Mad Men Has Its First Mad Man
As has become his custom, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner followed last week’s somewhat sleepy episode with one that was action-jammed. Again, this pattern fuels speculation that Weiner peppers the series with the odd fast-moving episode, or relatively faster moving eps, to assuage viewers and critics who complain of Mad Men’s sometimes glacial pace.
In any case, among the things we saw Sunday were infidelity, suspicion of infidelity, marital discord, office intrigue, office bullying, additional references to 2001: A Space Odyssey and a threesome, a well-worn plot device used in adult entertainment, according to several of our journalistic colleagues who are familiar with that genre. One question, as Alan Sepinwall asks in his always terrific blog, is whether or not the episode’s many scenes fit well or seemed like a collection of disjointed events. Sepinwall felt it was an off-kilter episode. Perhaps it was.
What we noticed was how sloppy some of the plotlines were advanced. Most prominent was the state of the Drapers’ marriage. When we last left Don and Megan, the couple seemed just about finished. By the looks of things Sunday, early on at least, something obviously has changed for the better, but what? It just seemed off.
Far less important, but still awkward was the appearance of little Julio sitting in Peggy’s apartment watching TV with her on Saturday when Ginsberg arrives unexpected to rant and later romance.
A smoother introduction of information occurred when we learned that little Bobby Draper has a constant stomach ache and that previously he wet his bed (Freddie Rumsen can empathize). These additions, while not specifically explained, made sense considering the kid has a mother like Betty, who threatened to break her daughter’s arm when the girl returned from boarding school with a couple of black eyes and possibly a broken nose. [More on Betty below.]
As always, we appreciate hearing from you, our reader, on these topics or anything else in the series or this episode, titled The Runaways.
Going, Going, Gone…
We suspected something was up with Michael Ginsberg. Last week we’d complained about Ginsberg having been relegated to a monochromatic character this season, doing little else but spewing inappropriate comments. As such he’d become a young, poorly dressed, ethnic version of Roger Sterling, although the latter had the good sense to edit himself and apologize in advance for some of his rawer comments.
While we were sorry to see Ginsberg wheeled out of the SC & Partners offices Sunday during the very effective scenes between him and Peggy, in a way the loss is palatable because the character had contributed nothing substantive this season.
On another level, Ginsberg’s breakdown means an already creatively dry SC&P has lost its only Clio nominee to the psych ward. Does this thinning of the creative ranks make Don Draper’s stock rise a bit? After events Sunday night, Don needs all the help he can get to keep his job at SC&P. Considering the emotional and non-business-like way usually level-headed Joan and Bert have ganged up against Don, the situation looks bleak. Needless to say Don’s latest escapade, interrupting the meeting with the Phillip Morris people at the end of this episode, seems to violate the spirit of the agreement he accepted when he returned to SC&P. By that stunt alone he could be bounced from SC&P.
Besides the unexplained upward turn in Don and Meagan’s relationship, at least before Stephanie Horton turned up, viewers could wonder the source of Henry Francis’s outburst against Betty. It seemed surprising coming from the normally temperate character. While he’s been mad a few times with Betty, we’ve never seen Henry unload on Betty with the kind of fury he displayed Sunday night. In truth, though, we felt Henry would explode at some point as he’d kept his cool for so long.
More important than the fury itself, is what Henry said to Betty during the storm, urging her to leave the thinking to him and telling her to concentrate on the weighty subject of keeping toast points from falling into the butter. He’s not descended to such a chauvinist level previously, at least verbally. Yet on a series that emphasizes the falseness of people, perhaps Henry’s felt this way all along. To his traditional way of thinking, Betty is a trophy wife, a bewitchingly gorgeous young statue whose brainpower he could care less about. Based on what he said Sunday, that certainly seems so.
On the other hand, when the trophy lost its girlish figure earlier in the series, you could have expected such a traditional (for the time) husband to bolt for a new, slimmer piece of hardware. Instead Henry seemed very supportive of burly Betty. And he’s been nothing but helpful when it’s come to raising her and Don’s children.
Still, there were small cracks in the Francis marriage along the way. Henry’s been noticeably non-partisan when refereeing spats between Don and Betty and Betty and Sally, gently pointing out to Betty when she’s come on too strong in these confrontations. He’s been an adult to his childlike wife, who was never more comfortable than when she chatted with Sally’s child psychologist in an earlier season. Similarly, Megan was the mature one early in her marriage to Don.
But back to Henry. Certainly you could argue that a husband should always take his wife’s side in a spat with a third party, particularly when that party is an ex or a fresh child. Henry’s ridden a different route, preferring not to take sides in public. He went over the line, though, Sunday when he shouted “Girls!” while refereeing the bout between Betty and Sally. That’s when we knew Henry had lost his composure—it was out of character for him to refer to Betty as a girl, despite his apparently low opinion of her intellect. She can speak Italian after all.
But where did Henry’s unleashing of his traditional, yes, old-fashioned, value set come from? Had his patience run out after several years of babysitting Betty? Is the pressure of holding public office getting to him? Or is it merely a marital spat and he said things he really didn’t mean? Again, it’s fun to speculate, but this uncertainty also could indicate choppy storytelling.
Due respect to Betty, she spoke Italian well enough a few seasons back to disarm a couple of mugs who were trying to pick her up in Rome. More than that, she has a good education, but like so many women of that time she gets little opportunity to put her learning to use. You could argue this is one of the most important points this series makes. Several seasons back we saw it repeatedly. It was the duty of women, educated or not, to be homemakers, subservient to their husbands. It was especially frustrating for women like Betty, who’d gone to college. Even this season we heard Betty marvel at her friend Francine, who’s working a few days each week at a travel agency since her children are older. Betty retorts that children are the reward for women not office work, although she doesn’t mean it.
Speaking of offices, could Betty run for political office? Perhaps oppose Henry, outflanking him on the right? With Henry’s more passive stance on Vietnam and Betty’s law and order outlook, she could literally go from attending tea parties to running as a Tea Party candidate (assuming time travel). Seriously, you could say Betty being upset that her thoughts are not held in high regard by her husband could be: a sign of the changing times; a result of her being called an airhead by Sally; or, again, choppy storytelling. Hopefully we’ll find out in the coming weeks.
The Guy with Something Extra: We’re sure you wanted us to comment on the threesome. Please, get your mind out of the basement. This is a family blog. Really, the question we had is whether or not the sexual gymnastics, which we saw almost none of—it’s AMC, for goodness sake—moved the storyline or was merely a bit of salaciousness aimed at improving ratings and generating buzz? The plot could have survived without the ménage a trio. Had the health of the Drapers’ sex life been in question, then perhaps such a plot situation is fair. You could, though, say the bed wrestling with Amy from Delaware showed how damaged the Draper marriage has become. Decent argument.
Not My Type: Ironic that Megan previously had been approached for a bit of girl on girl in the Drapers’ NY penthouse, but demurred. True also that Don and Megan were approached earlier in the series by Megan’s boss on the soap for a foursome, or at least an evening of partner swapping, which the Drapers declined. We have to think drugs, booze, California and the prevailing attitude of sexual freedom gave rise to the Drapers’ more liberal attitude this past Sunday. And just think, now Don will have something else to talk about with Roger.
Three’s a Charm: Another irony, although we admit we’re stretching. The Drapers-Amy threesome reminded many viewers of another attractive triple play from cinema. Back in 1998, Neve Campbell, Denise Richards and Matt Dillon went mano a mano a mano in Wild Things, a film that’s most remembered for the heat generated by the above actors. And yes, it was Campbell who had a Mad Men cameo earlier this season as the comely merry widow on the red eye whom Don bates but ultimately rejects. Proving that we need little encouragement to mention Neve Campbell as often as possible, we note she also co-starred in a long-forgotten rom com called Three to Tango. OK, now we really are stretching.
To The Bat Poles, Robin: Loved Sally referring to Betty and Henry as “the dynamic duo,” reassuring her little brother that the couple will survive, despite Sunday’s upheavals. The dynamic duo was a favorite nickname used for Batman and Robin in the resilient TV series Batman, whose original run was January 12, 1966 (1966-01-12) – March 14, 1968, putting it well within Sally’s cultural landscape.
Another reference from the time was an encore nod to Stanley Kubrick’s excellent 2001: A Space Odyssey. It occurred when Cutler and Lou Avery are talking to each other on a Saturday behind the glass of the computer room. The camera moves back and forth from each character’s mouth. Here Weiner is tipping his cap to a moment in the Kubrick film when two astronauts hide inside a space capsule to avoid being heard by HAL-9000, the computer that’s taken over their mission. Unfortunately for them, HAL can read lips.
Problem Child: No, not Roger, we mean Sally. In an episode loaded with verbal fisticuffs, Sally’s tirade at Betty was shocking, even for this precocious one. Seasons ago we speculated that it would be a small miracle for Sally to turn out well considering the parenting she’s received courtesy of Don and Betty. Still, we were shocked by her public tongue lashing of her mother. Even more surprised that Henry and Betty let it occur. ###