Mad Men – For Immediate Release
One question likely enters the mind of most who read these reactionary essays of mine: Are episode titles really that important? Should so much attention be paid to them? Well it seems so since this, the sixth episode of season six, was released to certain Australians four days early because of what the writer – Matt Weiner himself – decided to title it. The boffins at Apple’s iTunes headquarters saw the words that Peggy writes in the press release that closes the show and took them as a literal instruction, in much the same way as I oft seem to take them as a metaphorical one. It’s a funny story, mostly because Matt Weiner is such a notorious spoilerphobe – disallowing critics from mentioning most elements of the episodes in advance reviews, from the important to the arbitrary, like the existence of the staircase which proved this worth this week – but also because it, you guessed it, surmises much of what the episode itself was about.
Though I -and perhaps because I – have no real knowledge of such things the business side of this show has always been one of the strongest for me; I find each and every financial decision fascinating, the partner meetings are always magical scenes and the progression of the firm a remarkably fleet one. In terms of hit and miss ratio’s I could almost do without any of the characters home-lives. So the story of this episode, structured as it is around two massive corporate maneuvers, is the perfect plot for me on a purely surface level. Immediate begins, well, immediately with a small gang of partner’s – founded off-screen, in an unscripted evocation of Shut the Door – present at a secret meeting about taking SCDP public and profiting massively from the endeavor. For me this would have been both shock and story enough for one week, but Mad Men never takes the simple option and so this maneuver is quite literally only the beginning of things.
SCDP going public pushes off the episodes central theme, or as is perhaps more apt a title, the episode’s central question. This question, purified, is something like: What does it mean to ‘go public’? And once you have, can there still be such a thing as privacy? As she so often does Megan mirrors the central SCDP plot with her own; thanks to the success of her soap she herself has ‘gone public’ and this perhaps is the problem with her marriage. Don has shown himself to be a selfish, self-centred man; he wants things only for himself and hates to share, to get only a slice. So this assumption seems an accurate one and the prescription of private time potent; publicize yourself, stand in front of him and show that you’re worth wanting and for a while he will want you like nothing else.
What drives the episode as a whole though, and what connects it to that real life story, is the fact that so many of the men this week keep things private. At CGC the tragic news of a partner’s pancreatic cancer is kept under-wraps until it begins to be bad for buisness, setting a course for a string of such events. So many of the title’s mad men act privately at their own peril: not communicating, nor explaining their actions as they go; each assuming that they are the main character of this story, the center of the universe and the determiner of its direction. The result of each limb attempting to lead is always going to be the fall of the whole; which we see at Apple, SCDP and, of course, on those god damn stairs.
That leads in to the episode’s second central thesis, which is in a way just a re-titling of the first one: What is community and what is individuality. Taking your company out of the private market and into the public one opens you up to the world as a whole; it is essentially allowing fans of the firm to own a part of you in the form of a signature on a sheet of paper. Of course because of the chaos that the characters single-minded actions creates SCDP never does go public, it never ingratiates itself to the community. Like Peggy SCDP as a whole would seemingly rather hole itself up and stick with the devil it knows, even though that is the one thing that its leaders cannot do; outside temptations like Teddy’s taut embrace constantly seeping in the public perverting the private.
Although the show’s second shocking business stratagem, the merger of SCDP with CGC – creating SCCCD I believe – seems to suggest a turn here, I don’t believe that the message is so clear, that the firm will all of a sudden be waving to those kids on the stoop. Firstly, Don proposes the idea of all coming together when the two men are alone in a bar that is barely even being tended. He is the kind of man that will drink with you when you have something to give him – a pitch or something more perverted – but not when you need something in return; he’s never there when you need him. Don lives a public life, but he has deeply private reasons for every inch of it. They say that you’ve gotta be a part of the neighborhood, that you can’t be an island but they never really say why: this episode does though.
The reason behind that old rationale is that while you may well drive your own life, may control your own fate you can’t always account for the lives and fates of others around you: you can’t account for the hospital admin who chickens out before the heart transplant, for the father in law who happens to be at the brothel too, for the enemy of your enemy sitting in the bar you stride sullenly into or the techie with too many apps to approve. Not unless they are public about their intentions, unless they air the barrel bottom sentiments at top of the lung and mid-stair you can’t, as Joan says, act like you have a plan. But by god if Matt Weiner and Mad Men don’t seem to; if only they ha explained it a little more clearly to those beneath them…