Mad Men is back! And so is Mad Men blogging. Yay!
As I did last year, I will be blogging the food and drink of Mad Men. (In a departure from last year, I do not plan to be so overwhelmed by all the themed cooking and cocktails that I completely miss the last post of the season.)
Today, there will be no pictures, because my TiVo and its associated server are being weird. No worries! We will survive this.
Update: Pictures added.
The first scene sets the tone for the entire episode. A reporter, writing a feature designed to showcase Don Draper’s sudden celebrity — he’s produced an attention-getting TV ad about floor polish — is interviewing Don in a restaurant, or, at least, trying to. Don ducks all the man’s questions, especially the pointed “Who is Don Draper?”
It’s a hilarious question if you’ve been watching the series from the beginning; Don Draper is either a dead man or a cipher Dick Whitman invented in Korea. Don Draper has never been a real person. It’s always fascinating when Jon Hamm allows the man who calls himself Don Draper to actually relax; usually when he is all alone, he stops projecting an aura of invulnerable suavity and just makes himself some corned beef hash or something.
These days, Don has relaxed that persona to such a degree that he’s picking up shades of his father, maintaining a standing date with a prostitute and bordering on abusive in his dealings with Peggy.
Don, himself, in the middle of a tanking client presentation, voices the question that drives the episode: “You need to decide what kind of company you want to be.” Sterling Cooper Draper Price is struggling, as their old clients fall away; Don realizes, in the midst of the presentation, that they can only compete by being perceived as flashy, daring, and edgy. That begins with kicking the clients out of the office — and with spinning a dazzling new SCDP origin myth for what will certainly be a successful Wall Street Journal profile.
Don also needs to decide what man he wants to be. Traditionally, he’s done best when he creates a new persona from scratch; one can assume Don is making himself into a new, flashy, confident Don Draper for the new ad marketplace. For the first time in at least a year, Don is remembering how to sell his most important product — himself.
In other news, what a juicy episode for food! First off, everyone is dealing with Thanksgiving, in particular the very modern problem of blended families vs. holiday arrangements. Betty’s Thanksgiving, chez new husband Henry’s mother, was tense at best. No one wants to eat: Henry’s daughter shows up, having already eaten elsewhere, and Sally actually throws up at the table after being force-fed sweet potatoes by her mother. Not subtle, that; Betty, in power for once, is shoving her new, perfect life down everyone else’s throat, and Sally, alone, refuses to toe the party line. Given that Kiernan Shipka has been bumped up to series regular, I’m guessing this power struggle is going to be a major story this season.
Peggy’s storyline was, in all seriousness, about ham. Creating an artificial demand for ham; selling ham; getting ham mentioned in the newspaper; who did and who did not receive a ham, and, I might even add, making fun of a hammy comedy routine. Ham ham ham. (I almost feel like this was some oblique reference to John Hamm’s Hamm & Buble SNL sketch.) Peggy gives Don the office’s sole canned ham because he will, presumably, be all alone on Thanksgiving (canned ham is for sad, lonely people), then interrupts his day with a prostitute (!!!) to get her ham actors bailed out of jail. Then Peggy rejoices because, this time, the delighted client has sent enough canned hams for everybody. Yay ham!
What does the sad canned ham represent? The cold sterility of “modern” industrially-produced food? The subjugation of a traditionally lovingly handmade food — the Virginia Ham — into a jellied product? I am sure Matthew Weiner has thought about this, but I am, frankly, drawing a blank. Ham.
On his date with Betty 2.0 (played by Anna Camp, the actress who portrayed Jason Stackhouse’s love interest to hilarious effect on True Blood last season), Don, on both his date’s and Roger’s advice, orders the Chicken Kiev. Roger, who always gets all the best lines, describes it thusly: “Get Chicken Kiev. Butter squirts everywhere.” Leave it to Roger to turn melted butter into sexual innuendo. (Depending on how you feel about butter, that may not be much of a challenge. See: this.)
Next week, I think we will be having either ham (ham) or Chicken Kiev or Ham Kiev, and some sweet potatoes? (Poor Sally.) I will photograph it. Photographs will be placed ham.