As we prepare for the final episode to this penultimate season of Mad Men, we are inclined to look back upon the year at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (now Sterling Cooper & Partners). Where have these dozen episodes taken Don Draper, Peggy Olson, and the rest of the characters? And where are they headed? Here's a quick rundown with some reminders of this eventful year and predictions for the future:
When we caught up with Don... He was on top of the world! A compassionate, talented, beautiful wife with a budding career in show business. A slightly on-the-mend relationship with the mother of his children. A stable job at a thriving advertising firm. Things couldn't be better for Don!One season later... He has engaged in a tumultuous extramarital affair with a neighbor — one that he was caught in the act of exploring by his 13-year-old daughter — has been forced to merge his company with that of a rival whom he can't seem to help himself from trying to emotionally destroy, and is pretty much as miserable and corrosive as any man can possibly be.And from here, he'll... Continue to slide gradually down into a sea of self-loathing madness until the demons of his past overtake him entirely. Perhaps Sally will reveal the affair to Megan, or his efforts to uproot coworker/selected enemy Ted Chaough's psyche will blow up in his face. Or maybe that crazy lady will break into his apartment again and exact her wrath on the Draper clan. Or Dr. Rosen, the husband of Don's illicit ladyfriend. To be frank, the probable venues for Don's decimation are countless.
When we caught up with Peggy… She had finally spread her wings and flown free from the shackles of the misogynistic Sterling Cooper where she was bred. No longer within the destructive reach of Don Draper, she could explore her creativity and grow as a businesswoman in a new environment. And now that she was living with intellectual Abe in her very own apartment, things were looking up for Peggy in all departments.One season later… She's back at Sterling Cooper, suffering all of Don's self-effacing wallowing, has broken up with Abe (after stabbing him, no less), and begun exploring a romantic affair with a married man. Oh, and her apartment is filled with rats.And from here, she'll… Trigger to the destruction of the Chaough household and of lovable old Ted himself... perhaps literally. Nobody that ostensibly nice can survive a full season of Mad Men, can they?
When we caught up with Pete... He was a happily... er, steadily married man with a secret Manhattan apartment, recently augmented in professional standing at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.One season later... He's separated, tending to the needs of his increasingly delusional mother, caught in the crosshairs with the maniacal Bob Benson... still pretty much the same douche, though.And from here, he'll... Throw himself out a window? We're all pretty much aligned with the theory that he's the guy in the opening credits, right?
When we caught up with Roger... He was a twice-divorced LSD aficionado rapidly descending the scale of human evolution.One season later... His mother died and he got punched in the gut. Otherwise, he seems to be doing pretty much the same.And from here, he'll... Break ground in therapy and become a mature adult, a doting father and grandfather, and the sort of man he's never realized he always wished he was. Either that, or he'll do more LSD and try to sleep with a bunch of younger women.
JOAN HARRIS (NEE HOLLOWAY)
When we caught up with Joan... She was an actual character on this show.One season later... She's shown up a couple of times. Once to get knocked down a few pegs in her pursuit of a new client, once to say something about chicken soup in a Jewish-American accent.And from here, she'll... Thrive as a Johnny Walker spokesperson, most prominently.
When we met Bob... He was a cheerful, generous, ambitious young buck signing onto the Sterling Cooper brand to learn from the best of the best and make a name for himself in the biz, golly gee.One season later... He's been revealed to be a Machiavellian liar and possible sociopath riddled with countless dark secrets, and a stalwart enemy to Pete Campbell.And from here, he'll... Die. If Ted Chaugh doesn't bite the dust before Season 7, Bob Benson sure as hell will. Or he'll take an axe to someone else at the SC&P staff... This guy's got "horror story" written all over him.
And how about Betty, Megan, and Sally? Ken Cosgrove and Harry Crane? Ginsberg, Stan, and the kid from Frasier? Only the writers know. And possibly Bert Cooper. Hey, he predicted Kennedy's election.
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.
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For these past few months, Mad Men fans have been forced to get their Christina Hendricks fix (Christina Henfix, if you will) from AMC's ceaseless roulette of Johnnie Walker commercials. Hendricks' character Joan has been conspicuously absent from the bulk of Season 6, dropping in for seldom more than a scene or two per episode — albeit occasionally quite substantial ones). But this week's chapter, "A Tale of Two Cities," lends focus to the Sterling Cooper & Partners (oh yes, they condense Draper, Chaough, Campbell, Pryce, Harry Hamlin, etc. into the all-encompassing "Ampersand 'P'," as Don calls it) ladder climber, offering up new professional opportunity for Joan, while maintaining the stronghold on her consistently poor fortune.
Joan Holloway was introduced as a villain of sorts, imposing the status quo over Peggy, an entity of the changes yet to befall the advertising company and the 1960s America in general. As the world around her ascends, represented by foil Peggy, Joan slips from a lonesome plateau to a desperate valley — their rivalry transformed to friendship as the playing field leveled, with Peggy empowered and Joan infused with a stirring humility. The later seasons have seen Joan near rock bottom, though not for lack of a rigidly dominant affect, for the crowd: her destitute marriage, her affair with Jaguar's Herb Rennick, her dwindling reverence among fellow Sterling Cooper partners. This week's episode allows Joan to grasp at a new beginning, mimicking the early climb of Peggy from secretarial to advertising departments.
A would-be blind date organically turns to a professional relationship when Joan meets an Avon representative, bringing the new potential client to the attention of Peggy and hoping, despite "protocol," to take the lead on roping in the account. But as far as everyone is concerned, that's not the way it's done here.
It's funny that the very mentality that identified Joan in the early days of Mad Men has become her adversary: Joan wants to advance. More than that, Joan wants to feel worthwhile. But standard practice entails that Pete Campbell head the next meeting... a standard practice that Joan shirks when she organizes a sit-down with the Avon rep, Peggy, herself, and nobody else. This enrages Pete, concerns Peggy (who goes to bat for Joan, but offers a holier-than-thou tongue lashing about her insolence), and rustles the feathers of, but otherwise doesn't inspire much consequence, from Ted Chaough. All this on top of the meeting having not gone particularly well sinks Joan to the bottom of a murky pit — her brave stab at initiative has landed her back in the poor graces and fleeting thoughts of the men who run her office. When is she going to get a win?
On the other side of the country, Don, Roger, and Harry high-tail it through the high-on-acid high societies of Southern California. Again with the drugs, Don fulfills his lack of despair over the Democratic National Convention protests by indulging in mind-altering drugs, facing a hallucination of Megan as he struggles to unite with the semblances of humanity that he so very sporadically experiences (there was that one when he said he loved Bobby for the first time a few weeks back... and... uh... um...).
And the Bob Benson mystery thickens when the rosey-cheeked young man halts an altercation between partner Hamlin and an agitated Michael Ginsberg, who identifies the advertising industry as "part of the problem," refusing to take on a new project. Appeasing both men, Bob allocates his reverence for the chain of command to Hamlin, and bucks up the passionate artist (and Jew! He makes sure to bring up the fact that he's a Jew!) in Ginsberg. Who the hell are you, Bob? Where do you come from?
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter | Follow hollywood.com on Twitter @hollywood_com
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There's an allure to imperfection. With his latest drama Lawless director John Hillcoat taps directly into the side of human nature that draws us to it. Hillcoat finds it in Prohibition history a time when the regulations of alcohol consumption were subverted by most of the population; He finds it in the rural landscapes of Virginia: dingy raw and mesmerizing. And most importantly he finds it in his main character Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) the scrappy third brother of a moonshining family who is desperate to prove his worth. Jack forcefully injects himself into the family business only to discover there's an underbelly to the underbelly. Lawless is a beautiful film that's violent as hell striking in a way only unfiltered Americana could be.
Acting as the driver for his two outlaw brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) isn't enough for Jack. He's enticed by the power of the gangster figure and entranced by what moonshine money can buy. So like any fledgling entrepreneur Jack takes matters into his own hands. Recruiting crippled family friend/distillery mastermind Cricket (Dane DeHaan) the young whippersnapper sets out to brew his own batch sell it to top dog Floyd Banner and make the family rich. The plan works — but it puts the Bondurant boys in over their heads with a new threat: the corrupt law enforcers of Chicago.
Unlike many stories of crime life Lawless isn't about escalation. The movie drifts back and forth leisurely popping in moments like the beats of a great TV episode. One second the Bondurants could be talking shop with their female shopkeep Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). The next Forrest is beating the bloody pulp out of a cop blackmailing their operation. The plot isn't thick; Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave preferring to bask in the landscapes the quiet moments the haunting terror that comes with a life on the other side of the tracks. A feature film doesn't offer enough time for Lawless to build — it recalls cinema-level TV currently playing on outlets like HBO and AMC that have truly spoiled us — but what the duo accomplish is engrossing.
Accompanying the glowing visuals and Cave's knockout workout on the music side (a toe-tapping mix of spirituals bluegrass and the writer/musician's spine-tingling violin) are muted performances from some of Hollywood's rising stars. Despite LaBeouf's off-screen antics he lights up Lawless and nails the in-deep whippersnapper. His playful relationship with a local religious girl (Mia Wasikowska) solidifies him as a leading man but like everything in the movie you want more. Tom Hardy is one of the few performers who can "uurrr" and "mmmnerm" his way through a scene and come out on top. His greatest sparring partner isn't a hulking thug but Chastain who brings out the heart of the impenetrable beast. The real gem of Lawless is Guy Pearce as the Bondurant trio's biggest threat. Shaved eyebrows pristine city clothes and a temper like a rabid wolverine Pearce's Charlie Rakes is the most frightening villain of 2012. He viciously chews up every moment he's on screen. That's even before he starts drawing blood.
Lawless is the perfect movie for the late August haze — not quite the Oscary prestige picture or the summertime shoot-'em-up. It's drama that has its moonshine and swigs it too. Just don't drink too much.
Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.