How To Succeed In Cutting Promos Without Really Trying
If you're like many people on the internet -- many, many people -- you've complained that AMC's "Scenes From Next Week's Mad Men" aren't revealing enough. You may even find them so obscure as not to be worth watching. After all, you've taken pains to point out, lines like "I'm sorry, am I interrupting something" and "That's disgusting" could apply to roughly eighty-seven percent of the scenes on this show in one way or another, even when Pete Campbell isn't involved.
But Mad Men relies on subtext -- when an hour script is eighty percent set-design and wardrobe notes, it better -- and if you're an expert in picking it up, you can pretty much tell exactly what's going to happen in every scene shown. Of course, not everyone has achieved such mastery. It takes natural talent combined with the time and wherewithal to watch lines as bland as "Don't do that" or "That's how it works" ad nauseam. So for those unwilling or unable to decipher the meaning in the snippets AMC tosses us like crumbs thrown at noisy, irascible, fast-typing geese, here's a handy guide to what's going down in the scenes from next episode:
What We See: Don (Jon Hamm) pushing the lobby button and looking contemplative
What's Actually Happening: Good, we can start with an easy one. Contemplative looks for Don + no one around to see them = artsy, fairly opaque flashbacks. In this one, we learn that Don assisted in the birth of his brother Adam, and was so instrumental in saving him and his stepmother Abigail from harm that every hooker in the place, already looking for a reason, offered him free blowjobs for life. People become oversexed for reasons, you know.
What We See: Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) holding a box full of her things, smiling and standing next to Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm) saying, "Hello, everyone"
What's Actually Happening: Sure, you may think Peggy's just happy to see the old SCDP gang now that they're all back under the same company roof. But she's actually grinning because the entire Creative team, ring-led by Stan (Jay R. Ferguson), is mooning her. That new older lady we still don't know anything about even farts -- one of those little squeakers that are always good for a laugh -- which wasn't part of Stan's script. But hey, she's Creative. Their whims are their art.
What We See: Ted Chaough saying that he wants to "I don't know, have a little rap session" and Don reacting inscrutably
What's Actually Happening: For once, what you see is what you get -- Chaough is expressing the desire for the assembled group to throw concepts and concerns around in a liberal yet meaningful way. Of course, against the backdrop of the sixties, he's going to encourage creativity and the free flow of ideas and feelings by having everyone express themselves with spoken-word poetry, which some point to as the predecessor of rap music, but that's really more of an entertaining coincidence than anything else, although not so for Don, who still remembers the days he dated a beatnik and shudders.
What We See: Joan (Christina Hendricks) saying to what looks like Peggy, "He's the man in my life"
What's Actually Happening: Even without the knowledge that these promos are meant to be misleading, Joan's somewhat wry tone would suggest this line isn't completely straight. An entirely reasonable supposition would be that she's referring to her son Kevin; many single mothers have used jokingly used similar turns of phrase to refer to their sons. But Joan Harris is no ordinary woman, as she continues to make clear time and time again, and the fact that her tone suggests satisfaction more than frustration makes it clear that she's referring to her dildo. ...What, you don't think open office conversation about dildos would have happened? What were the late sixties all about, then?
What We See: Roger (John Slattery) asking an unseen group, "Isn't there a section of this meeting called 'Good News'?"
What's Actually Happening: I admit this is a tough one. However, if you'll recall, the fourth-season episode of Mad Men entitled "The Good News" was the one in which Don learned that Anna had terminal cancer. Frank Gleason (Frank Anton) also has terminal cancer, so obviously Roger is using the show's "good news" code to tell the room he's really anxious to move forward with the cancer talk. It's unusual, but as he'd be the first one to tell you, his mother did just die.
What We See: Bertram (Robert Morse) looking at a piece of paper and sitting down
What's Actually Happening: Look, Robert Morse is about to turn 82. When I'm that age I expect to have to write down a few key English phrases just so I can tell my voice-activated house when to turn on the TV. So what if he's on book every once in a while? I don't know why the network would draw attention to it, but maybe he was mean to someone in the promo department. You don't always know who's important!
What We See: Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) asking the unseen group, "Why didn't you tell us that?"
What's Actually Happening: Pete learns that one of the downsides of the SCDP/CGC merger is a space shortage, and as such he's being given the to-him-unenviable choice of (a) sharing an office with Ken (Aaron Staton), or (b) going back to the office with a support beam in the middle of it. I hope you can figure out on your own which support beam he'll choose.
What We See: Don entering an office
What's Actually Happening: Those flashbacks always come in pairs, and this time Don charging into an office without knocking reminds him of the time he burst into one of the whorehouse's rooms and found his prepubescent brother Adam just going to town on his favorite hooker, completely ruining the place for him in the process. And you thought you knew why Don basically killed him.
What We See: Ginzo (Ben Feldman), sitting next to Stan, telling someone, "You said there were no wrong answers"
What's Actually Happening: As part of a little CGC/SCDP getting-to-know-you exercise called "There Are No Wrong Answers," Ted Chaough encourages Ginzo to tell him something about himself, no matter how personal. When Ginzo takes the opportunity to confess his virginal status, though, Ted's floored, as it's part of his job to appreciate all forms of beauty and as such cannot believe that some lucky girl hasn't tapped that yet. Ginzo takes Ted's confusion as judgment, a "wrong answer," if you will. On a side note, Stan is bizzzaked.
What We See: Roger telling someone, "Have a seat"
What's Actually Happening: It may seem like a natural, generic, and innocent invitation, but Roger is actually trying his hand at Creative and unveiling his idea to land Preparation H. Jim Cutler (Harry Hamlin), who secretly suffers with hemorrhoids in addition to his not-so-secret halitosis, is unimpressed.
What We See: Don telling Peggy and Burt Peterson (Michael Gaston), "Nice to have the old team back together," and Peggy responding with a labored smile
What's Actually Happening: Peggy's internal monologue: "You and I both know that we have no idea how to work together if there's even a whiff of niceness coming off you, so once Burt's gone, call me a worthless piece of shit so I can prove you wrong by coming up with something awesome? Look, here's some money! Throw it in my face!"
What We See: Pete, on the phone, urgently asking someone, "What happened, exactly?"
What's Actually Happening: Okay, this one requires a bit of a long memory, but remember that magazine guy who totally was into Trudy (Alison Brie) and to whom Pete tried to pimp his wife so he could get a stupid story about a talking bear published? Well, Trudy does, and with the dissolution of her marriage, she runs straight to him and pitches a tell-all book about her faithless union with the outcast son of a family of aristocratic paupers, and he buys it in the room, the news of which causes Pete's outburst. Oh, she's also sleeping with him, but Pete doesn't care about that.
What We See: Joan turning in her chair and looking impossibly sultry
What's Actually Happening: It's against industry practice, but I'm going to tell you that you don't need me for this one.
What We See: Don hanging up a phone while in front of a window
What's Actually Happening: This is easy to parse with a simple mathematical formula: Don + windows, phones, advertising, Hawaii, children, British people, luggage, California, whorehouses, fathers, or anything else, really = death. Write it down.