As its the characters that I find most compelling on Mad Men, I’ll be using them to frame my reviews/meanderings/half-assed analyses. Unless I change my mind in the future. Which I might do. So shut up.
After bookending their season premiere with events meant to place our favorite ad agency in a greater historical frame work, this week opened with Betty Francis; the character arguably the farthest removed from any of the cultural upheaval of the period. Largely, this episode belonged to her as its largest through-line was her health scare. Where another show may have used the cancer-scare to build sympathy or some type of goodwill for the character, Mad Men pours a double of Haterade on the rocks for Betty Francis. She drops bombs from start to finish; when Mama Francis politely suggests the pills it’s, “Why haven’t you tried them?” BOOM. When she gets the good news later and Henry tries to console her that he doesn’t even see her more cushion for the pushin’, she serves him up with, “I know. Your mother’s obese.” ZING. No, no, no there will be no good will built up for Betty just from some little cancer scare. She even manages to run to Don in the absence of her actual husband, begging him to say what he always says. He consoles her and expresses real concern which she repays by letting him hear the good news from her new husband. She’s as coooold as ice.
Let’s reflect more on that “good news.” Her face doesn’t seem to have the same relief that Henry’s does after that phone call. Before she said it aloud, I thought it was bad news. Perhaps she WAS looking for the other diagnosis; maybe it would’ve finally given her the direction and meaning she’s been—usually unwittingly—pining for since season one. The former Mrs. Draper may’ve seen a death sentence as her path-of-least-resistance out of the “mess” she’s leaving behind. It could’ve justified another huge upheaval of her life; she could have run back to the comfort and familiarity of Don’s baritone cooing of “Birdie.” But no. She’s condemned to the lie in the bed she’s made for herself. To silently share ice cream with a daughter that she seems to now realize she’s wrongfully alienated and abused. All this is best for us anyways. I don’t want to be deprived of her Don Rickles send ups of anybody in arm’s reach. And if she’s self-aware and content we definitely don’t get the line of the episode, “Everything still tastes good to me.” Yes, Bets, clearly it does.
Don spends most of this episode reminding us that he’s on the wrong side of the pending culture clash in America. Megan notes he’s “so square <he’s> got corners” and he even tells a hard-partying teenager that he’s just worried about her. Thanks, Dad. Wasn’t this the same guy banging a bohemian in the city and pontificating about how he’s living like there’s no tomorrow because there IS no tomorrow? Now he’s finger-wagging at a tween I would have previously been worrying about him bedding? Don tells Megan that he has to “look like the man” but to us he probably just looks like he always has. And I wonder if he’s fooling himself. He attempts to leverage Betty’s potential illness into getting out of seeing Megan’s—likely much younger—friends. He knows that her 26 year old fear of death doesn’t compare to his middle-aged certainty of it but he won’t tell her that. Even in the office, he seems more of an account man than the creative warhorse he once was. Peggy noted it in the season opener, wanting him to do what he always does and tell the client they’re wrong. (Side note: I really felt like Betty’s calls for “Say what you always say” echoed Peggy’s request the week prior) But to me, it looks like Don doesn’t do much of anything around the office. He comes in late, leaves early, and tries to get some tail on the sly from the wife. No one said he’s not living the dream but he sure isn’t the Don Draper, ad-god we saw pen The Letter or wax nostalgic with Glo-Coat. Maybe I’m jumping the gun a bit here but I think we’re going to see him standing on the shoulders of Peggy—and possibly Michael Ginsberg—this season.
There’s obviously a lot more to say about this episode, its plot, character development, etc but I’m sadly running out of time before the next episode airs. I’ll do my best to get this out earlier next week and I promise to actually edit it. So I do beg your forgiveness for all the slapdasshery of it and hope you’ll return next week. I’ll leave you with some underdeveloped nuggets of thought and a few of my favorite quotes from last week.
Bits and Pieces
- As angry as Sterling was at the end of this episode, he didn’t sound ready to fight, he sounded ready to take a dive. Pete punk’d him once this season with the 6am meeting time but with that public bait-and-switch he pulled with Mohawk? That could be a knockout blow. “I’m sick of hanging onto a ledge and having some kid’s foot on my fingertips…Bombs away.” Only to be followed up by the even-darker, “Actual life and death? I’ve given up on that.” Take a damn Zoloft, Roger.
- Harry Crane is the best douchebag on TV today. (not including Daniel Tosh or anyone on a show that starts with “Real Housewives”) “That’s my recommendation for anyone getting married: eat first.” Also, “We should do this again!” To which Don deadpans, “Bye, Harry.”
- Michael Ginsberg looks to be a great addition to the show and to the agency. He appears to have the right mix of talent and ass-kissing necessary to climb any corporate ladder. Plus he’s got a penis. (which Peggy is only NOW starting to work on?! Jeez, pick it up, Margaret)
- More on Ginsberg: his home life reminded me a bit of Peggy’s when she first started. He’s something of a man-child still at home with a parent who appears ready to push his own beliefs on the child who’s got bigger plans. Although any old dude who can segue that quickly from hookers to prayer is okay in my book. Oh and I loved that cross-fade into the Sally-Betty scene. I’ll take disconnected parents and their disillusioned children for 600, Alex.
- I’m no music guru but that final song which my fiancé helpfully informed is from The Sound of Music, says that “your life, little girl, is an empty page that men will want to write on.” It might be a bit on the nose for a lingering shot of Betty Draper shoveling an ice cream sundae down her gullet but it was just right by me.