no life in the office

 Posted by on December 19, 2009 at 12:08 pm  Season 3
Dec 192009
 

There’s been a great deal of discussion that season three focused too much on the Draper marriage, and that there wasn’t enough action in Sterling Cooper.

The truth is, there was no life in the office. And ultimately that became the punchline of the season’s arc.

The office was so painful. I wrote about it awhile back, how beaten down they all were. Joan, on her way out and clearing the way for Moneypenny. Peggy getting less than her share of appreciation, and still not fitting with either the creatives or the other women in the office. Roger and Bert, each in their own way put out to pasture. Pete and Kenny pitted against each other (although okay, that was not exactly lifeless) they even called a commercial cleaning company in Calgary to do the cleaning for them.

First season we had Nixon vs. Kennedy; one of the great party scenes in television history. My Old Kentucky Home had some interest to it in the workplace (what with the drugs and all), but that was after-hours and all kind of strange. In Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency, there was an office party, but it was a celebration that had initially been a massive imposition. This was home office show and tell, and on a holiday to boot, and no one wanted anything to do with it. But then Guy was such an appealing presence that people got on board, and this was to be a party like no other. And for that brief moment, we all felt the spark–people were hopeful and full of life. Aaand then Lois and John Deere put an abrupt end to that.

And after that it was trudgery until the finale.

Sterling Cooper stopped being vibrant and it stopped being an interesting place to be every day. Whatever comes next is so exciting.

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  37 Responses to “no life in the office”

  1. I thought Season 2 focused too much on the Draper marriage. The office scenes may not have been too upbeat in Season 3 but I think the show was demonstrating that Sterling Cooper needed a change.

  2. The truth is, there was no life in the office.

    Well, there was no life in the Draper's marriage either. That was a punchline of S3 also. Their marriage was stale and empty. I still don't think it's an excuse for the poorly balanced screentime.

    Sterling Cooper has never been a great workplace. It was backward-thinking, sexist, racist, lazy and morally bankrupt. Yeah, workers had fun there from time to time, but it was usually a greedy self-satisfied sort of fun. I think it's interesting that Weiner began his series focusing on an agency who were on the wrong side of a lot of trends and issues. It'll be interesting to see the new agency with its more progressive approach.

  3. MOKH also had "work disguised as a party" that was every bit as strange — if not moreso — than Peggy, Paul and Smitty getting their toke on.

  4. I agree with falafel. Draper marriage was boring, and what we did see of the office wasn't any more drudgery than previous seasons. With Moneypenny and Lane, the Ken/Pete war, Peggy outperforming Paul, Duck trying to poach Pete & Peggy, Sal being outed, there were lots of intriguing story lines that just didn't get enough time and attention.

  5. I agree, Donny Brook. Think of the ppssibilities: the culture clash between the Brits and the Americans. The emerging importance of television. The youth movement (Kurt and Smitty were supposed to be the leaders in a new era, but we basically just saw them get stoned). I also think Peggy's development was a huge missed chance to show how a woman could learn. We got a little too much Connie and not enough well developed SC.

  6. Wow you guys sound like you really know how to do the show better. I want to watch your show from now on. Didn't we all agree just like three weeks ago that this was the best season of the show ever? I guess not.

    • Monique, no, we haven't agreed on that. In fact, this has been a controversial season. I kinda think it was (the best season ever) despite some glaring flaws, but I have my own reasons for that, and it had more to do with flavor than with pacing, plot points or characters. I have no problem with the comments that people are making. Yours, however, is a bit of an attack on other Basketcases, (less constructive, more destructive) so I'm gonna ask that you scale it back. Comments policy review here.

  7. Criticism like "too much Draper marriage! not enough Office!" is not a slur on the show. Fans beg for more office because they love the Sterling Cooper characters and love the workplace storylines. It's a compliment on how much we enjoy that aspect of the show. Too much Drapers is not such a slam either. In S1 Betty's storyline was my favourite part of the show, but in S3 I felt Betty was over-exposed which has led to some harsh backlashing against her character. Meanwhile fans have been pining for Joan who was completely absent for half of S3.

    It's all about the balance. Mad Men has a wonderful variety of characters and settings. The show is at its best when it uses them all in harmony. 'Old Kentucky', 'Guy Walks', 'Grown Ups' and 'Shut the Door' were all great examples of that balance between life and work. But overall I thought S3 weighed too heavy on the Ossining stories, not just the dying marriage, but those dull affairs, Sally, Grampa Gene, the new baby, etc. If Weiner had managed to service the office plotlines at the same time it might have been okay, but as Donny Brook points out many of the interesting Sterling Cooper stories were woefully underwritten.

    I enjoyed S3 the least overall, but the BIG exception for me was the S3 finale, my favourite MM episode so far. Ultimately I think I'll look back on S3 as a necessary evil, a transitionary story that sets up for an amazing S4.

  8. I hope you're right, falafel. S3 really let me down, and I don't agree that all that drudgery, repetition and assholiness was necessary. I think there's got to be a better pacing strategy than "doesn't it feel nice when I stop beating my head against the wall."

  9. This season felt a little off for me too, but I chocked it up to my personal strife with the economy. I had more of my own worries so I think I did not conect as much with the third season as I did with the first and second season. I lost respect for Betty this season, which was unfortunate because I really felt like she was getting stronger as a woman in this age, and for her to leave was a huge disapointment for me. I was a Betty supporter and I felt like she really let me down personally.

  10. "There’s been a great deal of discussion that season three focused too much on the Draper marriage, and that there wasn’t enough action in Sterling Cooper."

    That discussion has mostly been a bit bewildering to me. I really enjoyed S3, at least as much as I did S1 & 2. Here's why.

    The main premise of the show, at least as it appears to me, is primarily the Don and Betty Draper Story. It has always struck me as the story of the hypocrisy and subsequent struggle of the seemingly ideal American Man and Woman Living the American Dream. The title and the business setting reflects the era but I never felt that alone was a main drive of the story.

    I used to like old war movies and hanging out in jazz clubs. If I watched Casablanca and proclaimed it was great but I wish it had more scenes with Major Strasser and focused the story on the Sam and Carl inside Rick's, I'm sure someone would nicely tell me I may not share the focus of the producers of the film and try to explain to me why. It's really their product not mine. I don't mind letting them play it out their way.

    I think Roberta's right that the office was a drudge but employment generally is, when it's de-romanticized and stripped of its glossy packaging and shown to be the corporate power game and dollar grab that it mostly is. I like the note of hope because the new agency will be exciting for a while; it will be different, but I'm afraid it will still boil down to business as usual eventually.

    The internal struggles of the main characters do more than enough for me, most of the time, but I truly would like to hear Roger say something seriously funny just once before it's all over.

  11. Was the Draper marriage really that boring? I thought it was back in Season 1, when Betty was Stepford wife who tried to please her husband while being very unhappy about it. However, I found the breakup of the Draper marriage rather interesting. That seemed more exciting that the going-ons at Sterling Cooper.

    But if I must be honest, I have always found the Drapers' marriage more interesting than the Sterling Cooper scenes – at least in Seasons 2 and 3.

  12. I have always found the Drapers’ marriage more interesting than the Sterling Cooper scenes – at least in Seasons 2 and 3.

    I get the feeling that most posters on BoK feel the same. I'm always waiting for 'office based' discussions, but 90% of the topics on this blog seem to be about Don/Betty or just Don. Now we finally get an office topic just to say that the office was lifeless in S3? Is that really all there is to say? One of my favourite things about S3 was the new addition of Lane Pryce, a very entertaining new character, and I don't think there has ever been a Lane topic on BoK. Is Lane really considered so unimportant? Just part of the trudgery?

    I don't mind that some or most fans like the Don/Betty stories better, but it should be acknowledged that not all fans feel that way and that there are other important parts of the story that have nothing to do with Don/Betty. The Drapers are not the whole show. What about Peggy who in S1 was considered the audience's surrogate? Isn't it an imbalance of screentime when such an important character as Peggy is sidelined for most of the second half of S3? Characters like Pete, Joan and Roger always leave me begging for more too.

  13. Now we finally get an office topic just to say that the office was lifeless in S3? Is that really all there is to say?

    I would differentiate between how the characters felt about what was happening in the office, and how the storyline was presented to us, the viewers.

    For the characters within the world of SC, yes, the office was becoming more and more deadening as PPL sucked the lifeblood out of the place (and as Don's tightly constructed world unravelled and he took it out on those around him.)

    Watching that happen and watching them react to that, on the other hand, was highly entertaining to me as a viewer.

    I concur with those who say a little more SC and a little less Ossining would have been more satisfying to me, although if the point was to get me to despise Betty and wish for the end of the Draper marriage, mission accomplished!

    Rewatching S1 and S2 reminded me of how much more sympathy I once had for Betty. That was all washed away by the end of S3. Was that intentional on MW's part?

    Many a Sunday midnight I found myself wondering why I was putting myself through so much emotional abuse. I'm so glad the season ended on an upbeat note. I don't know how much more despair I was supposed to absorb episode after episode.

  14. PS – agree with you falafel — I've adored Lane Pryce since he was introduced into the series, and I'm so happy they found a way to keep him around. However, now that he isn't the "bad guy" representing their Evil British Overlords, I wonder how the dynamic is going to play out. But Creative will always have conflicts with the CFO, so there's always more "paper, pencils, pads and postage" to be accounted for, I suppose!

  15. It's called MadMen, not MadMarriage.

    • From our About section:

      In general, stick to discussions of things related to the show, rather than things related to our blog….

      @13 falafel

      Now we finally get an office topic just to say that the office was lifeless in S3? Is that really all there is to say? One of my favourite things about S3 was the new addition of Lane Pryce, a very entertaining new character, and I don’t think there has ever been a Lane topic on BoK. Is Lane really considered so unimportant? Just part of the trudgery?

      My sister and I, as well as the other Basketwriters, write about whatever moves us at the time. We don’t have a structure to what we cover when, aside from making short term strategic decisions (let’s get this one up before Sunday’s episode airs, this kind of thing). Also, we’ll be writing about, primarily, season three for the next 6-7 months, so certainly more topics will be covered.

      But I think the point is, and maybe it’s just because I have a scratchy thing in my throat and am a little vulnerable to agitation, you are definitely pissing me off. I’m sorry you don’t like what we choose to write about and, when we write it, what it is we say about it, but that kind of criticism isn’t welcome here.

  16. #15 Gypsy, I'm wondering how Lane will fit in with a group of maverick, forward thinking personalities. He's never had to strike out on his own; he always did as he was told, as he was reminded. What will Lane be like as he tests his wings — and is Mrs. Pryce the Trudy of his marriage?

  17. #13 falafel,

    I agree with you about Lane Pryce. And I have had a piece on him in the hopper — albeit not in the queue — for some time. After "Guy Walks Into An Ad Agency," I saw in Lane some of the features of my own father: also an England-to-U.S. transplant in the 1960s.

    But what became more compelling to me about the season was its theme of breakdown: internal and external. When the load-bearing walls (identity, marriage) don't hold up, the whole structure (family and business) collapses. That was just — I don't know — stickier.

    This theme opened some really good stuff for me: How confronting what you really are is essential to growth and affiliation. How much you stand to lose by saying clearly who you are and are not. How that can both hurt like hell, and still be better than what you had before. And how pointless life can be if you never take that step: if you just settle for not saying it. For leaving it all in the box, so to speak.

    The Don-and-Betty breakdown was critical to surfacing all of this. What reason would Don have had for dragging out his past, for pulling the photos out of the box and laying them on the bureau, if Betty had never confonted him? That was, as it turned out, a marriage-ender.

    But it was also the beginning of a more integrated life, for the man who now has to a approach a culture that's far more wary of bullshit. For Don, it was a gift. The damn guy's timing is perfect … again.

    I think the rhythms of the Basket (she says, after some observation and involvement) indicate that we get the big business out of the way first, and then work our way around to the other things. I think a lot of us are still going on the big stuff: those major themes. Identity. Loss. Breakdown. Rebuilding.

    But in the meantime, I have not forgotten Lane. I even have a t-shirt with his name on it. I'll get to him … I promise! πŸ™‚

  18. you are definitely pissing me off. I’m sorry you don’t like what we choose to write about and, when we write it, what it is we say about it, but that kind of criticism isn’t welcome here

    I'll save us both agitation and stop posting here then.

    Personally, I've never felt welcome on BoK.

  19. *off to read Anne's solstice post again*

  20. "The Drapers are not the whole show."

    Neither was the Sterling Cooper storyline. At least to me. If I have to be honest, the stories about the Draper marriage or the personal lives of the characters were more interesting to me than the action at Sterling Cooper. I don't think the problem was about balance. I just don't think the stories about the work and office dynamics at Sterling Cooper were as interesting as the Draper marriage and the personal lives of the other characters during the past . . . well, always.

  21. The Don-and-Betty breakdown was critical to surfacing all of this. What reason would Don have had for dragging out his past, for pulling the photos out of the box and laying them on the bureau, if Betty had never confonted him? That was, as it turned out, a marriage-ender.

    But it was also the beginning of a more integrated life, for the man who now has to a approach a culture that’s far more wary of bullshit. For Don, it was a gift. The damn guy’s timing is perfect … again.

    For Don it was a gift? Gosh, I wish I could care about Don. But I don't. And I'm still fuming over Matt Weiner's hint that Betty's reaction to Don being the son of a whore was the real reason behind the breakup of their marriage. It seemed to me that he was trying to dump the blame on her at the last minute. And I disliked that. Intensely. What is even more disturbing to me is that many fans are buying this without questioning his words, considering that he had never bothered to show this in any of the last season's episodes.

    I might be wrong about Weiner's intent . . . but a sickening feeling tells me that I'm not. Right now, I'm very reluctant to watch S4.

  22. don't go falafel!

  23. DRush, did MW actually say that Betty turned on Don specifically because of who his mother was? Do you have a link for that? Because I remember MW as far back as Old Kentucky Home saying Betty and Don "were really kissing other people" (in AMC's Inside Mad Men video for that episode) when they kissed at the end, and that Souvenir demonstrated that they were already coming apart at the seams (ditto). And I thought I remembered him saying that the issue for Betty is that Don is not who he says he is, in any sense.

  24. There is no force, human or otherwise, that could make me NOT watch Season 4.

    I might think about not watching if Matt Weiner up and quit, for some reason. But the fact is, many of my favorite characters have started a business — in so doing, they've fulfilled a wish of mine — and I am going to see what becomes of that. Come hell or high water (and this year we've seen both, in the show and the promo), I will.

    Jon Hamm himself could give an interview to Esquire (great magazine, btw), saying, Don't watch this season. It's total crap. I phoned the whole thing in, and I'd ignore every word.

    This is my show. I'm all in.

  25. There were no doubt ways to say it more positively and enthusiastically, but a plea for more discussion of the Lane Pryce character was not amiss. All in good time, of course, but it does point to an area deserving of some thought and time, and a fruitful angle for focusing on the "office" wavelength of series 3. Too bad that the way it was done raised hackles and seemed to touch a sore spot leading to an outbreak of ill will. Just rolling with the punches and not getting too put out by the manner in which the topic was raised was an option here, but, hey, a check on contravening the blog rules on civility from time to time is to be expected too.

  26. @23 DRush76 – "And I’m still fuming over Matt Weiner’s hint that Betty’s reaction to Don being the son of a whore was the real reason behind the breakup of their marriage"

    I have the same Q? as Meowser, did he really say that?

    I don't read all the interviews carefully but I'd be interested in reading that one if you can point me to it, (I'm in slothful holiday mode this week and prefer not to search just now) That would give me something to reconsider while I continue to theorize about the impact of S3.
    ____________________________________

    I feel I may have projected some general flippant disregard up @11 and want to clarify.

    I enjoyed this season despite its pronounced bleakness because I felt the dissolution of the Draper marriage was an essential thrust of the show and I admired the show for taking the time to deliberately detail the reality of how such a marriage falls apart. I admit and I understand it was painful and dark and at times boring and seemingly repetitive but it felt very genuine and real and that's why I was fascinated all season.

    Now having meant all that, I actually missed the other storylines too when I sit down and think about it.

    I feel a lot of the basic elements of the marriage meltdown could have been told in parallel snippets through the exploits of some other characters.

    For example, they could have just as easily explored disappointment and dashed expectations and male boorishness and entitlement through the prism of Joan and Greg's marriage. And the topics would probably have felt fresher, certainly benefitting at the very least from just the charms of Joanie alone. Or you know, The Pryces were ideal foils for examining similar marital struggles too.

    I kind of feel sad about the lost opportunities to turn over this kind of ground in those other characters' lives but the writers had to make a decision where to address this stuff most effectively. And the Drapers' slow spiral down and inevitable shattering was already out there and allowed for a more concentrated, visceral, lasting (maybe?) impact on us, I think.

    I trust anyone who takes the time to write about the show or the time to comment on it clearly, especially here at BoK, does honestly and truly appreciate all the various different ways to focus a dark theme or to have great fun with a general dynamic idea.
    I did not wish to trivialize or dismiss anyone's personal appreciation of the show. If it appeared that way, forgive me.
    __________________________________________

    falafel, You and I aren't always on the same train of thought, we pass each other going opposite directions most days, but I feel your comments are generally always well-reasoned and clearly expressed. I'd miss seeing what you had to say.

    Come next door and argue with me for a while. Then maybe we'll pick up some sandwiches and a cake and apologize to Roberta and see how things shake out. Just an idea.

  27. Oh, here I am working hard to be all (unnaturally for me) thoughtful and circumspect and shit and I forget about my girl AB up there @ 26.

    Surprisingly, I have to argue with you Anne! I know, how out of character of LOM! what gives? huh?

    "I might think about not watching if Matt Weiner up and quit,"

    You might think about it, for the most micro of micro-seconds, but you and I both know, perversely; deep inside; that we would still watch with the kind of morbid fascination that can be conjured up to witness a chicken bounce around after its been suddenly, swiftly, separated from its noodle.

    I feel confident believing that the very human, gawking-at-the-scene-of-an-accident, dark curiosity about how exactly the storytelling would reanimate itself, rise up seemingly without its BRAIN, and carry on with a zombified exposition of The Tale of Two Drapers; that curiosity would need to be slaked at any and all costs of our rational time and attention. At least for a bit. AmIwrong??

    And I think Hamm phones it in right now; always has. He's not acting. He's not Batman either; he IS Don Draper.

    Much like Matt Helm was always Dean Martin or Dean was always Matt or. . , I forget . . . I'm dazed, confused.

    Anne B, you tax me so. lol sis.

  28. don’t go falafel!

    falafel, You and I aren’t always on the same train of thought, we pass each other going opposite directions most days, but I feel your comments are generally always well-reasoned and clearly expressed. I’d miss seeing what you had to say.

    I'm sorry. I've enjoyed commenting and discussing too.

    I don't think it is fair to say "I may rudely criticise you and your comments" while demanding that no criticisms are murmured in return. I've seen other people's comments being unjustly policed here and it is very stiffling. I just don't feel comfortable or welcome in such an evironment.

    But it's nice to know some people liked my comments and I didn't piss everybody off. Ciao! Ciao!

  29. meowser and LOM:

    I think the interview where Matt W says Betty's final straw was finding out that Don's mother was a prostitute is here:
    http://preview.tinyurl.com/ydsrszy

    "The marriage was not good. It was built on a lie and the lie was exposed. In the end, Don coming clean really damaged his relationship with her, more than the lying, her seeing who he actually was. I do believe when he says his mother was a 22-year-old prostitute that Betty is looking at something that is very far from what she had planned for herself…"

    and

    "I didn’t want the marriage to end because she found out who he was; I wanted the marriage to end because she didn’t love him anymore. Her concept of what love is is a lot of what the season was about… I think Betty Draper is an impulsive person and she may have an arrested state in terms of what she was taught to expect from her life, to be taken care of by a man, to be loved and worshiped and adored…"

    and

    "Betty married Don because he was the whole package. He looked good on paper and that’s what she wanted. I think that Henry Francis does but in another way. Being put on a pedestal, being worshipped and adored, being accepted, in a way it’s almost more flattering to have a man be that attached to you who doesn’t know you. I think she’s very susceptible to that. Don has not given her any of those things, as far as she’s concerned."

    So, if I read Matt correctly, Betty didn't leave him ONLY because of his birthright but that was definitely part of it. Overall not a very flattering picture of Betty, to my mind.

    ****

    I wish you would change your mind falafel, but maybe we'll meet somewhere else on the intertrons.

  30. gypsy, you're a peach for parsing thru that for us.

    I agree with your assessment, Don's lineage and humble upbringing wasn't the only factor nor was that revelation even necessarily the last straw or anything. The sheer breadth and weight of the deceptions was too much at some point for Betty. Maybe the Oswald chaos and Don's traditional patriarchal stoic response to her astonishment and disbelief were the actual triggers after all.

    "Flattering" is a judgement call for each of us, of course, but I feel confident in believing at least her decision was well-anchored and really not as shallow or impulsive as it may have appeared at first viewing.

  31. Oh he so does NOT phone it in, LOM. He never. Omigod, I totally cannot believe you even said that.

    (stamps her fanfoot)

    You just don't like Jon because he's good-looking! Or because (at least onscreen) he got the girl YOU wanted!

    Or maybe he reminds you of your father. Was your father wicked hawt, LOM? Did your dad drive with a drink in one hand and an eye on the rearview for jogging nubiles?

    Drat. Look what you just made me do.

    I hate you. (fumes)

    πŸ™‚

  32. For the record, I will miss you, too, falafel, if you're out there. I almost always agree with your take on the show, and you are better at expressing it. But it's a big internet. See you around.

  33. It will be all right Anne.

    Jon will be sad for a few days and then he'll win a Golden Globe or an Emmy and things will okay again, you'll see. Trust me. I know.

    Take a pill and go lie down. I'll call you for dinner. (rolls eyes, lunges for the rye)

  34. (Anne B has driven off, headed for a parking lot somewhere outside Ossining)

    πŸ™‚

    Just kidding.

  35. Now you know this is where I could really begin to drink heavily and brood, and maybe, if I dare, smoke a cigarette or perhaps two just to be different,

    and then when you get back online, I rail into you with a riff on Who's WTJB? and the fact I've given you everything you wanted and I guess I've never been good enough for a Sunset brat like yourself and threaten to take the Sisters away from you and call you a vile, derogatory name like . . oh, I don't know, "harpy" or "strumpet" and when I hear gypsy cry out, recoil in self-disgust when I realize the wretched shell of a human being I had become.

    But I'll choose the high road instead and just more or less ignore you for a minute or two, ok?

    ditto

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