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Mad Men blogging at The Vast Wasteland – and around the web

As you can clearly see, updates to this side of the site have been, er, sparse so far this year. I hope to rectify that soon, pending a couple of ongoing projects. But in the meantime, much of my writing each week is being spent with the Barker Chappell Daglas Reviewing Firm: critical discussions of each week’s Mad Men episode, in the the form of a roundtable with my friends Cory Barker of TV Surveillance and Les Chappell of A Helpless Compiler. We’re taking turns hosting each week’s full discussion on our respective blogs, and you can find each week’s review (or my excerpts thereof) at The Vast Wasteland.

Below the jump, an excerpt of my take on the April 15 episode, “Signal 30”:

As you’ve both observed, Pete hit for the slimeball cycle this week (attempted statutory cheating, call girl carousing, coworker belittling, oblivious whining), and that’s usually a recipe for success* But everyone’s favorite incurable malcontent wasn’t the only one facing the sting of perceived failure.

*I can’t help but notice how, on a night when much of my Twitter feed was discussing the “privileged-white-people-bitching” ethos of HBO’s debuting comedy Girls, ol’ Pete Campbell was putting on a clinic in how privileged-white-people-bitching is done, son.

And Lane – even if he too is a comparatively blessed individual who refuses to acknowledge the fact – at least has a legitimate reason to feel undercut by the world. As master of the coin for an agency on shaky financial footing, he’s constantly got to be the one saying no, shutting down the wants and needs of others. Here, he finally gets the chance to add some value, to play offense for the firm instead of defense. Yet first he’s mocked by a jealous Pete, who throws Lane’s penny-pinching proclivities back in his face. Then he loses his grasp on the account as quickly as he got it, in part because his new friend thinks he’s, er, quite unsuitable for a bit of proper whoring. (And why does one hire an ad agency in the first place if not for the call girls?)

Emasculation is a common theme on Mad Men, and generally handled as unsubtly as it is here. But while it’s often presented as a symptom of insecure men who can’t bear to surrender a shred of their entitlement (as it is with Pete), I think there’s something more nuanced in Lane’s story. Even successful people need to feel like their lives have some forward momentum, some sense of accomplishment. Like the English World Cup team, Lane’s plateaued; even a taste of victory is fleeting and may never be repeated. Losing Jaguar not only because he’s too poor at schmoozing clients but also because Roger is too good at it, that’s a genuine setback for a man running out of chances to prove himself.** No wonder the man’s feeling bold enough to live out the twin dreams of the Mad Men universe: planting one on Pete, and then planting one on Joan.

**As opposed to, say, losing your teenage flirting partner to a suitor more age-appropriate…and way hotter.

Reverting to Pete briefly: Cory, you asked whether Don has any right to judge the guy, considering his own well-documented transgressions. I think that’s precisely why Don has the right to judge. I don’t think he means to shame Pete but to warn him. Much like another of New York’s finest products, Mr. William Joel, Don don’t like watching anybody make the same mistakes he’s made. Which once again presents us with a picture of Don Draper: Upstanding Dude. Guys, we’ve talked about whether or not Don can truly mature. Since that appears to be the case (for now), my question becomes: Can Don mature…and remain an interesting character?

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