Mad Men, Season 3

Week 12: The Grownups
Talking television.
Nov. 2 2009 11:40 AM

Mad Men, Season 3

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Week 12: The Grownups

Still from Mad Men. Click image to expand.
Mad Men

OK, Swansburg, time to settle accounts. Any chance you can bring that old-fashioned to my office? I'm not one for lunch counters, and like Peggy Olson, I prefer to drink at my desk.

One of the many sly jokes embedded in this ostensibly tragic episode was the suggestion that the hallowed American tradition of recounting where you were when you found out Kennedy had been shot began mere hours after the shooting. "I got a call from Leona, this girl I used to work with at the phone company," one of Margaret's wedding guests says. "My friend Francine called me," Betty replies.

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What, pray tell, would Peggy—"Pee Wee, sweetheart"—have volunteered? There's so much to chew on here, I don't know where to start. I love Peggy's furtive, girlish smile when Duck waves off her excuse about lunch with Kurt and Smitty, saying, "They're a couple of homos. Tell them you have plans. Come on, creative, be creative." Earlier in the episode we learned from Peggy's long-absent roommate, Karen, that Duck has been hanging around the apartment. (Karen doesn't like the smell of his aftershave in the morning.) But if Duck and Peggy are nooning it on the regular, why does Duck unplug the TV set when she arrives? Granted, he's sexually ravenous, resorting, in his ardor, to an offer Peggy couldn't refuse. (And really, could you say no to a Monte-Cristo sandwich?) But before yanking the cord, Duck has heard the initial report about the president being wounded in an attempt on his life. Is Duck a sex addict? Or just a Republican? Perhaps he simply excels at what was occasionally described, during the Clinton years, as "compartmentalization."

Either way, I love Duck's reply after Peggy asks if he gave her a hickey. "I don't think so."

Before we leave Duck Phillips, I must appeal for assistance to the Fray, and especially to any Fraysters who watch Mad Men on big high-resolution screens. (My TV is maybe a generation or two more advanced than the Drapers'.) Duck has a tattoo on his shoulder. Could any of you make out what it is?

Like you, John, I found the use of televisions everywhere—in living rooms, in the office, in the kitchen off the ballroom—haunting and extremely effective. Likewise the moment when all the telephones begin to ring at Sterling Cooper, rising in an ominous chorus, like so many church bells, the first sign, for Don Draper, that tragedy has struck.

Poor Margaret. As if the indignity of getting advice from Jane ("Dress sexy") wasn't enough, her father has to commandeer the mic at her sparsely attended nuptials and prevail upon his guests to "have the prime rib and the filet of sole." I've relished these glimpses into the Sterling family in recent weeks and cackled as Mona snapped at her daughter, suggesting she turn the (new, blue) earrings Jane gave her "into a tea service or something." Roger's not the only sharp-tongued Sterling, it seems.

The main sour note in the episode was Henry Francis. When Betty exits the ladies' room, the framing of Don and Henry as Jackie-or-Marilyn was cartoonishly on-the-nose. Betty's choice couldn't have been more obvious if Kinsey drew it. And I share your doubts, John, about whether Henry's affections for Betty could possibly be meaningful, given the fact that they hardly know each other. In that brief late-night exchange between Roger and Joan on the telephone, it seemed clear to me that we were witnessing genuine love—messy and repressed, perhaps, but the real thing. By contrast, Henry and Betty have no such perceptible spark. And while it's certainly nice of Henry to say that he will make Betty happy, at the moment, at least, we're going to have to take his word for it.

Oddly enough, I found myself thinking once again last night that the most stable, healthy marriage in Mad Men is Pete and Trudy's. Now that Cosgrove is senior something of something accounts and Pete is just account something, it seems that Campbell is not long for Sterling Coop. When he initially says he's going to telephone Duck, Trudy objects. But by the end of the episode, as Pete mourns Kennedy (in a turtleneck clearly borrowed from either Kurt or Smitty), Trudy changes her tone, telling him to start gathering his clients. Personnel changes are afoot, and as long as Pete and possibly Peggy are leaving the building, I'm just hoping Don's search for a new art director doesn't exclude a certain ex-employee of Mediterranean extraction and sartorial flair.

From the opening scene, in which Pete whines about his hot cocoa, this episode was preoccupied with parents and children. (Weiner tends to telegraph his themes in the episode titles, to a point where I often prefer not to know them. This week was "The Grown-Ups.") In the past, Bobby and Sally have witnessed traumatic events they are too young to understand—Grandpa Gene's death, the immolation of Thích Quảng Đức, the dissolution of their parents' marriage. With Kennedy's death, as with these other traumas, they have been largely on their own, forced to parse the violent mysteries of the grown-up world with minimal guidance from the grown-ups themselves. This time around, even Carla, who usually tends to the kids when Betty blows them off, turns her back on Sally and Bobby when she hears the news, looking to heaven for a moment, then joining Betty on the sofa and lighting a cigarette.

Don does a little better, reprimanding Betty for allowing the kids to watch. Then he tries to comfort his children with the kind of reassuring lie that we all want our parents to tell us. "Everything's going to be OK," he says.

But when Don and Betty dance at the wedding, and Don says the same thing to Betty—"Everything's going to be fine"—she doesn't believe him.

"How do you know that?" Betty asks. It's a scary moment, capturing as it does the larger historical instant when the innocence of the 1950s and early '60s died. Betty has always been a child herself, more or less prepared to take it on faith that everything will, indeed, come out fine. But this time, she's not buying what Don has to sell. And neither, really, is he. In answer, Don can only kiss her, and say simply, "We'll see."

Hang in there, Red.

Patrick

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