Mad Men, Season 4

Week 8: I Feel Like Margaret Mead
Talking television.
Sept. 13 2010 2:21 PM

Mad Men, Season 4

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Week 8: I Feel Like Margaret Mead

Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss).
Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss)

It's never a good idea to read someone's journal, is it? It's often not a good idea to read your own journal. There was a moment when the episode acknowledged the potential lameness of the conceit: "I sound like a little girl, writing down what happened today," Don tells us. Actually, Don, you sound like a Gillette commercial.

The bigger reason the journal voice-over doesn't work is that Mad Men, at its best, is powered by understatement—the way it suggests Don or Peggy's inner thoughts through appearance and expression. Don's pensées were simply TMI and wrecked the spell. Do I really need to know, when he looks up at the Barbizon: "I thought of all the women in there, one in every room, touching themselves to sleep." It would be much better to gaze once again at Jon Hamm's inscrutable face.

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Julia, you already identified the best scene: Joan and Peggy's showdown in the elevator. Throughout this episode, we see how Peggy is able to hang with the boys, how she's included in their jocularity but also prods them to get work done. (Plus, we saw her win the nude showdown earlier this season.) Joan, in contrast, can't insert herself into this office flow and overreacts with that thundering Vietnam condemnation. She can't do light, ironic banter, such as Peggy's comment when watching the guys mess with the vending machine: "I feel like Margaret Mead." It's tempting to say that Joan is being left behind, but her way of getting things done never really does go out of style, does it?

These good moments make me want to crush the weak moments with my car's front bumper. Bethany really wanted to show Don off at her country club? Hi everyone, here is the inappropriate, older, divorced man I'm dating! Don seems more naturally part of her city life, the adventure she is having away from the country club. And, Dr. Faye Miller, previously a smooth office operator, plants herself in the hallway and tells her boyfriend to "Go shit in the ocean." (Slate's Jessica Grose wrote to say that this is a translation of a beloved Yiddish insult, suggesting that Faye is Jewish and her father a Jewish gangster of some sort. Though, as Jess also explains, it's possible that Faye is Italian and just overheard this insult in her neighborhood.) And, I defy you to recall an instance in real life when someone who wasn't standing behind a pulpit actually recounted one of Aesop's fables.

John, to answer your question: I was expecting Don to kick up more of a fuss about the boxes. But note how well Henry Francis had set up his defenses. The boxes are already on the curb, and he's out there mowing the lawn in his T-shirt. (P.S.: Did either of you note how ripped Henry Francis is? Is there some sort of bodybuilding scene in Westchester?) Don retreats, but I thought he pushed back a little by showing up at baby Gene's birthday party. This is my kid, buddy.

And that was definitely a look of wistfulness from Betty when Don tossed Gene in his arms. That was a classic "Daddy" moment, and I think we're supposed to feel not only that Don has lost something significant, but also that Betty's new life isn't complete, either. She wins points with Henry Francis by playing it cool when Don appears, but he's always going to be in second place. He's not the father of her children.

Finally, as much as I would like to up the ante on your bet, my gaydar wasn't going off in Harry Crane's office. That scene showed what a prick Joey essentially was, a guy who has gotten away with a lot of casual cruelty because of his looks. Yet, you still want to like the guy! Those looks! (Perhaps a cleaner, younger Colin Farrell?) Note also how the episode indicates that Joey's work wasn't so great. Don makes a sarcastic comment that he's not sure the lewd drawing was done by Joey since it has "narrative, forced perspective." Peggy did the right thing, but I'm sorry to see the actor Matt Long go, as he was perfectly cast, and his character had excellent taste in shirt colors.

Is that the smell of corn?
Agger

Michael Agger is an editor at The New Yorker. Follow him on Twitter.

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