Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A "Map" From David Cronenberg

David Cronenberg is one of those directors whose work I fell in love with just when I was getting into cinema.  I committed myself to watching every new film he made, a promise that's been hard to keep over the past decade.  His last two features, "A Dangerous Mind" and "Cosmopolis," were not only misfires but didn't feel like Cronenberg's work.  Really, nothing has since Cornenberg largely stopped writing his own scripts in the late 90s (ironically, he did write "Cosmopolis").  His latest, however, "Maps to the Stars," suggests he's getting back to his roots. 
 
"Maps to the Stars" takes us back to the director's favorite subject matter: the freaks.  And where are there more examples of human freakishness than Hollywood?  The chief attractions here are Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), an aging actress, and Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird), a teen idol fresh out of rehab.  They are both horrible human beings whose behavior is enabled by their wealth and fame.  Benjie also gets plenty of bad influence from his parents Stafford (John Cusack), a prominent celebrity psychologist, and Cristina (Olivia Williams), Benjie's manager.  As Havana and Benjie journey toward their emotional nadirs, they keep seeing ghosts.  Havana is terrified by visions of her abusive dead mother Clarice (Sarah Gadon), a more successful actress who still has a cult following.  Benjie sees a young fan (Kiara Glasco) who recently died after he visited her in the hospital.  And then into their lives comes a young woman named Agatha (Mia Wasikowsa), fresh off the bus from Florida, whose first act upon arrival is to employ a limo driver named Jerome (Robert Pattinson).
 
At first the movie is a satire of celebrity culture.  We watch Havana and Benjie and their handlers network and negotiate deals for new acting jobs.  The dialogue is full of namedropping, evasive language, and empty pleasantries.  We watch the handlers go to extraordinary lengths to placate and protect Havana and Benjie's egoes, and the worse they behave, the more they're catered to.  Everyone speaks in coded terms, and it gets exhausting trying to keep up with the onslaught of aggressive insincerity.  I was expecting the absurdity of the doublespeak and the depravity of the scummy stars to be the point of the movie - and it would have been a pretty decent one.  But then about halfway through, "Maps to the Stars" gradually becomes something stranger and weirder and more wonderfully Cronenbergian.
 
The key to the film is Agatha, given a wonderfully enigmatic air by Mia Wasikowska.  She slips into the part of enterprising Hollywood up-and-comer and uses all the same networking and namedropping tricks to position herself exactly where she wants to be.  And then she reveals that what she wants has nothing to do with Hollywood or celebrity.  She's the agent of far more primal, mysterious forces.  Unlike the denizens of Tinseltown, she has no regard for her reputation or fear of scandal.  She repeats old movie lines not as a mantra, but almost as words to a ritual.  Just as "Videodrome" was only peripherally about television and "eXistenxZ" was only peripherally about video games, "Maps to the Stars" starts out in show business and then goes off to explore dysfunctional families, the aftereffects of terrible tragedy, predestination, and, of course, body horror. 
 
Sadly, the movie gets to the juicy stuff fairly late, and only after the audience has been forced to endure many of Havana and Benjie's spoiled brat antics, which wear very thin.  Cronenberg's picture of Hollywood doesn't sit quite right either, or is perhaps a few years out of date.  Social media is ignored completely.  "Battlestar Galactica" is apparently still in production.  Perhaps the most egregious miss, however, is Benjie, whose bad boy behavior is not remotely as extreme as those of the actual young celebrities he was clearly modeled on.  Evan Bird's bland performance doesn't do Benjie any favors either.  Far from being troubled, or in recovery, he mostly just looks bored. 
 
Julianne Moore, fortunately, delivers a good turn as the narcissistic, fame-hungry Havana.  She walks a very fine line between hateable and pitiful, and is occasionally very, very funny.  Mia Wasikowska is quickly becoming indispensable to every film she appears in.  I liked Robert Pattinson, John Cusack, and Olivia Williams here too, though I wish they'd gotten more time and attention.  A lot of their best moments happen on the periphery, in little throwaway bits here and there. 
 
What made "Maps the Stars" for me, though was the mood and the tone, the dreamy dissonances and the haunting evocations of the unknown.  There are horrible things that happen, but this isn't a horror film or a thriller.  It's something more meditative and measured.  Like Agatha, there's a quiet, unshakeable certainty in its attitude as we watch each star-crossed lover careen toward their doom.  And it's all weird as hell.  That's the David Cronenberg I love.
 
There's plenty in the movie that I don't like, but I recommend it nonetheless.
 
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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Mad Men: "Lost Horizons"

Spoilers ahead.
 
"Mad Men" occasionally has what can be described as trippy existential episodes, often involving drugs.  The borders of reality blur a bit, dreams and visions come into play, and we get such memorable incidents as Roger hallucinating the 1919 World Series and Ginsburg losing a nipple.  Things can get silly, but they can also get horrific or profound.  I wasn't expecting another one of these trips so late in the game, but the show had a good excuse.  "SC&P" is shutting down and the staff is going through a bumpy transition as they get "settled in" at McCann Erickson.  Suddenly our regulars have been flung apart, separated by different floors and different places in the new hierarchy.  Everything is uncertain and up in the air.
 
The first scene with Don in his office feels like such a tease.  There's the New York skyline and there's the window, just waiting for Don to open it and jump.  He does take a metaphorical leap later in the hour, leaving the meeting with Miller to go off in search of Diana, who is clearly now meant to be a version of Don himself, or a possible future he's not keen on giving up.  It's another episode of Don trying on different roles - dutiful husband and father, prize-giver, and concerned friend.  Some fit better than others, but the role he absolutely doesn't want is to be Don Draper from McCann Erickson, Jim Hobart's golden boy.  I have no idea where Don is heading, but I don't think he's going back to New York or advertising this time.  The old patterns are no longer holding, and Don really has nothing to go back to.  Apartment, family career - all gone.
 
He clearly sensed that he would only become a cog at McCann, unable to work the way he wanted to, which it took Joan a while to figure out.  After her failed attempts to problem solve through the boorish McCann executives, it was incredibly rewarding to see her go full feminist on Jim Hobart.  This is a confrontation that has been building for ages, and was heavily foreshadowed the last time we saw Joan and Peggy meeting with McCann staffers.  I so relished Joan finally putting her foot down and making Hobart take her seriously.  She only left for Roger's sake, and god bless Roger, but he completely missed it.  Exit Joan with her photograph of Kevin, her rolodex, and her self-worth intact.  This was surely her swan song, and it was a fine one. 
 
But what about Peggy?  Joan fought her battle before Peggy even got into the building.  Clearly some women can advance at McCann, but they have to hide away their femininity to do it, from the looks of Joan's welcome wagon.  This was impossible for Joan, clearly, but could Peggy fare better?  The final scene of her coming in with the lit cigarette and Bert Cooper's tentacle porn under her arm surely suggests it.  I couldn't help thinking of Peggy as Joan's relief pitcher, stepping in to increase the offense.  Hobart may have gotten rid of the most powerful woman at SC&P, but he's got more to contend with, especially as "Mad Men" keeps signalling that Peggy is also stepping up to fill Don's shoes.  That conversation with Roger and Peggy as they're getting drunk on Vermouth?  In an earlier season that would have been Don drinking with Roger.
 
And how great was it to see Peggy and Roger finally spending some quality time together?  It's still strikes me as a little strange that Roger and Peter are being so chummy with Joan and Peggy, but they've all been on the same ship together for years, and both men have had to learn the hard way to give the women in their lives their due.  And in unfamiliar new surroundings, you tend to grab hold of anything familiar - even the African-American second secretary you nearly fired last week.  Okay, the bit with the organ and the roller skates was a little forced, but after Peggy spent most of the hour in the uneasy limbo of the empty, post-apocalyptic offices of SC&P, we were due for a few final drunken antics.   
 
So where is Don aka Major Tom going to end up?  And how will everyone else fare at McCann?  I expect another time jump coming up, but who knows how far into the future we're going?
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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Mad Men: "Time & Life"

Spoilers ahead.
 
The end of SC&P came quicker than I thought.  I was prepared for an epic, multi-episode fight for the firm.  However, the big changes in "Mad Men" tend to happen quickly, and it only took an episode for the axe to fall, despite Don rallying the troops for what looked like another of his famous last minute miracle saves.  Another fresh start.  Another grand escape.  We've seen him do it so many times, it took a few minutes for it to sink in that SC&P really is finished.   This was easily the best episode of the season so far, as the big firm upheaval events usually are, and it got a lot of extra oomph from multiple callbacks to and echoes of previous episodes.
 
This is Pete's first spotlight of the season, and perhaps his only spotlight.  He's not awful for once.  Oh sure, we know he can still be a rat bastard, restarting a blood feud over Tammy's school enrollment, but he's an absolute gentleman to the three women we've seen him consistently clash with in the past: Peggy, Trudy, and Joan.   Even though he was at odds with Peggy last week, she's the first one that Pete warns when the news about McCann Erickson breaks.  He shores up Joan's ego on the ride home after their fates are sealed, letting his guard down enough to reveal that he really does respect her.  Even a reconciliation with Trudy looks possible.  I wonder if Pete has fundamentally changed or if it's just the circumstances of the the firm going down that's made him more altruistic.  Might Pete without the competitiveness and the jealousy that the job brings out, actually be a decent person?
 
Peggy, one of the only employees who seems fine with SC&P's end, is dismayed to discover her best option is to continue to operate in Don Draper's shadow at McCann.  She's also forced to revisit her decision to give up her son after some adventures in babysitting with Stan.  It's one of the few times the frustration with being a career woman is so plainly expressed by anyone in the show.  It's a welcome rant, even if Peggy's example of a double standard doesn't put her in a sympathetic light.  She's come a long way since Season One, but she resents how much of a gender gap she still has to overcome and the sacrifices that she's had to make to get where she is.  But as much as she doesn't like her choices she still makes them and has found ways to live with them.  I also think that Stan's a little premature in concluding that Peggy will never become a mother.  Her prospects aren't good but she still has a chance.  
 
The rest of the SC&P regulars are far less sure about their own fates even though they've largely been decided.  The partners are handed plum accounts, but the signs of impending doom are everywhere.  The highlight of the hour was McCann exec Jim Hobart, played by H. Richard Greene, trying to convince them that they were entering "advertising heaven" in terms that recalled Ned Beatty's business-worshipping speech from "Network."  Don and the other partners allow themselves to be convinced, briefly, that the move might not be so bad.  The closing scene, however, where they're unable to quell the buzzing panic of their staff, is pointing to some bleak times ahead.  The inescapable irony is that Don fought his way back into the advertising game and is going to end up stuck in advertising hell.  Peggy was told to get out of McCann in three years, but Don will be forced to stick around for four.
 
In the end I'm glad that three episodes are left for a proper denouement.  I hope we get more little sendoffs like the one Lou Avery got.  The idea of him shipping off to Japan to become an anime producer is absolutely hysterical.  The mentions of Diana were so brief but so pointed, it surely means the show isn't done with her yet.  I'd like Roger and his legacy woes to get a spotlight episode next, but at the same time there are a lot of other characters we need to check up on and not a whole lot of time left.  I'm going to miss these characters once they're gone. 

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Monday, April 27, 2015

A Reaction to Reaction Videos

A new "Star Wars" trailer came out recently, and it was warmly received by just about everyone with an internet connection.  I didn't think there was enough content there to write up a whole post about, and figured that the buzz around it would die down quickly.  Except it hasn't.  And now Disney's stock price has gotten a boost from all the attention.  And the mashups and analysis pieces are everywhere.  And then there are the reaction videos.

As the kids say, "So this is a thing now."  People filming themselves reacting to pieces of media now also constitute media available for our consumption in and of themselves.  Father Roderick Vonhögen, a Catholic priest, probably has the most widely circulated "Star Wars" reaction video at this point.  It shows him watching the new trailer, providing commentary, and reacting to the big moments with an infectious childlike excitement, including interjections like "Holy Cow!"  There are plenty of others if you poke around on Youtube, including helpful compilations of some of the best ones.  At first the thought of watching someone watching a trailer sounds strange, but it's easy to get sucked in.  Watching people's eyes light up when they see the fallen (Super?) Star Destroyer, or burst into tears when they see Han and Chewbacca can be as much fun as watching the trailer itself, because it helps reflect and magnify your own emotions. 

Similar reaction videos have been around for a while, though usually involving more negative reactions caught on camera.  Reactions to major deaths in prior seasons of "Game of Thrones" have been very popular.  A few involving small children and the the famous Darth Vader reveal from "The Empire Strikes Back" can be found with some digging.  Capturing shock rather than elation was the goal, allowing those who had already been through the same experience to relive the event through somebody else.  I think it's important to point out that it doesn't matter who's starring in these videos.  It's the candidness, honesty, and unfiltered emotion on display that are the biggest draws.  I've heard some comparisons made to watching reality television, as all the video uploaders are attention seekers to some extent.  However, I think reaction videos can also be classified as a variation on traditional communal viewing. 

Remember the legendary office water cooler at work where all of us supposedly used to congregate to discuss what had happened on our favorite shows the previous night?  There's still plenty of that kind of discourse going on through a million blogs and thinkpieces.  Heck, I'm blogging the last season of "Mad Men" as it airs.  However, it's harder to translate the more the immediate, visceral response to watching a movie or television show to the digital arena.  Watching a movie in a  theater with an audience, or even at home with friends is a very different experience from watching it alone.  I've been consuming the vast majority of my media on my own these days, and I do miss sharing the experience with other people.  I miss the near-instantaneous validation of laughing at jokes, groaning at bad puns, and wincing through action scenes with somebody else.
 
So I understand the appeal of the reaction video.  It's a new way to indulge an old impulse.  Heck, the reaction videos even make me feel more favorable toward the "Star Wars" trailer.  Having already been spoiled that Han Solo and Chewbacca would appear, I didn't think their appearance in the trailer was  a highlight.  Watching so many other people enjoy the surprise, however, got me to reevaluate their effectiveness.  With some tweaks, reaction videos could be an interesting new marketing tool.  It could also go bad very easily though.  I stress again that the genuine passion of these fans and their spontaneous creation of these videos are what make them so compelling.  They're also special because they're rare so far.  You're not seeing reaction videos for the new "Batman v. Superman" trailer in nearly the same numbers.

But that's a post for another day.
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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Dardennes "Days"

Belgium's Dardennes brothers, Luc and Jean-Pierre, are arthouse darlings, beloved for their intense dramas about the poor and the desperate.  They've won the Palme d'Or twice.  They were invited to join the Academy in 2012, despite none of their films having been nominated for any Oscars.  Well, at the time, they hadn't been.  This year The Dardennes' latest, "Two Days, One Night," nabbed a Best Actress nomination for its star, Marion Cotillard.

Cotillard plays Sandra Bya, who has just lost her job at a solar panel company under cruel circumstances.  Sandra took leave to recover from a nervous breakdown, and upon her return the boss Dumont (Batiste Sornin) made it known that the company only had the funds to pay for either her salary or the other employees' much-anticipated bonuses.  The decision is left to the employees, who vote for the bonuses, but Sandra discovers the process was tampered with, and convinces Dumont to allow a redo the vote after the weekend.  She and her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) take that time to track down each of the company's sixteen employees and try and convince them to give up their bonuses to save her job on Monday morning.
From the handful of other Dardennes' films I've seen, their work is very naturalistic, light on artifice, and often features improvised dialogue.  Their background is in documentaries and it shows.  "Two Days, One Night" is not a departure from this style, but it's easily their closest brush with mainstream filmmaking.  The scripting is is heavily structured, with some very conventional  story elements, and the social commentary is very direct.   "Two Days" feels tailor made for the era of recession and austerity, where even those with jobs are teetering on the brink.  Also, no matter how shabbily she's dressed or how tired she looks, Marion Cotillard is an international movie star whose presence completely dominates the film.  This is her picture as much as it is the Dardennes.' 
Cotillard is excellent here.  She manages quite early on to get us invested in Sandra, who is mentally fragile and wary of confrontation, but forces herself to keep knocking on the doors of her coworkers anyway.  There have been complaints from various critics that "Two Days" has a premise that's hard to swallow, and gets repetitive with the visits to so many barely differentiated employees, but it also credibly pushes Sandra through the emotional wringer.  The spiel she delivers to each new person might be the same, but you can see her attitude shifting over the course of the film, and every interaction is a little different, all completely unpredictable.  And Cotillard gets us to invest in all of them.  I wouldn't have removed a single encounter.
As a melodrama, the Dardennes' are in top form.  The tension is absolutely terrific.  I had a fairly good idea of how the story was going to end, but watching it play out is a thrill.  The Dardennes throw the viewer into the thick of the action and many details of the situation and the various relationships are only sorted out as the films goes on.  In fact, I don't think the audience is really clued in about what Sandra's really fighting against until nearly the end of the movie.  There are two final confrontations on Monday morning that are really the key to the whole movie, putting all the other events in a different context. 

"Two Days, One Night" has a more allegorical tone than the Dardennes' other films. Sandra's company is a little microcosm of a dog-eat-dog world where it's hard to fault anyone for looking out for their own interests. The filmmakers use this to explore a simple moral conundrum in a variety of different contexts and with different variations.  And I love that while Sandra experiences indifference and rejection, there's also more support and sympathy there than she expected.  It's a very positive outlook for glum economic times.  And though it's often wracking and goes to some dark places, the movie turns out to be a quietly uplifting one.  It's not the Dardennes' at their best, but it's the Dardennes' at their most accessible and enjoyable.
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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Shelving "Lost" and "Battlestar Galactica"

 
I had today's post all planned out.  I was going to write an aspirational list of some of the modern television classics I hadn't watched yet and was hoping to, like "The West Wing" and ""Curb Your Enthusiasm."  As I was putting together the list of titles, I came to "Lost" and "Battlestar Galactica," two obvious contenders that I have to admit that I've been quietly avoiding for years.  And I felt strongly enough about it that I though I'd put in a quick paragraph explaining why.  Of course, that paragraph turned into an entire post on the subject.
 
"Lost" and "Battlestar Galactica" are probably the two most influential, popular, and highly lauded genre series of the 2000s.  When they were still on the air, it was nice to often run across regular, non-geeky folks that were fans.  I loved that they got awards attention and their finales were big media events.  But frankly, I didn't keep up with either of the shows ten years ago and have no particular interest in doing so now.  I actually have seen a handful of "Lost" episodes and one or two of "Battlestar Galactica."  Neither really appealed to me, and whatever curiosity I had about them lessened after they were over.  
 
Initially it was just a matter of bad first impressions.  "Lost" looked way too much like "Survivor" for my tastes and having a stereotypically exoticized, non-English speaking Korean couple as supporting characters was a big mark against it.  I'm Asian-American and perhaps a little oversensitive about such things.  Then all the theories about what the island was, and rumors of the creators supposedly having this grand master plan started circulating.  Okay, so "Lost" was a mystery show.  That was fine, but I've learned to be wary of mystery and conspiracy shows because they so rarely add up to anything satisfying.  See the "mythology" arcs on "The X-files," for instance.  And after "Lost" ended a few years, later, the consensus seems to be that I was right to be wary.  Loads of little mysteries were left unexplained, the writers never accounted for many dropped subplots and characters, and the ending was a famous bust.  At least with "X-files" the monsters-of-the-week were a lot of fun.  "Lost" apparently offered some good character drama and adventure thrills here and there, but that wasn't enough to pique my interest.
 
My experience with the "Battlestar Galactica" reboot was much the same story.  "Dark and gritty" were never descriptors I thought of as positive, and I'd seen too many similar reboots fall flat.  I avoid shows with a heavy military component like "Stargate SG-1," and its various spinoffs, which the Syfy Channel heavily promoted at the time.  "Battlestar" gave me much of the same vibe, though considerably grimmer.  It didn't help that the marketing put an awful lot of emphasis on sexy actresses and guessing who the evil Cylon infiltrators among the good guys were.  "Battlestar" felt more like "Alien" or "Terminator" than "Star Trek," franchises I respect but only enjoy in small doses.  The aggressively action-oriented Heinlein stuff was never my favorite kind of sci-fi.  Still, I'm more receptive to picking up "Battlestar Galactica" than "Lost" at some point, since its fans seem to be happier with it overall.
 
You can trace a lot of trends in current genre television back to "Lost and "Battlestar": the heavy serialization, mainstream-friendly character dynamics, and the push for more action.  I know we wouldn't have some of my favorites like "Game of Thrones" and "Person of Interest" without them.  Still, I also blame them for the blander, gloomier direction these shows have taken over the last decade too.  We're running a terrible deficit of spaceship shows while the zombies are still running amok.  What I find odd though is that the fandoms for "Lost" and "Battlestar" haven't stuck around the way that the fans of other genre shows have.  Oh sure, there are a few Cylon cosplayers on the convention circuit, and occasional references to Hurley and Mr. Eko in pop culture, but neither series seems to have inspired the kind of geeky devotion that "Doctor Who" or "Firefly" or the Marvel films have.  I was pretty active in media fandom back when both shows were at their height, and neither had a major presence even then.
   
Honestly, I think the biggest reason why I never got into either "Lost" and "Battlestar Galactica" was because they didn't seem like shows that were much fun to be a fan of.  And after they both left a spotlight, I forgot about them very quickly. 
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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Mad Men: "Forecast"

 
Spoilers ahead.
 
Everyone's looking ahead this week in "Mad Men," predicting futures and extrapolating potential fates.  Some have everything planned out and are resistant to any complications, like Joan's new beau Richard.  Some are resistant to the path they see laid out for them, like Sally.  And then there's Don, who's been tasked with writing a forward-looking statement for SC&P, and comes to the conclusion that he has no idea what he wants his future to look like.  Don's great at using the amorphous concept of the future to sell things - note his advice to his realtor.  But when it comes to the concrete details of his own plans, Don's stuck.  He'd better figure it out quickly, though, because his Megan-less apartment has just been sold, closing off the past behind him, while the final shot pulls away inexorably, threatening to leave him behind.
 
Joan finally makes it out to California, and finds someone to enjoy it with.  She sees a happier future for herself with the charming retiree Richard, played by Bruce Greenwood.  And she's willing to go to some lengths to secure it, lying about Kevin and then telling Richard that she's willing to give him up so they can be together.  After last week, Joan seems determined to put her own happiness first.  There's a cost to this though, which she is made painfully aware of.  Though Joan is a rare bird in her era who doesn't have to worry about her security, she can't be free the way that a man can be free - at least not in the role of single mother.  It astounds me that Joan would be willing to give up Kevin so quickly, but then we also have to remember that Peggy made essentially they same choice way, way back in Season One to secure her own happiness.
 
Joan's trip also confirms the staffing moves that happened during the break.  Lou Avery is now in the stagnant California office, replacing Pete and Teddy.  Don's the de facto creative boss in New York, even though that may not be his title at the moment, and he's still technically on probation, as Roger reminds him.  I'm going to make the prediction now, with all the chatter about McCann's demands over the past few weeks, that SC&P is going to end up on the chopping block.  The tagline for this season has proclaimed that it's the "end of an era," and I'm betting that means the end of the firm and possibly the end of a few careers.  Don could certainly still take a swan dive off the side of the building in the finale, but symbolic deaths are more important than literal ones in "Mad Men."  
 
Don remains on good terms with Sally but his womanizing is still a sore spot, especially as Sally has to watch both of her parents flirt with her friends in the same episode.  Poor Sally just can't catch a break.  Glen means a lot to her, but it's uncomfortably clear that he maintained the friendship with her in large part because of Betty, who he finally shares two tense scenes with again after years of maintaining his distance.  Glen is still playing grown-up, still out of his depth.  This time, though, Betty is unexpectedly kind to him, in stark contrast to how she handled their first encounter.  It's a solid endpoint to the Glen storyline, and a measure of Betty's slow maturation.  As Glen notes, she's still largely unchanged on the surface, but the ice queen has softened just a little.
 
Glen also brings Vietnam and the resulting peace movement close to home, after scattered references earlier on.  There are more hints of the '70s youth culture everywhere, from Joan's sitter to Sally's shoutout to Kent State to Sesame Street.  As much as the adults here fret about the future, the '70s aren't their time.  There's only one person whose future is wide open in this episode.  It's Sally, and she's fairly blase about it - maybe she'll be a lifeguard again.  The only thing she knows for sure is that she doesn't want to be like her parents, and Don's advice to her on that subject is excellent.  Of course she's going to be like her parents, but she has the ability to be more than her parents.  That could be the takeaway for the entire show.
 
The one storyline this week that struck me a little oddly was Mathis and the peanut butter cookie account.  Don also dispenses advice to him, as he did with Sally and his realtor.  When Mathis makes a mess of it, he blames Don and throws barbs about his success being the result of surface looks, nothing more.  Not true, of course, but it does prompt Don's self-examination.  Is Mathis supposed to represent the up-and-coming generation blaming his mistakes on the past?  Is he the product of the firm's toxic work culture?  Is he just another jerk?
 
There are a lot of jerks in "Mad Men," and we're not done accounting for all of them yet.
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