Archive for June 25, 2013

“Mad Men” thoughts, Season Six, Episode Thirteen: “In Care Of”

June 25, 2013

* In the first shot of the episode, the new SC&P logo obscures Don’s face.

* Very autumnal color scheme. Welcome to the Fall.

* Stan has ambition! “That’s not the way I saw it.” “That’s not the way you saw me.” Poor guy finally takes the risk of peeking out from behind his beard (remember he was the one who advised Peggy not to hire Ginsberg precisely because his obvious ambition was worrisome) and this is how he gets repaid.

* Roger: “You learn more from disappointment than you do from success.” This should really be the motto of this show w/r/t its critics.

* Don: “I love Hershey’s.” Add that to the list, right underneath “puppies.”

* You know, Roger had a nice little hot streak here at the beginning of the episode. “It’s all fun and games till they shoot you in the face”; “Bob Benson’s here to see you.”/”Really?”…Roger truly is one of the funniest characters on television, and it makes him palatable to us just like it makes him palatable to the other characters.

* He does have his flashes of insight, though. Sussing out that Bob’s got ulterior motives is good old-fashioned accounts-man people-reading.

* So Sally got into that school and is already half a semester in. I guess that’s plenty of time to learn how to mercilessly subtweet your dad on the phone.

* I never really picked up on the idea that Don’s drinking this season is unusually heavy. That was evident back in season four, after the divorce and before Megan, but here, I dunno, it went over my head. But of course we’ve seen him drinking alone in a bar probably half a dozen times in 12 hours.

* This final drinking-alone-in-a-bar scene is tied to the original by Vietnam. Don’s content to dress down the preacher until the guy insults RFK and MLK and slain soldiers, one of whom (or so Don’s subconscious believes) he helped get married in Hawaii. Don’s conservatism is clearly the part of his post-Korea constructed persona he’s put the least energy into maintaining, and he’s repulsed by violence wrought against people who weren’t asking for it. So he insults Jesus a couple times, calling him a Nixon voter and/or a guy with a pretty sloppy handle on things, and then whiteknights for the fallen by assaulting a minister and winding up in the drunk tank. The social upheaval of 1968, poured into a tumbler and served straight into Don Draper.

* Those autumn colors really made it look like the walls were closing in around Peggy as Ted and his family parade through.

* Megan in white.

* Don’s lost control again…so he wants to move to California??? Given that I had every believe he’d actually do so, and that the big shock to which this season was building was that the final season of Mad Men would take place in Los Angeles, I was quite stunned by this. But I shouldn’t have been. Don’s always trying to recreate the magic of his West Coast sojourns. And that he’d just done so, so unsuccessfully, three or four episodes ago should have been all the indication I needed that he wasn’t gonna pull it off this time.

* Not only does he steal Stan’s idea, he plagiarizes his description of it. It’s “the cure for the common breakfast” all over again. (Maybe that’s why we got a glimpse of Danny again in the California episode.)

* That final shot of Don and Megan hugging each other, ready to make a fresh start — so soapy! Love it.

* Oh my god Manolo killed Pete’s mom.

* It’s only Tuesday, but already Vincent Kartheiser’s line reading for his response to Bob asking him how he’s doing is the stuff of internet legend. “Not great, Bob!” That’s a top-five elevator ride on this show, for sure.

* Peggy looking rrrrrrrrrrrrright. Wow. Love how she obliterated the brown palette of everyone’s outfits with that black and pink thing, too.

* “GM ’69” lol

* Bob standing there with the keys to the car; Pete realizing he’s been beaten before the game even really started. Poor Pete. He tried, he really did.

* The thing about Bob, though: provided you believe Manolo acted on his own, is Bob even dangerous unless someone comes directly at him? Pete was keeping him around as a secret weapon, but do we have any indication he’s up to no good? Left to his own devices, would he become the Don Draper of accounts, phony but legitimately talented and valuable? Or have his attempts to worm his way into Pete and Joan’s lives shown us that there’s something more profoundly troubling about him? (The thing at GM, whatever, Pete brought that on himself, like Don getting Roger stuffed and drunk and walking him up 23 flights of stairs before the Nixon meeting back in the day. I’m talking the potential that he could really hurt someone.)

* If it weren’t for Don’s Hershey’s meltdown, the entire multi-scene Ted/Peggy sequence would be the centerpiece of the episode, maybe the season. It’s not the heaviest thing that ever happened, but it’s one of the most carefully, unflinchingly observed things the show’s done; its sense of humor, drama, and sexiness is really finely tuned. It’s funny that Ted lurked outside her apartment and told her neighbors he’s a cop like that’ll make his presence easier to excuse. It’s funny that when he opens her dress she’s wearing a lacy black bra and when she takes off his jacket he’s wearing a gooberish blue turtleneck. It’s funny that her hot pink lipstick is all over him. (Kudos to the New Yorker‘s Emily Nussbaum for recognizing this as the “Mark Your Man” callback it is.) It’s sexy that he told her he doesn’t want anyone else to have her, and that she gets turned on when he tells her he loves her, and that she looks so good. It’s dramatic that it has this tone of conspiracy, and that he gets right in the shower after it’s over, and that he goes right from one bed to the next. Fine, fine writing and filmmaking, and a payoff for an entire season, and the storyline’s not even over yet.

* Bob killed Pete’s mom and stole his job, at least as far as Pete could tell.

* Part two of the Ted/Peggy storyline also feeds directly into Don’s climactic collapse, and goddamn is it deft. Imagine being someone who literally has to beg Don to save him — especially after this season, in which Don’s reckless, impulsive narcissism regarding business decisions has been smashed in everyone’s face like James Cagney’s grapefruit. “I know that there’s a good man in there,” Ted tells him, and at the moment he says it you just know that a large segment of the audience (certainly a large segment of the portion of the audience comprised of TV critics) thinks he’s just plain wrong. Don says he couldn’t help Ted even if he wanted to (which he already maybe does), then advises him “It will go away,” which I guess he should know, although he failed to mention that having one of your kids walk in on it will help move things along in that regard. Ted replies with the most telling and gutting half-sentence in the history of the show: “My father was–” half-second pause, doesn’t miss a beat “You can’t stop cold like that.” And suddenly Ted makes sense: the slightly manic optimism of his pitches, his oedipal relationship with Don, his abject horror about himself and Peggy. He’s an adult child of an alcoholic, and he knows what addiction can do to a family.

* Now we’re at the Hershey’s pitch. Don’s in control, but we know something’s wrong, because we know he’s bullshitting, and his best pitches don’t bullshit. The Carousel pitch is the classic example, but think back to all his man-who-wasn’t-there pitches from earlier in the season. He may not have known it, but he was telling the truth in them, about who he is, about what he wanted. Now? “My father tousled my hair. his love and the chocolate were tied together.” Fuck outta here. “Hershey’s is the currency of affection,” says the son of a whore, raised in a whorehouse, deflowered by a whore. “The childhood symbol of love,” says the boy who saw hobos symbolize his father with the mark of a dishonest man, who was beaten and hated. “Sweet tales of childhood” is the angle for the ad, and Don’s got the shakes.

* Then he gets real. Holy shit. What does Hershey’s really taste like? The life of orphans whose caretakers want them around, of families that are real, glimpsed in a magazine left on the toilet by prostitutes. It tastes like “being wanted.” It’s something purchased with money stolen from johns, then eaten “alone, in my room, with great ceremony, feeling like a normal kid.” It tastes like something worth destroying this client relationship for, because he wouldn’t want to sell it anyway, it’s too special, and people already know what it tastes like anyway. Ted certainly knows, and Don won’t take it away from him, at long last.

* So yeah. Wow.

* “To bring your mother’s killer to justice?” “Ballpark.” The brothers Campbell, ladies and gentlemen. “She loved the sea.” You assholes. Wow, this is a magnificent Pete episode, and it’s not even over.

* “The world out there…I have to hang on to them or I’ll get lost in the chaos.” There but for the grace of Don goes Ted Chaough.

* “Aren’t you lucky. To have decisions.” Yet who winds up in Don’s chair, in Don’s office, striking Don’s pose? Hope springs eternal, Peggy Olson.

* “FUCK the agency. I quit my job!” Megan doesn’t have decisions either. Well, she has one, and she makes it. We’ll see if it sticks.

* Pete’s free. “It’s not the way I wanted it.” “Now you know that.” Decisions aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. And yeah, beautiful, beautiful Pete episode.

* Don getting fired (“fired”) is something I saw coming but never said I saw coming so it doesn’t count for you but man I feel smart about it. But yeah, that guy was just fucking up left and right. Missing Sunkist, tanking Hershey’s, screwing up the public offering no matter what else he did right at the time, all those blown pitches, MIA half the time, making life miserable on purpose for at least one partner and the chief of copy…He had to go. It spoke well of Joan and Roger, and even Jim and Bert, that they looked unhappy about it.

* Let’s add Duck Phillips to injury, sure, why not.

* Bob in an apron with a knife hahahahahaha

* I like Roger’s tweedy jackets, like a Rat Pack grandpa.

* “This is where I grew up.” The poverty that haunted the season in flashbacks and in riots is stared in the face. A little boy eats a popsicle, melting, as Mad Men has told us before, with every second. Sally looks at Don, and maybe sees him for what he is. The end.

* That was a quietly incredible episode, one that tied everything together in unexpected ways, making everything feel meticulous but not like the innards of a clock. I love this show.

“The only sweet thing in my life”: Seeing Mad Men through its ads

June 24, 2013

My weekly column for Wired on Mad Men as viewed through the lens of its ad campaigns is up. This week: the season finale, Hershey’s, and the Carousel pitch played backwards.

Three deaths

June 21, 2013

Kim Thompson was one of the very best people in the history of comics, in every way that “one of the very best people” could be meant. He would be a hall-of-fame editor if all he ever did was get Jacques Tardi and Jason across to North American audiences, and of course he did so much more than that. As the co-publisher of Fantagraphics he was 50% of the greatest comics publisher of all time; without him I would not be doing what I do for a living, in a very real way. His editorial eye, his multilingual translation capabilities, even his jocularly merciless presence in comment-thread debates are irreplaceable. I will miss him, and my heart goes out to those lucky enough to know him better than I did.

Michael Hastings was a fearless reporter who actually damaged the war machine, the highest calling of humanity. I didn’t know him but know and work with many people who did, and to hear them talk about how kind and inspiring he was on a person-to-person basis, quite aside from the importance of his work, has just given me chills. I hope those who knew him and loved him can draw some comfort from the incontrovertibly powerful and positive impact he had on people and the world.

James Gandolfini gave the greatest TV performance of all time on the greatest TV show of all time. He was an absolute marvel of an actor; I can’t think of another performance that influences me on a day to day basis years after watching it like his does. I can hear him say the words “Agent Harris!” like he just said them in my ear; I imagine him reacting to the world to this day, like sharing his enthusiasm for “Game a’ Trones” or something similarly inconsequential, since as an actor he knew that’s where the consequential stuff would emerge. He created a human, and launched a new golden age, and again, I would not be doing what I do but for his work.

Each of these people is an enormously practical loss. Each of them did things that now simply won’t get done. A huge blow to all of us.

“Mad Men” thoughts, Season Six, Episode Twelve: “The Quality of Mercy”

June 20, 2013

* Jump cuts as Megan awakes without Don. You know, it’s just pleasant to see filmmaking, sometimes — the things that remind you of when you first became aware that the stuff on screen was the result of choices people made. And thanks to Scorsese I’ll always be a sucker for jump cuts within a single set of physical actions in a single physical space.

* Don curled up in…Bobby’s bed, or Sally’s? Either way.

* Lots of dark red in this episode so far. Uh-oh. Worse than the telltale orange, the eldritch salmon, of the last season?

* OH MY GOD KEN COSGROVE

* Seriously, I thought that was it. I thought they’d killed him. I’ve seen at least one critic scoff at that reaction, saying that’s not how the show works, but the show’s unpredictability is part of how the show works, of course. And dropping Kenny in the first few minutes is very Sopranos, too.

* Wow, that Nixon ad really directly presaged, or at least paralleled, the release of Night of the Living Dead that same month, didn’t it? Mayhem in black and white. Things fall apart.

* Don and Betty seem to be getting along great since their one-night stand. Maybe that cleaned the wound, I don’t know. Knowing these two I doubt it’ll last.

* Speaking of getting along great, Ted and Peggy are thick as thieves. I guess his blow-off didn’t take. Perhaps he redoubled his efforts after spotting Peggy’s rapport with Pete during their trip to Ocean Spray bog country.

* “You finally found a hooker who takes traveller’s checks?” “…why did I tell you that.” The open mocking of Harry to his face is endlessly entertaining, particularly since he’s actually good at his job — the partners just can’t help themselves anyway, such is their contempt for him.

* Rosemary’s Baby is back! (I really thought it was NotLD at first, but I’m not sure how many swanky midtown theaters that played in.)

* Don’s gonna fuck Ted because Ted’s fucking Peggy. (Or is he? I guess it’s not crystal clear. Actually it’s unlikely. But the principle is the same.)

* For the record, I share Don’s skepticism about using Rosemary’s Baby to sell children’s aspirin.

* Glad to see Ken escape death with just a faceful of buckshot. Glad to see someone, anyone draw a line around unacceptable conduct and refuse to cross it for love or money.

* I’d probably have been a much worse sport about the Sunkist/Ocean Spray switcheroo than Ted was, three times the business be damned. Did he know even then what was up? Is it just me, or is the irony here that Don would never have thought of screwing with Ted on purpose if Ted hadn’t already accused him of doing so when in fact he was only doing it accidentally?

* “I once had a client cup my wife’s breast.” The formalism of Jim Cutler. “Lee Garner Jr. made me hold his balls.” The ribaldry of Roger Sterling.

* So the Ted situation causes the Bob/Pete/Chevy situation, insofar as Sterling and Cooper join forces with Cutler to force a Cutler protégé on the account as a make-good.

* “You should watch what you say to people.” Uh-oh. Dark Bob. Pete, I fear you’re being out-operated.

* “I wanna be a grown-up, but I know how important my education is.” The education of Sally Draper continues.

* Sad lol at Duck Phillips still kinda implying he wants to work at SC&P. Nod of approval at Pete trying to get Bob headhunted out of his hair.

* Dark Bob en español! What exactly was he encouraging Manuel to do?

* I guess for the record I need to note Don’s baby impression and Joan’s yenta impression. They were funny. But mostly I was still wrapping my head around using Rosemary’s Baby to sell children’s aspirin.

* Seriously — surely the fact that that movie is really really scary, and that it invokes Satanism, was enough to make it kind of toxic for this kind of thing? Or do our perceptions of the film now stem from what we know about Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate and Charles Manson in real life?

* “This is as much for you to find out about us as it is for us to find out about you.” Sally’s a quick study, you’ll see, lady.

* “That Spanish fly!”

* I was not happy with the idea of Sally getting hazed. Fortunately it turns out she’s just hangin’.

* And now Don’s murking Ted left and right. Ugly.

* GLEN BISHOP’S BACK! HE’S BALLIN’! HE LOOKS GREAT!

* Loved Duck’s tall glass of milk.

* “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” “…I have.” The show doesn’t traffic in chill-inducers as a rule, but man, what a mighty, mythic exchange that was. Bob Benson, goldbricker.

* Great deep focus shots with Megan and Don. Again, I love filmmaking. Thanks, Orson Welles.

* Aw, Sally gets jilted. And then Rolo gets his.

* “You have to feel the conspiracy,” Peggy tells the client, never suspecting Don’s just sitting there being a conspiracy of one.

* “It’s a little bit personal. In fact it’s very personal.” No shit, Don.

* “This was Frank Gleason’s last idea.” He taints a beloved project even while saving it, dragging Ted’s friend into it, stealing the credit from Peggy. Absolutely brutal. A Draper pitch from hell.

* “C’mon. We’ve all been there. I mean, not with Peggy, but…” So mean! Unnecessarily! Don, Don, Don.

* “You’re not thinking with your head.” Sometimes Don’s lack of self-awareness can be stunning.

* Pete’s confrontation with “Bob Benson” was magnificent. “Well, for one thing, I wanted you to stop smiling.” Pete hasn’t gotten a hero moment like that in…ever? And Bob can’t help but be unctuous even when cornered: “You don’t respond well to gratitude.”

* Here’s the thing about Bob, though: If we believe both his romantic overture to Pete, and his story about how Pete was responsible for “hiring” him, that makes him not just a con man, but…kind of mentally unstable, right? As if the empty office and self-help tapes weren’t indication enough?

* “I’m off limits.” Now Pete has a secret weapon. To wield against whom? Does it matter? He kept the rifle around without ever actually firing it, after all.

* “My father never gave me anything.” Your ability to maneuver came from someplace, Sally.

* “You’re a monster.” I’ve seen a lot of people celebrate this line, this characterization. And obviously it’s true — Don deliberately dismantled people’s happiness in this episode, in a way that reminded me of, say, Tony Soprano deliberately goading his sister Janice into ruining her anger management. But I still feel a great deal of both sympathy and empathy for him, as I do for all the protagonist figures on shows like this, no matter how loathsome they become. They force you to walk a mile in their shoes.

Under the Dome with Brian K. Vaughan

June 20, 2013

Over at Rolling Stone, I spoke with writer/showrunner Brian K. Vaughan about Under the Dome, his ambitious summertime 13-episode adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name. I’ve interviewed Brian for a pretty wide range of publications — Wizard, Maxim, a cover story for The Comics Journal, and now RS — and the local-boy-made-good feeling I got when I saw his name listed right after Stephen King and Steven Spielberg in the executive-producer credits was pretty delightful.

XOXO: A Gossip Girl Tribute

June 19, 2013

Go read XOXO, a collection of comics and art inspired by Gossip Girl, edited by Robin McConnell and featuring contributions by Maré Odomo, Brandon Graham, Warren Craghead, Jacob Ferguson, Benjamin Marra, Mike Myhre, Jen Vaughn, and myself & Dan White. It’s online in its entirety at Study Group.

“You’re a monster”: Seeing Mad Men through its ads

June 19, 2013

Forgot to post this the other day, but my weekly column on the world of Mad Men as viewed through its ad campaigns is up. This week: Don Draper, Bob Benson, Rosemary’s Baby, and other monsters.

BIEBERCOMIC PART 1

June 17, 2013

Michael Hawkins and I made a comic about Justin Bieber called BIEBERCOMIC. It’s not safe for work. Here’s part one. We hope you like it.

“Mad Men” thoughts, Season Six, Episode Eleven: “Favors”

June 11, 2013

* What an episode. Hilarious and heartbreaking. Best of the season.

* I wonder what it says about this episode that it began with Peggy getting scared by a rat. Like, of all the storylines in this episode, hers was the least immediately consequential, right? So…something about the best-laid plans of mice and men? Preparing for another visit from the rat only made things worse?

* “Not all surprises are bad,” says Roger Sterling as he spontaneously learns to juggle.

* Peggy looked legitimately pleased to meet Pete’s mom. Aw.

* And now it starts getting funny. “Trudy dear, don’t deny him. Don’t reject his caresses. I hope one day you can one day find what Manolo and I have found. I’ve waited long enough to experience the physical satisfaction of love.”

* I wrote down “Bob is a wonderful salesman” and I’m not even sure what I was referencing, but obviously we later reach the limits of this gift.

* “Like everything else in this country, model diplomacy is just an excuse to make out.” Like visiting your son at summer camp, Betty?

* “He can’t spend the rest of his life on the run.” With that take on the plight of Mitchell Rosen, Don admits his own life is untenable.

* How delightful it was to watch Ted, Peggy, and Pete have such a jolly time! Yeah, there’s some jealous moments here and there, but she’s so good in each of their company, and so open even with Pete. “You really know me.” “I do.” A pleasure to watch, particularly compared to the debacle of a California trip that nevertheless netted Roger, Don, and Harry a shot at Sunkist comparable to the one Ted’s group just earned with Ocean Spray.

* And my god, how funny! “Did your father ever give her spa treatments that released a fire in her loins?” “Ohh, ohh, ohhh!” “I don’t even want to think about her brushing her teeth!” “I have never been less afraid of flying in my life.” I was laughing as hard as they were.

* The saddest thing about Don and Arnold’s relationship is what legitimately good friends they could be if things were different. Listen to the ease and articulacy with which Arnold describes to Don the problems in his marriage, the plight of young soldiers, and his love for his own son despite seeing the kid’s imitations. Later in the episode, Ted tells Don that he probably doesn’t have a lot of friends — man, what a waste.

* In a way, Ted’s relationship with his wife parallels Don’s relationship with Arnold. Mrs. Chaough responds to Ted with evident thoughtfulness and concern, accurately seeing how much his work means to him, and which aspects of that work he finds particularly engaging. She just wishes he found her just as engaging.

* Roger on the cost of his trip: “I have a lot of receipts, I haven’t figured it out yet!” Story of his life.

* “Imagine if every time Ginger Rogers jumped in the air, Fred Astaire punched her in the face.” A funny line from Ted, but also a revealing one. That’s how he sees the potential of his and Don’s relationship — Rogers and Astaire, dancing on air. And that’s how he sees Don’s neglect of that relationship — as a deliberate assault.

* “I don’t WANT his juice! I want MY juice!” “It’s all your juice.” hahahahahahahaha

* I feel like I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of the season just writing down great dialogue, but Mad Men is a very funny show!

* To wit: the exchange between Pete and his mother. All these wonderful flavors of humor. Shade-throwing: “I suppose there’s a way I could mistake your tone for concern.” Cringe comedy: “Manny has awakened a part of me that was long dormant. Don’t you think I’m entitled to the pleasures of love?” “Don’t be any more specific.” Mad Men style personality demolitions where you laugh out of shock: “You were a sour little boy, and you’re a sour little man. You’ve always been unlovable.” Chuckling because it’s kind of sad: “I have carfare, and a piece of paper with my address, written in his elegant handwriting.” And Pete hands her her purse. Christ.

* Don, do not fuck up the client dinner with ‘Nam talk, you doofus.

* Somehow I knew the first thing they liked about Mitchell was his ass.

* Of all the things I expected to find in Satan Rizzo’s apartment, a giant poster of Moshe Dayan wasn’t one of them.

* “Maybe I’ll make it worth your while if you come over.” “No you won’t.” Do you think she would have? I kind of wonder!

* Don and Ted’s grand compromise was a marvel to watch. Ted’s obviously making things about him that aren’t about him, which explains Don’s disbelief that scratching his back in this way is all it’ll take to get the favor out of him. Yet Ted also legitimately has Don’s number regarding his self-aggrandizement. “I can’t stop the war, Ted.” “Don’t be an asshole, Don.”

* And how satisfying for Don to affect a rapprochement with Ted, solve the Sunkist/Ocean Spray conflict, rescue Mitchell from his own land-war-in-Asia fate, and do a good deed for his ex-mistress Sylvia without actually even expecting to talk to her about it, all in one fell swoop. But that’s the problem: It was too satisfying. The moment he lit up a cigarette in the middle of his tearful conversation with Sylvia, you knew he was in trouble. He’s back in business.

* Mad Men Presents: Bob Benson Doing Things! “Calm down, sit down.” Bob Benson taking charge! “I did some digging, and — ” Bob Benson doing some digging! “Is it really so impossible to imagine? Couldn’t it be that if someone took care of you, very good care of you, if this person would do anything for you, if your well-being was his only thought, is it impossible that you might begin to feel something for him. When there’s true love, does it matter who it is?” Bob Benson…proclaiming his love for Pete Campbell? Okay, that mystery’s solved. “Tell him I’ll give him a month’s pay. And tell him it’s disgusting.” And he never broke his smile.

* Oh no. Sally. Oh no.

* Sylvia pounding on the mattress.

* Sally witnessing Don doing the thing Don witnessed his stepmother doing.

* Don turning around in the lobby, unsure of what to do. Don wandering out into the street.

* Peggy got a cat! Mrs. Olson, thou art avenged.

* Ted came home. Aw.

* Pete threw a box of Raisin Bran. Man, there’s a lot you can read into that gesture.

* The entire scene at dinner with Arnold and Mitchell was excruciating. Sally gets to see, first hand, that sometimes every other world in an adult conversation is bullshit, and it’s nightmarish. Contrast her reaction here to her world-weary sigh of “dirty” when she caught Roger and Megan’s maman in flagrante. This time it hurt, because the nightmare came from the man who supposedly supported all her dreams. “It’s complicated.” It sure is now. But she kept the secret. She’s her father’s daughter.

Why Boards of Canada are the Game of Thrones of Electronic Music

June 11, 2013

Two great tastes that taste great together: Over at BuzzFeed Music, I wrote about the ways in which the music and career of the great Scottish eletronic-music duo Boards of Canada, whose excellent first album in eight years Tomorrow’s Harvest came out this week, mirrors the A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones phenomenon.

“I Want My Juice”: Seeing Mad Men through its ads

June 10, 2013

My weekly column on the world of Mad Men as viewed through its ad campaigns is up. This week: good surprises and bad surprises.

“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Three, Episode 10: “Mhysa”

June 10, 2013

Was it enough to make up for the tone-deaf moments? I’m not sure. The show’s previously been careful to maintain a heterogeneous look for most of the cultures Daenerys encounters in her travels through the eastern continent of Essos, so the uniformly brown skin tone of the freed slaves worshipping the blondest possible savior figure was surprising and disconcerting – doubly so since, in the books, much is made of just how many different kinds of people had been forced into slavery by Yunkai and then freed by Dany when she took the city. This uncomfortable contrast kneecapped what could otherwise have been the most purely uplifting and cathartic moment in the series so far. Plus it gave the episode its title and was, you know, the final shot of the season – a rough one to go out on.

The “Mhysa” sequence will receive the most scrutiny, and rightfully so, but Dany’s triumph outside the gates of Yunkai came with its fair share of visual and narrative warning signs that we’re not to take it at face value. There’s that conqueror/liberator exchange between Dany and Jorah, which sounded like something you’d hear on a Meet the Press interview with Dick Cheney circa March 2003. The grinning joy on her face was carefully contrasted with Jorah’s concern; yeah, that could have been simply his regret that the khaleesi now has tens of thousands of admirers just as ardent as he, but it can also be read as fear that it won’t all be crowdsurfing and dragon flyovers forever. Add in the separate conversations between Tywin and Tyrion, and Stannis and Davos, about whether the ends (victory in the War of the Five Kings, peace in the realm) justify the means (the Red Wedding, burning some poor kid alive), and I half expected Drogon to be trailing a “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” banner behind him.

I reviewed the Game of Thrones season finale for Rolling Stone. A compelling, sometimes stunning, sometimes troubling episode.

“Disgusting Creatures”: The Simon Hanselmann interview

June 6, 2013

I interviewed Simon Hanselmann, creator of Megg, Mogg, and Owl, for The Comics Journal. We’ve both been looking forward to this for a long time, and I’m as proud of it as I’ve ever been of an interview I’ve done. Please check it out.

“Game of Thrones” Q&A: Joe Dempsie on Gendry’s long, strange trip

June 6, 2013


This is awkward to bring up, but youre a good-looking guy. I think that’s safe to say.

[Laughs] Thanks, Sean.

My pleasure! There’s a sense that with your character, and then this season also with Robb and Jon and Jamie, that theres now a movement within the show to show off the male characters the way the female characters have been shown off. When you have those scenes where you take your tunic or whatever off, people go berserk. Im curious what thats like as an actor.

It’s kind of weird, because from my personal point of view, you don’t really want to do nudity unless it’s appropriate, and unless it’s relevant to the storyline and it makes sense to do it in the scene. There’s a scene in Season Two where I’m forging a sword with no top on for no apparent reason. It’s amazing what a bit of soot and shaving can do for muscle definition, honestly. I didn’t recognize that torso.

I think David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss, the showrunners] still try to … there is a bit of a responsibility to try and even up the balance a little bit. You can’t let the ladies do it all. But I think they do try and keep it within reasonable parameters. That scene where I’m forging the sword, I’m saying that it’s gratuitous, but the idea they wanted to convey was that … it was more for Arya than anything to do with my character. It was them trying to imply that Arya’s becoming a woman now and she’s dealing with feelings that she’s maybe not experienced before. I think they just want to hint at that – I’m saying “subtly,” but … [Laughs] But it’s not something I want to make a particular habit of.

When I was cast as Gendry, I didn’t have any of the physical attributes the part required. I was astounded that I got the role, to be honest. But David and Dan said, “We need to die his hair black … and it’d be great you hit the gym before we start filming.” So I was told to get in shape. I suppose you’ve got to look like you’re made of steel for nudity. You’ve got to get some arms on you. The reaction is not something I pay too much attention to. You don’t want to be a torso. You don’t want that to be what you’re known for. I think if it’s overshadowing your acting, you need to up your game a little bit.

I interviewed Joe Dempsie, aka Gendry, for Rolling Stone. Another thoughtful, insightful, articulate, engaging actor from this cast. It’s really been eye-opening, talking to these people.

Bloggingheads: Game of Thrones and Mad Men

June 5, 2013

I had a nice long conversation about two of my favorite shows with one of my favorite critics, Alyssa Rosenberg, on her Bloggingheads.tv show Critic Proof. Topics include the Red Wedding (of course), Catelyn Stark, spectacle and gore, the horrors of war, world-historical events as “monster of the week,” whether character growth is necessary, repetition vs. novelty, and much more. At the link, you can even download an mp3 version if you don’t feel like watching it as a video. Enjoy!

‘The Whole World Is Watching’: Seeing Mad Men Through Its Ads

June 4, 2013

My weekly column on the world of Mad Men as viewed through its ad campaigns is up. This week: Hippies don’t even wear makeup.