Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Gosford Park Avenue.

While I'm confident in what I have to offer in as far as Girls criticism goes, when it comes to Mad Men, that I love with equal fervor, I prefer to just watch it and revel. I really enjoy the direction, the design, the costumes, the stories, the characters — and that's all, I just enjoy them. I enjoy them enough to catch myself talking about only it on the weekends, when I get to speak to anyone, like "Megan" and "Pete" are people in my life. But I'm not provoked, and that's fine — I have limited resources. I reserve all my provoked-ness for Girls and I like my viewing life that way.

To wit,

Something's come to my attention in watching this season of Mad Men that I really like that is very, very subtle. I could be missing a reference within the reference here, but there's a lot of tiny, potentially unconscious nods in the way of Gosford Park. As a sprawling but — by virtue of being a movie — contained ensemble piece, it's interesting to consider alongside a show that, in its sixth season, is frustrating some critics with a perceived de-emphasis on the ensemble as it zeros in on the protagonist, Don.

I'm presenting this observation because I have three examples. Two is a coincidence, but three is a pattern. Since I feel like my example might really be two-and-a-half — that's what this blog is for.

Matt Weiner's summary of the scene pictured above features his characterization of Bob as an "opportunist." This was noted and dismissed by Tom + Lorenzo, to whom I defer on most matters of Mad Men, but this is the exact way Julian Fellowes described Henry Denton, Ryan Phillippe's character in Gosford Park. Fellowes refuses to dignify Denton with a precise sexual orientation and insists that observations one way or another are wrong: he's only in it for what it can get him.

The parallels in these characterizations led me to consider Bob's other appearances with Henry Denton in mind. This was fun to discover: something that puts everybody off in Gosford Park is the way Denton constantly winds up where he should not be which, in that setting, is defined by what floor he's on. SC&P has a brand new upstairs/downstairs that, after much buildup, has only been defined by a few funny moments of people running. If the stairs weren't situated in the prime real estate in front of Don's office, the only way viewers would consistently understand the agency had an upstairs/downstairs would be when a certain someone is reminded he's on the wrong floor, and that someone is Bob.

An aside: every time I watch that .gif I hear Feist's "1234." I 100% endorse Bob + Pete. Much of the response to their knee-makeout has been of the "ew-why-Pete" variety. I am happy to take this moment to express my love and devotion to moments in stories when I learn something about a character, and learning that that character thinks sexy people are sexy is real From Justin to Kelly territory. Bob's interest in Pete could be explained away by Pete's standing in the agency, some say, but I think someone canny enough to target Joan to help him stay afloat during the merger would better understand to align himself with Ken Cosgrove, who has Chevy — which Bob's involved in, too — and who has been hit on by everybody. There could be a scene yet to come where Ken is all, "No, Pete, he did that to my knee, too. He's done that to everyone's knee — swig, winsome look and all." But I think it would be a superior leap in storytelling for us to explore someone who loves someone who's gone down, mother-approved, as definitively unlovable.

The other example was the most overt. Since it's a blood-relation of one of the canniest lines in Gosford Park, I'm wondering if it wasn't a reference to something else, but here: when Joan met with the Avon executive on what she thought was a date that she successfully turned into a productive lunch, he asked what her position was at the agency. Since the real answer didn't impress her — and since it's probably still lurking somewhere circa "Director of Agency Operations" — she cleverly described her job using terms almost identical to Helen Mirren's character in Gosford Park, the Joan of the manor who anticipates the needs of her employers, who knows what they want before they want it themselves. This self-characterization comes on the heels of her poisoning her employer, and Joan's self-characterization precedes something as destructive: she almost sabotages the procurement of a client. Both schemes are upended by the "real" protagonist, the young lady (Peggy on Mad Men, Mary in Gosford Park).

If Matt Weiner has been watching Fellowes' work, I'm glad he invested in Gosford Park. I don't care for that other thing he did (and now Dan Stevens is gone and now there is no point).

This all might seem really slight, but considering how everyone's place in the scheme of the business is in question, how the scrappy camaraderie of seasons four and five is totally erased because of the machinations of the big white dads — and their big white dad at GM — the subtext of class anxiety is very appropriate.

Also, if Matt Zoller Seitz's wishes for Pete come true — I could not agree more with every last one of his feelings on that subject — it would make a moment from last season even more explosively, preciously wonderful than when it happened. After Megan left the agency and Jaguar still wanted Mr. and Mrs. Draper to test drive the car, Pete tried to console Don by reminding him of the sheer momentousness that was landing a car account:

Pete: You know, if I told you last December that we’d be in the running for a car, you would’ve kissed me on the mouth
Don: Maybe you and I should go as a couple.

Yes. Yes.

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