Mad Men, Season 4

Week 5: Uncomfortable Questions About the Late Grandpa Gene
Talking television.
Aug. 24 2010 12:04 PM

Mad Men, Season 4

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Week 5: Uncomfortable Questions About the Late Grandpa Gene

Betty Draper and Grandpa Gene. Click image to expand.
Betty Draper and Grandpa Gene

I'm with you, Agger. The adults interpret Sally's dance with herself as acting out, but it seemed to me that it was just as likely genuine sexual exploration spurred on, in part, by seeing her parents with new partners. I didn't get the sense Sally was asking to be caught. While it's true the incident happened at a sleepover, Sally's friend was thoroughly sacked out at the time, and her friend's mom came around that corner quickly and with a feline lightness of step. This didn't strike me as a "public" act, but maybe that's just the former boarding school student in me talking. Mike, who's your friend from Deerfield? I probably played him in lacrosse.

John Swansburg John Swansburg

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.

While we're on the subject of sex, there is a lively debate in the comments section regarding whether Dr. Edna's inquiries will lead to the revelation that Betty and Sally were victims of sexual abuse at the hands of the late Grandpa Gene. Readers point to various scenes over the course of the series that arouse their suspicions. In Season 2, when Don and Betty visit Gene after his stroke, he fondles his daughter at the dining room table in a fit of dementia, though in my recollection it was pretty clear he thought Betty was his dead wife. And last season there were several suggestive scenes between Gene and Sally in the spare bedroom, scenes that seemed designed to make viewers brace themselves for one outcome (molestation) only to deliver another (the reading aloud of Gibbon). I agree that the series has left just enough breadcrumbs that a sexual abuse twist wouldn't feel as if it were arriving out of the blue. But I don't think it's going to happen. Gene clearly favored Betty, and his coddling of her may well explain some of her issues, especially given her mother's iciness—some part of Betty still thinks of herself as daddy's little girl. That doesn't mean things between father and daughter got all licentious. I suspect the writers will continue to let the possibility linger, however, because it gives this plot line a charge that keeps viewers uneasy—and locked in.

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On the persistence of Miss Blankenship, I'm with Julia—I think she's a punishment from Joan that Don has to serve out for at least a few months before he can get a newer model. In the meantime, I'm heartily enjoying her incompetence. Adding to my enjoyment is the fact that Blankenship is played by Randee Heller, better known (to me, anyway) as Lucille Larusso from The Karate Kid. A solemn bow to eagle-eyed reader Gavin Fritton * for noticing this last week.

A few final tidbits:

—Julia noted the great moment when Pete stood up to Roger and accused him of trying to kamikaze the Honda deal because it threatened Sterling's position at the firm. A detail I loved here: Pete turning tail and running out the door the second Roger lunged at him. Pete's getting more and more confident. But he knows Roger would still take him in fight—so long as he doesn't have a coronary.

—I think this episode offered the second example this season of Bert making a disparaging remark about the civil rights movement. Isn't it interesting how open-minded he is about the Japanese, yet how retrograde he is on civil rights? He didn't stand up for Pete last season when he wanted to market Admiral TVs to black Americans.

—Suggested DVD extra for when the season 4 discs come out: Footage of Ted Chaough's awesome Honda ad. It had everything in it but a trapeze artist.

Having dinner with my fake wife,
John

Correction, Aug. 24, 2010: The article originally misspelled reader Gavin Fritton's name. (Return to the corrected sentence.)