"Mad Men" episode 10: Going Down in History

My literal achilles – the right one, for anyone keeping score – has been screwed up for like half a dozen years. Credit 29 years of compulsive running; more directly, a bone spur in the right ankle, which rubs; and its owner’s unwillingness to face facts; get the thing fixed; etc.

And so, as Homer asserted, we all have a fatal weakness. I have several, actually. Don Draper and friends, too. But before we talk about the Mad Men, let’s talk about the principal mad man – the show’s creator, chief exec, genius and I’d be willing to wager any damn thing, its chief weirdo/tormentor of staff/ruiner of backstage persons’ lives. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Matt Weiner.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the guy’s work. I’ve met him several times, in the course of media coverage in L.A., and have been repeatedly charmed by his warmth, kindness, openness, humanity and his ability/willingness to seemingly recognize me, ask after my well-being with what seems to be real sincerity, and seem like a truly wonderful, great guy.

To meet him as a reporter/writer/critic, to talk plot points and writing, is to sort of love the guy. He’s smart and nice and obviously a bit of a screwball. Plus also a significant part of latter-day “Sopranos” episodes, and the creator of “Mad Men.”

Would i want to work for him? Hell to the yeah! And would I almost certainly come to regret that decision, in spades? Oh, my god, yes.

We’re getting to the show, I swear. But first let’s shuffle through the memory cards and recall the many times Weiner referred publicly to “Mad Men” as “my show.” He has a huge staff, as all tv shows, must, and several acclaimed writers. Some of whom started as MH’s literal assistants, fetching coffee and the like, only to be cultivated into real writers and then real Emmy nominees/winners/etc. And yet whatever they’ve done, acccording the lovely MW, is in service of HIS show.

His characters. His stories. His world.

And he has a point. He invented “Mad Men.” He almost certainly steers every significant aspect of its unfolding story. And so all props to MW. Or most props, anyway. But the fact is, the staffers write and write, they come up with dialogue and beats and moments and invest their own creativity/brilliance/words/ideas into the mix. And yet, our good friend Matt continues with: MY show.

Which reminds me of the custodian/sage Paul stumbles upon in the middle of the night at Sterling, Cooper: A fellow named Achilles. Who you may remember as Homer’s vision of human weakness.

Follow the jump for actual “Mad Men” deconstruction. . .

Now let me draw your attention to the latest backstage dramas in “Mad Men,” a/k/a the recent (ongoing?) diaspora of assistants-turned-writers-turned-Emmy-noms/winners. They’re leaving the show in (mini) droves these days. And not saying why, for now. But you can sense what might be going on in Matt’s self-described world of me.

So back to the show. Where in episode 10 our main man Don Draper was engaging in monkey-business-as-usual with Miss Farrell; bonding with her eplieptic little brother in his quest to build himself a new life/existence somewhere beyond the shadow of his neurological problems; driving the creative staff of Sterling, Cooper to greater glories; and being roundly celebrated for the same, without knowing that his (increasingly unappealing wife, Betsy) has secretly discovered (tho she only kind of gets) his secret past.

Meanwhile, the past and/or ingrained flaws, is/are catching up with almost everyone: With Paul, who gets too drunk to write down his midnight brainstorm regarding the Western Union account (talk about the past!); with Roger, whose aging mom conufses his new wife with his daughter, and is astonished to hear that ex-wife Mona knows that he’s married someone else; with Bert, who isn’t eager to celebrate his firm’s 40th anniversary, given what it says about his own age and mortality; and with both Don and Betty, who separately/secretly have reasons to panic when a mystery caller hangs up on Sally without saying a word; and most obviously for Don Draper himself, who revels in the acclaim lorded upon him (by a seriously play-acting Roger Sterling, his former BFF-turned-target of his disaffection) for the many heroics of his pretend life.

Ah, Western Union. Have you ever been so metaphorical? “You can’t frame a phone call,” Don declares, simultaneously coming up with a perfect ad slogan for a 19th century product while also foreshadowing the world of trouble about to open upon himself. “The faintest ink is better than the best memory,” Paul had said, by way of woe-turned-unwitting-inspiration.

Our man Matt Weiner got plenty of ink from the New York Times Magazine last year, just before “Mad Men”‘s second season opened. The cover story about him described a briliant, yet neurotic and sometimes impossible to be around writer/producer who, it seemed, was actively driving his family and employees bonkers. At a TV industry affair a week or two later I asked him how he felt about the profile. Still in the thrall of his charm and intelligence I expected him to wax at least partly chagrined – to say something about it being part of the story, not the whole thing; that the writer had done a fine job, but maybe didn’t have space to include the part where he’s loving and supportive and kind to children, pets and employees. Instead, he sort of shrugged, and smiled. “I asked my wife what she thought,” he said of the quietly scathing profile. “And she said, ‘Well, that’s you!”

Not written in faint ink, either.

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