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TV Review: ‘Mad Men’ – “The Monolith”

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This week’s episode serves up ample portions of humiliation, irony, and payback MM_704_JM_1213_0473for past transgressions, especially for Don and Roger. At SC&P, the screws are tightened and the tables turned on Don in ways that he never expected. Roger’s sins of his past and present came back to haunt him with a slap of reality delivered by his daughter, Marigold. Harry’s maneuvering with Cutler pays off with the installation of a new IBM computer bringing with it a both a boost to his status and a blow to his popularity. Pete continues to bask in the sunshine of Los Angeles with a big new business opportunity, and Peggy sees her importance and paycheck grow, albeit with some heavy emotional strings attached. With the exception of Roger, all the partners continue to stick it to Don and Lou Avery is proving to be a formidable and manipulative office politician.

The Computer As Metaphor

As discussed in last week’s review, 1969 was ushering in major changes in the media planning and marketing research offerings of agencies. As predicted, MM_704_JM_1212_0623Jim took the bait from Harry Crane and dove head long into embracing a “computer is the future” mentality. In fact, computers were major investments in resources and, given their size and space requirements, installation often meant tucking them away in new cheaper space or rearranging resources. Jim Cutler SC&P decides to turn the problem into an opportunity by creating new showcase for clients to see and remind everyone at the agency has “entered the future.” As we have seen in the past on Mad Men, offices and physical location are symbols of importance, self worth, and emotionally charged “space” for everyone. Lou moved into Don’s office, Joan moved up to accounts, Dawn took over Joan’s vacated space, and Harry has been pissed off about his “lack of stature” in the office for months. In one sweeping move, Harry gets something even more important than a new office in the form of “monolith” monument to his importance. For the most part, other than it being an added expense, creative departments were generally not that affected by the march towards technology. Unfortunately, at SC&P, the choice to have the computer installed in the creative lounge comes at an inopportune time and sends some worrisome signals that upset a number of people.

The lounge is the just about the only place in the agency where personal interaction occurs, and it is also seen as the incubator for creative brainstorming and MM_704_JM_1212_0445-935x658camaraderie. Amidst the sense that the agency is loosing its creative mojo, the symbolism of this displacement is very apparent and fuels growing tensions. Ginsberg lashes out by saying, “They’re trying to erase us.” Peggy says, Lou didn’t fight for their space since “he doesn’t believe in creative because he doesn’t know how to do it.” Harry responds by reminding them that they still have their offices in which to work and Lou dispassionately tells his team, “Trust me, we’ll use the computer a lot more that we use the lounge.” Further adding to the symbolism of the creative demise at the agency is the fact that Don arrived late since he knew nothing about it. Roger tells Don, the decision to get a computer preceded Don’s return and then adds, “Computers do magical things, like make Harry Crane look important.” Don then watches as the partners convene another meeting without him. A meeting that sends Don into a tailspin.

New Business, New Angst

Pete continues to bask in the California sunshine and turns a date with Bonnie into a new business lead and an opportunity to impress Bonnie with his business savvy. It turns out that a gentlemen thought to be eying Bonnie is George Payton, Pete’s client from Vicks. After learning that his father-in-law, Tom Vogel, had a heart attack, George tells Pete that he is now with Burger Chef, a growing fast food chain. George informs Pete they are putting their current agency, McCann, in review, takes Pete’s card, and promises him a shot for SC&P. Bonnie is impressed and Pete is pleased.

On a conference call with Roger, Lou, and Jim, Pete and Ted discuss the Burger Chef business and how their West Coast presence and food experience will give them an advantage. They agree that Pete should lead the business, but Ted quickly dismisses Jim’s suggestion that Ted return to New York to lead the creative team. Rather than having to face Peggy, Ted suggests putting Peggy in charge — “they’ll want a woman” to appeal to homemakers. Pete suggests Don instead and that is also dismissed. Pete’s suggestions are correct. The team of Don and Peggy are a great choice to lead the creative on the account, just not in the way Jim and Lou shape it.

In reality, Burger Chef would have been a plum account for SC&P. Burger Chef opened its first restaurant in1957 in Indiana and had opened hundreds of locations when General Foods purchased the chain in 1968. In August 1969 Burger Chef opened its 1000th location in Florida making it the second biggest fast food chain just behind McDonalds. GF continued its rapid expansion until the business faltered and was sold to Imasco, owner of Hardees, in 1982. Burger Chef developed a bit of a cult following and produced some iconic advertising featuring their animated characters, Burger Chef and his young sidekick Jeff, as animated characters. (Click on link below) Even today there is a Pinterest page populated and supported by Burger Chef devotees.

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 10.39.28 PM

New Business, New Humiliation

The partners agree that Don should be put to work on the Burger Chef account, and MM_704_JM_1213_0607Jim uses this as a way to put additional pressure on Don. Lou sees it as a way to get rid of his two most troublesome problems by getting Don to implode and Peggy to explode. First, Lou tells Peggy that he sees himself as a strong leader who believes in discipline and encouragement. Peggy, expecting discipline, braces for another confrontation only to be told by Lou that thinks she’s a creative star is giving her a $100 per week raise and the opportunity to run the Burger Chef pitch. This is a big boost in pay and an even bigger ego boost coming from a boss who, until that time, didn’t consider any of her ideas worth listening to. Peggy is excited and confident until Lou casually mentions that Don would be working for her on the team. Incredulous, Peggy asks Lou if he has told Don and Lou replies, “ You’re in charge, sweetheart.” Lou hands Peggy the ticking time bomb called Don. A brilliantly diabolical move by Lou.

Peggy convenes her first Burger Chef creative meeting in which Don is stunned and endures humiliation that he could never have contemplated when he said “OK” to the terms of his reinstatement. Don is summoned to Peggy’s office along with Mathis, a MM_704_JM_1213_0688junior copywriter. “I have what I think is very good news,” Peggy says, “I hope you see it that way.” After informing them about the Burger Chef news, she announces, “I wanted you both on my team,” and then requests 25 taglines each, due Monday. Don maintains his composure and asks about the strategy to which Peggy replies that Lou likes to get lines first and then do strategy. So, here is Don, summoned into a meeting in which he reports to his old secretary, ordered to knock out 25 tag lines in a process he believes to be backwards, competing with a junior copywriter. Boom! Don explodes and leaves for the weekend. On Monday when Don shows up with no work and stumbles out of the office, Peggy complains to Joan about Don’s being on her team. “He owes me work, and he’s going to the ballgame?” Peggy complains. “So they dropped him in my lap, hoping one of us would fail.” Lou is hoping they both will fail.

Driving Don To Drink And Think

Don returns to the office on Monday content to play solitaire and blow off the 25 tag lines that are due. He has another conversation with Lloyd from Lease Tech, is impressed with their operation, and he also sees the future…a new business opportunity. Don’s instincts take over and he recommends to Bert Cooper that they prepare a presentation for Lease Tech and get in on the ground floor saying, “The whole industry is exploding.” Cooper immediately dismisses the idea and tells Don his ideas are not needed or welcomed, saying, “You have a fundamental misunderstanding of what went wrong here.” A shaken Don reminds Bert that he helped start the agency and asks, “Am I the janitor here? “ Bert tops off Don’s put down by adding that they have gotten along fine without him and that he now occupies the office a previous partner and a dead man. Boom. Explosion number two leads Don to sneak into Roger’s office and steal his Smirnoff. Locked in his office, Don drinks some from the bottle, pours more into a coke can, looks at the Mets banner on his wall and gets totally smashed.

Fortunately, Don calls Freddy who comes to the rescue and takes him home. Freddy, who is no stranger to getting sober, gives Don a dose of realty and tough love. He Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 11.24.21 AMchides Don to start behaving and working like a responsible grown up and prove his partners wrong. Don complains, “They finally gave me something to do and it was write 25 tags for Peggy.” Freddy shoots back, “Would you rather be in my position, bouncing from office to office,” and adds, “Are you just going to kill yourself and give them what they want?” The animosity towards Don runs deep. Left unresolved, it will surely be major distraction on Burger Chef and lead to more showdowns with Roger, Don and the partners. The next day Don walks into SC&P with Peggy ready to pounce on him for the tag lines. Before she could say anything Don tells Peggy, “I’ll have your tags by lunch.”

Nineteen-sixty-nine was a good year for the Mets, who came from nowhere to shock the world by winning the World Series. They were dubbed “The Miracle Mets.” Now it’s up to both Don and Roger to shake off their humiliations, put pasts behind them, and work miracles at SC&P.

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About Hank Wasiak

Hank Wasiak is a communications industry leader and partner at the creative hot shop, The Concept Farm. Hank began his advertising career in 1965 as a real Mad Man at Benton & Bowles. He is a best selling author, teacher, motivational speaker and three time Emmy award winning television host. Hank and Dr. Kathy Cramer created a best selling business - self help book series based on Asset-Based Thinking published by Running Press. Hank also is an Adjunct Professor at USC's Marshall School Of Business.