Mad Style: A Tale of Two Cities

Posted on June 05, 2013

Once again, too much ground to cover for foreplay, kids. Let’s get to it.
 

For once, we’re seeing them both in the apartment at the same time, dressed roughly equivalently, i.e., one isn’t way more formally dressed than the other or one isn’t wearing pajamas or underwear. That’s become an increasingly rare thing to see in the Draper apartment this season. There’s been a recurring motif of depicting one of them more “powerfully” dressed than the other, going back to their hate-sex on the living room floor last season. We’re bringing this up because we felt like this scene did more to depict the wasteland of the current Draper marriage than a thousand shots of Don mournfully staring ahead and regretting his sins. Megan is so brittle, clipped, and defensive with him now. It’s almost like she expects at any moment to get her feelings hurt or get slapped. And they both did that whole “Haha I’m joking about this but really I’m not” thing; she called marrying Don the biggest mistake of her life and Don said that he hated actresses. Ha. Ha.

We just realized we used “clipped” last week to describe how Don and Peggy interact now. Megan and Peggy are both exhausted by Don’s bullshit and used to the mistreatment they get from him. Neither woman hates Don – in fact, they’d both easily admit their love and respect for him – but you can tell they just can’t deal with him right now. Too much bullshit under the bridge.

But Megan specifically seems quite vulnerable and high-stress lately. Lots of hand-wringing over work issues and even weeping over current events. Neither of these things are notable in a real-life way, but the creators of a scripted ensemble drama only get so many opportunities to make points about characters, and looking at the whole of Megan’s scenes this season, we see that a lot of her screen time was spent depicting her anxious and depressed, in very much the same ways the previous Mrs. Draper was at the late stages of her marriage to Don. “That poor girl,” said Betty a couple of weeks back; probably the kindest and most insightful words to ever come out of her mouth. Not coincidentally, Megan has been smoking up a storm this season.

Anyway, to take it back to the clothes, there’s still a clear and obvious power differential on display here. He is every inch “Daddy home from work” and she is every inch “Daddy’s little girl” in her trendy and youthful poorboy sweater. This short scene establishes two motifs for this episode: “colorless, neutral Don paired with a colorful, more trendy figure,” and a less-obvious “figure in yellow/pink/blue.”

Just briefly, to talk about color again: we’ve been poring over past Mad Styles and past episodes and it’s really not our imagination. For whatever reasons, Janie Bryant really restricted her color palette this season. It’s not that other colors don’t appear, but the persistence of blue, green, and yellow (with an occasional assist by pink) is off the charts in comparison to previous color motifs. We’ve been documenting and analyzing the costuming of this show for every episode and character and it’s definitely something new this season. Back in the days of the Sterling Cooper steno pool, for instance, you could look across a scene and literally pick out every color in the rainbow (in muted early ’60s shades, of course). For 1968, inarguably the most colorful year of the decade, the same three colors keep recurring over and over again with extreme consistency. Make of that what you will. We’ve certainly been having fun with it.

 

So here’s Joan, making a declarative statement, in more ways than one. Every single female character in this episode will wear the colors found in this dress (with one notable, and hilarious, exception). If anything, we think this is why Janie restricts the color palette; not so much to apply strict meanings to each color, but to allow one character to set the tone (literally and figuratively) and let all the other characters call back to it in some way. Joan’s story is very much a woman’s story and thus all the other women in the story, in effect, turn toward her as her tale is told.

We caught glimpse of this look first in the partner’s meeting, where it really stood out like crazy. With this scene we find out why: she’s dressed somewhat more provocatively and attention-seeking because she thought she was going on a date; bright colors, a wild, feminine  pattern, a bow at the sleeve, and quite a bit of jewelry.

 

And here’s where we see this dress start to have a conversation with the other costuming. Peggy and Joan’s outfits “go with” each other the way you’d pair a dress and a handbag, say. They don’t match, exactly, but Peggy’s definitely drawing the yellows out of Joan’s dress and somewhat mimicking the bow at the sleeve with the scarf around her neck. But on the flip side, these costumes exist to illustrate the differences in each character. Joan is an explosion of femininity and female form; all curves and flowers. Peggy is slightly more business-like, and much less frivolous; more straight up and down, with less fussiness. Her dress almost looks masculine in comparison to Joan’s; the pleats and short sleeves contrasting with the flounces and bows on Joan’s dress. This entire story is about two women seeking power using different tools and how that puts a wall up between them. We’re seeing that literally here, with the pillar of the room and the costumes themselves serving to illustrate the divide between them.

Golden yellows have traditionally been Peggy’s career power color, but that hasn’t been quite so true this season and we think a lot of that has to do with Ted Chaough.

 

Because a golden yellow is also Ted’s power color. And ever since she’s found herself in Ted’s orbit, she’s worn it less and less. In fact, she’s worn it very little this season when in previous seasons it was always her most dominant and persistent color. Ted has somewhat overwhelmed her and even now, after he treated her kinda badly last episode, she’s still thinking she has some special inside knowledge about who Ted really is as a person and she keeps getting proven wrong. She keeps trying to connect with him and he keeps blowing her off, which makes the matching yellows of their outfits somewhat ironic.

But really, this scene is all about positioning Joan directly between Peggy, the executive Joan wants to be, and Moira, the secretary she’s trying desperately to leave behind. It’s not just that Moira’s and Peggy’s outfits match Joan’s; it’s that they’re both in loosely fitted or A-line solids, which stand in huge contrast to Joan’s curvy floral, allowing her both to stand out and to look a little frivolous in comparison to the other women, because frivolous and pointless was how she was made to feel here. It’s a nice touch to have them both in print scarves, calling back to Joan’s print; a little bit of sisterly solidarity.

We have to admit, that one empathetic look from Moira did a lot to make us like her.

 

Just a quick snapshot of Pete to illustrate … well, how bad he looks this season. It’s not just the shaved head or the amusingly short tie. It’s that Vincent Kartheiser’s whole affect has become even more unpleasant. Look at his face. It looks like that all the time now. He’s in a permanent scowl or sneer.

 

Okay, so here’s what Joan wears when she knows she has a business meeting and not a date. The differences are stark. She’s mimicking menswear, for one. This suit is very similar to one she wore last season, right after Lane died. We note that because there are some callbacks to Lane in Joan’s story. Lane pursued an accounts relationship with Jaguar, a client particularly well-suited to his persona (as Avon is to Joan), to the consternation and resistance of the other partners. We also note it because it’s one of several instances this season of Joan wearing outfits very similar to ones she wore as little as a year ago, but not the same. We think with her pay upgrade, she naturally got a wardrobe upgrade, and in typical Joan fashion, she stuck with the things that work best for her figure and coloring, just rendered in more expensive pieces. This suit has those fabulous flower buttons on it, making it look more expensive and stylish than the previous one. Joan’s also wearing way more gold jewelry than she used to in the past; again, speaking to her greater earnings.

What’s also notable here is the re-emergence of the yellow-and-blue motif, which tends to refer to Don and Ted’s relationship and speaks of a lack of connection between characters. Peggy’s former schoolgirl plaids are now executive plaids and her suit speaks of power and experience in a different way than Joan’s does.

 

And here’s Moira, entering the scene once again so that the three women can stand both in opposition with each other, and somehow, in solidarity with each other. She’s rendered in solid feminine simplicity with large buttons, just like Joan, and feminine touches  (her gloves to Joan’s scarf tied around her purse), but she’s also in yellow, white and black, like Peggy.

Say, what’s Moira doing getting off an elevator with Jim? Remember, the first time we saw her was with Jim trailing after her asking, “Is that Shalimar?” Hmmm.

Please take note of Joan’s yellow pumps. We’ll come back to them. No, really.

Since Peggy and Joan both referenced the good old days in their argument, let’s take a look at one of those scenes, because it illustrates something about the trajectory of their relationship. Look at the last shot above, keep it in your mind, and compare it to this:

 

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Back in the day, whenever Joan was in a scene with Peggy, she was shot, styled, and positioned to look ominously huge standing next to her; literally towering over her and overwhelming her with the size difference. More examples here, here, here, here, and here. They’re still the same size they were eight years ago, but the power dynamic is entirely different now and Peggy never looks small or mousey standing next to Joan anymore. Peggy has gotten bigger while, in some sad ways, Joan has gotten smaller in this world. She’s certainly not the powerful and confident Queen Bee of Sterling Cooper, circa 1960.

 

Okay, we laughed and clapped at the sight of Meredith. Janie’s been having an awful lot of fun with the ’60s trend of dressing women in infantile clothing, but this is just hilarious.  All you need is to see that dress and hear that actress’s voice and you pretty much know all you need to know about Meredith. Love those flower earrings.

Wouldn’t it be HILARIOUS if, after all the fevered speculation about Bob Benson , it turns out that Meredith is actually the corporate spy/government agent/long-lost child of X that so many insist is in the story? Like she rips off her wig and suddenly she’s a deep-voiced brunette government agent hauling Dick Whitman off to prison? Matthew Weiner, please make that happen.

Anyway, to get back to it, Meredith is the one woman in this story not wearing any of the colors from Joan’s floral dress. Which is as it should be, because Joan, Peggy, Megan, and even Moira have quite a bit more going on than ditzy little Meredith, who can’t even read a nine-word fake phone message without making it sound fake. “JOAN. ANDREW. HAYES. FROM AVON. IS ON. THE PHONE.”

But oddly enough, she and Joan are both wearing prominent bows on the front of their dresses. Of course Joan’s is exuberant and attention-seeking while Meredith’s is small and limp.

 

Okay, so Joan is not only in the blue–and-green color combination that has completely dominated her costumes this season …

 

But Peggy and Ted have their own blue and green moment, which calls back somewhat ironically to all the previous ones this season, which generally had to do with them flirting with each other if not outright making out. Here, they are clearly no longer a “thing,” and Ted is essentially done with her. She kept saying throughout the story that she knew how Ted would react and insisted that he was a better man than his behavior actually showed. Kicking her out of this meeting was basically the impetus for what Peggy did next; a bit of sisterly solidarity sabotage she might not have done if Ted had just paid her some respect.

 

And to illustrate that sisterly solidarity, she is dressed in a blue suit with yellow pumps, just as Joan was earlier in the episode. That is a highly specific look and a costume designer simply wouldn’t accidentally dress two characters in the story that similarly.

But even more subtle and more fabulously deep, this scene calls directly back to this scene from last season:

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Which is when Lane and Pete wound up fist-fighting in the conference room over Lane’s desire to be involved in the Jaguar account and the partners’ resistance to the idea. Joan is in a blue dress with a bright green flounce at the neckline and Peggy’s in blue and yellow, just like their 1968 outfits. But things are reversed this time, as Peggy does the shushing and Joan becomes the partner trying to land an account and causing Pete to blow up.

Okay, enough with the women’s libbers. Let’s see what the boys are doing. We’re just gonna give you the following smorgasbord to scroll through and enjoy:

Okay, Harry is utterly ridiculous, but he’s absolutely of-the-moment trendy for L.A. 1968. Granted, even then he would have been seen as something of a douchebag, but in that crowd of entertainment industry executives, performers and hangers-on in which he spends his time, his look places him firmly inside the tribe. He’s groovy and he belongs here. We think the story is heading toward the opening of an L.A. branch of SC&P, which is probably when Harry will make his play to become a partner.

Anyway, here he is, working that blue-and-yellow theme all by himself. Interestingly, almost all the background characters are working the blues, yellows and pinks that dominate the palette this week. Don and Roger, of course, look completely out of place in their NYC greys.

 

Even their attempts to get groovy fall flat. Roger looks like Thurston Howell and Don looks like a New Yorker on vacation. But here’s Harry, in yellow and pink, once again fitting in perfectly with his surroundings. He doesn’t need a tie or an ascot like those New York squares; he’s got a far out shirt and groovy yellow pants. But we reiterate; as ridiculous as Harry looks to us…

He’s absolutely in his element and dressed appropriately. This is 1968 in California. Janie Bryant pretty much nailed it to the wall and wrestled it to the floor. You can tell she had a blast with this scene and it’s absolutely, perfectly of its time and place:

 

Yellow, pink, and blue dominated these scenes as well. You can see a range of styles here, from actual hippies, to Beautiful People types (like the hostess or the gal in the gladiator sandals; fabulously well-appointed trendsters), to various executives and professionals, to ridiculous posers (like Danny) or desperate climbers, and even to possible burnouts or runaways or hookers, like Lotus. It really was a social free-for-all at this time and place. The idle wealthy and the creative class gave themselves free rein to indulge in the excesses of the counterculture while remaining steadfastly committed to the capitalism that grants them their privilege, which allowed for actual drug addicts and runaways – not to mention all manner of social climbers and hangers-on – to party with socialites and powerful executives.

Danny would have looked ridiculous even for the time. His look was acceptably on trend for the time, but he’s clearly not suited to it; sort of like Sonny Bono, which makes Lotus his Cher. Her excessive jewelry is a whole smorgasbord of hippie, surfer, and eastern styles. She’s clearly no runaway, but she strikes us one of those burnouts who get passed around at industry parties. Not quite a hooker, but a party girl, for sure.

 

The perfect maternal figure, in pink, here once again to save Don. As we saw with his whorehouse flashbacks, he associates pink with mother figures, going back to Aimee, the mother figure who really set off Don’s women issues with a bang.

This scene continued a motif of brunette women vs. blonde women (Betty’s competing hair colors, Corinne vs. Colette on To Have and to Hold). The California hippie style suits her amazingly well.

 

Ginsberg always has been a volatile and socially inappropriate person, but this was definitely the worst he’s ever been. He’s always been dressed in disheveled, wrinkled, poorly fitted clothing and he’s usually wearing at least two clashing prints; in this case, his tie and shirt. His costuming reflects his inability to fit in and the obvious turmoil he’s feeling.

It’s interesting to note that Bob seems to have gotten a signature color this episode: brown.

 

Here’s where we get the first glimpse of Bob Benson’s inner life. It’s … spartan. And full of platitudes. He goes through life trying to be whatever any situation asks him to be and thus, he’s pretty much nobody when he’s by himself. Just sitting in an empty room, repeating his platitudes and waiting for opportunity to strike.

As odd as that might come off, we don’t think he’s nuts or even all that weird. We think we’re seeing what it must be like to be an ambitious outsider in a place as volatile as SCDPCGC. He’s just trying desperately to keep his head down and be all things to all people; the perfect corporate striver, pumped up on Dale Carnegie/Norman Vincent Peale -style positive thinking. As we saw this episode, it finally worked to his advantage.

 

 

As we also saw this episode, he really doesn’t seem to be all that bad a guy. He may not have recognized what Ginsberg is going through and tried to bolster him with positive-thinking platitudes about being the kind of man he knows he can be, but then again, we think pretty much nobody is recognizing what Ginsberg is going through.

Michael’s having a serious mental health crisis and because he’s surrounded by a bunch of lunatics already, no one can see the signs, except maybe Stan, who doesn’t seem to know what to do about it. It’s not just the inappropriate outbursts, or the silent rocking on the floor, but the admissions of auditory hallucinations; once last season when he told Peggy that he received a message from Mars telling him “Stay where you are,” and then again this episode when he said, “I can’t turn off the transmissions to do harm; they’re beaming them right into my head.” This isn’t colorful language or joking. People were far less well-informed about mental illness back then than they are now. See this for an idea of how it was viewed in the popular imagination at the time; it was Napolean hats, pink elephants and little green men, according to the conventional wisdom. People did not know enough about it to be able to make jokes about “receiving transmissions into my head.” That’s too specific and knowledgeable a choice of words for him to be merely colorfully talking about how stressed out he is over Dow Chemical. For such wording to be used twice in the very few scenes we’ve seen of him is highly notable. Again, you only have so many minutes of screen time to define a character in an ensemble drama. All choices are highly deliberate ones. Taking these quotes, looking at his general affect, lack of social ability, and a parent who seems to hover and fuss over him, we think it’s clear that Ginsberg is suffering from serious mental illness.

Not coincidentally, his clothes have gotten much worse this season and in this scene, he’s sporting both a plaid and a stripe, giving him that feeling of turmoil.

 

Bob the ultimate brown-noser gets his payoff while wearing yet another brown suit. This is one in a long line of promotions or career triumphs on Mad Men that arise out of office or personal politics and being in the right place at the right time. Is Bob gay, like we hypothesized last week? Maybe. Ginsberg obviously wondered about it. And Joan clearly isn’t dating him. It would have been pretty odd for a divorced mother to be going to the beach with a younger man she’s not dating, but considerably less odd for someone like Joan to have a cute gay pal. Still just a theory, though. We suspect if there is some sort of reveal about the “true” Bob Benson, a great deal of the internet is going to be disappointed.

Ted and Jim in blue and green, which has been a color combo that denotes both confrontation and cheating this season. We don’t know what the hell’s going on, but it can’t be good for the original SCDP crew, all of whom seem to be caught up in their own stories to see what’s going on right under them.

All of them but one, that is:

And he just gave up on the whole thing.

 

 

[Photo Credit: AMC – Stills: tomandlorenzo.com]

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