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TV That Matters: 3/29 Mad Men, Justified, Smash

By Matt Ern, Columnist

 

Mad Men- "A Little Kiss"

Grade: A

Mad Men is back on the air after far too long, and it's back with a massive two-hour episode.  The interesting thing about Mad Men is the way time in the show goes by while the show is off the air.  One episode doesn't immediately follow the one before it.  So after being off the air for more than a year, there have been some big changes to the lives of the ad men of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.  

The most obvious change is that Don is now married to Megan, although the honeymoon phase doesn't appear to have lasted for long.  Although Peggy remarks early on in the episode how much happier Don seems to be, any illusion of that happiness unravels after Megan throws him a surprise birthday party, something he had banned Betty from doing.  But Megan isn't like Betty, and the way she stands up to Don shows just how fragile their marriage is.  The scene where she cleans up after the party in her underwear is pretty crazy.    

Pete is still doing the best business for the firm but is chafing under the title of junior partner.  He wants a bigger office, Roger's office, and the fact that he still can't garner the respect he feels he deserves is pulling him a part at the seems.  Sure he ends up with Harry's office at the end of the episode, but it's Roger's he's after so it's he only scores a hallow victory.      

And then of course there's the very telling final scene, where SCDP is forced to consider hiring an African American secretary after the humor of their malicious want ad backfires on them.  Mad Men has left the race issue largely untouched in the past, but the men of SCDP can overlook it no longer.

Despite the casual misogyny in the world of Mad Men, the show has always had strong female characters like Peggy and Joan.  Perhaps this season is the time for some strong African American characters as well. 

Most of the men on Mad Men are very set in their ways, but they can't just ignore the social change surrounding them any longer.  Whether accepting that change means they'll have to hire a black secretary or put up with a sexy song at a swinging sixties birthday party, Don Draper does not seem like the kind of man comfortable with things challenging his status quo.

 

Justified- Measures

Grade: A-

 

A pen and paper would have been handy watching this week's Justified as allegiances shifted and everyone seemed to be out to kill everyone else.  It's probably easiest to look at things as they stand at the end of the episode.  

Quarles is being hunted by just about everybody: the marshals, Boyd, even his old boss from Detroit.  So he seeks refuse with Limehouse.  Limehouse will protect him, as long as he can pay his pre-existing debt.  Quarles robs some drug dealers to do this, but Limehouse isn't interested in selling meth. Quarles has to move the product himself before he can hunker down in Limehouse's holler.  

Of course, that holler is about to come under fire from a marshal raid, as Tim and Rachel seek to find the $3 million of Magg's money that Limehouse is supposedly in possession of. Dickie is out of prison now and looking to score back his mother's money as well, and plans a coup with one of Limehouse's subordinates.  Boyd is still looking to kill Dickie but based on the preview for next week's episode, he'll be joining him in a move against Limehouse that looks like it'll coincide with the marshal's raid.  

The last bit of alliance swapping came from Duffy who contemplates killing Quarles for the bounty on his head just as Boyd captures him.  The two agree to split the reward for Quarles, but criminal alliances like this are only so strong in Harlan county.  

Basically, all the criminals that have been carefully manipulated all season are finally in position to kill each other.  The promise of Boyd's alliance and the marshals both hitting Limehouse at the same time should result in a flurry of bullets to rival even season one's finale.  And we still have two episodes left this year.

The only thing that seems certain at this point is that Boyd will come out on top, because he's Boyd Crowder after all.  

 

Smash- "The Coup" 

Grade: C

"The Coup" had every right to be the episode that turned things around for Smash.  It offered up a way to potentially shake up the show's status quo in a major way and really delve into the industry stuff that makes the show work.  Instead it gets bogged down in more side stories about the characters' personal lives that I couldn't care less about.  Even ordinarily likeable characters were turned into ugly caricatures. 

Ellis has reached levels of obnoxiousness I didn't even think possible.  The fight between Tom and Derek managed to make my two favorite characters on the show both come across as tremendous jerks that no one in their right mind would root for.  There's a bunch of stuff about Eileen's daughter arriving to mediate the divorce between her parents that frankly had no business being in the episode.  And we got a scene at Julia's son's hearing that was a perfect example of how court room preceding would never actually go. 

The episode's main conceit, that Derek and Eileen went around Tom and Julia to try out some new song writers was actually a really good one and offered the potential for a lot of drama.  But by the end of the episode Eileen changes her mind and decides they can't do the musical without Tom and Julia.  Ivy is fired, but I doubt that means we'll be seeing any less of her. 

The one good thing about this episode was that Karen was allowed to interact with the other characters, which has been something that really irked me about the last few episodes. Despite the fact that she's one of Smash's stars, she's had very little to do with the rest of the characters and action in the last few episodes.  At least her and Ivy's rivalry was touched on again this week, but in the end she isn't cast as Marilyn either so not a lot was accomplished.

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