"You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension of booze and brylcreem."
There is a fifth workplace, beyond that which is known to most men. It is a dimension as vast as space and as shallow as a wading pool. It is in the middle ground between inspiration and desperation, between branding and bullshit, and it lies between the pit of man’s materialism and the summit of social impact. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Advertising Zone.
Submitted for your approval: an expectant father and advertising copywriter with a monstrous propensity towards going off on thematic tangents – in this case, taking a lengthy discourse detour based off of a seemingly innocuous reference on “Field Trip,” the third episode of Mad Men’s bifurcated final season. Early in the episode, Megan Draper’s manager calls Don Draper to tell him Megan’s been going off the rails as she tries to fulfill her Hollywood dreams. To make his point, the agent tells Don about Megan interrupting a director’s lunch with Rod Serling just to ask the director to let her re-read a part. That Rod Serling mention was very apt given the inspiration Mad Men has always drawn from Serling’s seminal 1960s sci-fi anthology series The Twilight Zone.
The pilot episode of Mad Men made a point to let us know that The Twilight Zone had just premiered. Also former Sterling Cooper copywriter Paul Kinsey often quoted lines from the show. So, it should come as no surprise that Mad Men creator Matt Weiner has often talked about the influence The Twilight Zone had in inspiring his own program. The Twilight Zone brilliantly used science fiction and fantasy as a vehicle for social commentary, in much the same way that the Sterling Cooper (& Partners) workplace represents a kind of professional Petri dish for the societal mutations of the 1960s.
Watch the show, not the crappy movie version.
I’m not the only one who has noted the historical and cultural connections between the two shows. In 2010, writer Marc Scott Zicree, creator of “The Twilight Zone Companion” as well as writer for Star Trek: The Next Generation, wrote a spec script for Mad Men in which Don Draper meets Rod Serling. Titled “Walking Distance,” after a classic Twilight Zone episode, the story has Draper meet up with Serling after learning CBS has canceled The Twilight Zone. As Draper tries to convince Serling to become an advertising pitch man, the two men learn they have more in common than they realize. You can read Zicree’s script here. The chances of this spec episode ever getting made are slim to none, but it is well-written and and a fascinating read for fans of both show. If you’ve never seen The Twilight Zone, CBS has an online channel where you can watch full episodes. Check them out by clicking on this link.
Don meets Rod: the spec script that would have made a great episode.
Rod Serling references aside, “Field Trip” had a Twilight Zone vibe in the way that time felt unhinged; with characters from the show’s past suddenly appearing (Francine, Betty’s friend who we haven’t seen in a few seasons), seminal Mad Men moments being revisited (Ken Cosgrove’s mention of Don Draper’s classic carousel pitch from Season 1), and characters clearly not fitting in with the present (Betty’s early 60s hair, makeup, and wardrobe amid the mud and slop of a 1969 upstate New York farm). “Field Trip” deals with three actual field trips that don’t go quite as planned: Don’s surprise flight out West to try and play the role of protective father figure to Megan, Don’s ex-wife Betty taking their son on a field trip to the farm that turns as sour as spoiled barnyard milk, and Don’s uncomfortable return to the agency he founded.
That development was probably the most significant plot turn of the season, as it was rife with subtext and character intrigue. Don goes to Roger, who agrees to Don’s request to get back to work at the agency, except Roger doesn’t bother telling any of the other partners about the plans. This leads to a surreal sequence in which we cut from shots of Don in his apartment contemplating his return, to his perspective walking through an agency that is familiar yet alien; where familiar faces stare through Don as if he were the fraudulent visage of someone who existed in another place, another time.
For a character whose life is built on a series of lies, it is a humbling moment for Don. The emperor has no clothes, yet he is willing to bravely face his former subjects naked. With the exception of Lou (the worst) and Jim, the men at the agency are happy to see Don. The women, not so much. Joan, one of Don’s closest allies over the years, greets him with a venomous smile and then proceeds to tattle-tale news of his return to Bert Cooper. Peggy’s rancor towards Don was troubling, and much like her flower fit last week, seemed out of character. I’m not quite sure where this well of bitterness is coming from, and I’m not sure why she is so angry with Don in particular. I really hope the show does a better job of explaining this in the coming weeks.
No one, and I mean no one, can tell a joke like Lou Avery.
As Don sweats it out like a kid waiting to get called into the principal’s office, Roger Sterling goes to bat for him in a partners’ meeting that will decide Don’s fate. It is a gratifying moment, and a tender one as well, as Roger throws Don a life preserver, and in the process, tacitly acknowledges that both he and “genius” Don need to evolve in order to be taken seriously in the coming decade. Roger is learning the delicate art of compromise, while Don is learning that authenticity doesn’t come easily. Eventually Don agrees to a list of odious stipulations from the partners in order to return to work. Even in his humbled state, it seems strange for Don to acquiesce to such demands. My guess is he has a plan in place to reconquer his kingdom, and we’ll start to see it play out in the coming weeks.
"Sorry Don. This ain't no party...This ain't no disco...This ain't no foolin' around."
There were a few aspects of ad agency life in”Field Trip” that need to be addressed. First off, someone really needs to audit the communication and decision-making process at SC&P! Seriously, every one of the partners had a different understanding about Don’s “status” at the agency. I just can’t see an agency with SC&P’s clients and billings being this out of sorts in regard to the status of a founding partner. On the flip side, I think this episode did a nice job of showing the internecine conflict that can take place at a workplace with as many competing egos as an ad agency. Harry Crane, representing media, doesn’t feel like he or his department are appreciated. Meanwhile, Peggy’s campaign for Chevalier Noir is rained on by Lou (the worst) demanding to know why Stan has drawn art cards for the campaign. Peggy is also jealous that Ginzo got a CLIO nomination while she didn’t. *Full disclosure: this type of petty behavior never occurs at Brunet-García.*
Speaking of that scene between Ginzo and Peggy, it reveals a dirty truth about advertising. Lou explains to Peggy that her Rosemary’s Baby ad was pulled from CLIO contention because of all the awards Ted Chaough has already won for the client. When Peggy incredulously asks if the client is upset about winning, Lou responds that clients hate awards and that’s why Ogilvy never submits. This is true for some clients. They see ADDYs, CLIOs, and other awards as exercises in self-indulgence that take the focus off of them and cast all the shine on the agency. They are not crazy about award-winning campaigns being seen strictly as the “creation” of an agency and not something that is organic to their brand. In their minds, a good agency should follow the lead of the mob, executing killer work without attracting too much attention. At Brunet-García, we believe creative awards are not just an acknowledgment of our work, but also an acknowledgment of a great partnership between agency and client. We may never go the old Ogilvy route, but we will always make sure that when we accept an award, we acknowledge the client who is an inspiration and partner in all our achievements.
Ok, so I can’t wrap up this review of “Field Trip” without discussing the return of Betty Francis. It’s a return that can be summed up thusly: Betty is still awful and her son Bobby will likely always have Freudian issues with gumdrops.
Betty doing what Betty does: Crushing the souls of her children.