Mad Men, Season 5

Betty and Sally Still Need Each Other
Talking television.
June 5 2012 12:23 PM

Mad Men, Season 5

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Betty and Sally's moment was unexpectedly sweet.

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Ron Jaffe/AMC

I figured you’d bring it back to Cosgrove, Swans, and I’ll be curious to see how he wears this new ambition. Someone has clearly laced the water at Sterling Cooper with competitive edge. My favorite beat in the episode was that drink upstairs with Roger—the way Ken acts like he’s demanding a concession from Sterling by asking him to sideline Pete. “As you were,” Roger says, concluding the discussion. Go ahead, Cosgrove, twist my arm.

A few stray thoughts:

I found the interactions between Betty and Sally touching, in large measure because the opportunity to mother was thrust upon Betty so unexpectedly. (She literally reels backward when Sally rugby-tackles her for a hug.) But there was a moment at the museum when Sally tells Glen, “I keep wishing he would leave her,” and seems to be referring not to Don and his child bride, but to Henry and her mother. I know that adolescent daughters can reserve a unique scorn for their mothers. I know that Sally and Glen are engaged in the awkward minuet of teenaged flirtation, and, as you point out Julia, they may not be saying precisely what they mean. But really? Sally wants the sainted Henry to divorce Betty, leaving her to raise three kids? Does Sally think she’d end up with Henry in that arrangement? Perhaps she’s trying to empathize with Glen, another child of divorce.* That or her spite for Betty runs deeper than I thought.

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As for Joan’s apparent acceptance of her new arrangement—coaching Scarlett, her replacement, about how to run a meeting; planning a family vacation to Bermuda (or Hawaii)—methinks it’ll be shortlived. As a general rule, secrets out on Mad Men, and even with Lane gone, that leaves all the other partners plus Ken who know the callous quid pro behind Mrs. Harris’ new title. If one theme of this season is that it’s “every man for himself,” as André and Maria suggest, then Joan’s sudden ascent to partnership is bound to receive some jealous scrutiny.

While I’m making finale predictions, I think you’re right, Julia, that there’s another shoe to drop with Lane. We haven’t seen Alex Polito since the pilot, so I’m hoping that he turns up before the season’s out, if only to confirm my repeated suggestions over the past few months that he would. I’ll eat the occasional red herring, but not from Queens.

One final thought: We talk a lot about the ethical dimensions of decisions that characters make on this show, but in their post, the Jacquemettons observe that “despite their sometimes questionable choices,” characters like Ken, Lane, and Don “generally uphold a certain standard of morality and/or dignity.” The morality bit seems clear to me: Don is a bad guy in many ways, but he’s a decent bad guy, a bad guy with a code, which is a deeply appealing archetype of American popular culture.

But what about this notion of dignity, as distinct from morality? It’s a strand in the show’s DNA that I’ve never given much consideration, but one that might be useful for us to tease out in these final posts. Dignity is related to pride, on some level, and a character like Pete seems to represent one pole on the continuum: He’s got no shame, and thus no dignity. Don, meanwhile, seems to occupy the opposite pole: He often does the wrong thing, but he does it with panache, his pride almost always intact. The rest of the characters fall somewhere on the spectrum between them, subjected to varying stress positions of indignity and shame—from Peggy, who tired of the soft bigotry and walked out the door, to Joan, who embraced the low estimation of her colleagues in exchange for a stake in the firm.  Suicide is always a riddle, but Lane’s sense of his own dignity—his personal threshold for those remedial steps he was simply too proud to undertake—goes a long way in explaining his final bow.

Do your homework. Don’t use the juicer.

Patrick

Correction, June 5, 2012: This post mistakenly noted that Glen's mother is still single. She has remarried. (Return to corrected sentence.)