Thursday, 26 August 2010

Mad Men Series 4 - Exhibit E – The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

Scene of crime: AMC (US)

Defendant: Writer Erin Levy

Case for the defence:

First the Brits now members of another former empire make their appearance in Mad Men, clich├ęs and all – the Japanese. Honda executives are considering switching agencies and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce are, along with two other medium-sized firms, invited to compete via a presentation with strict rules.

Self-proclaimed rival Ted Chaough wants to beat Don, even if he is infuriated by the worship of Don, but his obsession leads to the (probable) bankrupting of his agency as Don resurrects a trick from the very first season of Mad Men. Back then it was what was to make Lucky Strike different when manufacturers were all in the same boat, now it was how to think differently when the other agencies had the same financial limitations.

Back to Don's personal life and we see more of him looking after the kids – in practice leaving them with a babysitter to go on a date, with the definite notion he could have gone at any time. Daughter Sally starts to rebel by cutting her hair and masturbating at a sleepover, leading to Betty slapping her in front of Don.

However, there were more than a few touches of humour to compensate, with Don's secretary Miss Blankenship fighting Pete for a present, the subtitles for what the translator told the Japanese and Peggy riding a motorbike around in circles in an empty film studio.


Witness statements:

"In general, much of the first half of Sword pushed a little too hard at the thin line that separates Mad Men from cliched tales of the '60s. The series has mostly avoided cliche in the past because it was set in a period of the '60s that was relatively unexploited...The best thing about Mad Men's second and third seasons were their restraint, their ability to back away from the sorts of 'Hey, remember when kids used to play with plastic bags?' moments that occasionally hurt season one episodes. Season four, though it's fun and feisty, suffers from a bad case of the subtext on sleeve from time to time." - Todd VanDerWerff, the AV Club

"What is the right behaviour? How does it define us? That seemed to be at the crux of another superb episode of Mad Men, which has so far defied those who might be looking for a crack in the veneer of its greatness now that Season 4 is upon us. No such luck just yet." - The Spoiled Bastard, the San Francisco Chronicle

Findings:

What to make of this episode, the first to make me rub my chin in judgment. Don Draper has finally returned to his old, creative ways while we saw more of Henry Francis and his relationship with Betty and Don. Pete Campbell was both a brat and a wise old man, something the best episodes show him as, while Joan is once more a figure of competence.

However, Mad Men tried to get funny with a Judge. And Judges don't do humour, not at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. We're taught at the Academy of Justice that a good character is somewhere between real life and a cartoon, and Miss Blankenship belongs in Toon Town. In moderation I can handle her, but if I see her acting like she did again I'll throw her in the cubes for her own good. Mad Men can do humour well – as when the translator said, regarding the Japanese business men leering at Joan's breasts, that "they're not subtle" – but Don's secretary and Roger's attempts at racist humour was too much. That's on the charge sheet.

In mitigation, Pete Campbell did show both sides that make you both like him and want to strike him with a riot stick. Betty Draper, who has been stuck in the same key, added a note or two, and Sally showed signs of development. I've seen muties eat a man whole, but I still felt uncomfortable at her masturbation scene. But it was also relevant to the plot and to revelation as Don was the only person Betty could speak frankly to.

I enjoyed this episode, but that's not how Judges make their calls. Introducing a nemesis for Don and disposing of him in one episode is not typical of Mad Men, although they did make it believable as to why they never mentioned Ted before. Similarly Roger's anti-Japanese feelings have never been hinted at for all of Bert Cooper's Nipponophilia. I think this sums up the episode – not typical Mad Men, but it just about pulls it off.

Verdict & sentence:

I'm still rubbing my chin on this one. I think I need to make an example of Erin. Erin Levy, I sentence you to community service cleaning the windows inside and out on the 250th floor of the housing blocks. You have leave to appeal. Take this flak jacket, some of those birds have taken a liking to human flesh, but it should protect most of your most vulnerable parts. Hearing adjourned.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Confession 20100819 - The Making of Mr Hai's daughter: Becoming British

Scene of crime: Book, Virago Press

Defendants: Yasmin Hai, author

Case for the defence:

The Mr Hai of the title arrived in Britain from Pakistan half a century ago to found a new life in London based on his view of Englishness. After importing a bride from his homeland, he eventually settled in Wembley and raised his family, including Yasmin.

Mr Hai – Marxist, atheist Muslim, Englishman – dominates the book, even after his death. He is the motif for the book – a question of identity and identity politics – as well as a clearly adored father and man of strong views. Amongst the prominent ones were 'no Urdu' in the house, to help his family assimilate, and no Islam, apart from Eid which he saw as religious as Christmas.

Later on, as Yasmin breaks out into the world and her widowed mother gains independence, Yasmin becomes a TV presenter and journalist and a default 'go to' Muslim journalist. The only problem is that Yasmin doesn't count herself as Muslim, and as her friends become more fundamental in their beliefs, is told more often that she isn't 'proper' Muslim. She in turns wonders if they are proper British, and what she is, proper or otherwise.



Witness statements:

"Had Mr Hai succeeded in turning his daughter into an Englishwoman? I’m not sure it really matters any more, but his kindly influence obviously enabled his little Yasmin to write this unbelievably funny, passionate autobiography." - Zenga Longmore, The Spectator

"Ultimately, this is a very compelling story and there are a whole bunch of interesting issues which I hope to touch upon in the future. In many ways, it epitomises Pickled Politics. I don’t think I can give the book a better recommendation than that and encourage everyone to check it out." - Shariq, Pickled Politics

"When Yasmin Hai's Pakistani father arrived in Britain in 1964 he determined to embrace Britishness, and to raise proper little English children. In her happy - if confused - childhood in the London suburbs, Hai was drilled in English manners, had her hair cut in the style of Milly Molly Mandy, and excelled at tiddlywinks. Now a successful TV journalist, she writes winningly and with great humour of the conflicts and realities of a cross-cultural life, and of her own struggle to navigate between her disparate identities in modern Britain. Charming, funny and illuminating." - The Daily Mail

Findings:

This is the first confession [* Tharg note, 'autobiography' for our 21st century readers] that this Judge has had to consider as a case and as a Judge I'm naturally disinclined to disbelieve anything tells me about their life – guaranteed it'll be a sob story so you'll go easy on them. Never happens, but they try.

I've not come across such an open confession as I read here, one that deals with the good and the bad, the rights and the wrongs. I liked her style and I read her confession quickly. No creep likes thinking back about the bad things done to you and bad things you've done – Grud knows how hard it is when you think how long you need to beat some perps to find out what they did.

However, like many a confession I've heard before, and will no doubt hear again, there were bits missing that I wanted to know more about. Her mother got a job at the BBC – doing what, did it inspire Yasmin? Yasmin married a Jew – what did the family and friends think, what was the wedding like? The early parts of her life are relatively detailed, but by the end she just wants to rush through it. Like I said, I hear this a lot in confessions – when the perp starts rushing, and brushing aside details as 'inconsequential', I know I want to hear more as they have something to hide.

There are times when she needs to say more. You can tell Yasmin has a horror of how her British-born friends become more Islamic and praying to Grud, I mean Allah, but she rarely tackles it head on. She also has an issue as being seen as a token minority for producers, but my research into what remains of the 21st century internet, all her interviews have been about Islamic identity and Britishness. I suspect that this is not her choice and she's a victim of her own success with this confession.

Verdict & sentence:


This confession flows well, but too much is missing and I want to know more, as any good Judge should. Not only that but Yasmin, in obsessing about her own identity fails to address the big question her book raises – can Muslims integrate or not? Her confessions suggests that they won't, a controversial point and I don't know if she realises that this is what she suggests. In the wrong hands much could be made of it.

I like her style, but too much is left out. However, she may yet atone. Yasmin Hai, I sentence you to 3 years in the cubes for lack of thorough thought, suspended for five years as I suspect you will make good a better follow up.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Mad Men Series 4 - Exhibit D – The Rejected

Scene of crime: AMC (US)

Defendants: Writers Keith Huff and Matthew Weiner

Case for the defence:

Don's drunken tryst with his secretary, Allison, finally catches up with him after bubbling away the past two episodes, while Pete discovers that he is a (legitimate) father at long last. While the episode starts with Don and Roger placating Lee Garner Jr at Lucky Strike over his concerns that cigarette advertising is on the ropes, the account that is at the centre of this episode is Pond's Face Cream.

Convinced that there's a conflict of interest with Clearasil – which just happens to be the account that Pete's father gave him (and had taken away in the past over Pete's refusal to adopt a kid) – Roger and Lane orders Pete to ditch Clearasil. Back with Pond's, Dr Faye Miller leads the girls from the office – not including 'old and married' Joan – in a discussion on face cream and relationships, which opens the floodgates of tears. When Allison can't take any more and confronts Don about 'that night' – she wants something from him and when he won't open up emotionally, and worse, offering what he thinks she wants (a glowing reference, not a statement of what he thinks of her) - she snaps and hurls a paperweight at him.

Finally, we see more of Peggy this episode, literally in the case of peeping through the glass divider into Don's office. She's hit on by a lesbian in the building but holds her own and isn't put off, enjoying the party until it's raided, making good of her hiding place in a cupboard for a quick kiss with an exciting new writer.

 
 
Witness statements:

"The Rejected's version of the Don/Lane bender arrived via Peggy, in truncated but still compelling form... the big scenes in The Rejected were far more pointed—though I confess they still snuck up on me, to the extent that I didn’t feel the full weight of the episode until its final few images." Noel Murray, The AV Club

"I am consistently amazed by what Vince Kartheiser does with Pete, leaving him to seem completely sincere in each and every one of his conflicting characteristics. Pete seemed genuinely excited to be having a child but also genuinely thrilled to be able to exploit his new status as leverage in his dealings with his father-in-law through the agency." Ginia Bellafante, the New York Times  

Findings:

I like themes in an episode. Mad Men in particular does this well as they don't force feed it to you. But by grud, The Rejected, layered it on this week, I almost thought it was a plant. Maybe, and it's not often you hear a Judge admit doubt, Man Men is a male-centric world and series, when it focuses on the women it is more noticeable. Maybe.

There was grud-load lot of rejection it this episode – Don rejected Allison, then she him, Clearasil by Roger before Pete turned the tables ("turned chicken shit into chicken salad") on his father-in-law, and the secretary with her ex-boyfriend. Even Peggy engaged in this, rejecting Joyce's advances and ultimately rejecting her boyfriend by not only not inviting him to the party but kissing another creep while there. Lane almost rejected Pete with his handling of the news he was a father before he corrected himself. As I said, a pretty theme-heavy episode.

This brings me to some evidence an informer, Hack, sent me. While the theme in this episode was overwhelming, the little details stood out, and you don't have to have a Judge's synthetic eye to spot them. Lane's handling of Pete's parenthood – focusing solely on the account, before correcting himself – and Don's shutting out Alison, but she still getting into him and noticing how he only turns on the charm when he wants something, are uncomfortably true to life for some. Even Don's started, but never finished, typed apology, when he could have said these words, are true, so I'm informed. Judges are forbidden by the Justice Dept from marrying or forming relationships, and watching Mad Men makes me see the wisdom of the Father of Justice when he lay down the law of celibacy.

Despite my objections to the defence, this episode was still better written than most other series. The catalyst of Ken Cosgrove – not seen since the end of Season 3, and underused then at any rate – led to action by Pete and was handled deftly. Dr Faye Miller's machinations mean I'll be keeping an eye, or at least a Spy in the Sky, for the near future – her wedding ring removal, change of clothes, even 'being forgotten' for the name tags – all stank of deviousness. Deviousness isn't a crime, much as it ought to be, but sleep soundly citizens, for she shall be under observation.

Verdict & sentence:

Hmmmm, I'm going to take my time on this one. In some respects the plot was a bit heavy handed and I don't like that – upholding the law, call me old fashioned, but I like it heavy - but plots, no. In mitigation the characters were well written and well acted, particularly Pete.

Bring in the next piece of evidence.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Mad Men Series 4 - Exhibit C – The Good News

Scene of crime: AMC (US)

Defendants: Writers Jonathan Abrahams and Matthew Weiner

Case for the defence:

1964 ends but Don's philandering doesn't. It's new year's eve but two men don't feel like celebrating – Don Draper and Lane Pryce. Pryce reveals he got a divorce for Christmas and Don returns after learning that his soulmate Anna – the original and only Mrs Draper – is unaware she won't be along for much longer due to bone cancer.

Back in the office, and like two acquaintances stuck in halls during the vacation, get to know each other in the only way Mad Men knows – over drink, and good stuff from the sound of it. A trip to the cinema, dinner, comics and call girls ends with Lane bedding one of the call girls at Don's.

Despite the poignancy of the scenes – two lonely men together only because of their lack of family, the cancer, Lane being an ass to Joan – the episode has its light moments, from Lane's secretary mixing up flowers between Joan and Mrs Pryce, Joan's husband's poor jokes.

Witness statements:

"How fucking great were the scenes with Don and Lane? Both slinking into work on New Year’s, deposited by their newly failed marriages. Their bender was something to behold, especially seeing the buttoned-down Lane come way the hell out of his shell. The movie theatre scene was a highlight." Scott Tobias, The AV Club

"After a fairly uneven second episode, Mad Men is back on track with "The Good News." More's the pity it has to be so sad." William Bradley, The Huffington Post

 

Findings:

Mad Men, it's been a while. I never sat in judgment on you before but my predecessor on the beat spoke highly of you. I don't know why you keep getting run ins with the Justice Department, I don't know if you like to push your luck but so far its held. Let's hope for your sake it continues.

The first two episodes of this series were reasonable, but seemed to lack something to make them rounded. The Good News is rounded. It would be easy for the writers to have had an episode solely with corny jokes, shots of Joan at her loveliest and drunken high-jinks. Similarly they could have gone with a dark episode, with two divorced men at their loneliest, Draper making a fool of himself, and unknown, deep, cancer.

However, the writers made a wise choice by not taking the easy route but the difficult one of getting the balance right. And it worked, luckily for you perps.

Don Draper, you're making a fool of yourself. But it's a believable foolishness. You also showed some human dignity at last, even if I nearly shot the screen while reviewing the case.

Lane, it's good to hear you speak up at last. Before now it was the Don and Roger show, I'll be monitoring you. You've been warned.

Joan Holloway, I've not forgotten you. Good to see you step to the front for once. You're lucky judges don't approve marriages as your husband would have had a firm 'reject' from me, although he has some qualities shown in this episode, even if you did not believe it.

Verdict & sentence:

It's the fourth series of Mad Men, and the 43rd episode yet you're getting away with this like you're still fresh. I'd suspect that you were on Stookie [Tharg note – an anti-ageing drug. Justice Department note – a highly illegal anti-ageing drug].

Innocent of all crimes.