Lost in the Movies: 2019

Mad Men - "The Arrangements" (season 3, episode 4)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Wednesday I will review another episode of season three. 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 6, 2009/written by Andrew Colville, Matthew Weiner; directed by Michael Uppendahl): With her grandfather now a permanent resident of the household, taking over various activities from her pregnant mother, Sally lives in the brief glow - very brief as it turns out - of being Gene's favorite. He lavishes praise on her, shares (unflattering) memories of her own mother's childhood, treats her to ice cream, and even lets her drive the car around the neighborhood. When Gene suddenly dies in line at the A & P and a policeman shows up at the door with his hat in his hand, the little girl is crushed. That night she reprimands her parents and her uncle and aunt for laughing in the kitchen: "He's dead and he's never coming back and you're all pretending like it didn't happen!" For a moment, Sally experiences the sort of affection her harsh mother and enigmatic father don't offer, despite the bourgeois comfort they provide. Bobby too has some memorable experiences with the old man, who opens a box full of forty-five-year-old artifacts from his trip to Europe as a young soldier. Don is weirded out by the jingoistic appropriation - "that hat belonged to a dead man, take it off" - and the episode ends to the jaunty beat of "Over There," commemorating Gene's passage to a new, old pasture as Don (probably with a decent amount of repressed relief) closes the fold-out and starts to clean out the final earthly room of Mr. Hofstadt.

There are a couple cute tie-ins to another storyline here, as Peggy's mother grieves the death of "the Holy Father" and a member of the Olson family moves away from the homestead, in this case heading for Manhattan rather than heaven. Peggy's effort to find a roommate among Sterling Cooper employees backfires when her too-formal advertisement gets pranked by co-workers. The copywriter ends up seeking assistance from Joan, who suggests bouncy language (deceptively so) and an unnerved Peggy realizes that her new "roomie" is probably going to hate her; Karen Ericson (Carla Gallo) is a freewheeling motormouth who's not the right kind of Scandinavian (or who thinks Peggy isn't). Helpful as Joan's advice sounds, it's premised on Peggy forcing herself to become someone she isn't. Others at Sterling Cooper can relate to that conundrum, as demonstrated when Sal's wife desperately tries to seduce her husband, preoccupied as he is with the Patio advertisement he's been assigned to direct. This is his first opportunity to move into a new field as the art department begins to shrivel. His enthusiasm only emerges when he's acting out the commercial for her (impersonating a fluttery young woman who prances through a single shot), and her face falls as she closely watches his movements and demeanor closely.

The Patio reps have a similarly unsettled reaction to Sal's spot when they screen it; he's delivered exactly what they asked for - a beat-for-beat reproduction of Bye Bye Birdie's opening sequence - but it just doesn't click the way the original did. Is the problem simply, as Ken chuckles, "She's not Ann Margaret"? Or does Sal bring a different energy to the material than the horny men are looking for? Either way, Don brushes it off and reassures Sal: "Don't let this ruin the one good thing to come out of this whole mess: you're a commercial director now." Don's less sure about another business matter; Pete offers the agency, on a silver platter, his college peer Horace Cook, Jr., a scion of immense wealth. The young fool insists that jai alai, the Spanish indoor ballgame, will replace baseball within a decade and wants to throw a million dollars behind a full-color print/TV/radio campaign that the giddy creative and business teams know will never achieve his lofty aims. Don's guilty conscience (he dubs the cashgrab "undignified") is somewhat assuaged by old man Cook, who knows one agency or another will take his kid's money - might as well be his friend Bert's. Perhaps the delusional, spoiled brat will even learn something in the process. Eventually even Don is on board. After accidentally using the young Cook's equipment to smash up the company ant farm he quips, "Bill it to the kid." And then we see Joan spray the little farm's residents with poison, an arch, amusing and...somewhat ominous image.

My Response:

The Unseen 1919 - 2018


In the spring of 2018, I randomly stumbled across a tweet that doesn't even exist anymore. The author invited people to look at Letterboxd's lists of most popular films for every year and share the top title they hadn't seen. I was so interested in my own results that I ended up carrying on for a full century; glancing down the list afterwards, the idea for a series began to emerge. I wanted not only to finally catch up with these movies (some of which, I suspected, would be more worthwhile than others) but also to analyze them against the spirit of their times. Moving backwards, further and further into the past, using these films as a kind of time machine...

The series began a year and a half later, with one entry per month, pausing after six months to resume (without stopping again) at a then-unknown future date. All entries are listed (and illustrated) here ahead of time, and linked here as soon as they are available. When a publication date is known, it will be listed here too.

I hope you enjoy this journey as much as I plan to.

Mad Men - "My Old Kentucky Home" (season 3, episode 3)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Wednesday I will review another episode of season three. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on August 30, 2009/written by Dahvi Waller, Matthew Weiner; directed by Jennifer Getzinger): In the spirit of "Three Sundays" in season two, "My Old Kentucky Home" zeroes in on the weekend life of the Sterling Cooper-adjacent gang, this time emphasizing just one day. And it isn't a day off - well, not quite - for everyone. Peggy, Smitty, and Paul have to come in and work on ad copy, which means (at least as far as she herself is concerned) that Olive Healy (Judy Kain), Peggy's new secretary, has to cancel family plans and show up for work too. Olive attends closely to her new employer, eventually warning her to be more careful when Peggy gets high with the boys. Paul invites his old Princeton connection Jeffrey Graves (Miles Fisher) to the office where they light up a joint and seek inspiration from that tropical drug for another (they're developing a Bacardi Rum campaign). Little is accomplished, of course; Paul and Jeffrey fight before breaking out into song, Peggy beams beatifically as Smitty goes gaga for her, and finally Peggy has an epiphany which she races back to her office to record. Faced with Olive's reprobation, Peggy realizes (or decides) that the middle-aged woman is fearful for her young boss' prospects and reassures her as warmly - and slowly - as possible that "I'll be fine."

Pete, Ken, and Henry can't attend the session because they're busy at a tony country club, attending Roger's lavish lawn party/tribute to Jane. Embarrassments abound: Roger serenades her in blackface and Jane gets so drunk on an empty stomach that she collapses at the buffet table and then lets it slip that she knows Betty and Don were separated. After a tense interregnum, the night ends with the Drapers embracing in the shadows while a jazzy serenade evokes a certain Gatsby-esque mood; before this, though, they have a couple memorable encounters. Don trades growing-up-poor stories with a mustachioed, white-jacketed old man (Chelcie Ross) at a bar; unless I missed something, the episode never revealed his identity but I suspect he's someone quite famous (for a moment I considered Howard Hughes, but wasn't he was already deep in his piss-jar/long fingernail phase by '63?). I suspect that we'll see him again. While waiting for Trudy outside the ladies' room, Betty undergoes some heavy flirtation from Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley), aide to Governor Rockefeller; given the intensity of feeling with which he woos her (which she seems to reciprocate), I doubt we've seen the last of him either.

In a surprisingly streamlined episode, there are only two other locations we visit: Sally steals $5 from Grandpa Hofstadt between amusing reading sessions of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and Joan entertains her fiance's co-workers and their wives at their apartment and begins to suspect that maybe she (not he) is the real catch. Oh, and did I mention that Pete and Trudy can dance up a storm?

My Response:

SEVEN AMERICAN GENERATIONS: iGen, millennials, X, boomers, silent, greatest, and lost


An illustrated guide to the living American generations (excluding those born after 2013) and the unique periods of the past century they experienced at different ages

INTRODUCTION

Although intended as a useful reference going forward, I'm publishing this entry in the particular context of December 2019. Between the "ok boomer" meme, Xers fretting over their "forgotten middle child" status, questions about where the millennial generation actually begins, and uncertainty about what to call post-millennials, there's been a lot of talk about generations in the past few months. No wonder: the 2020 presidential campaign has sharpened divisions between different age groups, with majorities of boomers and millennials not only supporting different parties, but different candidates within the Democratic primary (ironically, the oldest candidate has overwhelming youth support while the youngest is disproportionately popular with an aging crowd). We're also reaching the end of a decade defined by millennials, while in the past few years an even younger tech-savvy, politically activated generation has begun to come of age.

Meanwhile, dramatic demographic changes hover on the horizon. By the end of the 2020s, the last of the lost generation will probably pass away; the entire greatest cohort will cross their century mark and the first silent will turn one hundred; the oldest boomers will hit eighty while the youngest boomers and oldest Xers become senior citizens; millennials will enter middle age as iGen constitutes the majority of young adults; and an even newer generation will emerge onto the scene (the oldest of them are already five, but most haven't been born yet so I'm leaving them out of this analysis). This is an especially dramatic turn for my own generation since the Age of the Thinkpiece has made the terms "millennial" and "young" synonymous - often negatively so. As I once joked, around 2032 a thirtysomething will write a "damn millennial kids are ruining ______" essay, only to be informed that they're actually younger than the youngest millennial. Indeed, by my own admittedly controversial calculations, the first millenial will turn forty in a few weeks; with all of this in mind, December 2019 seems like a good time to take stock, try to lock some of this down and ponder the phenomenon both visually and statistically. Please note, as the title suggests, I am focusing exclusively on a U.S. context especially when it comes to defining the different eras.

The following entry is the result of year's worth of off-and-on pondering and about a week's worth of hunting and gathering images to illustrate these ideas - as well as a lifetime of being inordinately obsessed with eras, generations, and the process of aging, and how these stack up against each other in a kind of historical grid. I think it's mostly self-explanatory and don't want to further clog up this introduction, but if you're confused I offer an "explanation of process" at the end of this entry. This is not academic work for which I've been trained to follow certain procedures, it's purely the result of my own curiosity and speculation, so take it as you will! Hopefully it's as helpful and absorbing to peruse as it was to assemble.


Descriptions/credits for "Seven American Generations"


This entry lists all of the actors, events, and photographers (for the era collages, where available) in my "Seven American Generations" post. I didn't want to disrupt the flow of that piece but knew readers might be curious. Where there's an accompanying video, it's linked in the description. The above image, by the way, is of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds with a space man (how prescient) on the opening day of Disneyland in 1955. It didn't fit with the collage I created but I'm glad I found a place for it somewhere.

Also, since there are no repetitions here and everything is full-size you can use this as an image gallery too (click an image to fill your screen).

If you stumbled across this post via a Google image search or another similarly blind route, you're probably confused...click below for context:

VISIT


Mad Men - "Love Among the Ruins" (season 3, episode 2)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Wednesday I will review another episode of season three. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on August 23, 2009/written by Cathryn Humphries, Matthew Weiner; directed by Lesli Linka Glatter): Out with the old, in with the new! (But it's not so easy, is it?) As spring blossoms, Sterling Cooper tries - in stops and starts - to make the case for Madison Square Garden's replacement of the revered landmark Penn Station, Betty's father arrives with her brother's family and when they leave he doesn't, Peggy attempts to figure out if the juvenile sex appeal of Ann Margaret can (or should) work for her, and Roger grumbles about his daughter's wedding now that he realizes - or is forced to recognize - that they don't want homewrecker Jane ruining the big day. Of course Margaret's nuptials are set for November 23 (the camera lingers on that save-the-date so we don't miss the implications) and the Jane drama may end up being the least of her overshadowing worries. With Kennedy, Oswald, and Jackie's bloody dress still in the distance, another '63 icon makes an appearance: the episode opens with a conference room screening of the bold pre-credits sequence of Bye Bye Birdie. While all the men are charmed by the vivacious young star, Peggy's snippy reaction ("Let's say we can find a girl who can match Ann Margaret's ability to be twenty-five and act fourteen") launches a sequence of uncertain reflections and forays for the ever-confused copywriter.

In the office, she overhears Joan flirting with a group of young men and steals her line later in a bar. Alone in her room, she faintly sings the song she made fun of in the mirror; when she meets a college student in a bar she trades banalities and burgers and then tiptoes out in the morning with a not-entirely-convincing (but not exactly insincere) "This was fun." When Peggy expresses her frustration with this derivative campaign for Patio (a Pepsi subsidiary marketing a diet drink for women), complaining that the "shrill" Bye Bye Birdie imitation would be embarrassing in a movie or play, Don reprimands her: "You're not an artist, Peggy. You solve problems." And this works as an effective segue into Don's own assertive problem-solving at home. With William trying to force a nursing home as the only viable route (the guilt-tripping alternative he proposes is that he and his wife move into the dad's house to take care of him full-time), Don takes his brother-in-law aside and harshly informs him that the elder Mr. Hofstadt will be living with him and Betty from now on, William will pay for him, and the house and car will remain the old man's property.

Don knows he's both putting his foot down and taking one for the team (essentially he's ensuring that both he and William, who won't be getting the house anytime soon, will lose in different ways). He's reminded just how much he's taking one for the team when he wakes up in the middle of the night to find Eugene, thinking it's still the middle of Prohibition, pouring all the family's wine bottles down the sink. And at work, Don discovers the limits of his power as well: after coaxing Madison Square Garden back into Sterling Cooper's fold (Paul used a conference to bash them for their vulgar imposition on New York's architectural landscape), he's brusquely informed by Lane that the UK office has nixed the deal, considering it an overextension of resources. Exasperated, Don asks why they were even bought out in the first place and Lane, whose wife has already voiced their discontent with the relocation, mutters honestly, "I don't know."

Out with the old and the new, in with the.....?

My Response:

Twin Peaks Unwrapped - Season 2 Madness (w/ Sam Iswitt)


A month and a half ago, the sprawling field of Democratic candidates - which has of course been winnowed down since (I'm writing this back in October, so forgive me my optimism) - gathered on a stage in Ohio. On that very night, an important debate was held and in this debate, crucial questions for our time were fervently contested. What is the best episode of the mid-season two slump? Are some of those episodes hidden gems? Is the Miss Twin Peaks contest a charming delight or one of the darkest moments before the Lynchian dawn?


Now the podcast episode recorded that evening is finally available! For months, I eagerly anticipated this "Madness" session (a follow-up to the Lynch film and season one contests where we chose the "best" entry through a bracket system). This was the discussion I was most excited to have in large part because I thought it would be great fun to compare and contrast those strange, how-did-this-happen? chapters of Twin Peaks' much maligned season two. But of course there are also genuinely spectacular moments to assess and analyze as well - some of the most powerful presentations in TV history. Joining myself and the Unwrapped hosts for this discussion is Twin Peaks Reddit moderator Sam Iswitt, whose rare, genuine love for the season's back half spiced things up. Though recorded earlier in the fall, the podcast was saved until now to help kick off the hosts' round-table rewatch of the second season: let this serve as a refresher and reminder for the episodes to come. So settle in for the long, winding road and then let us know - what are your rankings?



Mad Men - "Out of Town" (season 3, episode 1)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Wednesday I will review another episode of season three. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on August 16, 2009/written by Matthew Weiner; directed by Phil Abraham): We've advanced only a matter of months between seasons this time, with Betty still pregnant and Sterling Cooper still stumbling through the painful process of reorganization under new management. The latter situation yields a humorous crisis early on, as new British CFO Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) invites Pete into his office to inform him that he will be the new head of accounts, and then invites Ken into his office to inform him that...he will be the new head of accounts. Ken is bemused, Pete is not, and a mini-cold war begins to brew. As for the former matter, Betty's pregnancy, it's addressed even earlier, at "Out of Town"'s outset, and tied into Don's haunted past. While boiling milk late at night, Don experiences...a flashback (impossible), a vision, or a visualization of the stories he heard growing up. He witnesses his stepmother losing one of many children in birth, his father sleeping with a young prostitute (Kelly Huddleston) who promises to "cut your dick off and boil it in hog fat" if she gets "in trouble," and then his own birth to that prostitute as she whispers her threat once again...and passes away. And then the baby is delivered to the Whitman family and introduced, in an apparent misunderstanding (or ironic reappropriation) of Evangeline's dying words, not as Richard but as Dick - which is apparently not a nickname. This is one hell of a dark origin story (no wonder the baby grew up into a man who wanted to change his name).

After that memorable opening, Don and Sal - er, "Bill" and "Sam" - are off to Baltimore to make it rain. Pardon the pun; they're meeting with representatives of the London Fog raincoat company. Ironically I could probably have used another, opposite pun, given the passionate fires they attempt ignite in their hotel rooms - Sal with a bellboy (Orestes Arcuni) and Don with Shelly (Sunny Mabrey), a flight attendant (as they weren't known at the time). These flickering flames are quickly extinguished by an ill-fated fire alarm and as he descends down the fire escape, Don knocks on Sal's window and is shocked to see the half-dressed bellboy emerge into frame. Sal is horrified and ill at ease for the rest of the trip until Don finally appears to broach the subject on the flight home only to, pointedly, refer solely to a question about their ad campaign. Sal is touched by his colleague's discretion. There are times when Don's reticence reads as consideration rather than indifference, and this is certainly one of them.

My Response:

Inside Out (The Unseen 2015)


"The Unseen" is a series in which I watch popular films for the first time. The list, which moves backwards in time, is based on the highest-ranked film I've never seen each year on Letterboxd (as of April 2018). Inside Out was #3 for 2015.

The Story: Eleven-year-old Riley Andersen's (Kaitlyn Dias') mindspace is as bright and colorful as it is safe and orderly. Her five primary emotions, presented in color-coded, personified form as the red Anger (Lewis Black), blue Sadness (Phyllis Smith), green Disgust (Mindy Kaling), purple Fear (Bill Hader), and effervescent yellow pixie Joy (Amy Poehler), run a well-regulated command center distributing glowing balls of visual memory through giant tubes (shades of Twin Peaks!). The strongest core memories power magical lands that exist across a canyon from these headquarters: Family Island, Goofball Island, Hockey Island, Friendship Island, and Honesty Island. The film delights in imaginative worldbuilding (Pixar-clever at its Pixar-cleverest), but also quickly develops its main plot: Riley's loving family is relocating from Minnesota to San Francisco just as their daughter begins to tiptoe into adolescent confusion. Traumatized by her removal from familiar touchstones, humiliated when she cries in front of her classroom, and eventually driven to run away from home after fighting with her parents (Diane Lane and - speaking of Twin Peaks - Kyle MacLachlan), Riley is no longer sure who she is. This chaos is reflected both in her external life and the now-upside-down interior world that Inside Out has lovingly crafted.

This scenario is meant not only to give the film an emotional grounding, but to test the limits and provide a conduit through all the nooks and crannies of Riley's mental landscape: the literal Train of Thought, the towering stacks and endless aisles of Long-Term Memory, the creampuff pastel aesthetic of Imagination Land, the trippy gauntlet of Abstract Thought (in which the cartoons become Picassolike cubist forms and even two-dimensional dots and lines), the show-biz shenanigans of Dream Studios (where the filmmakers delight in the gap between production process and immersive end result), and dreaded Memory Dump from which there can be no return - or can there? For these scenes, our ensemble becomes a bickering buddy team: Joy and Sadness traverse this landscape in an effort to restore Riley's personality after an emotional shutdown and get themselves back up to the command center after being accidentally ejected. Their companion Bing Bong (Richard Kind), Riley's long-abandoned imaginary pachyderm-ish friend, accompanies them part of the way but mostly the two (and especially the overconfident Joy) need to figure out how to help one another, because Riley can't go through life high on happiness: sometimes you have to sit with your sorrow too.

The Context:

Mad Men - "Meditations in an Emergency" (season 2, episode 13)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Monday I will review an episode of season two, possibly followed by each episode of season three. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on October 26, 2008/written by Matthew Weiner & Kater Gordon; directed by Matthew Weiner): When Don returns to New York after several weeks in California, he enters a whole new world. The Cuban Missile Crisis hangs over everything but closer to home, Duck Phillips' merger plan means that Don made a fortune during his absence - that is, if he can stand the reduced role for creative that Duck (the new president) envisions for the company going forward. Sneering about "the artistic temperament" as he demands that Sterling Cooper focus its resources on purchasing air time and ad space over fancy campaigns, Duck believes he has Don in a bind. He doesn't realize, and is humiliated in front of the British buyers when it's revealed, that Don doesn't have a contract to break; he can leave and go work for any other agency if he chooses, a major loss for the prospective new owners (and a major setback for Duck's power grab). Don is ready to parry Duck's dagger not only because of his own fortunate situation and confident temperament but because Pete helped prepare the ground. Informed ahead of time about Duck's plans when the cocky incoming boss promises to promote him, Pete has every reason to keep his mouth shut. But for reasons he can't quite explain, he warns Don.

Pete's life has been full of upsets lately, including his father-in-law's removal of Clearasil, the adoption crisis, and of course his shocking discovery at episode's end. Terrified by the prospect of Russian missiles, Trudy heads to her parents' home on the beach - a futile gesture as Pete cavalierly assures her, insisting that he prefers to die in Manhattan. "If you loved me, you'd want to be with me," Trudy asserts and Pete acknowledges she's right - an admission she apparently mistakes for an apology. If the world survives, their marriage probably won't, and against this apocalyptic backdrop Pete struggles to break through to Peggy: he doesn't truly connect with his wife, and he wishes he'd chosen her instead. That's when Peggy drops her bomb about giving birth to a son that she turned over for adoption, confirming the suspicions of the audience while astonishing an unsuspecting Pete. And "Meditations in an Emergency" delivers another pregnancy reveal as well: Betty is going to have a third child. Or is she? Even in this more conservative era, her doctor and friends know exactly what she's saying when she insists she can't have a baby right now; they all quickly drop their Ward and June banalities and in an even-toned voice allude to, without directly identifying, opportunities for abortion.

After dropping the children off in Don's hotel for the night, Betty visits a bar and picks up a young man (Ryan McPartlin) with whom she has sex in a backroom, without a doubt her first marital infidelity (and, quite possibly, the only other man she's ever slept with). This may unburden her of some feelings of resentment; "It must be nice to just go off like that," she jabs at Don when he shows up at her stable in the opening scene, returning from an existential adventure he enjoyed while she kept taking care of his household. Finally Betty receives a moving letter, composed by Don while the children watch TV in his hotel room (and while she was embarking on her own mini-odyssey), in which Don acknowledges, "I understand why you feel it's better to go on without me. And I know that you won't be alone for very long. But without you, I'll be alone forever." With no small symbolic significance, on the night that Kennedy and Khrushchev finally reach an agreement, Betty invites Don home and shares her momentous news over their kitchen table.

My Response: 

November 2019 Patreon podcasts: LOST IN TWIN PEAKS #10 - Season 2 Episode 2 and LOST IN THE MOVIES #61 - Twin Peaks Cinema: Lost Highway & Updates on Journey Through Twin Peaks (+ Duelle, Twin Peaks Reflections: Ed, James, Hawk, the cemetery, Sparkwood & 21, Cocaine in Twin Peaks/Part 6 & more)


For the first time since January 2018 (when I offered an extended exploration of Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks side by side) my podcast is comparing David Lynch's TV show to one of his films. Lost Highway offers a rich field for this study, both backwards (the use of Bob and the James and Evelyn saga, of all things) and forwards (Part 18's long drives and the Mitchums as all-American gangsters). It also provides an opportunity for me to preview some of the audio from my upcoming Journey Through Twin Peaks video, along with a general update on how that project is going. And because I've covered the film quite a few times before, Lost Highway leads to an extended "Opening the Archive" reading series, covering three reviews (including a comparison with Jacques Rivette's Duelle), clips from video essays and podcasts, and other highlights. There was so much going on this month that I had to delay a few sections until December (the listener feedback and podcast recommendations) and split November's main podcast in two.

Meanwhile, for $5/month patrons, my Lost in Twin Peaks rewatch reaches an intriguing David Lynch/Harley Peyton collaboration, perhaps his most underrated episode which offers a motherlode of mythology...



The first part of the Lost in the Movies podcast is a mini-episode sharing my recent work, both published and upcoming - starting with the general Journey update...



The second part is dominated by Lost Highway, although it also includes "Twin Peaks Reflections" using Laura's funeral episode as a springboard to explore characters, locations, and a subplot (related to an episode of season 3)...



And here's the Laura funeral itself, the rewatch episode published in May now open to all patrons...



Added 11/28:

Mad Men - "The Mountain King" (season 2, episode 12)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Monday I will review an episode of season two, possibly followed by each episode of season three. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on October 19, 2008/written by Matthew Weiner, Robin Veith; directed by Alan Taylor): For an episode that feels particularly focused on a few big events, the narrative is surprisingly sprawling in "The Mountain King," with at least six storylines unfolding over many scenes. And that's not even including Paul, who returns from Mississippi boasting of his noble endeavors only to be deflated by co-workers who mention that his girlfriend dumped him a few days into the trip. So much for the slice of early sixties civil rights I thought we'd be glimpsing in the tail end of season two - if Mad Men has anything to say about race relations, perhaps the major issue in the first half of the decade, it will have to wait for later seasons. As for one of the other big crises of the time? Cleverly playing on the title of the Frank O'Hara collection introduced in the season premiere, the next episode is called "Meditations on an Emergency," and I harbor stronger suspicions than ever of what that particular emergency will be.

What does unfold in this episode? Betty catches Sally smoking in the bathroom, scolds her severely, and then - reconsidering after Sally replies with straight fire ("Daddy left you because you're mean and stupid") - buys some riding boots to soften the blow before informing her daughter that she fought with Don and doesn't know where he is. Don, of course, is still in California, visiting the woman introduced several episodes ago in the car dealership flashback. Anna Draper, as the name suggests, was the wife of the man whose identity Don assumed and we see them interact in two timelines in episode 12. In the fifties, she confronts Don - well, Dick Whitman - and quickly gets him to concede what happened; though bewildered, she doesn't seem especially grief-stricken about the fate of her husband. Another scene shows the chummy duo in Anna's Californian house; Don asks for an official divorce (since he's still technically her legal husband) so he can marry the "beautiful, happy" Betty whom he's just met. In 1962, Don is pensive about the state of his life and Anna offers warm support. They have an open, honest connection so distinct from all of Don's other relationships; as he said on the phone, he's Dick Whitman to her and the lack of pretense is refreshing.

Back in New York, Bert, Roger, and Bert's sister Alice Cooper (Mary Ann McGarry) agree to sell Sterling Cooper, disregarding Don's minority share since it's an insignificant factor in the decision. Pete aggressively resists Trudy's desire to adopt (losing his father-in-law's Clearasil account retaliation) and informs Peggy that Don may not return ("He's done it before"), Peggy gets Freddy's old office as a reward for landing the Clearasil account, and Joan brings her fiancee Greg to the office. A nice excursion turns brutally sour when Greg, who's been having trouble with his more advanced lover in bed and grows jealous , convinces Joan to let him into Don's office. He proceeds to rape her on the floor, growling, "This is what you want, isn't it?" Not that Joan has the words to describe what happened to her in those stark terms: tentatively listing his virtues to Peggy in a later scene, she's told "he sounds like a keeper," and the traumatized young woman - who has always seemed entirely sure about the rules of any given situation - looks lost and confused. A global crisis may be on the horizon, but there are plenty of personal emergencies to go around as one episode remains in the season.

My Response: 

"Twin Peaks was awfully busy that night, wasn't it?": discussing the Season 1 finale w/ Twin Peaks Unwrapped (+ Lindsay & Aidan of Bickering Peaks)


It's been a year and half since I last appeared on a Twin Peaks Unwrapped community rewatch episode (since they're planning to end the podcast at the end of next year, they'll be picking up the pace for season two). I think as far back as that recording, I requested the season one finale as my next endeavor. I knew that Mark Frost's solo venture - the only time a single person wrote and directed an entire piece of Twin Peaks - would provide much fodder for conversation, and it did. I was particularly delighted to share guest duties with the Bickering Peaks co-hosts, Aidan Hailes and Lindsay Stamhuis (whom I just discovered inspired the best BuzzFeed article of all time). Over the past couple years, they covered almost all of Mark Frost's film/TV work; having done a deep dive myself into his films, shows, and books this past year, I was really eager to discuss how his vision impacts this hour of television.

Now, seriously, go read that BuzzFeed article!


By the way, here are the photos from the event where I met Ben and Bryon, as discussed on the episode:

Mad Men - "The Jet Set" (season 2, episode 11)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Monday I will review an episode of season two, possibly followed by each episode of season three. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on October 12, 2008/written by Matthew Weiner; directed by Phil Abraham): The motto for "The Jet Set" may as well be "You can do that?" Way back in the pilot, Don expressed his belief that the rules don't really exist, but now that belief is moving from theory into practice. At Sterling Cooper, Roger flatly tells Duck that he's not going to make partner based on the lackluster business he's drummed up. Duck responds by using Roger's personal troubles to pitch his former British employers on buying out his current American ones. And he does so while taking first a deep breath and then his first, savoring sip of liquor in several years. Somehow the things that men have worked hard to achieve - be it marriage or sobriety - don't taste nearly so sweet as indulging the momentary urge to throw it all away. Elsewhere in the office, Peggy is invited on a date (perhaps?) to go see Bob Dylan by Kurt Smith (Edin Gali), the eccentric German half of "the Smittys," those quasi-bohemian young admen who were brought in a while back but whom I haven't had much reason to mention yet (that's about to change). When their co-workers tease the nascent couple, Kurt matter-of-factly corrects them: "I'm a homosexual." You could hear a pin drop as he calmly leaves the room, and while no one's particularly comfortable, few are less comfortable than Smitty Smith (Patrick Cavanaugh), who has probably just had his own cover blown, or perhaps especially Sal, who never knew such thoughts could even be humored, let alone spoken aloud. The episode even starts off with an expansive surprise, as Jane reveals to a clearly caught-off-guard Roger that she's a talented, deeply intelligent poet.

Of course, the character most egregiously subverting expectations, abandoning professional restraint, and ditching social norms is Don. He wasn't even supposed to be on the trip to California but thanks to a last-minute switch-up, he jets across the country with Pete and stands awkwardly by the swimming pool in his gray suit. Though of course the whole series is shot on the West Coast, the filmmakers really let us know that we're supposed to be in Los Angeles now; that warm light suffuses everything and there's an openness, a sense of restless freedom in the air. And then Don meets Joy (Laura Ramsey), a strangely irresistible young woman whose father Willy, a count, initially appears to be pimping a high-priced call girl (when Don finds out Willy is her father, he's sitting in bed with them and Don is visibly creeped out). Initially Don resists the odd appeal, but the second time she encounters him he's just come from a deeply unsettling conference, in which a confident defense contractor boasted about the total annihilation of the USSR possible with a singe missile. So Don takes up Joy's offer to go swimming, abandons Pete poolside (when Pete returns to New York, he hardly seems to realize that he never saw Don again), and has some very strange times with Joy's family. Passing out after taking a drink (there are repeated hints that he's being drugged), regaled with tales of the family's seemingly carefree, globe-trotting, and highly sexed-up lifestyle, and exposed to a milieu he never even really knew existed, Don doesn't exactly appear to be enjoying himself - but the long strange trip is clearly too fascinating to abandon, as if he's been hypnotized.

If so, he's not assuming a new identity so much as shredding the one he worked long and hard to construct. When he calls someone unseen from Joy's phone near the end of the episode, he announces himself so matter-of-factly that it's shocking: "It's Dick Whitman."

My Response: 

La La Land (The Unseen 2016)


"The Unseen" is a series in which I watch popular films for the first time (reviews contain spoilers). The list, which moves backwards in time, is based on the highest-ranked film I've never seen each year on Letterboxd (as of April 2018). La La Land was #1 for 2016.

The Story: Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) "meet (kinda) cute" three times, on each occasion following a musical performance and laced with bitterness. First, they flip each other off in Los Angeles' seething morning traffic after a spectacular dance number (the drivers all leap atop their cars to sing about making it in the city of dreams). Then, Sebastian is fired as a restaurant pianist for playing a personal composition rather than an innocuous holiday song (Mia, wandering downtown after bad auditions and a towed car, is drawn to the restaurant by his music but brushed off when she tries to compliment him). Finally, the arrogant jazzman is stuck playing keyboard in an eighties cover band at a pool party Mia is attending, where she makes humiliating requests and stares him down mockingly. From this point on, however, music's ability to bring them together will supersede its ability to tear them apart: they tap on a park bench at magic hour, overlooking the purple-hued valleys below; they literally float into the cosmos inside the Griffith Park Observatory; and they fall in love amidst a musical montage as they riding the Angel's Flight funicular railway, cross the Colorado Street Bridge, and gaze at the Watts Tower.

As a modern-day musical, La La Land juggles a grounded if affectionate view of the creative type's struggle to survive the film and music industries with a gleefully romanticized depiction of this lifestyle's charms (in this universe, not only can people spontaneously break into song and dance, but the old backlot style of movie magic is still alive and well, with Hollywood the global phenomenon still rooted in Hollywood the physical location). Sebastian and Mia both consider giving up their dreams for one another, and giving up one another for their dreams. Is it possible to hold onto both? The movie's most memorable sequence unfolds as a coda, when their paths cross after some time apart; drawing particularly from An American in Paris, La La Land crafts a wordless musical fantasy, spooling an alternate timeline that stylizes touchstones of life's passage through motifs like stage performance, home movie, and big-screen rapture. Where the film chooses to demarcate fantasy from reality, within an already fantastical environment, is fascinating to note; La La Land is ultimately less interested (or at least, not much more interested) in being a picaresque travelogue than in depicting the tricky battle between ambitious dreams and pragmatic compromises.

The Context:

Mad Men - "The Inheritance" (season 2, episode 10)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Monday I will review an episode of season two, possibly followed by each episode of season three. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on October 5, 2008/written by Lisa Albert, Marti Noxon, Matthew Weiner; directed by Andrew Bernstein): "The Inheritance" most obviously takes its title from Pete's fraught relationship with his mother; she threatens to cut him out of the (unbeknownst to her, practically nonexistent) estate if he and Trudy adopt a child. Pete later informs Peggy, in yet another awkward office interaction, that he hates his mother and grouses that everything's "so easy for" Peggy. Undoubtedly, the two will eventually collapse under the weight of irony this thick. Pete's two-way parental problems don't get a lot of screentime, but that title stands in for a lot of what we end up seeing in the very family-defined episode 10. Betty's father has suffered a stroke, and the pretense that everything's fine, actually, collapses when he berates Don for being untrustworthy (tellingly, for having "no people") and twice mistakes Betty for his wife, harmlessly at first (he simply calls her by the wrong name) but eventually with immense discomfort, as he makes a coy remark and touches her breast. Don at least is able to be some small comfort during this uncomfortable weekend visit; although Betty exiles him to the floor of their guest bedroom, she eventually descends there to make love to him one night. When they return home, however, she won't even let Don take a shower inside the house.

Young Glen Bishop fares better when Betty discovers the child hiding in her backyard playhouse; he's run away from home and spent several nights in the same clothes, so she sends him off to be washed and lends him one of Don's t-shirts. They even sit together on the couch, watching cartoons and sipping Coke as the boy looks at his much older crush admiringly (at one point, he slips his hand into hers and begs her to run away with him: "I came to rescue you."). What Betty doesn't do - at least not until Carla comes home with her own children and interrupts the odd reverie - is call Glen's mother. When Helen finally shows up to express her worry and take Glen home, he glowers at Betty and declares, "I hate you." Helen returns to the Drapers' to reprimand Betty, but the demure housewife holds her own against the brassy divorcee with surprising firmness and no wonder - as she reveals, she may soon be joining that exclusive social club herself. Admitting she's not a very good mother, Helen sighs: "The hardest part is realizing you're in charge."

My Response: 

October 2019 Patreon podcasts: LOST IN TWIN PEAKS #9 - The Season 2 Premiere and LOST IN THE MOVIES #60 - Twin Peaks Cinema: La Dolce Vita (+ favorite films archive #1: Masculin Feminin & Twin Peaks Reflections: Johnny, Sylvia, Mike, the Red Room, the room above the convenience store & Nadine's drape runners/Part 13)


At first glance, the bursting cornucopia of early sixties Fellini and the enveloping fever dream of early nineties Lynch couldn't be further apart. Yet I've always been drawn to the structural similarities between La Dolce Vita and Fire Walk With Me. This month's podcast gave me an opportunity to linger over this thread, as well as other correspondences and counterpoints between the two works (and the TV series which more closely shared La Dolce Vita's meteoric, flamboyant success).

For $5/month patrons, my Lost in Twin Peaks rewatch celebrates Lynch's memorable return to his own show with a two-parter, one of my longest podcast episodes so far...



The "Twin Peaks Cinema" coverage of La Dolce Vita, my longest yet, is bookended by another sixties Euro icon, since the climactic entry of my favorites series is Jean-Luc Godard's multifaceted New Wave treasure Masculin Feminin, and more Twin Peaks reflections: on the legacy of Nadine's drape runners in Part 13 of The Return, three characters who were (temporarily) swallowed up after making a mark early in season one, and a couple spiritual locales...


On the fifth anniversary of Lynch and Frost tweeting "That gum you like is going to come back in style" to announce season three, I opened my Lost in Twin Peaks coverage of the original Red Room episode for the $1/month tier...

bonus: NOW AVAILABLE: Lost in Twin Peaks #3 ("Episode 2") open to all patrons


Podcast Line-Ups for:

Mad Men - "Six Month Leave" (season 2, episode 9)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Monday I will review an episode of season two, possibly followed by each episode of season three. 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 28, 2008/written by Andre & Maria Jacquemetton & Matthew Weiner; directed by Michael Uppendahl): Freddy's gotta go. When he pees his pants in front of Pete, Sal, and Peggy, and then passes out in his chair, the whole office quickly learns of his indiscretion and Roger makes the unfortunate call, much to Don's irritation, Peggy's sorrow, and Pete's delight. His soft firing and the Drapers' great drift are what give the episode its core and, at their intersection, prepare us for the surprise ending and retrospective purpose. The initial push for the narrative, however, is rooted in the real world. Having already hinted, rather laboriously, at the Port Huron Statement, and with the Cuban Missile Crisis no doubt providing the backdrop for the finale or penultimate episode, "Six Month Leave" nods to another significant event of '62: Marilyn Monroe's overdose. Don sees the story in the morning paper as he leaves the Manhattan hotel he's been exiled to and Betty hears the news on the radio as she aimlessly roams her empty suburban home in a nightgown; both have more immediate matters on their minds. At the office, however, most of the female employees (except for the mostly matter-of-fact, business-minded Peggy) can't imagine anything more immediate. Joan even snipes at Roger that he'll understand her pain someday when he loses someone very important to him.

Roger does lose something at episode's end, but we'll get there in a moment. For much of episode 9, the boss is cleverly situated as a supporting player in both Freddy's and Don's dramas. The trio goes out for drinks, and then more drinks, and then more drinks, cushioning Freddy's fall by indulging the very habit that got him there but also making it clear that they like the guy, and the whole situation's unfortunate but necessary. Freddy takes his downfall remarkably well, though his final farewell to Don is poignant, leaving an underground gambling joint and climbing into a cab on his way to an uncertain future. "What will I do?" he sighs, and when Don offers a goodnight, he responds - no illusions - "Goodbye." Roger and Don continue on to another location, Don mostly dodging his friend's needling inquiries about his marital situation (Jane, earlier, revealed that she had deduced what's going on), at one point by striding from the bar to punch a conveniently-placed Jimmy Barrett in the face. Finally he concedes that they're separated, and that he's mostly relieved. Parrying Roger's half-hearted counterpoints (which, fixated on "another woman," are subtly not about Don's situation at all), Don inadvertently convinces him to make his own move. The next morning, Mona Sterling storms into Don's office and dresses him down for his "advice." Turns out Roger is sleeping with Jane, took Don's self-analysis as a pep talk, and has decided to leave his wife.

My Response: 

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari


The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a film inside of a film inside of a film. It encloses its various narratives, nesting them inside other narratives using a particular kind of dramatic twist - one that demolishes our initial context  - as a method of disorientation. Filmmakers from Alfred Hitchcock to M. Night Shymalan and David Lynch (who will definitely come up a couple more times in this review) walk the same crooked path this silent German Expressionist horror film paved. The power of the twist-trick, a gimmick at worst, an epiphany at best, is that nothing is the same afterwards: it doesn't only change our perception of whatever particular detail it skews, it makes us question everything - including the twist itself. Caligari is not the neatest use of the device, and at times it can feel clumsy, incomplete, or on-the-nose. But it is one of the most ambitious deployments of the twist (there are several twists, in fact) and one of the most deeply rooted in a profound historical moment.

Mad Men - "A Night to Remember" (season 2, episode 8)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Monday I will review an episode of season two, possibly followed by each episode of season three. 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 14, 2008/written by Matthew Weiner & Robin Veith; directed by Lesli Linka Glatter): Betty's encounter with Jimmy has pushed her already shaky confidence in Don (and herself) over a cliff, so it only takes a relatively innocuous incident (a couple, perhaps) to trigger the Drapers' incipient marital crisis. When Betty hosts an "around the world" dinner party and selects Heineken as the drink of choice, Duck - the guest who almost didn't make it - chuckles. He and Don had a dispute at the office over whether housewives would be drawn toward a display highlighting the beer's refined aura, and he's amused that Don was proven correct in his own home. But Betty is offended that Don thinks he knows her so well (and perhaps more offended that he nailed it), and this insult finally pushes her to confront him with the Bobbie situation. Don, of course, adamantly denies the affair and after Betty fails to find even the slightest piece of evidence, she seems to agree with Don that they "don't want to lose all of this." The next day, however, sitting on the couch and watching sitcoms with her children, Betty encounters the Utz ad featuring Jimmy talking about "a night on the town turned ugly," and "Am I crazy? I don't think so!" It's the final straw. She calls Don to tell him not to come home and he spends the night at the office. This is clearly the most important plotline of the episode, but there are a couple significant shifts for other characters too. Peggy is pressured into crafting a pro bono pamphlet with a church dance; the blue-haired ladies don't like her tagline and Father Gill not only fails to back her up but, after taking advantage of her office space, obnoxiously presses her on spiritual matters. Joan, meanwhile, is enlisted into Harry's TV department, reading scripts for soap operas. She realizes that she loves the assignment before being disappointed to discover a not-nearly-as-talented young man filling her spot a few days later.

My Response: 

Get Out (The Unseen 2017)


"The Unseen" is a series in which I watch popular films for the first time (reviews contain spoilers). The list, which moves backwards in time, is based on the highest-ranked film I've never seen each year on Letterboxd (as of April 2018). Get Out was #1 for 2017.

The Story: When Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) leaves his comfortable city apartment, decorated with his own arresting black-and-white photographs, for the country estate of his hip girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), he is anticipating an awkward weekend. The genial, talented young man is reassured by Rose that her family will be welcoming - goofy perhaps, but well-intentioned. However, something inside of him knows better. She's white. He's black. It shouldn't matter, right? Chris tries to believe this ideal but after his first day at the estate, he's earned the right to shake his head, look Rose in the eye, and sigh, "I told you so." Rose's dad Dean (Bradley Whitford, a knowing reference to the pious liberalism of The West Wing) presents a curious mixture of overbearing gregariousness and barely-concealed resentment. Rose's brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) is some kind of Salingerian psychopath, whose jovially uncouth manner quickly slides into domineering threats of violence. Rose's mother Missy (Catherine Keeler) mostly scolds the male Armitages with an ominous serenity that suggests she's biding her time. And indeed she is. When she hypnotizes Chris that first night, it's the film's rawest moment of entitled aggression, veering from pushy invitation to rude castigation to shockingly invasive interrogation to...a genuine example of psychic abuse. Stirring a spoon against the edge of a teacup in a horrific take on ASMR, Missy sends Chris to the sunken place.

Chris wakes up in his own bed the next day, but he's been marked as prey and the wolves are circling. At an excruciating yard party, old white folks (and one inquiring Asian) verbally poke and prod Chris, fetishizing him with their racialized "compliments." The black servants and the one black guest are no better, speaking in a stilted manner and behaving awkwardly despite occasional flickers of recognition. Logan King (Lakeith Stanfield), whom we met as Andre Hayworth in the film's opening sequence (he's lost in a suburban neighborhood where a car stalks him and the driver knocks him out before dragging him away), breaks character when a phone-camera light flashes in his eyes. He grabs Chris and screams the film's title as a warning, before being dragged away. From a stilted reminder of racial difference to a more deeply alienating social experience to an increasingly unsettling dive into paranoia, the Get Out weekend finally reaches its destination: confirmation that Chris has been trapped by a racist medical cult that literally strips black people of their humanity, transplanting the brains of wealthy white individuals into the bodies of black ones, whose own consciousness sinks back into a "passenger" role. This is visualized as "the sunken place," a pitch-black void where Chris falls through space, while life unfolds overhead in a distanced screen he's unable to affect.

Even Rose erases her nuanced, empathetic "character" when it's no longer convenient to fool her boyfriend; she becomes a blank, ruthless killer with a closet full of photos of black men and women she entrapped with her "I'm one of the good ones" shtick. One by one, Chris kills his would-be captors, destroying the family as they attempt to destroy him (not only through direct physical attack but through manipulation of his psychological vulnerability: guilt over not protecting his hit-and-run victim mother when he was a little boy). Finally, he's saved by Rod Williams (Lil Rey Howery), a friend whose over-the-top conspiracy theories about a sex cult turn out to be closer to the mark than the skepticism and mockery of "sensible" characters. He's also one of the few other black characters in a film dominated by white people - every single one of whom has malicious intent.

The Context:

Mad Men - "The Gold Violin" (season 2, episode 7)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Monday I will review an episode of season two, possibly followed by each episode of season three. 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 7, 2008/written by Jane Anderson, Andre & Maria Jacquemetton; directed by Andrew Bernstein): As "The Gold Violin" opens, Don stares with desire and discomfort at a Cadillac Coupe de Ville; the British salesman gracefully seduces the dapper Draper into taking it for a drive but his flattery backfires, especially when coupled with a memory triggered by the dealership. From the chic, upscale early sixties showroom Don flashes back to a cluttered, decidedly humble early fifties office. This time he is the salesman, no dulcet Anglo tone nor high-powered clientele to soften the blow as he pitches a father (Gareth Williams) and his letterman-jacket son (James Michael Lambert) on a used model. Worst of all, as they hold back from his slightly desperate enticements, a woman (Melinda Page Hamilton) enters the office and tells him he's a hard man to find. As horrified realization dawns on his face, she sighs, "You're not Donald Draper." Back in 1962, an agitated Don declines the Cadillac and flees the dealership, much to the salesman's confusion. Later, he will reconsider the invitation much to his benefit; on a picnic after taking the sleek new ride for a spin, Don's daughter asks her parents quizzically, "Are we rich?" and they smirk at one another. As a complement to this experience, Bert invites Don to become one of the "people who get to decide what will happens in our world" by joining the board of a folk art museum. The car and the museum, however, are the exceptions (thus far) to "The Gold Violin"'s rule; every other invitation - in an episode full of them - backfires.

Bert invites Harry to come up to his office for a morning meeting, and Harry worries that he'll flub the test of Bert's newly purchased artwork. "Two possibilities," he frets. "Either Cooper loves it and you have to love it, like in an Emperor's New Clothes situation. Or he thinks it's a joke and you'll look like a fool if you pretend to dig it." Jane matter-of-factly invites Harry, Ken, and Paul to take a sneak peek at the painting the evening before the meeting - a dare that almost results in her firing; or rather, which does result in Joan firing her, only for a beneficent Roger to undo the damage. Jane cannily exploits his attraction to her, and perhaps even suspects his previous relationship to the woman she defies. The illicit visit to the boss' office spurs another attraction when Sal enjoys Ken's thoughtful musings about the painting (not a real Rothko, by the way, perhaps due to rights concerns). Ken invites Sal to read a draft of his new short story, and Sal invites Ken to share dinner with him and his wife. The dinner is pleasant enough for Ken (despite a vague discomfort at Sal's forwardness) and an absolute delight for Sal (who proceeds to lovingly handle the lighter his co-worker leaves behind). On the other hand, wife Kitty - an old friend from Sal's hometown who sought him out after years apart - is heartbroken. Sal ignores her all evening and she cries when Ken leaves. Everyone in this situation can sense something is off, but none of them - even Sal - seems able to confront what that really is.

The most disastrous invitation of all is saved for last. Jimmy calls Betty to beg her and Don to attend a celebration for his newly-greenlit sitcom; at the event, he continues to lavish her with flattering praise. This time, however, the pretty talk is laced with an ugly undertone: "Look at us, over here at the kids' table... All I know is I know her and you know him and there they are and they don't care where we are." Betty's dawning horror pulls her away, but Jimmy is able to shred Don's confidence too before the Drapers go home. "You don't screw another man's wife," he growls. "You're garbage. And you know it."

On the ride home, Betty throws up all over the nice new Coupe De Ville.

My Response: 

Mary Shelley


We meet her, of course, reading a book while hunched up against a tombstone. This is an instantly evocative image, juxtaposing the freshness of youth with the finality of death to convey a mood (the pleasingly Gothic milieu out of which the famed novel arose), a theme (the haunting presence of death in the young woman's life), and a particular context (the grave belongs to Mary Wollstonecroft, a feminist trailblazer who died giving birth to our heroine). Mary Godwin (Elle Fanning) is not yet Mary Shelley - in fact, incongruous if obvious title aside, she won't be until the film has nearly ended - but we can already see the author of Frankenstein foreshadowed in this imaginative, rebellious young woman, skipping chores to read ghost stories. She races home where she struggles alongside her stepsister Claire Clairmont (Bel Powley) under the caring but aloof tutelage of her father William Godwin (Stephen Dillane) and her much more malevolently down-to-earth stepmother Mary Jane Clairmont (Joanne Froggatt, just twelve years older than her onscreen daughter Powley). This dreary domestic portrait suggests a quite typical workaday milieu of impoverished English life early in the nineteenth century, but in many ways Mary's life is extremely atypical - her weary father and late mother not only brushed shoulders with titans of the age, but were themselves incendiary radicals.

There's a sense in which this recent past seems both fresh and faded; Mary's mother feels like a ghostly presence that's only just left the room, whose traces can still be sensed in disturbances of the atmosphere - and her still-living father smolders like a candle only just extinguished. But if the curtain has only just fallen on one epoch, it's already opening on another - and Mary herself will play a starring role. She meets, falls in love with, and runs away with the married poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth), disowned even by her liberal-minded father as society both scorns and celebrates the young rebels. She births - and loses - a child, racing from residence to residence as her husband publishes his work and she struggles to find her own voice. Eventually - along with scientific breakthroughs of the time, Mary's grief surrounding her dead baby, and the confusion of her status in this tumultuous world - it will be Claire's fling with (and eventual, agonizing rejection by) Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge) that leads Mary to discover this voice at a certain Swiss chateau on a very famous dark and stormy night.

Mad Men - "Maidenform" (season 2, episode 6)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Monday I will review an episode of season two, possibly followed by each episode of season three. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on August 31, 2008/written by Matthew Weiner; directed by Phil Abraham): Rarely has an episode's theme been so pronounced, even schematic. "Maidenform," in which Sterling Cooper attempts to spin a brassiere account in a new direction, is all about how men view women and how the women under that gaze feel about how they are seen. Playtex, trying to chase Maidenform's sexier campaign, pushes Sterling Cooper to redesign their approach and Peggy is put in charge. Unfortunately, she keeps getting undercut as the men talk amongst themselves, in the office, at the bar after work, eventually even going to a strip club with the clients (who've graciously turned down the Jackie/Marilyn artwork to stick with their more conservative instincts). Flustered by the way work blurs with socializing, and knowing that as the odd woman out she can't cross between those worlds with the same ease as her peers, Peggy seeks advice from Joan, who offers a similar message to Bobbie's last week: you can't be a man (Joan dismisses Peggy's attempt at a professional uniform as "dressing like a little girl"), so use your femininity to climb the ladder instead. In her final scene, Peggy shows up at the club dressed (and presenting herself) in a completely different fashion, and the men - who earlier refused to assign her Jackie or Marilyn, settling on Gertrude Stein or Irene Dunne instead - are surprised but welcoming (this role they know how they accept her in). As she sits on the aged client's lap, Pete looks on with a mixture of jealousy, admiration, and desire, and she avoids his gaze.

If the women are confused and overwhelmed by what the men around them expect, the men are often all mixed up as well - albeit in different ways, and with the complications of greater power on hand. Pete cheats with a model who was turned down for the Playtex mock-up (she takes him back to an apartment she shares with her mother), and the next morning he conducts an awkward conversation with Peggy at her desk. Her confusing place in the professional/social arrangement of Sterling Cooper is even more complicated by her long-ago fling. While Pete is pleased enough with his own extramarital excursions, Don's attempt to regain his old confidence through infidelity backfires. Tying Bobbie up and telling her not to talk, he gets rattled when she won't shut up - especially when she tells him she knows about his reputation. He's already become unnerved whenever she mentions her adult children, but it's his own child who ultimately breaks him down. Early in the episode, Sally gazes admiringly at her daddy as he and other veterans stand for applause (I love the shout-out to the aged Spanish-American War veteran in the back), triggering a discomfort that sends Don out of the country club luncheon to call Bobbie. And near episode's end the little girl enters the bathroom as Don shaves and tells him, "I won't talk" - a jarring reminder of the encounter with his lover. Don freezes while staring in the mirror, sends Sally out, and sits on the toilet in his towel wondering who the hell he is and what he's doing. When Bobbie asks where comes from, he answers with a chuckle, "You don't want to know;" clearly, neither does he.

My Response: 

Twin Peaks Unwrapped - The TV pilot version of Mulholland Drive (w/ Mya McBriar and John Thorne)


What if Mulholland Drive had been an ABC series competing for viewers in the fall of 1999, rather than an uber-cinematic art film quickly acclaimed as the best movie of the 21st century? This and other questions animate my discussion with Ben and Bryon, hosts of the most prolific Twin Peaks podcast, Mya McBriar of Twin Peaks Fanatic, and John Thorne of Wrapped in Plastic and The Blue Rose Magazines, who brought knowledge of several different cuts to the table. Four years ago, we spoke about the finished film when it was incorporated into the Criterion Collection and now we've reunited for a round-table about the TV pilot version of the movie. Though I've long been aware of what was and wasn't in the rejected version David Lynch presented to the network, it was startling to actually watch this familiar footage in fuzzy VHS quality and a boxy aspect ratio - not to mention the subtle additions and subtractions scattered throughout this version of Mulholland Drive. And it made for a great conversation.

This is the first of three appearances I'll be making on Twin Peaks Unwrapped this fall, so keep an eye out for my contribution to a Season 1 Finale rewatch and another "Madness" session, this time eliminating and elevating the various episodes of the truly mad Season 2.

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