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At the SFPS We are Passionate and Mad about Suzanne

December 7, 2009

"What the fuck do you have against date nut bread??"

I enjoy Mad Men. I was hooked from the opening title sequence; the snappy drum beat plays as an image of an office breaks apart and a silhouette of a man falls. It was just that easy for me to be enthralled. I was prompted to tune in to that first show because its creator Matt Weiner was familiar to me from his association with The Sopranos, another program I needed no fuckin’ coercion to fuckin’ watch every fuckin’ week. (Salute, David Chase et al.)

One hopes that fine entertainment breeds more fine entertainment. With Mad Men, it is clearly evident to me that it did. But the compelling aspect of all art, all creative expression, is that it is widely open to varying interpretations by the audience. Each unique interpretation is based on the viewer’s perception of the art and how that perception is filtered through the viewer’s wealth of accumulated personal experiences and intellect. I have not done any research on this but I would bet that this distilled interpretation is (and I dislike this next phrase just about every time it’s used non-ironically in our popular culture but I will use it as is because I think it works here) every bit the unique and special snowflake.

Very few of us, though possibly very similar in many ways, will agree even, I don’t know, say seventy-three percent of the time on any one particular detail or on any one particular grand theory about any one’s interpretation of a TV program or novel or painting or ballet or yada, yada, yada. (that means any Seinfeld episode of course) And when humans disagree lots of things can happen.

However this is also the fun part of art; the individual interpretations can be and should be argued and discussed, very thoroughly and passionately if the participants feel the topic calls for it.

This brings me in a roundabout way to this post at Basket of Kisses, the unofficial Mad Men blog; a blog that I like to read and comment at. I became aware of the Basket prior to the beginning of S3 off a recommendation at another blog I lurk in. The hosts are very nice and they and the other posters and commenters are uniformly well tuned in to the program. The blog is “unofficial” really only because it’s not affiliated directly with AMC or the production company. In truth it’s very official-like because the hosts get decent access to Matt Weiner and the actors for personal interviews and other goodies. And it’s been noted that these creatives might even look in now and then. I enjoy the place and I’m sure any Mad Men viewer will.

That’s why I was especially disappointed to read the linked post by author Anne B. I’ve enjoyed her other featured writings and she’s fun to mix it up with in the comment pages. With her fine established track record I was expecting something more substantial than what I read.

The post appears to be a criticism of the writing and portrayal of the relationship between my sweet teacher Suzanne and my dramatized existentialist self Don Draper. They are only mine in the sense that they, like all the characters on this show, manage to display consistently, week after week, a significant piece of me. I like to think I really “get” a large part of each character because I always recognize a part of each that was, or is, or could have been me. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this attachment. The show resonates deeply with the people who allow some time for the program to soak into them. It’s much bigger and more complex than the usual television fare and Mad Men enthusiasts generally agree on this point.

I don’t know Anne B outside of the blogo-verse but from what I’ve read of her prose, I’m certain she “gets” the show basically the same way I do. And as I mind-numbingly detailed above, I don’t expect anything close to complete agreement on interpretations, and she and I have both acknowledged we disagree on our impressions of Suzanne and her relationship to Don.

I like Suzanne and her interactions with Don. I think the basic elements of the relationship fit into the overall momentum of the show. I feel the actress is capable and her scenes with Don have charm and emotion. But I appear to be in the minority.

Because Anne B asserts that the relationship has “left many viewers cold.”

OK . . . I don’t know if that’s true, but fine, assume many cold viewers are out there, now go and look for the reason(s) why and build a solid argument to convince us. Instead we get her generalized assertions about how real relationships start and how couples connect. We get her implication that seperate affairs with two very different women three years apart should feel the same to the viewers.  Huh?  Then we’re told what viewers (and I am to assume she is one of these viewers because she seems to believe she knows all about them. Here’s a tip I just got Anne B, they are left cold) want and what viewers need and that viewers are being denied the fulfillment of these wants and needs because the writers had decided to phone it in on this one particular character and this one particular relationship.

Allow me to dramatize what I heard in the reading room in my head while trying to make sense of it all,

“I don’t relate to her; it must be the writing. I don’t feel the same heat as with Rachel; it must be the writing. It doesn’t feel authentic to me; it must be the writing. Where’s the moment? I want my moment!  I don’t believe there can ever be a relationship without a moment. It must be the writing. I want fresh, I want discovery and comprehension (whatever the fuck she might choose to define those to be), I want hope and surprise and . . eh . . silence!!  yeah, shhhhh!  lots of silence, oh wait maybe hopeful silence, yeah surprise me! Surprise me with hopeful silences, OOOO!  How about hot, hopeful silences full of surprising chemistry!! I want them. I want them now!!! Where are they? I don’t see them!! I don’t feel it! I don’t like it!!”

Everybody now, sing along with Annie on three,

And a-one and a-two and a . . . . “IT MUST BE THE WRITING!!”

Really Anne?  She goes on to write “Mad Men lost nothing in S3.” I think I recall she admits somewhere on a comment page that the only part of the show she doesn’t enjoy is Suzanne and this relationship. Everything else is fantabulous, so to speak. She loves all of the show but this part. And therefore because SHE, and maybe many viewers like her, doesn’t like it, then it must be someone else’s fault.

Really Anne?  She composes a sparse alternative dialogue, which has been pruned, I assume, to allow for lots of silences, because she needs them I’ve been told before somewhere. The dialogue has a Hemingway-like simplicity working for it but that scene occurs late in the season. Don and Suzanne’s five previous interactions make Anne B’s re-write impossible unless both characters are being dishonest with each other in that doorway. The context of the subtle skirmishing between the two leading up to that late night knock on the door turns Suzanne’s rewritten lines into coy, soapy, deceptive posturing. The characters are way past that kind of dialogue by then; the terms of the affair were negotiated in each previous encounter over the course of the season. Anne B needs to go back and watch the progression again. It’s there. 

I feel that blaming the writing and the acting and the directing, really the whole creative team and their process, for a character and storyline you don’t like is beneath someone of your evident intelligence, integrity and creative ability, my dear Anne B, bringer of cake. I feel you might be better off stepping back and looking at it in few weeks. I can’t and won’t theorize about your personal perception of Suzanne and I hate to generalize in the same post that I rail at you for generalizing, I’m a hypocrite for sure yet it doesn’t have to mean I’m wrong here, but I’ll offer a theory that you may find useful if you consider re-examining your opinion. Here it goes.

Many viewers passed a moral judgement against Suzanne the night she slipped the bra strap and dialed the Don. And this judgement painted her blue, in a pretty decent MM pillow talk reference, and they have not been able to view her objectively from that point in the show onward. We humans draw these lines in the sand all the time, frequently subconsciously, and sometimes once they are crossed there is no going back, future clarity and objectivity is hindered. They understand her well enough, they just do not like her.  Let’s admit it and move forward. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

Unless when you get your mojo back Anne B you prove to me something else.            Cereally, thanks for being a classy lioness.

I need a gibson. It’s been an emotional few days. My you-know-what is still sore.  Where’s the waitress?

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Anne B permalink
    December 7, 2009 2:04 am

    less of me,

    In the spirit of good sportsmanship, I’ll follow your suggestions and watch at least the eclipse scene between Don and Suzanne again when it becomes available (I see the show via On Demand here, so I am dependent on AMC’s schedule). I may see something new in that scene; who knows?

    I doubt it, though. Even Don seemed put off by Suzanne in the scene, remember? She was a bit aggressive, and quite presumptuous. Not unlike … never mind.

    As for when Suzanne “dialed the Don”: I loved that. I entirely identified with her; in that scene I still saw young-teacher Suzanne, the girl with a full schedule and a crush. I thought it was one of the more charming steps the writers took, in an otherwise dark episode. I couldn’t wait to see her again.

    And then? … but this is old territory now. Let’s not cross it yet another time.

    Be well, less of me. I hope that girl is treating you well. A man doesn’t move out for just any poorly written fake-boho with baking pans, so she must be.

    Kisses to you,

    Anne B.

    • December 7, 2009 3:17 am

      Anne B, I thought about knocking out the Writer’s rant, I felt you weren’t committed to the whole rhetorical shebang and probably didn’t deserve that. I doused you with a big bucket of goop there, I’m sorry. But I thought if I went comically way over the top with it, maybe I could still make my point and take some the heat by looking like an insane jerk. We’ll see.

      As to your issue in the eclipse, we should still be able to dialogue on this stuff. I don’t have access to this season’s shows myself, so my first impression is my only impression, but esme’s been posting these awesome detailed recaps and I bought S1 to follow along, and I just watched the Don/Rachel kiss. My opinion is everything you may have liked in that scene on the roof (and I assume that you did because it was packed full of goodies) all the flirting and testing and negotiating and I’ll grant you the Moment are all there in that one afternoon/evening as they move thru the store to the roof. Rachel starts out professionally, then becomes more relaxed, then crosses a boundary with the cufflinks, then cools it off just a bit, then they get to the roof and she tells the story of naming the dogs and then she subtly implies that Daddy may have been too busy to love her and Don calls her out on it, all the negotiating takes place leading up to the kiss. Well it all happens with Suzanne too, just it takes months and disjointed encounters over that timespan and sure it plays awkward to them, the characters and us because think about it for a sec, they flirt maybe on the phone for few seconds, then don’t see each other for a month. People change over time, Suze may have been peeved that Don didn’t take the hint the phone call implied, he was the married man, he had to come to her and didn’t. So when she sees him in the park she’s defensive and irked and insecure about what she thought was a connection. It’s all very believable and real but it’s stretch out haltingly over many months, as opposed to the Rachel seduction which occurs mostly within a few hours.

      Whew! And all that yabbering probably still didn’t get you there. I’m considering doing a thorough deconstructing of their five encounters if I can find the episodes or a script or something, we have all off-season I guess to discuss or not. Without any new perspective though we’ll probably just badger each other to boredom. Let’s have a safe word, type out SWORDFISH if either of us get back into this and the other has just plain had enough. OK?
      I have issues with “love”, I hope you don’t need to see the words from me but I like you bunches. Keep it real AB.

  2. esme permalink
    December 7, 2009 2:04 am

    okay, I do not like her.

    but there’s something else, too. Suzanne is probably like more women who watch MM than not in terms of ways of life – the kind of job, the salary compared to a male, trying to watch out for the people you love. She’s more “modern.” She doesn’t seem like she’s part of Betty or Rachel or Bobbie’s worlds – she’s more contemporary.

    so, for her to call Don when his wife was mondo-preggers – maybe that was sort of like thinking about being the person who did that and not liking that character because of that action because treating another woman that way just isn’t nice in a very basic way because a pregnant woman isn’t like other people in terms of her vulnerability in this world.

    I try to open doors and help pregnant women and old people I don’t know just out in the everyday world. Hitting on your student’s dad knowing the student’s mom is very pregnant is just the most base and basic betrayal among women. And is a betrayal of her profession. So, she comes in to the story with these things working against her receiving any sympathy from this viewer, at least.

    • December 7, 2009 4:19 am

      Mon cherie, that sounds heartfelt and honest and it’s a more than a genuine way for a human to feel. I can’t argue any of it, it’s yours. I just don’t have the same ethical code that you seem to express there. I truly am as close to something like a relativist-secular-humanist. I have a code too, I’m not amoral, but the code doesn’t compel me to feel the same way on those issues.
      I will say I don’t think there’s necessarily a gender bias involved, the woman shouldn’t be held any more culpable for initiating an affair with the father-to-be than he should be for pursuing her lead. I think any moral violation should fall on both of them equally hard.

      I just don’t feel not honoring a monogamous pact is a shunnable offense. It violates a personal trust between the two of them but who am I to say how honest and lasting that trust should be for them. If a husband is sniffing around looking to connect with someone other than his spouse maybe he has his reasons and they might more defensible than just that his biology makes him do it. And that applies equally back to the female gender. I personally think monogamy is an unnatural biological condition for both sexes. It proves out a bit in the rest of nature.

      And when the default position in society is to encourage people to choose monogamy in order to feel accepted by the herd and their church and to have access to safe sex and to get breaks on their taxes and to have children they may not be able to afford then of course the pressures of biology will give persons who have made such reflexive, conditioned life long commitments rather rashly without much deep thought, an excuse to break those pacts.

      Another whew. I need to do some laundry or something. esme, to set up this blog I wanted a email account but lessofme was taken already by some scurvy dawg, so I put dt in front– it stands for don’t think. . . less of me. I figured if I wanted to chat honestly about personal stuff I would have to hope that phrase would hold up more often than not. In your case I really hope it does.

      Waiter–Check please!

  3. Peggy Joan permalink
    December 7, 2009 4:30 am

    My impression was that Suzanne called the house because she genuinely cared about Sally’s adjustment to her grandfather’s death and could relate because of her own childhood loss. I think she expected to hear Betty answer the phone and wanted to reassure her that she didn’t mean to upset Betty by asking about Gene’s death during the parent-teacher meeting.

    It appeared to me that Suzanne was surprised (in a tingly good way) and a bit flustered when Don answered. With the notable exception of Conrad Hilton’s calls in the wee hours, I don’t think we saw Don answer the home phone all that often — other people do (Betty, Carla or Sally), his calls are screened, and he may or may not take them at that moment.

    I thought that Suzanne struggled with the mutual attraction between them. She seemed to be brusquely putting Don off during their observation of the eclipse in the company of children and their dads. BTW, don’t forget that at that very moment Betty had finished meeting with Henry Francis and was admiring that fainting couch in a store window just before they observed the eclipse together. It’s not as if Betty was entirely innocent in her meetings with Henry.

    I’m no fan of adultery but what disappoints me about Suzanne is taking such a stupid risk, especially when she says she knows how it will turn out. Sleeping with any of the children’s dads is just dumb and could easily cost her the job.

    • December 8, 2009 3:08 am

      Hi Peggy Joan! I like both your names for the obvious MM reasons; can I ask, are you more Pegs or Joan?
      I like the way you try to redeem the phone call, I’ve thought about it myself. Once it picked up the “drunk dialing” label it was tough to argue that it was really more neutral and uncertain than the modern shorthand declares. She had a legitimate reason to call the house and the drink helped steady herself because she probably decided she would feel him out if Don picked up. She felt they made some connection in the schoolroom and she wanted to see if he felt it too. I mentioned at BoK a while back that unfortunately this was the most common way she interacted with men. School teachers didn’t go out clubbing back then. Married guys hit on her alot and she probably got burned by a few that she thought were different. When Don doesn’t make a direct play back after the call, Suzanne just got confused and frustrated and lashed at him when he approaches her at the park. I didn’t see what the big deal was. I get snappy with people I like at least three times a day, keeps them on their toes.

  4. not_Bridget permalink
    December 7, 2009 12:22 pm

    Suzanne’s role was confusing & conflicted. A slip by the usually sterling MM writing staff? A poor acting job? For me, her outburst (in front of the kids) at the eclipse showed she’d picked Don as her Affair of the Year. Blowing any of the positive feelings she might have earned in her earlier, awkward but apparently sincere interactions with The Drapers.

    Her role was really unnecessary to the flow of the season. Betty decided to use Henry’s interest to finally end the marriage she’d grown tired of. (Too bad she hadn’t let Don know years before that she hated the ‘burbs.) She knew nothing about Suzanne. It would have been more piquant if the marriage had finally broken down during one of Don’s “good” periods.

    I found the excellence of the season’s final episode made everything worth while. All that Ossining Domesticity (and Ossining Adultery) had been taking time away from the more interesting parts of Don’s life. Now, next season has lots of material to cover as SCDP grows–in an urban environment. Brief appearances by Betty as the kids are handed over for visitation would be fine with me. If Betty’s out riding & Carla appears instead–that would be even better.

    I hear the Suzanne Actress has a role in a new series; good luck to her! I’ll imagine the Suzanne Character deciding to stop wasting her energy on married men & looking for a non-suburban school district. Just not in NYC.

    And let Don find an interesting, intelligent woman to share his life with.

    • December 8, 2009 1:13 pm

      Hi not_Bridget! Since it’s my personal space in the web, I feel I want to be the personable host and meet and greet everyone, especially when one takes the time to post a reasonable opinion that explains clearly what they think. but my time is crimped and of course you have to be aware of my luv for that teacher.
      I tried to find something to discuss but I failed for the most part. I will just say I agree that the new SCDP will be fun to watch for all of us I’m pretty sure. The power dynamics in the new shop have to be adjusted, they are already adjusted, just remember Roger “asking” Peggy to get him some coffee. lol
      That said so much, so simply.
      personally I think Don needs some alone time, but I like to brood and nobody would tune in for that.
      Be well. come back.

  5. gypsy howell permalink
    December 7, 2009 1:31 pm

    I just re-watched Love Among The Ruins. I was wishing that Don had an affair with THAT Suzanne — the one that was going to feed him tea and oranges all the way from China.

    Post-Depression-Era Suzanne — she of the drab green sweater and drab, dreary apartment — left me depressed. I guess I was hoping for Indian-print bedspreads and patchouli. A sort of proto-hippy Midge. A bit too early, I guess.

    Anyway, moving on. I wonder if Don will only hit on married women now that he’s going to be single. I can kind of see that — a bit of a turn-about in his relationships, where he’s always available and she fits him in when and where she can. Maybe he’ll have his heart broken.

    • December 8, 2009 1:23 pm

      gypsy, you’re always in motion! Moving on, forward to something new or going back to find something different. You are constant kinetic energy in the Mad-i-verse. Bright, vibrant, multi-colored energy no doubt, definitely no olive greens for thee, hee,hee.

      • gypsy howell permalink
        December 8, 2009 4:53 pm

        I go backwards, forwards, and taking me to a place where I ache to go again. I’m not on a Wheel, I’m on “The Carousel.” It lets me travel the way a child travels, round and around and back home again…

        • December 10, 2009 8:03 pm

          gypsy, I skipped right past this little quip. The shorthand would be an insult – – I Laughed Out Loud!! Here in Suite 437 you get extra points for the appropriate Scripture quote. Get this lady a Mai Tai.
          Nicely played.

  6. Dark Peggy permalink
    December 8, 2009 9:31 pm

    Very interesting post and take on things less of me. When I saw your follow up to Anne B on BoK, I was wondering, what this interesting, cryptic, wacky lom was on about, when saying how gob smacked he was so I clicked over here and now I get it. I also felt a little off about Suzanne (and Henry) and felt as though something was off about there relationship and really enjoyed Anne’s post but but I like your explanation of why you disagree with Anne B and your understanding of Suzanne. I agree that Suzanne didn’t know Don was going to answer but it hadn’t occured to me that she would take the conversation as an invitation of sorts to Don and that she was miffed at the eclipse. I’m not sure if I’m totally convinced but it does make more sense than what I originally thought which was “this chick is screwey!” Then again, all of our beloved characters on MM, much like those in real life, all have their little bits of weirdness which endear them to us.

    • December 10, 2009 1:11 am

      Dark Peggy thanks for dropping by. Remember we humans are not weird, we are idiosyncratic. It sounds almost regal. Good point on the Suzanne/Henry parallels. Both of them were supposed to be a bit different I think, I don’t know personally, but why would a husband or wife be attracted to someone who was real similar to their spouse? I’d think a priority would be to look for some difference, something new. Not that I’d condone that but hey, it happens an awful lot, humans like variety.
      And I thought the parallel highlighted also the gender dynamic when it came to the boundary crossing issues. Henry the connected male feels entitled enough to ask to touch an unfamiliar married woman’s belly at a large party while Suzanne the unempowered female has to have a drink or two to wratchet up the temerity to call the house even with the legitimate cover excuse of being concerned for Sally. I thought watching the start up of both affairs was interesting for illustrating that difference in what each gender was entitled or allowed to do. And morally if we disapprove of Suzanne’s actions we have to strongly disapprove of Henry’s also.
      They both could be just plot movers but I’m not sure we’re done with either yet.

      Oh, a side note to the gobsmacking. I borrowed the term from the Whiskey Fire poli-blog I like to read. Thers, the host uses it in mock amazement and I love the phonetics of it, it’s fun to say plus it sounds rude but isn’t, it is one perfectly fine upstanding verb. Try to use it everyday!

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