Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Mad Men - "Long Weekend" (season 1, episode 10)

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Mad Men - "Long Weekend" (season 1, episode 10)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad MenMost days (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on September 27, 2007/written by Bridget Bedard, Andre & Maria Jacquemetton, & Matthew Weiner; directed by Tim Hunter): Don is frustrated by losing a client, embarrassed by Roger's attempt to rope him into an orgy, and ultimately haunted by the boss' post-heart attack "what is it all about" anxiety. Betty is revolted by her father Gene's (Ryan Cutrona's) new girlfriend Gloria (Darcy Shean), with whom she's forced to share a small cabin over Labor Day weekend. Peggy is infuriated by Pete's smug fluctuation between "nice" and "cruel." Joan (fresh from a viewing of The Apartment) is fed up with Roger's needy manipulation. Joan's friend and roommate Carol McCardy (Kate Norby), reeling from a humiliating job loss, is burning with desire for the woman she's longed for since college ("pretend like I'm a boy," she pleads), an admission Joan refuses, point-blank, to digest. One of the two men Joan and Carol land that night (Scott Michael Morgan) is bummed to play wingman and make out with Carol (who's none too thrilled to be saddled with him), while the other man (John Walcutt) is flustered when his tryst with Joan is interrupted by a work emergency in the middle of the night.

The young - are they really twenty? - twins (Alexis and Megan Stier) whom Roger picks up from a casting call are vaguely uncomfortable with his creepy, leering come-ons (he even asks them to kiss) - reminiscent of another white-haired, well-groomed man getting too close to the teenage Donna in Twin Peaks (a moment also directed by Hunter). Roger lies in a hospital bed at the end of his dangerous night, weeping as he embraces his wife Mona (Talia Balsam) and daughter Margaret (Elizabeth Rice), moments after telling Don, "I've been living the last twenty years like I was on shore leave." Even Nixon looks miserable (as do the admen tasked with selling his dour mug to the public), complaining about high taxes and enduring the humiliation of Eisenhower's infamous "Maybe if you give me a week..." snub. Rachel's father Abraham (Allan Miller) is annoyed by Sterling Cooper's dismissive attitude toward his life work, although he agrees to go along with their re-design of Menken's, and Rachel herself is distraught when Don shows up at her door and presses himself upon her (although ultimately she tells him to continue when he hesitates).

Post-coitus, mid-cigarette, he tells her everything about Dick Whitman (except Dick Whitman's name): his mother was a prostitute who died in childbirth, his father was a drunk kicked to death by a horse when he was ten, and his "sorry" stepparents raised him from then on. There's something cathartic about the confession, but both characters seem depleted and depressed, despite the comfort they take in one another's arms. Nobody in this episode has much to be happy about - sometimes it's just like that.

My Response:
So far, among its many dualities, Mad Men tends to oscillate between the largely unspoken existentialist angst of the postwar (and, let's be honest, any) era and the edgy euphoria of the sixties. Episode seven, for example, emphasized a suffocating aura of distrust and disappointment culminating with Roger gorging himself on oysters and vodka before puking in front of the uptight Republicans, while episode eight was giddy and nervous with other possibilities, culminating as Don got high with beatniks and Peggy cried while doing the Twist in a youthful crowd. "Long Weekend" belongs very much to the former category, and it's no coincidence that it also centers Roger in its narrative. This makes sense, as Roger is one of the older cast members (although still not very far into middle age - he was young enough to serve in World War II fifteen years earlier and is played by an actor who was just in his early forties). "I want to be going somewhere," he mopes to Don, which freaks out the younger man and spurs his most confessional moment in the series so far. (Like episode eight in this regard at least, "Long Weekend" calls back to the thirties for a sense of clarification, implying that Don's wretched youth was more authentic in its traumatic misery than his more contented professional life in the present.) A smog of weariness, tired and resigned at best, acerbic and bitter at worst, hangs over this episode like a pall: in the elder Menken's gruff asides about how hard it was to carve out his department store from nothing, in Bert's knowing advice to Joan as they leave the office ("don't throw your youth away on age"), and in Roger's, well, everything. A group of writers collaborated on episode ten, but it's perhaps most notable that this was Bridget Bedard's second (and last) script after the previous "pathetic Roger" outing, giving her a central role in laying the foundation for wherever this character will be going in the many episodes ahead.

Next: "Indian Summer" • "Previous: "Shoot"

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