Mad Men loves to take characters from past seasons and bring them back around in surprising ways, just like they did with Freddy Rumsen helping Peggy get a new job and Paul Kinsey returning as a Star Trek-writing Hare Krishna this season. But still, every year, I wait by the TV hoping that they'll have to fire an art director so that Don will have to reach deep in his Rolodex and hire back Sal Romano, who he fired because of a Lucky Strike exec with a case of the hots for Sal.
Since that hasn't happened yet, we have to imagine what life is like now for Sal and a few other colorful characters who have gone MIA since their storylines dried up. When will we get them all back?
Sal Romano: After getting fired, Sal calls his wife Kitty from a pay phone in Central Park and tells her he is going to be home late. In the background, a big, strong man in a leather hat and jacket is stalking the phone booth. He has his eye on swarthy Sal and as soon as he hangs up the phone, Larry, the leather daddy, walks up to Sal and says, "What's wrong, stud?" rubbing his big, rough hand along Sal's arm. Sal tries to be aroused, to get what he came there for, but he just can't, breaking down in tears. Larry takes him to a diner nearby and Sal tells him everything, about his life, his job, his firing, Lee Garner Jr., everything. It's the first time he's ever gotten these things of his chest and he has Larry to thank for them. He shows his appreciation with a night of vigorous lovemaking.
In the morning he goes home and tells Kitty that he's been fired and that he's moving out of the house. After some confusion and tears and an expensive divorce, Sal moves into his own apartment in the West Village, right down the street from Julius, his favorite new hangout, and three blocks from Larry, who he has been seeing a lot of. He used his reel directing commercials to find a new gig quickly, not as art director, but in the television department of another ad agency. He's still not out at work, but his life is gayer and gayer. He never divorces Kitty and he never tells her about Larry, and he still sees her for lunch every Sunday, often with her crying and him apologizing. He'll never make it right, but finally he's living the life he wanted.
Rachel Menken: We know that she got married to Tilden Katz, but we never saw her give birth to her first son, which Tilden wanted to name after himself, but Rachel told him it was an awful name. How about something like Donald? And it worked. She has a baby named Don, who is growing up big and strong and handsome. She looks at him, not with lust, because that's creepy, but with longing. What if he were Don's? What if it all turned out differently? Oh, but it never could. It never could. She still runs Menken's Department Store, though it always bothered good old Tildey. When G. Fox & Co. make a bid to buy the store from the family for a huge amount of money, Tilden forces Rachel to take it so that she can devote all her time to raising Donald. They move to Westchester and she spends all of her days trying not to drive the station wagon to Ossining.
Suzanne Farrell: This teacher took a long time to get over Don leaving her and not taking her on vacation. She didn't want to love him, but she did. She continued living over her little sad garage, spurning the advances of all the eligible men (and ineligible men) in town. Eventually she was promoted to working at the high school teaching English to juniors and helping them find their way through The Grapes of Wrath. That's where she met her soulmate. Henry was strong and handsome and passionate and had a bright future ahead of him. He loved Suzanne so much and would visit her nearly every afternoon in her classroom pretending to need help when really he just wanted to sit with her and figure out her sadness. He wanted to find a way to cure it. She played coy at first and didn't appreciate his advances, but as the day wore on, she fell madly in love with him and eventually carried his baby. And then she served a few years in prison for sleeping with a student, but now she's out and raising the baby and everything is just fine.
Jimmy Barrett: After a rocky relationship with his wife following her affair with Don, Jimmy decided that it was time they get a divorce. He relentlessly pursued Ann-Margret, who wanted nothing to do with him. After a few bum appearances and some horrible shows in Vegas, Jimmy's career went into free-fall. He tried to get Bobbie to take him back and to be his manager once again, but she had moved on to another star, a ventriloquist act they both knew was going nowhere, but at least he wouldn't cheat on her. Jimmy started appearing on The Match Game and other game shows as his career got worse and so did his drinking. Then even those gigs dried up, but Jimmy never did. He died drunk and alone in a Motel somewhere in L.A. No one is sure where he's buried.
Dr. Faye Miller: Once her marriage failed and Don chose Megan over her, Faye had had enough of men (mad or otherwise) and enough of New York. She needed a new start, somewhere she could put her psychology degree to work. She hopped on a plane to Los Angeles and got herself a bungalow in Laurel Canyon and an office in Beverly Hills. Faye was always a sympathetic listener for her all-star clients and was known for her candor, discretion, and the hard line she took even with the most famous of psychologically disturbed celebrities. While she was professionally successful, she doesn't want another relationship. At night she sits on the patio over looking a small pool that she could skim a little bit more often. It's lined with hanging plants that she forgets to water until the leaves start to brown. Sometimes she's capable of bringing them back to life, but so often she just had to throw them out, their hooks swinging fallow until she bothers to get a replacement. She would sit out there, by the pool, on her metal furniture and just look out into the yard, dipping off toward the neighbors before falling into oblivion and she would think about how the sun is so different here, the slant of the light somehow reconfigured from how it was back east. She would take her hair out of it's bun and let it fall swinging to her shoulders as the breeze tickled its way through and onto her neck and the dry leaves dragged their rusty claws against the concrete. Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan More: 'Mad Men' Recap: Harry's Krishna 'Mad Men''s Jessica Paré: Why Megan is Better Than Betty 'Mad Men' Preview Predictor: "You Can't Tell Anymore"
A fictional fever-dream mystery crafted loosely from the notorious still-unsolved 1947 murder of wayward wannabe starlet Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner) the tale teams two rising L.A. police detectives whose bone-crunching boxing bout give them political juice—Mr. Ice cool young Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Mr. Fire hotheaded veteran Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart). Both men become embroiled in and obsessed with the sick horrific crime even as Dwight falls hard for Lee’s victimized world-weary live-in love Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson)—with Lee’s unspoken approval: he’s too busy spiraling downward into a psychotic fixation with solving the murder having previously lost his sister to foul play. But Dwight’s also led astray by the more carnal temptations of voracious Madeline Sprague (Hilary Swank) the daughter of a bizarre high-society family with her own shadowy connections to the Dahlia. Sordid subplots abound simmering and swirling as in death the Black Dahlia threatens to suck everyone into an ever-widening abyss. Not entirely an epic of miscasting the film nevertheless falls short finding performers to essay Ellroy’s compelling cast: Hartnett demonstrates more depth here than in most previous efforts but comes fathoms short of the necessary mix of drive and angst to suit the complex role. Although she physically conveys a maturity beyond her years Johansson shows none of the wounded wisdom of the novel’s Kay—her seductive ethereal air would with an ebony dye job have served her far better as the Dahlia herself a cipher who becomes in the eyes of those obsessed with her whatever they dream her to be. Conversely Kirshner delivers in that elusive spectral role but the been-around-the-block-one-too-many times faded glint in her eyes would have made her a much more involving Kay. Eckhart has the spit and polish of a political-minded cop down pat but lacks the self-destructive inner fire that fuels the façade. Swank is mostly delightful by degrees—many of her choices are intriguing occasionally outrageous and give her femme fatale needed dimensions but others are overindulged. There are certainly macabre grand guignol moments in the story that make it more akin to Sunset Boulevard than its more obvious comparison Ellroy’s own L.A. Confidential but De Palma—never known for his subtlety—handles them with such an overt determined campiness any wry irony is wrung from them. The result is more of a parody—indeed an unflattering caricature—than a modern commentary on classic noir style. Add in his ceaseless camera-swooping swipes from Hitchcock and his ongoing fixation with meaningless gore—ham-fisted homages and hemorrhaging hemoglobin to ape Ellroy’s alliterative gossip-rag riffs—that distract from the intensity of the source material and all that remains is a bloody shame.
Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) a bleeding heart poet and staunch environmentalist is convinced a series of unexplained coincidences involving a tall African doorman somehow mean something leading him to married metaphysicians Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin)--otherwise known as the Existential Detectives. Instead of looking for other people this pair tirelessly investigates the mysteries of their clients' secret innermost lives--their "Beings " so to speak--to help them answer their questions. Immediately digging in Bernard and Vivian find out that Albert has a deep-seated hatred for Brad Stand (Jude Law) a golden-boy sales executive at the popular retail superstore chain Huckabees who at first sponsors Albert's Open Spaces Coalition to save a nearby marsh from commercial construction but who ends up taking over the coalition. The Existential Detectives believe Brad may be the key to cracking Albert's case but get sidetracked when Brad hires them for himself--leading them to explore Brad's ambitions hang-ups and his superficial relationship with Huckabees' hot blonde spokesmodel Dawn (Naomi Watts). Meanwhile Albert becomes disenfranchised with Bernard and Vivian and pairs up with another of the duo's clients--firefighter tough guy and uncompromising soul searcher Tommy (Mark Wahlberg). Together they join forces with the Jaffes' arch nemesis sexy French philosopher Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert) whose life teachings revolve around "cruelty manipulation and meaninglessness." Now as Being intermixes with Nothingness Albert Tommy Brad Dawn Bernard Vivian and Caterine get all tangled up in one another as their wild romp through life's biggest questions brings them to some startling truths. Whew!
With such a clever script to back them up it isn't hard to see why the Huckabees wannabes turn in some cracking good performances. Schwartzman once again plays a nebbish sullen but lovable geek (similar to his side-splitting turn in Rushmore) bringing out the film's heart and soul especially with his environmental poetry ("You ROCK rock!"). Veterans Hoffman and Tomlin who are dead-on as the happily married Existential Detectives and Huppert as the deadpan French philosopher complement the proceedings beautifully. For the first time in a long time Hoffman doesn't overplay his part instead letting his quiet inner "Being" out taking his character's philosophies to heart ("Everything you ever desired or wanted to be you already have and are"). But who knew more serious actors--Mark Wahlberg Jude Law and Naomi Watts--could be so excruciatingly funny? Wahlberg's freethinking obstinate firefighter would rather ride a bike to a fire than get into a gas-guzzling fire truck while Watts' Dawn decides she doesn't need to be pretty and is fearless with overalls a bonnet and Oreo cookies stuck in her teeth. As the straight man Law actually has the most difficult part playing the handsome cad who thinks he doesn't believe in all that existential bullcrap but ever so slightly gets slammed with the reality of it anyway.
Writer/director David O. Russell is one fascinating guy. With a body of work including the really weird and wild Spanking the Monkey the hilarious slapsticky Flirting With Disaster and the intense Three Kings it's obvious he is capable of handling a wide variety of subjects. With Huckabees Russell gets into some serious deep thinking. He says he became "intrigued with the idea of a detective following someone around not for any criminal or personal intrigue but rather as part of a very serious investigation about existence itself " drawing concepts from several different strains of existentialism--from the non-dual interconnectedness theories of Eastern philosophy (Bernard and Vivian's take) to the Sartrean notions of a more meaningless universe that demands a profound individualism (Caterine's point of view). Huh? Don't worry your pretty little heads about it too much. Russell's bone-crushing sense of humor comes shining through--as does his unique vision as the camera is used in new and different ways (especially creative when Albert is trying to find his "Being")--to piece together a wondrous coherent albeit thought-provoking little gem. Oscar gold awaits.
Supermom Claire (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her geneticist husband Norman (Harrison Ford) are adapting to their only daughter's departure to college when Claire begins sensing an unearthly presence in the couple's lakeside Vermont dream home. Is she losing her marbles or is that the spirit of a beautiful young woman she keeps glimpsing? To say any more (as the too-explicit ad campaign does) would spoil some delicious twists.
The toplining Ford is his usual solid self in a role that plays cleverly on his familiar persona but the picture is Pfeiffer's from beginning to end. She delivers one of her most pleasing performances nicely disarming audience doubts about the story's supernatural elements with some judicious eye-rolling and embarrassed frowning -- her character is so painfully aware that what she's saying sounds crazy how can we possibly doubt her? Among the low-key supporting cast Joe Morton ("Terminator 2") stands out as an amiably down-to-earth psychiatrist.
Robert Zemeckis ("Forrest Gump") takes Clark Gregg's highly derivative haunted house script and pours on the Hitchcockian visual flourishes unapologetically pilfering from the Master's "Rear Window" and "Psycho " among others. His extended homage results in scene after scene of almost unbearable tension as the audience waits for the next shock. There's some clunky storytelling in the first section but the all-suspense second half more than makes up for it with some classic work including what seems destined to go down in movie history as "the bathtub scene."