Mad Style: Time Zones

Posted on April 16, 2014

Welcome back. Let’s dig in.

But first, Freddie Rumsen would like to have a few words with you.

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Picture it. A close up of a computer screen. Lots of screencaps. Lots of words. People trying to find meaning out of things; to impose order on the unordered. Close up on faces. They’re excited. They like reading this stuff. Back to the computer screen. Colors. Patterns. Words. LOTS of words. Close up on more faces. They’re confused. Some of them even look disgusted. Keyboard. Fingers typing. Lots of important things being said. Questions. Rebuttals. Arguments. And then the tag:

“Mad Style. Calm Down. It’s Just a Conversation.”

Okay, that was more fun than it should have been. Thank you, Freddie. We’ll take it from here.

Welcome back to Mad Style, the TV show recap unlike pretty much any other TV show recap. We say some variation on this every year when we start, so let’s get to it: Don’t take this so seriously. Mad Men is a show that inspires an intense level of examination in its audience. We, of course, would be the last people to criticize anyone for that, but inevitably two different complaints about these essays arise every year. The first is that we’re thinking too hard and reading too much into it. We have no rebuttal to that except the standard one; the one that everyone hates to hear: There’s no reason for you to read something you don’t want to read. If you’re not into the kind of intense picking apart we do here, that’s perfectly fine. Run along. We’re pretty sure Buzzfeed has a listicle about the “Top Ten Trudy Campbell Lines” or “The Dogs of Mad Men” or something like that.

Okay, that was bitchy. Also: fun.

Second (and this is the really big one): It DOESN’T MATTER what showrunner Matthew Weiner or costume designer Janie Bryant or any of the other creators of this show intended. That’s not what these essays are about. A work of expression has to stand on its own apart from the intentions of its authors. There are times in these examinations that we’ll question whether something was intentional or not, but in the end, that’s not what we’re looking at here. We’re looking at what the piece does on its own; what motifs repeat, what bits of meaning arise from various style and color choices. Again, if you’re someone who doesn’t want to deal with any discussion of this show that doesn’t center around intent (which is how most reviews are written), then this is not going to be the discussion for you.

Alrighty, then! Onward.

The only thing you need to note about Freddie is how he’s shot and the fact that he looks more impeccably groomed here than he ever has. Rather than be cute about it, we’re just gonna jump ahead to show you what he’s contrasting:

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Starting with a closeup of the face, moving out to a medium shot and then taking it even further, out to a long shot. The opening and closing shots of the episode, mirroring each other. The reason Freddie looks so well groomed is because he’s a literal stand-in for Don Draper. The irony with that final shot is that Don Draper is no longer Don Draper. That’s Dick Whitman on that balcony, cold and shivering.

Also note that Freddie’s wearing an off-white shirt and a red, blue and gold striped tie. We’ll get back to that.

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How many people blurted out “POWER COLOR!” when they saw this? We did. Going back to her first day on the job, yellow/gold has always been the color that signals that Peggy is hard at work and usually kicking ass.

Here’s what’s notable: It’s a schoolgirl plaid, which tips its hat to all those riffs on Catholic school uniforms she’s worn over the years. But unlike those many dresses and jumpers, this is adult and business-like. In fact, except for the color and pattern (and fit, of course), this is very similar to the kinds of suits Joan has been favoring in recent years. Note the Ted Chaough-like turtleneck here. She’s referencing two of her three mentors in this look. Don is nowhere to be found.

Also notice SHIRLEY! The hottest new star of Mad Men! Who else cheered a little at the sight of a fabulous, ‘fro-rocking sister finally showing her face on this show? Don’t get us wrong, we love Dawn. She’s the Peggy in the secretarial pool; the one you identify with; the hard-working good girl. But ever since the show started admitting that black people exist and they’re not all maids and janitors and people who commit crimes, we’ve been jonesing for a Diana Ross stand-in. Her outfit isn’t shocking in any way and could be worn on practically any of the other secretary characters. The only concession in the costuming to her blackness are the hoop earrings, which Janie has consistently put on the African-American female characters throughout the show. Note that she’s wearing a Peter Pan collar, which was pretty much Peggy’s signature look for years. A way of signaling that she’s like Peggy and yet not like her at the same time.

 

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Dawn is as toned town and business-like as ever. Checks and gingham are her print the way plaids belong to Peggy and roses belong to Joan. We think it’s interesting that she’s wearing a business-like grey jacket over this dress. After Joan promoted her last season, it’s possible she’s taking a more focused approach to her job. Certainly, she came across very comfortable and competent in this and all her other scenes. She and Ginsberg had a flirtatious moment at the door. Is there a potential romance? Who knows? But they’re both dressed in shades of black, white and grey, and Janie tends to do that with characters who are interested in each other or connecting.

Also notable is the fact that Ginsberg and Lou are wearing cardigans here. Honestly, we keep trying to make some sort of connection between the two men, but if there is anything being said about that in the costuming, it’s an ironic statement. They may both be in cardigans, but they couldn’t be less alike.

Lou comes across kindly, avuncular and professorial in his cardigan. He’s the exact opposite: dismissive, condescending, and uninterested in anyone else. We’d hardly claim Don was a giving and sharing kind of boss, but he was able to generate excitement in his team. Lou seems to seek out mediocrity. There’s not a chance in hell he’ll have that office for much longer.

Peggy’s yellow pops in this scene the way Lou’s pale blue does. They are the main dynamic in the room.

 

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And how many people blurted out “HEARTBREAK COLOR” when you saw Joan in this purple? It’s been “her” color in scenes where she was heartbroken; her rape, the breakup with Roger, Marilyn’s death, firing Jane Siegel. But like Peggy’s “power color” being worn in a scene where she has no power, the use here is ironic. This scene – and all her subsequent scenes – have nothing to do with Joan’s heartbreak. Once or twice, she actually mistakes the intentions of men, thinking they’re looking at her as a sex object, which makes the purple color even more ironic.

 

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This somewhat mimics the opening scene with Peggy. A man and a woman facing off against each other in the office. She’s in her signature color (purple for Joan, yellow for Peggy), but it’s ironic. She’s not being heartbroken and Peggy’s not really in power. He’s in an off-white shirt with a blue, red, and gold tie, just like Freddie.

There was a repeating story motif of women facing off against men; needing something from them, whether it was approval or acquiescence or just to leave them alone. In fact, we’re going to skip ahead again, just to make that point:

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Purple.

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Yellow.

She’s mimicking Peggy and Joan here. They all need something from the men they’re facing off against. People have asked us about her rather prim hat and gloves and whether it signals that she’s out of touch. On the contrary. Nixon’s in office. There’s a renewed sense of conservatism being born at this moment and in this class. People like to think everyone was wearing their hippie beads back then, but a lot of young women dressed like the Nixon daughters.

Roger seems pretty clearly at the end of his rope. This is signaled in the costuming by having pretty much no costuming at all in his introductory scene. Margaret, we’re pretty sure, has discovered some form of EST or Dianetics or other type of feel-good movement popular during this period and all through the seventies.

 

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Heading into the blue. Foreshadowing…

 

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That spectacular entrance.

It’s hard not to see this dress as an ironic reference to this one. “Zou Bisou” was the height of their relationship. Now it’s in disrepair.

It’s also notable how subjective this scene is; how it goes from Don’s point of view to a more objective one. Megan comes out of the car in slow motion, looking like sex on legs to Don. The scene speeds up, she opens her mouth, and it’s all stress and fidgeting and awkwardness. Either he’s completely blind to what she’s feeling or he’s deliberately telling himself a more comforting story; a story where his beautiful wife can’t wait to see him and tear his clothes off.

 

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Love the sandals. It’s the Los Angeles version of the Zou Bisou dress. Notice how heavy her jewelry has gotten. There’s definitely a jewelry story being told this season. Costume jewelry exploded in shape and sizes by the late ’60s and Janie Bryant has typically used it either to denote prostitution or to denote wealth in women. You get to decide what’s being said about Megan here through her gigantic earrings and rings. Wealthy, accomplished woman or hooker with a sugar daddy? It seems to us that Megan herself is struggling with that one.

And yes, she’s serving up some serious Sharon Tate here, just like Joan used to serve up Marilyn and Betty used to serve up Grace Kelly. Joan didn’t die of a pill overdose and Betty hasn’t driven her car off a cliff. We’re pretty sure any references being made to movie stars doesn’t mean the characters will share their fates.

 

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We are NOT going to get into the whole “blue and green” signals adultery thing.

 

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Nope. We refuse. Too early in the season to make that assumption. We’ll see. It was ALL OVER the show last season, to the point where we went a little nuts pointing it out.

But Ted does stand out as the odd one in this scene. Moira and Jim are wearing business-like navy blue. Ted’s in his crazy California green.

 

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From a costuming perspective, every Megan and Don scene served to illustrate how far apart they are and how little they have in common. She’s all glitz and youth and Hollywood. He’s all age and establishment and New York.

Her agent is a typical one of the period. A lot of people read him as gay, but we didn’t necessarily get that impression. He’s flamboyant in that Hollywood in the sixties way, but that doesn’t necessarily make him gay.

 

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Do these two people even look like they belong in the same room together, let alone in a marriage? She wants to dress in a more bohemian style and live in a cheap place. She doesn’t want his penthouse and his fancy TV. He has no idea how to react to a wife who doesn’t expect material things from him. Note that she’s wearing a shirt that mimics a man’s shirt. The whole look reads “southern California” in the same way her cute little separates and dresses looked totally New York.

There’s very much a Rhoda Morgenstern feel to this look, which may be a cheeky reference, considering another costume choice:

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Peggy’s “You’re gonna make it after all” Mary Tyler Moore-style knit beret. Notice how her costume picks up both the reds in Stan’s and the beige/browns of Ted. Everyone seems to want Stan and Peggy together. This is one of the times where the costuming seems to imply a deeper connection between the two.

 

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In a later scene we get a better look at the costume and we can see that it SERIOUSLY mimics little girl wear, as so many clothes did for young women back in the day. The knee socks and gold (no-power color) turtleneck are deeply reminiscent of Velma from Scooby Doo. But we think the point here is to illustrate her lack of power in her life and how that makes her feel childish. Here she is, taking all her frustrations out at a child, yelling at him like they’re in a schoolyard together.

It’s Peggy and Julio down by the schoolyard.

 

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This, to us, is a very clear reference to this look from last season; the one she wore when she realized she had to stop thinking like a secretary and start thinking like a businesswoman.

Now check out that jewelry. She’s positively dripping with it. This works on both levels: she’s wealthy (relatively speaking) because she’s a partner in a successful agency, but she got her partnership through an act of prostitution and she can’t seem to forget that. She’s always going to be insecure about how she got ahead and what other people think of her for it, which is why she got defensive with the professor and why there were more than the usual number of shots of men looking at her as she walked past them. She’s feeling the whole male gaze thing and it’s suffocating her.

 

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This is a spectacular outfit. We noted as the scene unfolded how a point seemed to be made about her taking her coat off. The camera lingered on the moment. There was a sense of shedding something and a sense of standing revealed in front of someone. We can’t look at Joan in green without thinking it refers to the bathrobe she wore on the night she slept with the Jaguar guy and like we said, at least part of her story here dealt with her insecurities about how men see her. That she took off her green coat and sat down in an outfit that says “I know my shit” was important.

Seriously, what a great, declarative look for her. Exaggerated details like that collar and those sleeves only serve to make her look more formidable.

Remember how we said Lou’s cardigan made him look avuncular and professorial? There you go.

And speaking of men and their sweaters…

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Once again: California vs. New York. Freedom vs. repression. These two look like they have nothing at all in common with each other. Which is a shame, because scenes like this prove that Pete is actually a fairly decent friend to Don, who can’t recognize an ally even if they were to set themselves on fire.

 

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Hilarious. Don may have thought Pete looked like a hippy, but this is pure preppy squaredom all the way. And Pete hasn’t changed as much as you might think, because he wore a near identical sweater in the office almost 8 years prior to this. Like Margaret Sterling’s outfit, Pete’s working that new sense of conservatism that swept the middle and upper classes in response to the counterculture movement. TONS of men in his age group were dressing like this and would continue to do so pretty much for the rest of their lives. There are still men in country clubs and golf courses who dress exactly like this. By the eighties, looks like this will inspire “The Preppy Handbook” and have a rather enormous effect on fashion during the Reagan years. The new conservatism. It’s coming.

Bonnie Whiteside. Because of course. Pete finally got his Betty. He’s been trying for years.

 

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Aint no heartbreak in this moment. Joan’s wearing the purple, but she’s had it with men defining her and limiting her. We loved this scene because it showed her using the tools she has to get ahead. If there’s one skill Joan Holloway learned in her 16 years in the ad game, it’s how to take an obnoxious little shit of a man and scare the ever-loving daylights out of him in order to get him to do what she wants.

 

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And because her jewelry represents both the wealth she acquired and the way men see her as a prostitute, here’s Kenny, literally throwing it in her face. That she doesn’t catch it is ironic – and telling. She’s not the person she thought she was, nor is she the person everyone else thinks she is. She’s figuring it out and she’s moving forward. You can tell she’s scared and overwhelmed but also a little thrilled.

(EDITED TO ADD: It seems this passage wasn’t clear. We know that Ken has no depth perception and that’s why she missed his throw. The above isn’t meant to explain why she missed it; it’s to explain the deeper meaning we perceive in the scene. That’s the difference between intent and meaning and how the two don’t always overlap.)

We think we were too hard on Ken in our initial review. He’s rough with her here, but he pretty much says, “You’re an account man now. Suck it up.” Still, just once, we’d like to see Joan grab one of these men by the neck tie, pull them in close and say, “I’m a PARTNER, asshole. You don’t talk to me that way.”

 

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We feel like putting a pin on this scene because whatever significance it might have is probably going to play out further. We find it hard to believe they’d cast Neve Campbell for one brief, very odd scene. Like seemingly half the people watching, we spent most of the scene trying to figure out if that really is Neve Campbell. We have to say, she takes amazingly well to the styling for the period, but it seriously changes her looks and makes her look older.

As we said on Monday in our initial review, she’s something of a parody of the kind of woman Don goes for; mature, sexy, and vague, with a tendency to drop somewhat silly philosophical statements into general conversation. “He died of thirst.” Oh, please.

Costuming-wise, her jewelry indicates wealth and the buzzing, busy print represent a distraction to Don.

 

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Shirley helps frame the scene in her orange outfit…

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And then Dawn comes in to punctuate it in a green dress. Both looks refer back to Joan’s green trench coat and orange blouse in the scene with the professor. We don’t think there’s deeper meaning to be found there. It’s just a way to point out that Janie works in a specific color palette each season and each episode. Those colors repeat, and sometimes you can find meaning or connection between characters. Like we said, there was a repeating motif of women facing off against a man, trying to get something out of him. Dawn and Shirley weren’t part of that dynamic, but the color story helps to sell how pervasive it is. All these women are facing off against men, in one way or another.

 

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We would be remiss if we didn’t point out the dress hanging on the back of Peggy’s office door. This used to be Lane’s office, after all. That’s some sneaky use of costuming as props. Well done.

As for Peggy’s navy blue dress, with its row of military-like buttons?

 

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Trying to impress her boss, Lou, and avoid Ted in the office. Peggy is Mary Richards.

 

The Mary Tyler Moore Show Opening and Closing Theme 1970 – 1977 from TeeVees Greatest on Vimeo.
 

And what’s the exact opposite of throwing your hat into the air jubilantly on a city street?

 

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Sinking to the floor in despair, alone in your apartment.

Aw, Pegs. You’re gonna make it after all. You just don’t know it yet.

 

 

 

 

[Photo Credit: Jordin Althaus/AMC – Screencaps: tomandlorenzo.com – Video: YouTube]

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