and the question of when, or indeed whether, anyone from the show would dabble in LSD has intrigued fans for a while now. Those of you who predicted that Roger Sterling would be the first to “turn on, tune in, drop out” now have official bragging rights.

Roger’s mind-expanding (and marriage-ending) experience arrives in the middle of the most unsettling episode yet this season – which is saying a lot, given just how sinister “Mad Men” has gotten this time around. The episode begins with Peggy, who, rattled after a fight with Abe, blows up when Heinz executive Raymond reacts critically to her latest pitch. We’ve seen this kind of creative tantrum before, but not from Peggy, and it’s tempting to think that maybe she’s becoming more of a “dude” than she’d like to admit. After the disastrous pitch, Peggy ditches work for a few hours to see “Born Free" – a different movie that also happens to be about Africa – where she has a furtive, marijuana-enhanced encounter with a stranger wearing some very groovy pants. When it comes to sex, Peggy has come a long way from the days of shagging Pete Campbell on his office couch, so it’s something of a shock to see her engaging in an anonymous encounter like this. Granted, she kept things pretty PG-13, but I wonder if more risky behavior might be ahead. I also wonder about the impetus behind it: Maybe Peggy needs to prove her desirability to herself?

[For the record: April 23, 9:41 a.m. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that the movie Peggy saw was "The Naked Prey."]

Things get stranger when Peggy, still stoned, returns to the office. After a long nap on Don’s couch, she has a strange conversation with Ginsberg, who explains that Morris is not his biological father. He was born in a concentration camp and adopted from a Swedish orphanage, or at least that’s what he’s been told; Ginsberg himself prefers to tell people he’s a Martian and the Holocaust story is just a ruse. It’s hard to tell whether he’s being serious about any of it, and the way the scene is filmed – we see Ginsberg’s face only in reflection – only adds to the inscrutability.  There’s something superheroic about the story, isn’t there, like Ginsberg fancies himself a Jewish Clark Kent?

Just when it looks like “Far Away Places” is going to be all about Peggy, the episode abruptly switches – or, more precisely, it rewinds to tell the story of the day from Roger’s perspective. (Don’t worry, I had to rewind, too.) After Don shoots down (and then steals) his idea of running off to Howard Johnson’s, Roger has no choice but to spend the evening with Jane. 

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'Mad Men' recap: Welcome to Fight Club!

Pete Campbell Fight Mad MenOne of my very favorite “Mad Men” episodes from last season, “The Beautiful Girls,” focused on the women of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and their lonely personal struggles. “Signal 30,” which takes as its subject the collective identity crisis of the agency’s male population, works as a kind of companion piece to that wonderful episode: so many men, so many shades of discontent. To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy (as I am wont to do), happy men are all alike, but every unhappy man is unhappy in his own way.

Let’s begin with Pete, whose transformation into the old Don Draper — with the wandering eye and suburban malaise that entails — is now more or less complete. As the episode begins, the city boy is finally learning to drive, which means he has to suffer the indignity of driver’s ed classes at a local school. Pete perhaps ought to feel emasculated by the experience, but instead he’s invigorated by the presence of Daphne, a pretty, rising Ohio State freshman. He sparks a flirtation with her, but a handsome young student named, um, “Handsome,” puts an abrupt end to Pete’s age-inappropriate fantasies. Pete may be feeling increasingly restless out there in Cos Cob, but, as we all know, his attraction to the young and vulnerable predates his move to suburbia — and even his marriage to Trudy. So perhaps what’s really bothering Pete isn’t the recent lifestyle change but rather the impossibility of glossing over his deeply rooted unhappiness with superficial cures.

The one major difference between Don and Pete is, of course, that Pete is married to the thoroughly likable Trudy, a plucky, indomitable woman who rivals Joan in terms of her sass and industriousness. (How about that incredible phone call with Don? Trudy’s able to beat Don at his own game and feed baby Tammy, without so much as mussing a hair. Trudy is a total gangster.)

Still, if anyone understands what Pete’s going through, it’s Don Draper, who warns Pete, “You don’t get another chance at what you have." For once in “Signal 30,” Don doesn’t appear to be wrestling with any of his own demons — or strangling them, as he did so memorably last week  — but there are, as always, warning signs on the horizon. First, there’s everyone’s rather justified skepticism over newly monogamous Don — a.k.a. the “man who just pulled up his pants on the world.” Whatever Betty’s faults as a wife, she wasn’t entirely to blame for Don’s infidelity.  

Another concern is what lies ahead for the new Mr. and Mrs. Draper. Megan is, after all, only 26. She’s going to want babies, and sooner or later she may want to trade in her semi-Bohemian lifestyle for suburban bliss too. Sure, she loves the swinging city life now, but she certainly did perk up at the sight of Don, stripped down to a white undershirt, fixing Pete’s sink. (But then again, can you blame her?) Don seems equally conflicted, claiming the idea of a Saturday night in the suburbs makes him suicidal, yet also getting all hot and bothered at the idea of making babies with Megan. We’ll see if Don is able to resolve these competing impulses, but I remain skeptical.  

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Getting to know 'Mad Men's' Dawn, the office's first black employee

Don Draper's newest secretary

The fifth season of "Mad Men" brought the dawn of a new day. And one result was the introduction of the latest female in Don Draper's life: Dawn Chambers, his new secretary and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce's first African American employee.

When viewers rejoined the 1960s-set drama after a 17-month hiatus, they were briefed on the racial tensions that spawned riots and protests during the period the series is set in. After jokingly advertising itself as an equal opportunity employer in an attempt to poke fun at one of their competitor's woes, SCDP ended up hiring its first African American employee, played by Teyonah Parris.

We spoke to Parris about joining the show, her relationship with Peggy and just how stingy Matt Weiner can be with details about the show.

How did you find yourself on "Mad Men"? Were they as cryptic about what the role would be as they are with their previews of upcoming episodes?

I auditioned like everybody else. My first audition was with the casting directors and then after that, I got a call back and in that call back, Jon Hamm, who was directing that episode, and Matt Weiner were there. I was not expecting to walk into that.

But as far as knowing what the character would be, the breakdown said: "co-star, African-American." They don't let on to anything. I had no clue. I also didn't audition with the material we see in the episodes. They made up a completely different scene for the character.

Do you recall what they had you do?

It was a scene with Dawn and her cousin, she met up with him at a diner. And she was talking about her new job at the agency and just how it's different and hard and even when she sees black people in Midtown, how they kind of can't even acknowledge one another without feeling awkward about it because they feel like just by talking to one another, white people will feel threatened. It was a pretty amazing scene, actually.

So once you landed the gig, does Matt sort of brief you on what the character would be and symbolize?

Oh, he doesn't. He doesn't. I got the script and I saw what I was doing and I had to ask a few questions, like, how long have I been here? You know, I didn't even know how I got there. So when I watched the first episode of the season, I was watching with everybody else and I was like, 'Oh, this is how Dawn gets into the office.' I had no clue. I find things out with everyone too.

A lot of people were concerned that Dawn was simply window dressing, like, 'look, the token black character that will signal the changing times.' And we sort of got to know a little bit more about her in last week's episode, but it was mostly through the eyes of Peggy. What are your thoughts on that?

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