Love Amongst The Carnage

Meeting an old ‘ex’ can be discomforting but in David Harrower’s play ‘Blackbird’ at Nun’s Island Theatre, it can be downright heart-stopping.
Una (Judith Rolly) turns up at the grimy workplace of Ray (Stuart Graham), the shell of a man she once kissed, slept with and ran away with years before and begins to taunt him. 

(c) Galway Advertiser

(c) Galway Advertiser

This all sounds normal, even a little pathetic. But the complication begins when it is revealed that when they last met, he was 30 and she was 12. The action proceeds with Una, now twenty seven, pursuing and confronting her abuser alone except for the occasional tempering knock on the frosted glass door by Ray’s co-worker. But all is not what it appears. Set in the canteen of a grey, bland, aging office (by Owen MacCarthaigh) with flickering fluorescent lights and rubbish scattered around the room, the feeling, in this steeply raked theatre is one of frigid claustrophobia. Ray (who has changed his name to Peter and started a new life) wants her to leave “I don’t have to be here, you know” he says, but he doesn’t move, his eyes blotchy and red from sudden nervousness, her courage increasing on seeing the failure in front of her, she circles and hounds hims. But from this point of departure the action slowly twists into a different tale, not of victim and abuser, but of two very damaged people trying to fill gaping holes in their hearts, created by forced separation in a relationship that just could not be.

And it this is what makes this psychodrama controversial – can it be that a man and a twelve year old be mutually in love?   Mr. Harrower explores the question with daring and provocation specifically by setting the action years after the event. At the end of Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’, for example, Humbert tracks down the once nymphet to discover a grown woman and loses interest in her. In ‘Blackbird’, Una, also a grown woman, has tracked down Ray but for a different reason and it becomes disturbingly obvious why. Moral cracks in our universe makes great theatre and this explains why Mr. Harrower has garnered numerous awards (Olivier 2007) and equal disdain for this compelling, brittle play with a superb premise since it debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2005. Clearly, he has abused her “I didn’t mean to hurt you”; “You did”, but subtly sliced into the vicious attacks on stage is a remembrance of a gentle touch, a kind word, even love.
Andrew Flynn cleanly directs the strong cast with the young Judith Rolly unflinchingly pursuing her game about the stage with persuasive specificity yet modulating her various levels of anger by an unraveling vulnerability triggered by a glance or a word. Stuart Graham, recently seen as a strutting, confident rebel in Brian Friel’s ‘Home Place’ has brilliantly crafted a frayed, diminutive maneen who lives life in short, panicky breaths. Yet, Mr. Graham allows us a peek into the man he once was when he opens his heart to her with a confidence that only comes from love. Mr. Graham sidesteps any stereotypes and delivers a strong performance of a conflicted man hunted by his past embodied by the woman in front of him. Both actors are excellent listeners; they hang on to each other’s words with rapt attention even through long winding monologues and emotional tirades.

Mr. Harrower uses effective techniques for bringing the audience into the world of abused and abuser by having the attractive 27 year old, dressed in tall leather boots, black stockings erotically describe their past trysts. On the one hand you are looking at a mature attractive woman being sexually provocative and on the other hand she is describing an experience she had at the age of twelve. This schism is discomforting and simultaneously pulls and draws the audience away from the action creating an intensity that lasts from beginning to end. But it is the revelation of Una’s true feelings and his both at that time and now combined with the fact that he took advantage of her grounds the characters in a deadlocked but credible relationship that is ready to ignite and binds us to our seats.
A powerful premise may cause one to overlook a play’s flaws but unfortunately these are introduced early and often in this work.  At the outset, one would think that the author had an attack of the ellipses by the numerous unfinished sentences which neither director nor actor had any idea of the thought behind, perhaps due to their sheer volume or perhaps because there were no thoughts at all and the writer was simply dragging out the initial scene so that the reveals would be all the stronger when they occurred. Why they kick rubbish around the place at one point seemed unclear, though I was happy they did because I felt trapped with the back and forth argumentation and marathon monologues that seemed to repeat previous sentiments. The ending, which I will not give away, is an unearned surprise ending (has changed from the original production) and seems tacked on.  Despite these drawbacks, this production is worth seeing because it is a compelling piece of theatre with strong acting and a subject that challenges our assumptions at their heart.

Rating:  Three Stars

Nun’s Island Theatre
Nun’s Island, Galway

Ticket Price: E20-E22
Ticket Information: Galway Theatre Festival

Monday July 13th to Saturday 25th July  2009 8PM
Sat 13 & Sat 25th 3pm

Blackbird by David Harrower
Produced by Decadent Theatre Company
Directed by Andrew Flynn
Cast Judith Roddy and Stuart Graham

Set Design by Owen MacCarthaigh(2008 Irish Times winner)
Costume Design by Petra Breathnach(2007 Irish Times Nominee)
Lighting Design by Adam Fitzsimons and
Sound Design by Jack Cawley


Secrets in the Surprise.

There is great power in  surprise.  When used to reverse the meaning of a scene AND raise the dramatic question, the audience can be gripped from beginning to end in a vice-grip of tension.     Importantly the technique is used to raise the dramatic question through a surprise revelation that changes the meaning of what we have just seen.  The meaning is reversed because in the scene is a secret -  all the information necessary to give it a second meaning.   The changed meaning then raises the dramatic question.

I often use the example of the play ‘Proof’ by David Auburn as it is structurally quite technical and easy to dissect. So let’s look at how he uses this technique.

The play opens with a scene between father and daughter. It’s her birthday. She is drinking alone on the porch, he enters. It is a gentle, heart warming opening and we feel the strong bond between the two. He encourages her to study maths in college, she demurs and they discuss his mental illness. Then she announces quite casually about 15 minutes in, …’but you’re dead’.  She’s been talking to a ghost, her recently departed father who is about to be buried.
We have our surprise. The dramatic question has stirred but has not yet fully  formed in the audience. Perhaps they’re thinking. ‘What a lovely sight, father and daughter, reminds me of…wait a second did she just say he’s dead? ‘ They run through the scene again in their minds because now the scene has a SECOND meaning (Reversal of Meaning), it was not what they thought it was . Now, they think "Did she see a ghost? No, no, this is not a ghost story. If not then….Hey, didn’t she say he was cuckoo… ". The reversal of meaning created the dramatic question through a surprise revelation that was completely probable.    It is no longer a cute display of affection , we just witnessed something very distressing; grief, loss and possible madness. It has a second meaning.
The Audience Universe has been disturbed. Auburn has been quite clever here as we shall see in a moment.
The next scene brings on the nerdy grad student who has been poring over the father’s notebooks. He clarifies the father’s genius and she his madness. The student is also condescending over her mathematical talents (initiating the Tension of Opposites). Somewhere through this scene the penny will drop a little further ‘Hey, she was talking to a ghost just a minute ago, maybe she inherited her father’s madness. Let’s see some more’.  The  dramatic question unformed is ‘Did she inherit her father’s madness?’ .   The student is arguing that there is some great work to be discovered here, she insists that he was too far gone to able to produce anything, both citing evidence. He is clearly dismissive of what he says is her basic understanding of maths.  At this stage the audience is completely primed for what is about to happen. She gives him the key to a drawer that contains a notebook detailing a new, previously unworkable proof. He finds it, announces its genius, she announces that she wrote it.
We now have our complete dramatic question delivered again through surprise.
Auburn had to put that argument about how useless the father’s faculties were towards the end to go to the other side of the Tension of Opposites.
The audience is now thinking ‘Did she write the proof because I’m not sure. If she inherited her father’s genius perhaps but hey, she was talking to a ‘ghost’ so maybe she inherited his madness’ The audience is caught in the Tension of Opposites and cannot predict yea or nay because arguments have been set in motion on both sides – a bit more to the side that she was incapable and maybe a little dotty herself. This is necessary to provide the conflict between protag and antag  and give her a big problem to overcome.  So the dramatic question through the play is something like ‘Did she write the proof and as a consequence of that did she inherit her father’s genius or madness’ . As a side note see how we are guiled into thinking that the genius or madness is something you definitely inherit – not a real world fact but a fact within the story. 
So Auburn builds the dramatic question over the course of actions by the protag. He does not give it immediately but primes us slowly for it so that when delivered as a surprise it has immense power.   Mind you, some thought his second surprise rather soap-ish as in ‘I killed JR’.  I thought it simply dramatic . It worked fine and was necessary for the story.

Here’s how it lays out:
1. Preparation scene establishing key relationships and issues.
2. Surprise Revelation that 
     a) Changes the meaning of the scene or a key issue AND
     b) that change in meaning raises the dramatic question for the play AND
     c) the change has caused a Tension of Opposites.

So the whole purpose of that opening scene is now clear, it is something glinting and shiny in the sunlight as it raises up and above – then as it comes back down, that glint is the glint of metal and the shape is an incredibly sharp sword slicing through the air swishing just over your very raised neck hairs. It is a finely tuned structural technique executed with the discipline and finesse of a Samurai warrior.

Dissecting this technique is one thing, doing it is another. However it is in our realm of experience. We all have some event in our past where a very clear and strong idea of something was changed completely on the discovery of some pertinent and (overlooked ) information. I was on a bus from UCLA to Venice one late night in December with a splitting headache when this young woman came on with her 3 kids in tow. They were completely out of control, shouting, rowdy, one even snapped a newspaper from an elderly man and threw it on the ground. All the while the mother sat motionless in her seat. I was sitting behind, judging her through my throbbing headache. How could she let her kids do that on the bus? Disturbing everyone and not giving a damn. What kind of upbringing is that, to let  her kids terrorize people on public transport? etc etc.  After ten minutes of this, my stop came up and I was glad to get off.  I made sure to look at the woman as I walked past to confirm my judgements by the look of her. In her hands she clasped a  small bouquet of flowers and some cards – mass cards. Someone had died, someone close. She looked up to me with reddened eyes and in that enormous river of meaning  we communicated in a glance, my heart filled with compassion for her and I exited the bus with a feeling of sorrow for her and shame at myself.  The surprise revelation was seeing the bouquet of flowers and mass cards which changed the meaning of the scene I was just in.

The Dramatic Question

You are likely to know the structural item  ‘The Dramatic Question’ (DQ) in story.  Important as the DQ is, it is the tension of opposites in attempting to answer it that brings real power and sophistication to a story.


The dramatic question is a central part of any story but not  in the story -it is in the audience’s mind. It is what keeps them in their seats. The question comes to mind shortly after or at the inciting incident in the story, that event which sets off the protagonist to pursue a path of action leading to the climax where the dramatic question will be answered by the final action of the protagonist. (“Will he be able to prove his innocence in time? – The Fugitive.  “Did she inherit her father’s genius or madness” – Proof).  The real power of the DQ  is in the level of doubt sustained by the audience as to their own prediction of the outcome. This is the Tension of Opposites.   If they do not believe their own prediction, then there is doubt.   Doubt is good.

The audience may not be consciously thinking the question aloud but it compels them nonetheless to stay and watch the rest of the story unfold.  Indeed, the question can change, redirect and become more subtle with the protagonist action since we are not talking rules here. Often it is difficult to be absolute about the question and to say it succinctly depending on the movie, play or book.  Audiences will rarely talk about the dramatic question and may not even understand the term but book readers will say  ‘That book  was a real page turner’  meaning the dramatic question was strong.    Within each scene of the work there is a smaller but connected dramatic question that in it’s own way leads the audience to sway one way or the other regarding the central dramatic question.

Structurally a DQ requires a setup, tension between the two sides of that question   and the payoff.    Here’s an example: Will the sergeant in Lady Gregory’s play ‘The Rising of the Moon’ help the revolutionary escape or will he turn him in for the reward?  The setup is the  discovery by the audience that the beggar is actually the revolutionary and the key to the sergeant’s reward. The tension of opposites is how the writer made the audience veer to both sides. At times you think he will and then at others you think he won’t.    A good DQ can win a Pulitzer! The play and film ‘Doubt’ by JP Shanley has the keystone of the dramatic question in the title.  The DQ is Did the priest molest the  pupil? The audience is brought from positive to negative and back again on this question by the writer planting doubt in their minds as to their own prediction of the outcome leading to an ending that divides the audience down the middle.
Watch for Tension of Opposites in your story and the ones you read and watch. Are you moved from one plausible outcome to another? Do you find yourself changing your opinion of what’s going on, despite yourself? If so then you are in a story of sophistication with a writer who has the power to move minds.

What should be my Second Spec?

After completing a spec script for one show, what should be the next show that I should write for?  Same genre to keep agents focused? Switch  from Drama to Comedy to show I can make people laugh? Swith genre to show I can do procedural as well as ?

After discussing this with an old hand in the business, I was advised to do none of the above. She said that agents are now looking for an original series as well as a spec script. Yep, the bar has been raised – now you got to go ahead and use your imagination. UCLA Extension has jumped on the bandwagon by offering a new class in Spring 09 ‘Creating a TV Series’ by Charles Rosin.  Get the details at

When A, B & C stories are not A, B & C stories

Breaking down ‘The Wheel’ episode in Mad Men shows a literary conceit that ties the title into the scenes playing out the cycle of life.  In this episode a man dies, a baby is born an affair is revealed and the first woman since WWII is given a copywriter position at Sterling Cooper.

The ‘problem’ for Don in the story is to figure out how to market Kodak’s new gadget. The end shows Don revealing the slide projector as a time machine to go back and forth through the past and returning to the place where we are loved. We see slides of his kids being born, Christmas day, him and Bets in poses of family love etc. This is a self-revelation for Don and a tragedy at that because he cannot go back and forth like the carousel and save his brother or his marriage.  If that weren’t enough, the A, B & C stories tie into this metaphor of the wheel or carousel. This episode is an example of fine writing.

Using the Story Template to determine the A, B & C stories shows that they are not hierarchical. There are more stories, more evenly weighted and they tie into each other with greater meaning. Other episodes tend to have a parallel or mirror story structure where an event in one person’s life is mirrored in another’s and there are clear A, B & C stories.


Story Who’s key What’s it about
Kodak Don Don has to figure out a way to market the ‘Wheel’
New Biz Don, Pete, Fellahs Everyone has to bring in new business. Key to ‘self worth’
Affair Bets, Francine Francine tells Bets her hub is shagging Manhattan. This seq is about Bets admitting Don’s affairs to herself.
Relaxacisor Peggy, Ken Peggy shows command and ability to learn with her account
New Baby Pete, Trudy Under pressure to provide a grandchild, Pete relents but more to get Clearasil biz from father inlaw
Peggy’s Baby Peggy Peggy has her (& Pete’s) baby and ignores it. Climactic scene from multi-episode story of her pregnancy.
Adam Hangs Himself Don, Adam Don tries to reach out to his brother after shunning him. The photos of the two of them together prompt his call to him.
Thanksgiving Don, Bets Don decides not to join his family for TG, at the end he comes home to go with them to find that it is too late.

Many of these stories are wonderfully told. In the ‘Affair’ above the writer (Robin Veith and Mathew Wiener) uses Francine’s admission to Betsy about her husband’s philandering as a way for Betsy to confront her own denial about Don. The story is apparently about Francine but is not at all. Bets tells her shrink about Don in a very casual manner but this is a dam burst forth. The cliche would have been. 1) Francine tells Bets she called a manhattan # in their phone bill and got a woman. 2) Bets calls numbers in their phone bill and gets Rachel. 3)Bets confronts Don in angry mess and 4) ‘Hi Jinks ensue’ . Instead, the indirect method is used for greater effect and is more true to the situation. Just because people live in denial doesn’t mean that they will explode at some point. What Bets gets in this story is self-realization ‘I feel sorry for him’ – she has finally figured out what Don’s actions mean.
To arrive at this self-realization is a stunningly beautiful scene in the car park where she goes up to 11 year old Glen and confesses her deepest secret to him ‘I’m so sad’.

image    This is her emotional realization of the problem with Don – she can’t quite say it yet only to admit to the depth of it. In the scene with the shrink she intellectual acknowledges it by saying it out loud.

If this series had a subtitle, ‘The tragedy of Don Draper’ would be it. No surprise if this series actually ends with Don ending up on the concrete after a dive from the top floor of Sterling Cooper.  The tragedy in this episode is shown beautifully with the Kodak carousel. Don discovers the way to market the product from the realization of his own tragic actions. After telling his brother Adam that he did not want to see him and then after going through old photos makes the call to him only to learn that Adam had committed suicide. Too late for the call.  At the presentation with Kodak, clicking through photos of a better life with him and Bets he describes the pain of Nostalgia and here the truth of his life is brought to the surface. Ironically, he calls it the time machine, a device that allows us to go back and forth. But for Don, it is too late. He has lost his brother and now that Bets is aware of his affairs, he will lose her (at least emotionally). The irony, of course, is that he can’t go back in time.  This is what makes that last scene so utterly sad and emotionally powerful for the audience. Great stuff.
Robin Veith is certainly a wonderful and intelligent writer. She started as a writer’s assistant with Mathew Wiener on "Mad Men" and no doubt it was her strong visual and literary instincts that got her in as staff writer this season. A writer to watch.

TV doesn’t always connect the A, B & C stories but there’s always a better payoff when it is done with intelligence. Take a look at Hamlet. The A story is about a man seeking to avenge the murder of his father (Hamlet vs. Claudius) and the B story is about a man seeking to avenge the murder of his father (Laertes vs. Hamlet).
image How they go about this reveals their values and the problem of the story but essentially the B story informs and affects the A story – as well as reflecting it. The resonance of the B story into the A magnifies the emotional impact on the audience. When the writer uses a strong literary conceit such as ‘The Wheel’ intelligently, the results are outstanding. Why isn’t this seen more often? Because it’s hard to do  -  well without seeming contrived.

Deconstructing a TV Script – What’s the story?

In order to figure out what the main A, B & C and runner stories in a script are, I need to read through and name each sequence , who’s in it and give some basic description of the  begining, middle end and the meaning. I can  then step back and figure out which stories dominate. A sequence refers to any natural grouping of scenes that belong to a story line.
Here’s what I do:

1. Open an empty Story Template here.

2. Fill in the name of the sequence.
When I start I put the first thing I think of for the name, I will go back by the first act and rename some of them because I can see by reading on that the earlier sequence is part of the same story. These names will become A story, B Story, C story etc.
Sequences are a handy way to group scenes into a narrative unit. For instance sequence 2 is where  Don goes to his mistress, Midge  but I don’t call it the ‘Midge’ story. It’s mostly him talking  about his upcoming presentation so it’s the smoking story  even though it introduces Midge and tells us more about Don. It’s not a science, I’m just grouping them in any way I think will help me pull out the main stories running through the script.
Some scenes are not really part of a story in themselves but may tie several together or be part of a broader story that goes over several episodes. I could name a sequence actively e.g. ‘Pete sabotages Don’ instead of ‘Steel’ which could be helpful but I try not to do too much analyzing at first.

3. Note the important individuals in the sequence

4. Put a description of what happened or what the sequence means if that is important. ‘The scene is not about what the scene is about’ – you know that adage so the meaning can be more important than what’s going on.  In the sequence ‘Have a Baby’ in the Episode ‘The wheel’ of Mad Men, one of scenes shows Pete relenting to having sex without a condom. The meaning here is that part of his motivation is to get approval from his Father-in-law by trying to have a baby (‘I know you’ll tell your mother’)  to get his business and thus get ahead at Sterling Cooper.

Now I can do a simple sort and see what the main stories are and who’s in them.

Out of the result below I can tell which are the main stories in the script:
A Story – Smoking

B Story – New Girl

C Story – Don vs. Pete

D Story – Rachel’s Store

E Story – Pete’s Party

There is also the beginning of another story which ends the New Girl Story when Pete sleeps with Peggy at the end.
Even though there are more sequences for New Girl, Smoking is the A story because it involves Don,  opens the episode and has the highest stakes. I need to weave in 4-5 stories into my script based on what I deduced above. If you notice that there are 6-7 stories or just 1 or 2 then this tells you to take a close look at the structure of the episode to check for literary devices or conceits such as in the ‘Wheel’ episode.
I can also see that there are two client stories in the episode – so I’ll need more than one when writing my script.
I’m not including runners for now. I know they’re there but am more interested in quickly getting to the heart of the story. Also note that the table doesn’t have Acts. You can break down your script into 4 acts for your drama or whatever number runs in your show. I go back and mark the act break later as this is handy for identifying how the act ends and what I have to do to match it.

Seq Title Who’s Key? What’s it about?
1 Smoking Don Don in a bar asking bar hop about his smoking habits
2 Smoking Don, Midge Don with his mistress 
3 New Girl Peggy, fellas Peggy arrives at the office on her first day
4 Pete’s Party Pete, fellas Pete’s office mates are planning a bachelor party
5 New Girl Peggy, Joan Joan shows Peggy the ropes
6 Rachel’s Store Roger, Don Roger reminds Don about Menken and the pitch to Lucky Strike
7 New Girl Peggy, Pete, Don Pete undresses pegy verbally 
8 Don vs. Pete Don, Pete Don tells Pete his behaviour with peggy is out of line
9 New Girl Peggy, Doctor Peggy at the doctor getting contraceptives
10 Rachel’s Store Don, Rachel, Roger Don and Peggy hit it off – badly
11 Don vs. Pete Don, Pete Don rejects Pete’s friendly advance
12 New Girl Peggy, Joan, Others Peggy meets the receptionists
13 Smoking Don, Sal, Gretchen Sal and then Grethcen come up short on ideas
14 Smoking Don, Roger, Pete, Gues Big meeting, nearly fails but Don saves the day
15 Pete’s Party Pete, fellas The fellas get ready to head out
16 Pete vs Don Pete, Don Don tells Pete off for going through his trash
17 New Girl Peggy, Don Peggy puts her hand on Don and is rejected
18 Rachel’s Store Don, Rachel  Don apologies to rachel and they share a moment of honesty
19 Peggy and Pete Peggy, pete, others Pete goes to Peggy’s house and sleeps with her
20 Home Sweet Home Don, Betty, Kids Don returns to his suburban idyll and beautiful wife

A simple sort on this table in Excel and I can see which is the A, B & C story as well as what is the beginning, middle and end of each

Seq Title Who’s Key? What’s it about?
8 Don vs. Pete Don, Pete Don tells Pete his behaviour with peggy is out of line
11 Don vs. Pete Don, Pete Don rejects Pete’s friendly advance
16 Don vs. Pete Pete, Don Don tells Pete off for going through his trash
20 Home Sweet Home Don, Betty, Kids Don returns to his suburban idyll and beautiful wife
3 New Girl Peggy, fellas Peggy arrives at the office on her first day
5 New Girl Peggy, Joan Joan shows Peggy the ropes
7 New Girl Peggy, Pete, Don Pete undresses Peggy verbally 
9 New Girl Peggy, Doctor Peggy at the doctor getting contraceptives
12 New Girl Peggy, Joan, Others Peggy meets the receptionists
17 New Girl Peggy, Don Peggy puts her hand on Don and is rejected
19 Peggy and Pete Peggy, pete, others Pete goes to Peggy’s house and sleeps with her
4 Pete’s Party Pete, fellas Pete’s office mates are planning a bachelor party
15 Pete’s Party Pete, fellas The fellas get ready to head out
6 Rachel’s Store Roger, Don Roger reminds Don about Menken and the pitch to Lucky Strike
10 Rachel’s Store Don, Rachel, Roger Don and Peggy hit it off – badly
18 Rachel’s Store Don, Rachel  Don apologies to Rachel and they share a moment of honesty
1 Smoking Don Don in a bar asking bar hop about his smoking habits
2 Smoking Don, Midge Don with his mistress 
13 Smoking Don, Sal, Gretchen Sal and then Gretchen come up short on ideas
14 Smoking Don, Roger, Pete, Gues Big meeting, nearly fails but Don saves the day

It’s important to do this exercise for a few scripts because that is when you will see a pattern.
Let’s take another example – Look at “New Amsterdam” EP 104

Seq Title Who’s Key? What’s it about?
4 Don & Rachel Don, Rachel Don bumps into Rachel at the office
23 Don and Roger Don, Roger Roger tells Don not to compete with Pete
6 Helen Bishop Betty, Dan Dan tries to get into Betty’s home she won’t let him
7 Helen Bishop Betty, Helen Helen comes over to explain.
11 Helen Bishop Betty, Helen Betty goes to babysit at Helen’s house
14 Helen Bishop Betty,Glen Glen walks in on Betty in the toilet, she gives him a lock of hair
16 Helen Bishop Betty, Helen Helen comes home
5 Home Sweet Home Betty, Kids Betty is reading  a fairy tale to Sally. 
1 New Apt Pete, Ken, Harry & Paul The fellas are listening to Bob NewHart when Trudy  arrives
2 New Apt Pete, Trudy, Harry Trudy tells Harry he can give his wife a baby, takes Pete out of office
3 New Apt Pete, Trudy, Harry Trudy shows Pete a new apartment
8 New Apt Pete, his dad andrew Pete’s dad turns down pete’s request for $
9 New Apt Pete, Trudy  Pete pretends he didn’t ask his father due to ill health
12 New Apt Pete, Trudy, Trudy’s parents Trudy’s dad offers financial help with the apt, Pete grudgingly relents
13 New Apt Pete, Trudy Pete not happy with taking money 
24 New Apt Pete, Trudy, Trudy’s parents They have bought the apt. Pete seems as if he has sold out.
20 Shrink betty, dr. Wayne Betty tells the dr. about her impressions of Helen’s life  in a condescending manner.
10 Steel Don, Pete, Sal, Walter Presentation scuppered by Pete
15 Steel Pete, Walter Pete suggests copy to Walter at a bar
17 Steel Don, Pete, Walter, Sal Pete’s idea undermines Don
18 Steel Don, Pete Don fires Pete
19 Steel Don, Roget Don tells Roger he fired Pete
22 Steel Don, Roger, Pete Roger covers for Pete saying he gave him a second chance
21 Steel  Don, Roger, Coper Cooper tells Don he can’t fire Pete

So for this episode we have

A Story – New Apartment

B  Story – Steel

C Story – Helen Bishop

Why does Pete get the A story? It opens with him, ends with him and he gets the most scene mileage. However the B story seems to have more drama. The tale of Pete undermining Don has a whiff of intrigue and yet lets us see it from Pete’s point of view. Still I think New Apartment is the A story. It doesn’t matter much – it’s all about Pete.

My earlier assumption – that I need to put together 4 or 5 stories together for an ep is not true. There are 2  main stories a smaller C story plus a couple of threads.

Then there are Story Threads – such as ‘Don & Rachel’ and ‘Shrink’ which are stories that will play out over another episode or number of episodes.There is a scene with Don and Roger where they discuss what happened with Pete undermining him twice in a roundabout way. I could have lumped it under Steel but decided not to because it’s a revelation scene that ties in with a number of issues in Don’s life -mainly his unease.

The episode, however,  is mostly about Pete.Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart He undermines Don in ‘Steel’  and is undermined himself in ‘New Apartment’. He nearly loses his job.  Pete really gets ‘buttoned down’  in this episode  nicely indicated in the playing of the Bob Newhart album that opens the ep. That opening, by the way, is a good example of the sophistication of the show. It rarely shows cultural or technological ‘bits’ without leveraging them as metaphor’s in the story. e This was done to great effect in the Kodak Carousel ep.

But there is the one oddball in these stories – the C Story doesn’t have a resolution. The ‘event’ of that story is Betty giving a lock of hair to young Glen though you wouldn’t know it until Helen confronts Betty about it in another episode. For n know a bit about  Betty and gives her an idea of what it would be like to be alone – if she left Don. Helen Bishop’s life is an alternative realit Somewhere inside she knows Don has left her out in the cold.

Don is still serviced in this episode as the story establishes Pete as a true antagonist of his and gives us a direct combat story which Don loses. The one story in common with the Pilot is ‘Steel’ .  That first ep focused on Peggy so now it’s Pete’s turn. The difference is that Peggy is a mirror of Don and Pete is an enemy of Don so the tension between them is of a different nature.

Running With My Eyes Closed › Ten Writing Tips for Your Mad Men Spec

Jill Golick has some tips for writing a mad men spec. 

Here’s the rundown:

1. Beat out between 14 and 19 juicy sequences to lay down two or more thematically related plotlines A Mad Man spec has to carry a weighty theme; you want to say something about the nature of being human.

2. Put in about twice as many A-story sequences as B sequences. If you want a C, devote three to four sequences to it.

3. Write a tease that draws you in with drama bimageut doesn’t provide any direct clues as to where the story is headed. This should be a nice long meaty sequence, like Adam killing himself at the beginning of the episode about the Rejuvenator.

4. Include plenty of bank shot sequences that speak to theme but don’t necessarily drive the plot forward. These sequences help to set the stakes by showing us the lives of incidental characters. Joan’s reality as a single woman having an affair with a married man sheds light on what’s at stake for Rachel if she sleeps with Don. Harry’s pleading with his wife to let him come home warns Don and Pete of the consequences of choosing work over family. Dr Wayne tells Don that Betty is consumed by petty jealousies just before he catches Roger hitting on her and takes his revenge.

5. Don’t over tell it. Mad Men scripts invite viewers to figure out what’s going on, they respect their intelligence. They also trust that the structure and technique of the script to tell the story. We see Don catch Roger hitting on Betty. We see him give a few dollars to an elevator man. We see Don and Roger slurping down raw oysters and booze. And when they get back to the office, the elevator is out and they have to walk up twenty-three flights. Nowhere is it spelled out that this is a carefully planned act of revenge. Don’t spoon feed the audience.

6. Throw in an insider 60s reference or two: Dr Scholl’s, Desi and Lucy’s second divorce, Bob Newhart’s first comedy album. A lot of Mad Men is in the details.

7. Write some witty, educated and intelligent dialogue. A scene with agency men bantering back on forth is the perfect forum. Or give Roger a chance to wax poetic. Rachel is also great for historical and cultural perspective. These characters are smart and educated and not afraid to show it.

8. Include a 60s product in need of a campaign. And allow Don to come up with a pitch that is not only brilliant but sums up the human condition. “Advertising is based on happiness.” “The Carousel lets us travel around and around and back home again.” Of course this also needs to resonate with your over all theme.

9. Hit us on the head with a little racism, sexism or something else that nails the different value systems between now and the 60s. Make us uncomfortable and squirmy. Then in a counterpoint it with something that reminds us how similar we are. Think of Sterling with the twins — what a sexist. Then he keels over — we’re all flesh and blood. Think of Don saying of Rachel, “I’m not going to let a woman speak to me like that” and then promptly falling in love with her.

10. Provide an ending that is totally unexpected for TV and yet reveals the true nature of the character and seems inevitable.

Check it out here –  10 tips for writing a Mad Men Spec. She has really done a spectacular job deconstructing the series for writers including writing scenes that don’t necessarily push the story forward but parallel another story and speak to the theme of the episode.


and other home truths that drive you mad…..