Alex Williams

Hump Day

Photo Credit: Colin Zelinski | Daily Texan Staff

Has social media, technology and “hookup culture” changed the way we date? After personally spending a little too much time last weekend talking to people through the dating app Tinder, I’m going to go with a resounding “yes.”

In an article in The New York Times titled “The End of Courtship?” Alex Williams wrote, “Traditional courtship — picking up the telephone and asking someone on a date — required courage, strategic planning and a considerable investment of ego. Not so with texting, e-mail, Twitter or other forms of ‘asynchronous communication,’ as techies call it.”

After meeting someone new, we almost instantly ask him or her to friend us on Facebook. Rather than getting to know each other face-to-face, we attempt to draw conclusions about what his recent likes of Furby, Fanta and Muscle Milk could possibly mean.

“Technology is what ruined dating and relationships,” undeclared sophomore Celena Garza said. “Take texting for example. It’s rare that someone has an intimate face-to-face conversation. Everything is ‘via’ something.” 

Conversations through technology, rather than face-to-face conversations, can create false depictions of who someone is. How many times have you had fantastic conversations with someone through text, yet in person you realize you have nothing to talk about? This is of course if you get so far as an actual date, which according to researchers is becoming a rarity in today’s hookup culture.

“Instead of dinner-and-a-movie, which seems as obsolete as a rotary phone, [young people] rendezvous over phone texts, Facebook posts, instant messages and other ‘non-dates’ that are leaving a generation confused about how to land a boyfriend or girlfriend,” Williams said in the article.

Donna Freitas, assistant professor of religion at Boston University, is the author of a book to be published in early April called “The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy.” 

“Young people today don’t know how to get out of hookup culture,” Freitas said in Williams’ article. 

According to the article, after various interviews with students, Freitas concluded that men and women alike “are deeply unhappy with hookup culture” because it does not allow for dating, romance and intimacy. 

“It’s not that technology and college ‘ruined’ dating and relationships,” said Jasmine Vallejo, government and public relations senior. “I think that hooking up is preferred to being in a relationship. College life has a stigma associated with it that the only way to fully get the college experience is to complete it single; therefore, students prefer casual sex rather than the whole title of being taken.”

Even though much of our initial dating occurs through technology and social media, would sitting by your land line phone for hours waiting for someone to call be that much better? 

And not to worry, despite social media and hookup culture, we are not destined to become incompetent dating zombies restricted to texting, Snapchat and meaningless hookups. Although norms have shifted when it comes to dating, this does not mean today’s culture cannot cultivate long-term, loving relationships. 

Government senior Mackenzie Massey shared the story of her nearly two-and-a-half-year relationship, which she said “definitely started as a hookup and developed into something more.” 

“There was no asking out on dates or courting in the beginning, just hanging out and hooking up until we kind of fell for each other,” Massey said. “After that, there were dates and normal courtship things. And now, we’re making plans for the future.”

Let’s face it, if you want to have more face time with the people you are dating, you have to pick up the phone and speak the apparently scariest sentence in the English language: Let’s go on a date.

Teller plays Sutter Keely, an impulse-driven teen who’s in the first stages of an intense post-dumping downward spiral when he wakes up on an unfamiliar lawn with Aimee (Shailene Woodley) standing over him. Photo courtesy of A 24 Studios.

This year’s South By Southwest boasted such an impressive line-up that Texan film critic Alex Williams saw 30 movies during the nine days of the festival and still managed to miss plenty of notable films. These are short reviews of his favorite films of the festival, written between watching films, eating BBQ and getting very little sleep.

THE SPECTACULAR NOW (In theaters this August)

Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley cement their status as two of the most promising young actors working today in “The Spectacular Now,” a profoundly affecting teen romance and, for my money, the best film of SXSW. The gorgeously observed screenplay from “500 Days of Summer” scribes Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber casts Teller and Woodley’s characters as lovestruck teens who influence each other in ways both beneficial and toxic, and their relationship is powerfully defined and unflinchingly honest. “The Spectacular Now” connects on a raw emotional level, and the strength of this story and these performances should not be underestimated.

SHORT TERM 12 (Still seeking distribution)

The winner of Grand Jury and Audience Awards at SXSW, “Short Term 12” stars Brie Larson as Grace, a supervisor at a home for kids at risk. Grace’s life is thrown into turmoil as a perfect storm of circumstances involving her boyfriend (John Gallagher Jr.) and a new arrival at the home (Kaitlyn Dever) forces her to confront some dark truths about her past. Larson’s performance is intense, and she portrays Grace’s commitment to her job with a natural toughness and compassion. “Short Term 12” is at its best when it takes extended looks into the heads of the facility’s tenants. The way these damaged teens express themselves manifests into beautiful, poignant moments, and the detailed character work, nuanced script and strong performances made the film stand out in this year’s formidable line-up.

YOU’RE NEXT (In theaters August 23)

“You’re Next” played at Toronto Film Festival and Fantastic Fest in 2011 before disappearing from the face of the earth, and it resurfaced to remarkable audience acclaim at SXSW. The hugely entertaining horror-comedy places a family at each other’s throats before unknown intruders start shooting crossbows through windows, and it only gets more nuts from there. Sharni Vinson gives a steely, surprising performance as an unlucky significant other trapped in the onslaught, and director Adam
Wingard displays a sharp, twisted sense of humor. If the film’s reception at SXSW is any indicator, this one will be thrilling midnight crowds for years to come.

MUD (In theaters April 26)

One of the only films at the festival to be screened in 35mm, “Mud” is also one of the most visually stunning, and director Jeff Nichols captures the Mississippi River with elegant, immersive imagery. On a remote bank of the river, young boys Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) stumble upon a fugitive (Matthew McConaughey). The bond they form is a hesitant but essential one, and Nichols lets “Mud”’s story unfold at a natural, impeccably structured pace, packing the film with earnest, hopeful and exciting moments. In just three films, Nichols has mastered telling stories about Southern masculinity, and “Mud” is his most rewarding effort to date.

V/H/S/2 (In theaters this summer)

A Baskin Robbins of horror cinema, “V/H/S/2” is a rare anthology without a bum segment and a strong second installment in the budding horror franchise. Shorts from Adam Wingard, Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener and Eduardo Sanchez bring creativity and chills, but they all pale in comparison to a short directed by The Raid’s Gareth Evans. The tale of a documentary crew invited into a secretive cult’s compound escalates into a spine-tingling assault on the audience, a deeply unnerving variety pack of terrors that’s a surefire contender for the horror hall of fame.

CHEAP THRILLS (Purchased by Drafthouse Films)

The undeniable breakout genre hit of SXSW was Audience Award winner “Cheap Thrills,” a scathing attack on free-market capitalism taken to its darkest extremes. A night of drowning his sorrows turns nefarious for Craig (Pat Healy) when he stumbles into an old friend (Ethan Embry) and an unusual married couple (David Koechner & Sara Paxton). The rest of the night becomes a spiral into debauchery, an unabashedly twisted and darkly hilarious satire that ends on an ironic, spectacularly appropriate final note.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (In theatres this summer) 

Joss Whedon’s modern take on Shakespeare’s classic comedy of manners is a low-stakes charmer and faithful adaptation that still manages to surprise. Whedon takes tangible delight in exploring the nooks and crannies of Shakespeare’s text, and his characteristic love of wordplay has clearly worn off on his ruthlessly funny cast. From Alexis Denisof’s grizzly conviction and Clark Gregg’s boozy charm to Fran Kranz’s surprisingly dashing performance, “Much Ado About Nothing” is a delightful match of material, director, no comma and performers.

EVIL DEAD (In theaters April 5)

“Evil Dead” played on the opening night of the festival to a packed house at the Paramount, and the world premiere of the highly anticipated horror remake was an exhilarating experience. Even when the film veers into “greatest hits” territory, it builds a visceral momentum as it goes on, escalating into a gleefully insane final sequence. Even if “Evil Dead” can’t top its predecessor in terms of scares, it ups the gore quotient to such preposterous heights that it manages to convey a blood-soaked charm.

SOME GIRL(S) (Still seeking distribution) 

Neil LaBute usually holds a magnifying glass up to the ugliest of human behaviors in his writing, and “Some Girl(s),” the story of a man (Adam Brody) jetting around the country attempting to clear the air with a variety pack of ex-girlfriends, is no exception. Each conversation peels back another layer of Brody’s psyche, and the film’s ensemble is more than game to psychoanalyze each other’s characters. Kristen Bell’s sharp wit, Zoe Kazan’s adorable fragility and Brody’s unshakable charm bring LaBute’s script to life with stark intelligence, and “Some Girl(s)” is a spectacularly acted depiction of a misguided trip down memory lane.

DRINKING BUDDIES (Still seeking distribution) 

Joe Swanberg’s films have been like nails on a chalkboard at previous film festivals, but “Drinking Buddies” manages to be a refreshing change of pace for the director. The film is a mature exploration of romance and jealousy bolstered by a revelatory performance from Olivia Wilde. Wilde plays an employee at a microbrewery, and her close relationship with co-worker Jake Johnson barely fazes their respective significant others (Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick). Kendrick is charming, while Johnson hits dramatic scenes out of the park, but it’s Wilde’s unpretentious, tender performance that sells the film. It turns out all Swanberg needed was actors looking for a challenge, and the resulting film may not be wholly satisfying, but it’s still a funny, insightful look at relationships under pressure.

Mad Men Discussion, Season 5, Episode 4: “Mystery Date”

Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) and her mother Gail Holloway (Christine Estabrook) react to the unwelcome news that Greg Harris has volunteered for another tour of duty in Vietnam (Photo Coutesy of AMC).
Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) and her mother Gail Holloway (Christine Estabrook) react to the unwelcome news that Greg Harris has volunteered for another tour of duty in Vietnam (Photo Coutesy of AMC).

Katie: Hi Alex,

Wow. What a fantastic episode this past Sunday. If audiences didn't feel fully back in the "Mad Men" groove this season as I have, they certainly should now.

Let's start with one of the most notable aspects of "Mystery Date:" the very pronounced inclusion of historical events, like the Richard Speck murders in Chicago, as well as the race riots that were also occurring in Chicago at the time.

Of course, being a period piece, it's nearly impossible to not mention the current events of the 1960s in the show. However, what "Mad Men" has been so great about in the past (and in this case, I'd argue) is that the real-life events themselves aren't quite so intriguing as those events they affect and parallel the lives of Matthew Weiner's fictional creations.

For instance, this week the Richard Speck murders drew the somewhat macabre fascination of the young copywriters and co. at SCDP (including a welcome return from Zosia Mamet as Peggy's lesbian pal Joyce), as well as that of Sally Draper. Kiernan Shipka continues to stun with her arresting young talent, as she shifts effortlessly from petulance to curiosity to rage to fear during her squabbling/bonding sessions with Grandma Francis with riveting charisma.

What struck you most about "Mystery Date?"

Alex: Hi Katie,

You know, I actually thought this was the weakest "Mad Men" of the season thus far, and probably one of the show's lesser efforts to date, mostly for the Don storyline. I can certainly appreciate what Weiner's goals with this story, but there had to be a better way to show that Don wants to stay faithful to Megan. It was fairly clear from the start that his dalliance with Andrea (Madchen Amik) was a bed-ridden hallucination, and if there's one thing "Mad Men" doesn't know how to do, it's scenes set inside the characters' minds. This portion of the episode was probably my least favorite thing "Mad Men" has ever done, but the other story lines almost made up for it.

Joan has never had it easy in "Mad Men," and her marriage to failed surgeon Greg has been a reliable source for pathos in the past. Even so, it was insanely satisfying to watch her kick him to the curb, and Christina Hendricks really sold the dissolution of her marriage, a culmination of years of frustration exploding all at once. I especially liked the sense of history that the episode's script brought to this storyline, with callbacks to Joan's accordion skills and that ugly, ugly rape scene way back in Season 2. I can't help but wonder if this is the last we've seen of Greg, or if he's ever going to do the math on Joan's pregnancy.

A good bit of the episode was spent getting to know the new employees at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. While it was entertaining to watch Ginsberg nearly destroy his career before it even got off the ground, I'm curious what you thought of Dawn and Peggy's drunken late-night conversation.

Katie: I do actually agree with you about Don's storyline, which was far too blatant about Don's continuing struggle with marital fidelity. His altercation with an old flame (which, yeah, was pretty obvious was a fever dream from the start) was on the clumsy side, not to mention made episode's theme of violence against women far too obvious. That's a shame for a show like "Mad Men," which can be delightfully subtle on its best days. Had Don's story this week been altered or even left out, I think the episode might've been better off for it.

The scenes between Peggy and Dawn were a highlight for me as well, even though their story's thematic beats were almost as ham-fisted as Don's; it was just so much fun to watch the two of them interact. I loved seeing Peggy trying a little too hard to take the new girl (and the only African-American at the agency) under her wing, only to have all her carefully cultivated feelings of inter-racial sisterhood crumble with one suspicious glance toward her purse. Plus, you can't just go wrong with drunk Peggy.

A quick final rundown of some other details I found interesting this week:

  • Watching Don's face as Michael Ginsberg deliberately out-sold Don's pitch with his own for the footwear guys.
  • Actually watching Ginsberg deliberately out-sell Don's pitch for the footwear guys. The boardroom ad business bullshitting remains one of my favorite aspects of "Mad Men."
  • The uproarious back-and-forth between Roger and Peggy as she haggles the price of taking over the Mohawk account. I don't think the show has ever been as funny as it has this season.
  • Joan calling out her husband on his, thus far, seemingly ignored rape of her. What a powerfully earned moment. 

Any final thoughts?

Alex: I'm curious to see what the next episode brings for our cast. Joan will presumably be returning to work a newly single woman, and Roger's reaction to that will doubtlessly be priceless. However, I'm really fascinated to see how Dawn and Peggy's drunken night of bonding impacts the way Peggy treats her boss's secretary, and if it will have any impact on the office dynamic as a whole. More than anything, I hope Don is back on his feet, because if "Mad Men" is a few misguided dream sequences from collapsing under the weight of its own symbolism.

Mad Men Discussion, Season 5, Eposode 3: “Tea Leaves”

Peggy prepares to interview the bristly, eccentric new copywriter Michael Ginsberg in the third episode of Mad Men's fifth season, "Tea Leaves." (Photo courtesy of AMC.)
Peggy prepares to interview the bristly, eccentric new copywriter Michael Ginsberg in the third episode of Mad Men's fifth season, "Tea Leaves." (Photo courtesy of AMC.)

Alex: Hi Katie,

I guess we should start with the metaphorical elephant in the room – the return of Betty. I’m sure that the increased focus on Betty had a lot to do with Jon Hamm’s directorial debut on the show, as having Hamm on the other side of the camera means that Don can’t get as much screentime as usual (and, thusly, that there can’t be as many scenes set in the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce office).

Even so, this was the most compelling Betty has been since Season 3. The show seemed to be punishing her for a minute, first making her grotesquely obese, and then giving her a cancer scare, but it eventually revealed itself as a juxtaposition of the marriages Betty and Don have found themselves in. Don has clearly changed for the better – if he was still married to Betty, Don would have been all over that floozy at the concert. Betty, on the other hand, is unhappy, and seemingly trapped in a downward spiral. Either way, I thought her dream sequence was the biggest false step in the episode. Maybe it was because “Mad Men” rarely indulges in dream sequences (I’m pretty sure this was the first one?), but I thought this one was a bust, overly obvious and oblique. What did you think?

Katie: Hey Alex,

I have to be honest, despite my delight at Betty's return (sometimes it feels like I'm the only person who cheers when she appears), I wasn't a fan of this episode. Maybe it's just the come-down from last week's two hour extravaganza, complete with Megan's star-making song and dance number (anyone else still suffering from "Zou Bisou Bisou" fever?) but this week felt a little thin, even by "Mad Men's" sedate standard.

That said, I have to disagree with you on a few things. First of all, I definitely wouldn't call Betty's new... um... look obesity, grotesque or otherwise; it was more like a less drastic version of the unfortunate fat suit they strapped on Elisabeth Moss toward the end of season one. In fact, I even assumed at first that Betty's weight gain was a result of the character's pregnancy, and that Matthew Weiner was just accommodating January Jones' real-life pregnancy.

And do you really think Don is that well off? Last week's "A Little Kiss" sowed the seeds for a growing generational divide that will surely alienate characters on each side of the line — both the older traditionalists like Don and Roger, and the groovy young'ins like Peggy and Megan. This episode just served to reenforce that theme, if a tad more subtly than last week: Don is loath to join bikini'd Megan on Fire Island to party with her friends, and could have not looked more out of place than backstage at that Stones concert running his micro-focus session on a teenage girl.

Finally, I do agree with you about Betty's dream sequence, although it's not the only one the show's ever done. Remember Betty's drugged-up childbirthing daydreams in "The Fog?" Or even Don's vision of Anna Draper's ghost last season? Not all of these are strictly "dreams," but I agree that in "Mad Men's" world, they do usually feel a little on the nose and out of place, not at all as effective as they were used on Weiner's alma mater "The Sopranos."

On to another notable feature of "Tea Leaves:" What did you think of new SCDP hires Michael Ginsberg and the African-American secretary Dawn (not to be confused with her boss, Don)? Did you detect a possibly brewing romance between Michael and Peggy in those bickering sessions between the two, as I did?

Alex: The first thing I thought of when we got our first look at Betty was the great prosthetics work the "Mad Men" team did on Elizabeth Moss in the first season. At the same time, what made that work stand out was the subtlety of how she slowly ballooned throughout the season. I think it's been roughly a year in "Mad Men" time since we last saw Betty, and while I forgot to consider Jones' pregnancy, it was still jarring to see such a drastic change in her. And I don't think grotesque is entirely unfair, as the episode goes out of its way to showcase her size (think about those big mumus she's wearing, or that frankly gratuitous shot of her getting out of the tub).

I agree that there's always going to be some tension in the Don-Megan relationship because of that generational divide, but their pillow talk in "A Little Kiss" implied to me that those two are definitely very much in love, but still learning about each other. And part of that is going to be Don learning about 1960s culture, something that we've been getting a lot of in the last two episodes. That party Megan threw last episode was time-appropriately groovy, and it's hard to find something more quintessentially '60s than smoking pot backstage at a Stones concert.

I'm especially curious where SCDP found the cash to make those hires, since last episode made a big deal out of their budget issues. Even so, I thought all of the office goings-on were consistently funny, and watching the characters react to the Dawn-Don situation was my favorite part of the episode.

As far as Ginsberg goes, I'm going to reserve judgement on the character until we get to know him better. He came off as a bit tactless and grating, something that Weiner and company no doubt intended, and I'm interested to see where they go with his character. While a romance with Peggy wouldn't be surprising, I hope that "Mad Men" is smart enough to keep things from getting too incestuous at the agency, and I also hope that Ginsberg gets another suit before he starts work. However, I was completely baffled by that final scene with his father, and I'm curious to get your take on it.

Katie: Yeah, the minute, day-to-day office dramas still maybe give me the most pleasure of anything this show, and maybe that's why I've been put off by this season so far; what with all the table-setting, the SCDP office itself seems to have been getting the short shrift.

And in that vein: no Joan this week! Last week her entire conflict centered around her stifling boredom at home raising new baby Kevin. This week I expected her to at least be back to work (where she, let's face it, really belongs), but she wasn't anywhere to be found. I'll tell you what I'm psyched for though — I'd love to see her go face-to-face with that uppity new copywriter Ginsberg. No one messes with Joanie in her domain. I was similarly baffled by Ginsberg's moment with his father, however.

A few stray details I enjoyed in “Tea Leaves:”

• Henry's dig at George Romney (father of Mitt), who, at the time, was a rising star in the Republican party,
• Betty's call to Don to tell him about her medical crisis — they've seemed to reach a place of comfortable respect, and Don even called used her old nickname “Birdie.” Awww. Am I the only one who wants those crazy kids back together?
• Don's constant dismissals of bumbling, pervy Harry: “Saturday night was fun.” “Okay.” Hilarious.
• Peggy's adorable green dress with the orange bow and white collar.

Alex: To wrap things up, let's touch on the increasingly irrelevant former half of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. As we saw last week, Cooper is rarely even included in meetings anymore, and Sterling is becoming a fossil far more quickly than he'd like.

As great as John Slattery is in the role (and he really is great - look at that ice in his eyes as he applauds after Pete disses him in the lobby), I think his days in the agency are numbered. A wayward comment to one of the agency's diverse new hires or a similar screw-up could prove to be the nail in Rogers's coffin, and I'm looking forward to seeing how he deals with his company slipping away from him. My prediction - it won't be pretty.

It’s been one week since the fifth season finale of “Mad Men” and we’ve pulled together our experts in a roundtable postmortem on Matthew Weiner’s acclaimed ‘60s drama. Spoilers ahead.


Katie Stroh: What an incredibly strange episode of ‘Mad Men,’ let alone season finale. Matthew Weiner’s upbringing at ‘The Sopranos’ has never been more evident; that show excelled at anticlimax, and never has ‘Mad Men’ been more anticlimactic, especially considering Lane Pryce’s dramatic suicide last week and the remarkable lack of significant plot developments in the season finale. The only moment that offered any kind of revelation was the episode’s coda: a Heather Graham type approaches Don at the bar, asking him if he’s ‘alone’ and practically begging him to go back to his philandering ways, and then ... cut to black.

I can’t decide whether this episode was incredibly disappointing or incredibly brilliant; I’m looking forward to your insight and opinions, as I’m still in a state of bafflement.

Alex Williams: I wrote in our series recap about just how difficult it is to predict what’s going to happen in a ‘Mad Men’ finale, and this episode only reinforced that hypothesis. While ‘The Phantom’ certainly didn’t deliver much of a climax, and was often bafflingly oblique, it was befitting of a season that’s been ‘Mad Men’s’ most ambitious by a long shot. The show has made some bold stylistic choices this year, some of them successful (Sterling’s acid trip), some of them overwrought (Don’s strangle-happy fever dream back in ‘Mystery Date’), and this has often resulted in it losing a bit of its thematic subtlety.

Even so, ‘The Phantom’ had plenty of striking moments, and even managed to wrap up a few story lines. Weiner also took a book from “The Sopranos” in his seasonal structure, letting many of the big events go down in the penultimate episode.

Aleksander Chan: I’m torn between thinking season five as the series’ most masterful or appalling glib. Weiner has helmed this season so that it oscillated between inexactness and broadness, most evident in the finale and Don’s hot tooth.

‘There’s something rotten in you and it’s not your tooth,’ says Don’s hallucinated brother Adam. I can get past the opaqueness of this lame metaphor, but only as far as its ambiguous underlying meaning. What’s rotten? Megan? Don’s old self, his inner Dick Whitman? Repressed mournfulness for Lane’s death? I get embracing uncertainty in storytelling — done right, it can tease the viewer along and maintain tension and stakes.

But here, that tooth underlies how many of the season’s symbolism has been too on the nose. It’s as if in the pages of the script, the messages get bolded, italicized and underlined twice: Those Heinz beans ads trying to target Vietnam protesters (These old folks, so out of touch!); Pete Campbell and his leaky kitchen faucet (Pete Campbell’s no man! But Don is!); Betty’s (benign) nodule (Her listless marriage to Henry might literally kill her!); Don pulling rank on Ginsberg and snowball ad (There’s a snowball’s chance in hell Don will let some wunderkind take his place!) — plot devices laid out in not nearly as subtle a way we’ve known ‘Mad Men’ to do.

And I do think Lane Pyrce’s phantom haunted the finale (that wide shot of the partners in the new offices was like a retro “Ocean’s Eleven” moment), but also specters of the show’s past: that final scene, as Don leaves Megan to shoot her commercial, he cozies up to the bar and lights a cigarette with the same easiness and palpable machismo of his season on self. When psuedo-Heather Graham asks him, “Are you alone?” he is isn’t — the ghosts of seasons past
surround him.


Stroh: Poor January Jones. I’ve always defended her place on the show; it’s true that in other roles, Jones is often wooden at best, but I still hold that something — whether Weiner’s direction, the harmonious match of Jones’ frigidity to her character’s, or perhaps just her stunning good looks — makes January Jones a strangely compelling presence when she steps into Betty’s high-heeled shoes.

Still, Betty remains one of the most maligned characters of ‘Mad Men’s’ world, (next to Pete Campbell, maybe). And now, as a product of the actress’s recent pregnancy, Betty has been imprisoned all the more firmly than she ever was in the Draper home — by that mausoleum of a house, by her ever more matronly wardrobe, and, of course, by that unfortunate fat suit, once worn with so much quiet sadness by Elisabeth Moss’s Peggy. And for all that, Jones barely appeared this season, only popping up in four of the season’s 13 hours and only garnering one major episode arc.

It follows logically that Betty would appear less and less in the show, as she’s taken less of a role in Don’s life. But call me crazy — something has had me rooting for a Don-Betty reunion fling, if Don has to cheat on Megan at all. I kind of miss those crazy kids making each other’s lives a misery.

Chan: Betty’s shorter arc this season made it difficult to sympathize with her and her vengeful lashing out at Don and Megan. Understandable given the terms of their divorce, but the show seemed to go out of its way to make us revile Betty — in her behavior and her body. That gratuitous body shot of Betty rising from the tub was abhorrent, and not because of her weight. It was because you feel Weiner and the show working really hard to make you revile the heavier Betty. I almost buy into her empty and unexciting marriage to Saint Henry and their McMansion as what’s boring her into Weight Watchers and subzero iciness, but the story line was too threadbare to ever going anywhere but mean.


Stroh: You know, the entire Joan-as-sportscar metaphor had the potential to be disastrously overwrought and clumsy. “You see? Just as cars are merely objects onto which men project all their mid-life crises and suburban ennui, so too are beautiful women! Joan is a commodity to be sold ... just like Jaguar cars!”

But if the analogy itself wasn’t anything all too profound, the execution elevated it to a rapturous level. That entire montage intercutting stone-faced Joan’s five percent partnership prostitution with Don’s own prostituting ad pitch to Jaguar made the blatancy of the “women are just products!” idea practically transcendent.

Chan: Critics have been divided about the sort of streamlined decision making of this episode, where Joan effectively agreed to prostitute herself for the sake of the company to land the Jaguar account. Would Joan, specifically the Joan who had just been abandoned by her husband and struggling and in a place of disillusionment come to such an awful decision in what appeared to be a matter of days? I’m not sure. There was definitely something missing from the whole sequence to me — like they cut out the middle to get the money shot of Joan swelling with disgust as the Jaguar man takes off her coat in the hotel room.

And making Don seem like the good guy by objecting but without any real urgency, or sense of actual responsibility for Joan (let’s be real: Don tried to stop her more to make himself feel better than to actually save her), was gross. But collectively, I thought the episode worked because it ultimately stayed true to ‘Mad Men’s’ modus operandi: the tugging between the desire for who we want to be and who we have to be. ‘The Other Woman’ was that at its most grey.


Stroh: Oh, Lane. Sweetly bumbling, well-intentioned, “chocolate bunny”-loving Lane. How you’ll be missed.

Although the signs that it was still somehow a horrifying shock when Joan opened the door to Lane’s office, only to find it obstructed by ... something. And then the realization set in. That moment alone would have been enough to make Lane’s suicide by hanging horrifying, but then having to see Lane’s stiff, purpled face was the most grotesque thing ‘Mad Men’s’ done since the lawnmower incident.

Williams: The aftermath of Lane’s suicide gave us an interesting but fairly standard scene between Don and Lane’s widow, but was ultimately worth it for that gorgeous shot of the five partners gathered in the office space that Lane’s suicide was paying for. His absence was never felt more than in that moment in the sprawling empty office space, but it still felt like he was in there in spirit, having given the firm the finances to definitively expand. In fact, there’s a good case to be made that Lane is the metaphorical phantom who gave the episode its title.

Chan: It was almost Hitchcockian, Lane’s demise. That scene where he has to hold up (one) broken eyeglass to try and fix that shoddy new Jaguar in order to properly kill himself was the definition of tragicomedy. I never much cared for Embeth Davis’ performance as Lane’s wife, but that final interaction between her and Don was a tour de force. “Do you know how the rest of us live?!” she screams at Don, who practically whimpers out the front door of the Pryce apartment. He does, actually, but Dick Whitman has been Don Draper for so long, he’s forgotten how money can just as easily ruin as he found success.


Stroh: What a conflicting scene it was when Peggy finally got the balls to leave SCDP for bigger things. On the one hand, it was about time Peggy got hers after years of being underappreciated by her mentor Don, her fellow copywriters and the many misogynistic clients she’s served. On the other hand, Don’s final kiss goodbye was completely wrenching, and as Peggy struggled to hold herself together, so did I. I have no doubt that Peggy will return to SCDP at some point, but for now it will be fun to see her stretch her wings and ordering around subordinates over at Ted Chaough’s firm.

Williams: How great was Peggy in these final episodes? The moment where she told Don she was leaving was beautifully played by Hamm and Olsen, and, combined with that episode’s Joan-related events, felt like the end of an era at SCDP, the moment where the firm lost its innocence and heart at the price of success. Even better was the scene between her and Don in the finale, as they serendipitously ran into each other at the movies. It’s the way ‘Mad Men’ pays off small character notes like this that makes it such a special show, and showing them engaging in the same worktime dalliance spells out perfectly how close these two became in their time working together, and how much they still mean to each other. For my money, that was the best scene in a finale that was often too oblique by a mile, a wonderfully measured coda to ‘Mad Men’s’ strongest character dynamic.

Chan: Season five for Peggy was about finding it in herself to finally demand what she wants and not feel bad about it. She didn’t get everything she had hoped for, but it was so rewarding for her character and the viewer for her to try. She couldn’t get Abe to completely commit. And she couldn’t quite elevate herself above liberal well-meaning by fearing Dawn might steal the money from her purse, but she found the tenacity to leave SCDP. Her pride in herself is magnified by our own.


Stroh: Pete ignobly defended his title as ‘Character Most Fun to Despise’ this season, as the multiple punches he received to the face are any indication. His cowardly, passive-aggressive persuasions in favor of selling out Joanie to that disgusting Jaguar exec was surely his most despicable, but what really got me this season was the way he treated poor Trudy. It seemed that in the past few seasons Pete and Trudy had one of the healthiest and supportive marriage on the show. Now that they’ve moved to the stultifying suburb of Cos Cob and Trudy’s “let herself go” post-childbirth, Pete seemed to have lost all enjoyment of or respect for his ever-supportive wife, engaging in an affair with the dull, depressive Beth and lashing out at home. No, Pete. You can’t have good everything good all at once, so you better appreciate what you do have, or else you’ll go the way of Mr. Pryce.

Williams: ‘The Phantom’ had plenty of frustrating moments, but surprisingly, the only character whose storyline truly resolved was Pete Campbell, who was forgotten by his fling (one of the season’s weakest links, Alexis Bledel) and came to fisticuffs with her husband. Vincent Kartheiser also delivered a stunningly sad monologue that summed up his character perfectly, and also wrapped up the actor’s strongest season yet. Pete has been at his most compelling this season, thanks to Kartheiser’s unique deployment of equally repulsive and pitiful character details, not to mention his strong knack for getting punched in the face.

Chan: The worst! Campbell was at his most weaselly, spineless self this season. And was appropriately punched for it. But at the same time, there was something tragic about Pete’s bumbling this season. In the same way Dona and Peggy fight for what they want, Pete went about it in all the wrong ways, operating under the assumption it was all owed to him and never earned.

Photos courtesy of AMC TV

Most Anticipated 2012

Editor's Note: This is the second part in a two-day series about the Life & Arts senior staff's most anticipated events and entertainment of 2012. Today's entries are about events taking place across the country.

Release date: TBA, Spring 2012
Network: NBC

“Community” fans received a belated Christmas gift this year. The comedic television series that follows the lives of a community college study group was taken off the air midseason, but the NBC entertainment chief recently announced that the show will return in the spring to finish up its third season. “Community’s” small but dedicated fan base appreciates the show for its heavy emphasis on pop culture references, including numerous television and film related parodies. These references can be both obvious and painstakingly subtle, which can make it difficult for some viewers to follow and may contribute to its low ratings. Before the temporary hiatus, this season of “Community” kept fans laughing with episodes that included a Christmas special, a spot-on Glee parody, a karaoke session featuring Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” and an entire episode entitled “Remedial Chaos Theory” devoted to exploring the different space-time continuum possibilities of a single evening get-together, “Sliding Doors” style. Whether or not NBC will renew the show is still up in the air, but “Community” fans still have time to enjoy what has become one of the best sitcoms on air. — Jessica Lee

Movie:Django Unchained
Directed and written by: Quentin Tarantino
Release date: Dec. 25

Anticipation for Quentin Tarantino’s Southern film, “Django Unchained,” has been high ever since the notoriously controversial director revealed he would be making a film about a freed slave, Django (Jamie Foxx), taking revenge on plantation owners with help from the bounty hunter who freed him (Christoph Waltz). As if the thought of Tarantino and Waltz working together again after “Inglorious Basterds” wasn’t enough, the rest of the cast includes Leonardo DiCaprio as the film’s villain, Samuel L. Jackson as a slave and the likes of Sacha Baron Cohen, Kurt Russell, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Gerald McRaney. “Django Unchained” doesn’t release until Christmas Day, but it’s already promising to be one of the highlights of 2012’s cinematic landscape. — Alex Williams

Movie:The Pirates! Band Of Misfits
Release date: March 30

From the creators that brought some of our generation’s first tastes of stop-motion claymation, “Wallace and Gromit” and “Chicken Run,” comes “The Pirates! Band Of Misfits,” a tale about a less-than-lucrative pirate and his motley crew. Based on the “Pirates!” book series by British author Gideon Defoe, the movie follows The Pirate Captain, voiced by Hugh Grant, as he attempts to beat out his rivals for the pirate of the year award. The adorably clueless captain’s rivals include the reigning champion pirate Black Bellamy, (Jeremy Piven), and the feisty wildcard contestant Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek). In addition to beating out his fellow pirates, The Pirate Captain struggles with an enraged Queen Victoria out to get him, and the constantly looming notion that most of his high sea endeavors tend to backfire on him. “The Pirates!” will hopefully find that rare marriage of slapstick comedy and dry humor that will delightfully resonate with an all-ages audience. — Anjli Mehta

Music: Nocturniquet
Artist: The Mars Volta
Release date: March 27

When guitarist and composer Omar Rodriguez-Lopez first announced that his psychedelic, prog-rock collective The Mars Volta had completed its follow-up to 2009’s Octahedron last year, fans impatiently scavenged website forums and anything Mars Volta-related to hear some of the new tracks. Some fans even led a petition, hoping to force the band’s label Warner Bros., into releasing the album, titled Nocturniquet, before this year. Although the petition failed, those fortunate enough to catch the group during last year’s South By Southwest (slyly performing under the moniker Omar Rodriguez Lopez Group) or their tour alongside rock legends Soundgarden and Red Hot Chili Peppers, were able to get a taste of what the new album has to offer. Described as “future punk” by lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala, Nocturniquet is slated for release on March 27, featuring the band’s renovated lineup.

Premieres: Apr. 15 on HBO

“I think I might be the voice of my generation,” says Hannah (Lena Dunham), a recent college graduate struggling to make ends meet with her female friends in New York. Then she hedges, “Or at least a voice of a generation.” This new comedy created, written and directed by Dunham (who broke out in 2010 with her South By Southwest hit “Tiny Furniture”), and produced by Judd Apatow, is all about those moments of compromise and the self-navigating and excitement that flood post-grad adulthood. Hannah seems like a worthy heroine — she’s like Liz Lemon’s kid sister, raised on cable television and dry wit: “I calculated, and I can last in New York for three and a half more days. Maybe seven if I don’t eat lunch.” And with these two sharp comedic minds working together, it might very well prove itself a distinctive voice of our generation. — Aleksander Chan

Book: “Telegraph Avenue”
Author: Michael Chabon
Release date: Fall 2012

Michael Chabon is certainly among America’s most celebrated authors in contemporary literature, threading aspects of his Jewish heritage into tales tackling issues of cultural identity and the dissolving structure American family. His 2000 novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and was a gorgeous piece of historical fiction following the lives of two Jewish cousins, who together help foster the genre of American comics in the early 20th century. “Kavalier and Clay” won Chabon the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2001. Later this year, Chabon will release a new novel, titled “Telegraph Avenue.” Early reports about the book have indicated that it will largely be about the cities of Chabon’s childhood, namely Berkeley and Oakland, California. If the wistful, meandering blog post Chabon wrote about the book for The Atlantic’s website last week is any indication, “Telegraph Avenue” will continue in the vein of his usual themes of nostalgia and the power of the physical environments of our pasts.

Book: “The Red House”
Author: Mark Haddon
Release date: June 12

Six years since his last novel, “A Spot of Bother,” and nine years since his breakthrough, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” author Mark Haddon returns with “The Red House.” After proving his ingenious ability to get inside the head of even a child with Asperger’s syndrome in “The Curious Incident,” Haddon will be stretching that skill by telling the story from the eight different characters. Despite such a daunting project, Haddon chose to stick with a simple story: A wealthy man seeks to reconnect with his estranged sister and her family in the English countryside for the week after he remarried and gained a stepdaughter. There are none of the elements that popped up in his first two books. No adventures through London. No mysteries to be solved. No weird, obvious personality quirks. However, the success of Haddon’s previous novels has never relied on the gimmicks that made them playful on first read. Instead, it has always been the characters who struggle to be better to those around them that made Haddon’s stories exceptional. And with early readers calling “The Red House” a family tragicomedy, Haddon does not seem to be deviating too far from his strength: putting the resentments that build up in families under a literary microscope.

Printed on Wednesday, January 18th, 2012 as: Most Anticipated 2012 National Edition