Friday, May 17, 2013

Linda Cardellini brightens “Mad Men”

This performance is the stuff for which 
the Guest Star Drama Emmy was made

The Drapers Entertain the Rosens (and Dexter)
     Mad Men always finds itself referred to as ‘not as good as it was last season.’  And yes, we’re some of the biggest whiners of all.  Part of the reason is because of its ambition to recreate one of the watershed eras of modern American life by going
through the backdoor of an ad agency.  This season, which we thought was going to be its last, but no there will be a seventh, supposedly final one, has been a little humdrum with the professional machinations at the SCDP Agency lacking much spark or invention.  Worrying about whether to keep Jaguar as a client doesn’t have quite the stakes of a former partner trying to kill himself in an E-type.  The brightest spot has been the dark, impossible affair between Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and his married neighbor Sylvia Rosen, played by Linda Cardellini.  

Linda Cardellini
     Cardellini has played younger than her age for over a decade and now she’s playing older.  She’s convincing in everything.  She’s attractive without being threatening and she’s talented without calling attention to herself.  Therefore, she’s the definition of the contemporary character actress.  Her big break was as Lindsay, the smart teenager searching to find herself on Freaks and Geeks and I hoped she’d go to the University of Michigan math camp in the last episode, but I bet she didn’t.  Unfortunately, the show wasn’t renewed though it’s still rerun on The Sundance Channel.  She was the spoilt killer on Legally Blonde and Cassie, whose interest in Ennis might have saved him in Brokeback Mountain.  She was also Velma in Scooby Doo, movies 1 & 2.  

Don and Sylvia
     Mad Men’s latest season began with the affair in full swing, even though Don seemed to be friendly with Sylvia’s heart surgeon husband Al.  Unlike Betty, Don’s ex-wife, who was looking for a Ken doll mate and was shocked enough to divorce him when she found out he’d lied about his name or his current wife Megan, who’s looking for a mentor/father figure, Sylvia believes she’s on the same wavelength as Don because she feels bewildered by middle age in her empty nest syndrome.  She assumes he’s lost and searching for something.  This is what fans have thought as well, though it’s becoming more apparent that he’s on autopilot and is perhaps empty, maybe even a replicant.  Sylvia is two-faced, waspish, intelligent, compassionate, and in Capellini’s skin has a killer body and Teflon bouffant.  She’s also an Italian-American Catholic married to a non-observant Jew, I assume, and that sense of belief sets her apart from the secular Don.

Hotel Escapades
     The latest episode “Man with a Plan” may seem familiar to some viewers because of the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, but it actually takes off from Story of O, the shocking erotic novel memoir of the mid ‘60s.  While the SCDP and CGC merge is playing out, Don is keeping Sylvia in a hotel room and ordering her to do his bidding over the phone and in person.  We weren’t sure if he wanted to push her to dump him since he knew her marriage was in trouble and might – God forbid – be available or if he was playing a game.  When Sylvia regains her sense at the end of the episode, we still weren’t sure about Don’s motivation, which is a testament to Jon Hamm’s tremendous realization of an ambivalent, enigmatic character.  Don may have invented his identity, but he has no fixed inner life whatsoever.  He’s the personification of anomie.  

     This episode is right up there with the first two seasons, “Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency” from season three, “Far Away Places” from season five, and almost as good as “The Suitcase” from season four, though it’s because of Hamm and Cardellini.  This relationship was like one of Cheever’s or Updike’s darker episodes.

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