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Mad Men Treatment (Writing For Electronic Media, May 2013)

Logline, Treatment, and Functional Analysis/Mad Men: “Up The Mountain” (written for BECA 370, Writing For Electronic Media, May 2013) Note: Events of the last half of Season 6 have already rendered some of these plot twists obsolete, but this remains my take on how the characters might have developed differently.

Logline:

Pete brings in a big-money client, the US Army; Megan rethinks her life in the face of her father’s imminent death; and Abe’s new assignment for Rolling Stone leads him to a surprising discovery.

Treatment:

ACT 1:
It’s the beginning of Season 7, in the summer of 1969. We open with the partners’ meeting of Sterling Cooper Draper Cutler Gleason and Chaough. Joan produces a reel-to-reel tape from Roger, who is absent, and plays it. Roger’s voice announces that from now on he will be doing all his business strictly by phone, and all of his correspondence should be sent to a PO box in upstate New York. Pete sneers with distaste, “Is he still doing LSD? This is VERY bad for our reputation.” Cooper counters, “A little mystique never hurt anyone. Roger knows how to keep the clients happy, a skill SOME of us could use more of.” Pete ignores the barb and announces he has finalized discussions with an important new client. The Pentagon wants to improve the image of the military with young people, and a hip, rising agency like SCDCGC can do it. Don says he will put Creative on it immediately.

Megan speaks with her father on the phone in French while subtitles flash on the screen. He reveals he is terminally ill, and the two have a tender conversation for the first time in years. Professor Calvet tells his daughter he is proud of her achievements as an actress in her first movie role, but she must remember all that he has tried to tell her about the importance of using your gifts to fight against injustices perpetrated on the world by the minority that holds the power. “Oh, Papa!” Megan exclaims in English. “Why does everything have to be about politics?” Calvet answers that Americans use the word “politics” to keep from dealing with reality. He goes on to speak, not as a Marxist professor, but as the idealistic human being his daughter once admired, about how young men are dying for nothing because there aren’t enough Americans with the courage to do something about it. Megan, he argues, has fans all over the country now who would pay attention if she spoke out about her own beliefs. Megan bites her lip, fighting back tears.

Peggy and Abe sit in their apartment talking about their day later that evening. Abe announces he just got a new assignment with Rolling Stone. Peggy is puzzled: “But that’s a rock magazine and you’re an investigative reporter.” Abe explains that they are interested in an in-depth look at a strange new commune that has emerged up near the Adirondacks, led by a mysterious guru-like figure no one has ever heard of before that preaches about creating a new society through the art of persuasion…and free love. Oh, so that’s the appeal for you, Peggy responds. Abe blushes. No, he insists, this is a serious story. All these alternative communities are springing up everywhere, and some of them are very strange. Is this about freedom or are they just cult leaders taking advantage of naive kids? Since when did you question the kids, Peggy scoffs, I thought they knew everything. “I used to think I knew everything,” Abe says. “Now I doubt everything, and I’m a better journalist.”

We cut to Don at home, working. TV on in background with Megan dressed at the height of chic 1969 fashion, and the host asks, “Since your new movie came out, you’ve become a sensation with men as well as women. In fact, we’re told that our boys in Vietnam are putting up pictures of you in their bases. If you could tell them anything, what would you say?” Don turns off TV before Megan responds.

ACT 2

Creative brainstorm meeting at the agency, full of Vietnam War gallows humor. Stan lights up a joint and he, Michael Ginsburg, and the others free-associate wildly. Ginsburg, not used to marijuana, starts remembering his early childhood in a Nazi death camp and being rescued by GIs, all memories he normally represses. He gets morose and wonders aloud when Americans stopped being heroes and how come the Army needs an ad agency now when there’s already a draft. Stan makes a goofy witticism that falls flat in the room: the Army wants young men to join them; why aren’t they joining us instead? We all but see the light bulb flash over Ginsburg’s head as he pulls out his notepad.

Don sits on the couch in his office, drink in hand, faraway look in his eyes. We dissolve to a flashback of young Don as Dick Whitman leaving his dysfunctional family behind at the train station as he leaves to join the Army. Stepmother scowling, stepfather/“uncle” indifferent, brother Adam wide-eyed with worship. Dick looks back one last time, determined to never see the hell of his past again. Crossfade to Dick in basic training, drill sergeant in his face yelling. Zoom in on Dick’s face, we see him ignoring the insults and absorbing the hardness. Return to the present, with Don/Dick betraying no more emotion than he did before.

Abe treks up a narrow mountain path, breathlessly trying to keep pace with the two young (underage? It’s not clear?) women leading him along. Gasping for breath, Abe keeps asking questions about the driving philosophy of the Hillsides commune. They deflect his questions, saying he won’t get it with words, he must experience what it’s all about, and the only way to do that is to meet Sri Raj, whose wisdom is the light that has led everyone here to a new world, far from the corruption of straight society. This guy must be something else, Abe grumbles. He is, one girl says with unexpected intensity. Once you get it, you’ll understand why your establishment newspaper means nothing here. Rolling Stone, US News And World Report, it’s all the same game, man. Sri Raj is the most important man since Jesus, and he’s here to shift the paradigm, one mind at a time. Abe chuckles. “You know, my old lady’s in the advertising business, and I’ve heard her try out some pitches before, but nothing like this.” “Advertising?” the girl laughs. “Advertising is for cavemen! We’ve evolved far beyond that here!” Well, I look forward to meeting your new guru, then, Abe says.

A cute interlude where Bob, the comically eager young account executive, and Joan engage in some office flirtation. Bob is starting to get a little smoother, and thinks he’s making progress. Joan is simply amused, treating Bob like a harmlessly out of control puppy. This might go nowhere, or it might lead to something.

Don’s phone rings. It’s Megan. Her mother just called to tell her that her father has taken a turn for the worse, and she has to fly to Montreal to see him before he’s gone. “Do what you have to do, Megan,” Don answers. “You could at least pretend to care, Don,” Megan replies, exasperated. Ted bursts in just as Don hangs up. “I have to talk to you.” “Is there some sort of problem, Ted?” Ted calls Don on the carpet for coasting on his reputation rather than seizing the opportunity to grow this agency. Don has been moody and unreliable, and Ted accuses him of not taking his job seriously. Now that they are partners, Ted demands that Don change his attitude and not blow this Army account. Don raises his eyebrows, incredulous, but says nothing. Ted walks out. Don slowly pulls out a cigarette, lights it, takes a long, leisurely draw, and buzzes Dawn. “Miss Chambers, tell Creative to be in my office in 15 minutes.”

Abe and his escorts reach a clearing where a large geodesic dome sits. “Wait here.” The girls go in. Abe looks around. No sign of trash or squalor. The group knows how to pick up after themselves. “Come in.” Abe is led through the door, where a thin man with long white hair and sharp, penetrating blue eyes is reclining, dressed in a silk kimono. Sri Raj gets up, smiling, opens a nearby cabinet, and says in a familiar voice, “Welcome, young journalist. Can I get you a drink?” As he steps into the light, we see that Sri Raj is Roger Sterling.

ACT 3

Megan sits at her father’s bedside. They speak quietly in French.

Roger explains his vision to Abe. He grew up with every advantage, and never had to struggle for anything. He had a revelation that he was growing old, would die soon, and none of it meant a thing. And once he truly realized this, he felt immense relief and clarity. If nothing had meaning, then meaning is something we create ourselves. And if we create our own meaning every moment, we have the power to accomplish whatever we choose. The only thing that limits us is our own cowardice and lack of will. So, as Sri Raj, he can inspire these young directionless people to be a force that can do anything. And the commune is growing every week, as more disaffected kids arrive, hungry for an outlet for their energy. “But what IS your goal for these people?” Abe asks. “That’s the beautiful thing!” Roger replies. “I don’t know, and I don’t have to! I’ll figure that out when the time is right. In the meantime…” (he stretches out his arms) “…all these beautiful young girls, so open-minded and free…you see my point? I’ll never be bored again. Can I freshen up your drink?”

Pete, at his most obsequious and oily, greets three Army generals who are visiting the agency to hear the pitch. The generals engage in a little borderline-offensive bantering with Joan, who handles it with her usual dignity.

Don, flanked by his staff of creatives, delivers the pitch of a lifetime. He plays the generals like an expert, drawing on their frustration with the young generation, their ridiculous culture, their dissent…they’re not like we were, and that’s a shame. But it’s the older, wiser generation that needs to find a way to reach them on their level. Once young men are drafted, the military knows what to do with them. But (his voice grows more compelling as he outlines this thought experiment) what if the Army could fill their ranks with eager young men instead of unwilling draftees? You’d have the unified gung-ho spirit that wins wars. This is where SCDCGC comes in. (As Don continues to speak, we start to see alternating images of Megan at a peace march, carrying a sign, chanting with the crowd, and talking to disabled veterans. We also see reaction shots from the generals, whose faces remain guarded, and Ginsburg and Stan, who look hopeful about the campaign yet uncertain about what they’re advertising.) When young men see the Army as a source of pride and the ticket to a better future, the Army will get a better pool of soldiers and win this war. Don unveils the slogan: “Today’s Army wants to join you!” One general dislikes it, insisting it makes the Army look weak, but the other two are effusive: this is just what they wanted, and we’ll begin production immediately.

The final montage, silent images as the music plays. Song: “The Story Of Isaac” by Leonard Cohen.

Abe and Peggy, back to back, pounding intensely at separate typewriters.

Megan workshopping with other actors, putting together a revue clearly inspired by Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland’s FTA.

Roger speaking to his minions in a lotus position, eyeing one pretty girl in the corner, who returns his gaze.

Don and unknown woman, smiling and toasting in a dark after hours restaurant.

Michael Ginsburg, opening his mailbox to find a draft notice.

Take black, credits.

 

Functional Analysis

Mad Men: “Up The Mountain”

Note: The title refers both to a line from the Leonard Cohen song and Abe’s journey.

ACT 1

We open with the partners’ meeting of Sterling Cooper Draper Cutler Gleason and Chaough.
Joan plays Roger’s taped announcement
Pete sneers and casts aspersions on Roger.
Cooper defends Roger and subtly insults Pete in front of other partners.
Pete announces potential Army contract
Exposition, establishing state of the agency at beginning of new (likely final) season.
First question: what’s going on with Roger? Setup for reveal in this episode.
Roger’s message, despite its seriousness, ends with typical, hilariously inappropriate and vulgar Roger Sterling one-liner.
Reminders of ongoing character traits: Roger’s old LSD experiences;
Pete’s constant resentment/smugness/need for approval
Jim Cutler’s cocky irresponsibility
Bert Cooper’s unpredictability—sometimes dotty, sometimes authoritative
Introduction of one main plot thread: US Army as new client.
Megan speaks with her dying father on the phone (at first in French with subtitles, then switching to English when she becomes more emotional) Second main plot thread: Megan Calvet Draper, rising young actress and her troubled relationship with her Marxist father. This conversation and others with her dying father influence Megan to make some changes in her approach to her own celebrity; she moves in a more Jane Fonda-like direction.

Emile is tender but unsentimental, quoting Jean Paul Sartre. Very Emile.

Abe cooks Peggy dinner and tells her about his Rolling Stone assignment Establishing:

  1. 1.Peggy and Abe are still together. Many fans have questioned the future of their relationship.
  2. 2.Abe doesn’t mind a little role reversal in the relationship, when it’s his turn to help.
  3. 3.Abe has moderated his views slightly, and his wholehearted support of the growing 60s counterculture is balanced with some post-Summer Of Love skepticism. He thinks this makes him a better journalist.
  4. 4.There is still some tension between their very different worlds (advertising vs. alternative journalism) but they are comfortable enough with each other to tease one another about it. May want to play with this a little more in script.

Third important plot thread: the mysterious commune.

The sort of historical in-joke that Mad Men loves: Rolling Stone had a couple years to go before its investigative reporting started getting taken seriously.

Megan appears on TV and hosts asks her a question about her popularity with boys in Vietnam. A little follow-up of Megan’s personal identity crisis/political evolution spurred on by dad.

We also get a more vivid picture of just how popular a public figure she has become.

Her answer (and Don’s reaction) is left to the imagination as we cut to commercial break.

ACT 2

Michael Ginsburg becomes intoxicated and morose at pot-fueled creative brainstorm meeting.

Stan makes remark about Army joining young men, which fuels Michael’s creative juices and he begins writing.

First glimpse of creative crew during new season. Stan is still a stoner, and his influence has made cannabis consumption the norm among the creatives. Michael is still charming and clever yet socially inept and buries a lot of psychological scars as a Holocaust survivor.

For ironic reasons to be revealed at very end of show, it is very important that Michael is the one who ends up coining the catchphrase for the Army commercials.

Historical note: “Today’s Army wants to join YOU” was an actual ad campaign circa 1970-72.

Don sits on the couch in his office, drink in hand, faraway look in his eyes.
Cut to flashback of Dick Whitman leaving home.
Crossfade to Private Dick Whitman harassed in basic training as he remains stoic.
Return to the present, with Don/Dick betraying no more emotion than he did before.
Re-establishing context for the bottled-up Don character.
Don’s flashbacks in Mad Men always serve to remind us of the desperate circumstances that forged him.
His defining moment of identity theft happened when he was in the Army during the Korean War. The Army is always a trigger of memories for him.
Now he has them as a client.
Abe treks up a narrow mountain path, questioning two young women of the Hillsides community about their mysterious leader, Sri Raj. Abe Drexler as journalist on assignment for hip young publication. Furthering the plot thread of commune, which leads to reveal at end of Act 2.

Historical note: Many alternative communities with charismatic leaders flourished in the late 60s to early 70s: Father Yod’s Source Family; the Process Church Of The Final Judgment; Synanon; and most famously and malevolently the Manson Family. Not all were sociopathic criminals like Manson; some were quite benign if eccentric, like the Harbinger Community that occupied the current site of Harbin Hot Springs. Sri Raj’s group would be a typical example of the latter. I want to portray characters who are not silly groupies, but highly intelligent women swayed by a cult of personality.

Dated humorous note: it would be totally in keeping with 1969 mores for Abe to refer to Peggy as his “old lady”, even if it sounds bizarre today.

Bob and Joan flirt as they pass each other on the way to their respective offices. Character development for hapless comic relief figure Bob Benson; let’s set the stage for a possible relationship with the formidable Joan Harris. Bob needs to grow up and Joan needs a little fun. (Side note: I wrote this before the episode on 5/12/13, where the actual writers seem to be moving in the same direction, to my surprise. I’m sticking with it!)
Megan calls Don at work to tell him she has to fly to Montreal because her father is dying.
Don replies “do what you have to do”, but does so grudgingly, which angers Megan.
Ted bursts in just as Don hangs up. “I have to talk to you.”
Ted berates Don for being an apathetic primadonna and shirking his responsibilities as a partner, demanding he make sure they land this Army account.
Don slowly pulls out a cigarette, lights it, and takes a long, leisurely draw.
Don buzzes Dawn. “Miss Chambers, tell Creative to be in my office in 15 minutes.”
Megan’s father’s death approaches and their bond is getting deeper.
Don and Megan’s relationship has deteriorated further. Don’s apathy to Megan’s concerns is even clearer.
Increased tension between Ted and Don, the two equivalent alpha males of their respective pre-merger agencies.
Don needs someone to kick his ass and challenge him to focus on this important client.
The ongoing arc where Don’s carefully created persona of the perfect 50s man shows itself to be more hollow and irrelevant every year.
The final message to Dawn suggests Don is mustering up his mojo for the big pitch in Act 3.
The women let Abe into a geodesic dome and leave, where Sri Raj greets him and we see he is Roger Sterling. The big reveal of the commune thread…the guru is Roger, which ties in with the opening conference room scene where Roger is still conducting SCDCGC business by phone even as he cultivates his new identity.

Since Season 5, when Roger became the most unlikely Mad Men character to try LSD, this scenario has cried out to be written.

Despite the new context, Roger retains his charm, wit, and air of danger.

Another in-joke for Mad Men fans: One of Roger’s most famous (very offensive, and very Roger) quotes was when (referring to their affair) he told Joan how glad he was to have “roamed those hillsides.” But as a name for a community, “Hillsides” sounds so sweet, benign, and New-Agey.

ACT 3

Megan sits at her father’s bedside. They speak quietly in French. We don’t come back to Abe and Roger immediately after the commercial. Let the viewers wait before we find out what’s going on.

Make this a quiet, potent moment. No subtitles, dialogue not entirely clear. Let the actors convey the moment nonverbally. Skillful direction can make this a powerful, short scene.

Roger explains his vision to Abe in a brilliantly twisted monologue where his existential despair led him to a triumph of the will…and access to hot young babes. This calls for a bravura performance from John Slattery as Roger. Roger is one of the most fun characters on the show, a definitive Magnificent Bastard who gets all the best lines (that Joan doesn’t). We want to see Roger in a completely different role who is still fundamentally the same delightful scoundrel. To pull this off, his spiel must be believable, with its own internal logic.

Roger’s philosophy is part New Age guru, part Nietzsche, and part Werner Erhard: life is meaningless, therefore meaning is ours to create for ourselves and others. Naturally, for a power-hungry letch, the appeal is clear. But he must not come off as just a con man; we must see that he has had some epiphany and has complete conviction in what he says.

Roger does not care about being exposed, which may seem strange. But his background of privilege and his history of getting away with everything his whole life means that in his mind he has nothing to hide. Abe, Rolling Stone and the authorities (are there underage kids in the commune?) may hold different views.

Pete, at his most obsequious and oily, greets three Army generals who are visiting the agency to hear the pitch.

The generals engage in a little borderline-offensive bantering with Joan, who handles it with her usual dignity.

Setup for the pitch scene.

Just driving home one more time what Joan has to put up with even now as a partner.

Don, flanked by his staff of creatives, delivers the pitch of a lifetime to the generals.

Don argues that the old must lead the young and it’s not enough to use force; if you convince them what a great, life-changing experience the Army is, they will flock to join, and you will have better soldiers.

As Don continues to speak, we start to see alternating images of Megan at a peace march, carrying a sign, chanting with the crowd, and talking to disabled veterans.

Don unveils the slogan: “Today’s Army wants to join you!” One general dislikes it, insisting it makes the Army look weak, but the other two are effusive: this is just what they wanted, and we’ll begin production immediately.

Don showing his main talent: persuasion.

Don doesn’t necessarily believe what he says, but he knows how to get under the skin of his audience and convince them that his campaign is what they want. When he does this well, it is electrifying. (Most classic example: the “Carousel” scene in Season 1.)

(Also, the Army flashback in Act 2 affects how we see this. For Dick Whitman, the Army led to escape and liberation.)

The Vietnam War is more unpopular than ever; this is not like selling a car. Don is working to convince three high-ranking military officers that they can sell the Army as a warm, fuzzy, supportive aspiration for youth at a time when antiwar protests have heated up, the nation is sharply divided, and new president Nixon is promoting “law and order” and touting the “silent majority.” His young, hip, pot-smoking staff are professionals who are brilliant at their jobs but their nonverbal shows the inner conflict between their creative pride and the reality of the situation.

Also, we see this couple moving in opposite directions. Army ads vs. Hollywood liberal activism. Don hates to rock the boat, Megan feels compelled to.

The pitch is a success. The agency remains flush.

As previously noted, like many ads conceived in the fictional world of Mad Men, this was an actual ad that ran on TV and magazines during this time.

The one skeptical general is a reference to the real-life Gen. Westmoreland, who hated the “wants to join you” campaign.

FINAL MONTAGE

Mad Men episodes often end with a montage of events with music, usually quite suddenly, when the viewer wasn’t expecting the episode to be over yet, creating anticipation for what will come next.

Song: “The Story Of Isaac” by Leonard Cohen. Typically hypnotic Cohen song, telling the story of Abraham and Isaac from the son’s point of view, then addressing someone in second person “You who build the altars/to sacrifice these children/you must not do it anymore” suggesting Vietnam War, of course.
Abe and Peggy, back to back, pounding intensely at separate typewriters. Couple comfortable with their parallel lives and careers; it’s working for them right now. Viewers wonder what Abe is writing about his experience and what account Peggy is writing copy for.
Megan workshopping with other actors, putting together a revue clearly inspired by Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland’s FTA. FTA was an anti-war answer to Bob Hope’s USO tours where he would entertain the troops, starring Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and others.

Megan’s attempt to reinvent herself as a left-wing activist in the countercultural New Hollywood scene will lead to interesting developments in future episodes. I want this to feel like a natural development of her idealism and her father’s influence, not some sudden about-face.

Roger speaking to his minions in a lotus position, eyeing one pretty girl in the corner, who returns his gaze. Incorrigible, irresistible Roger. More fun to be had with this in future episodes.
Don and unknown woman, smiling and toasting in a dark after hours restaurant. Who is this woman? The internet will be on fire for a week until next Sunday.
Michael Ginsburg, opening his mailbox to find a draft notice. Poor Michael. It was he who came up with that slogan, and now they’ve come for him. The viewer should be worried for him; he’s not soldier material by any stretch of the imagination.
Take black, credits. And that’s a wrap.