As this and the previous five seasons have shown, you always can count on “Mad Men” to be cerebral. But for some, the series has become unbearably insular, focusing too much on the cerebellum of the stoic, “cold fish,” philandering Don Draper [please see blog for May 19 episode].
This past Sunday’s (May 26) episode was well suited to be shown on Memorial Day Weekend. It was filled with memorable scenes, former relationships and a character from “Mad Men’s” storied past. After seeing Mark Moses’s name in the opening credits, we knew there’d be Duck on the menu. But would it be a drunken duck, soaking in wine? Or would it be a sweet but sober duck a l’orange?
And why wasn’t Paul Kinsey invited back to this reunion? Although he was a reluctant Hare Krishna, an injection of pacifism might have been welcome in an episode that not only included a brick thrown through Peggy and Abe’s bedroom window, a stabbing and mention of a murder in Central Park, but also a constant chorus of sirens, a not-too-subtle reminder of the tumultuous events occurring during the summer of 1968 in NYC, and other major urban areas.
The More Things Change…
What’s striking about this episode, besides the predictable but nonetheless exciting love scene between Betty and Don—there have been more than a few hints at Betty’s love-hate relationship with Don, now we’ve heard and seen her demonstrate the love portion of it —was that while many characters seemingly have changed and come a long way, they really haven’t. Only Megan has been able to progress professionally, while holding her ground as a person. She’s essentially the person she wants to be, although she’d like her marriage to be more dynamic, although she confronts Don this week on that issue and seems to get satisfaction.
But let’s take a look at the roster:
Don and Betty: During the scenes surrounding Bobby’s summer camp, they seem to be adjusting to life as divorced and remarried people. But, as we’ve seen this entire season, Don’s not a happy person. And Betty’s “come hither” incident with Don at the camp indicates her marriage isn’t sacred either. The two commit adultery on their spouses, not the first time for either, and seem back to their old tricks. Of course, this tryst complicates the Madonna-Whore complex proposed in the previous blog. For Don, is Betty the Whore (replacing Sylvia Rosen), while Megan is the Madonna?
Pete: The young man who has everything, right? Nope. He lives separately from his wife and offspring. His mother is demonstrating characteristics of frontal lobe dementiaand, even worse: He’s being ignored at the office by his fellow partner. Either that or his performance at work has been “dilute,” as he suggested to Joan this week. In that case, he’s dug his own grave businesswise. Joan, ever the diplomat, and somewhat resentful of Pete’s treatment of her in relation to the slimy Jaguar exec, doesn’t answer Pete’s question about his effectiveness at the office.
Peggy: She’s a female creative director for goodness sake. Her boyfriend, Abe, is talking to her about “our children.” And she’s living in an apartment with her man. Excellent. No, not really. She’s torn between Don Draper and Teddy Chaough, with that ambivalence highlighted during this episode several times, including the not-too-subtle final scene of the episode, where Peggy looks tired, wan and confused as she stands literally and metaphorically between Teddy’s and Don’s offices. Suddenly she’s again alone, the favorite of neither man at the office and sans her fiancé, whom she accidentally stabbed the evening before. Just prior to this ending scene, of course, she told Teddy that it’s over with Abe and that in effect, if he wants to carry on with her, she’s game. Unfortunately, he’s not anymore.
Roger and Joan: Roger’s version of pleasant memories is his attempt at getting together again with the gorgeous Joan Harrison, to whom he supplied the seed for her child. In typical Mad Men fashion, though, Joan’s created a mythology about her child’s origin, and it doesn’t include “Uncle Roger,” so he’s out. More than that, Joan seems to have begun exploring things with smarmy Bob Benson, whose physical resemblance to her erstwhile hubby is unmistakable. The presence of “Bunsen” is another blow to Roger’s happiness.
Roger attempts to show he’s a changed man by suddenly espousing family values. To do so, he turns to his daughter Margaret and her son, his grandson. During a workday, no less, he announces to the office that he’s taking the tike out on the town. (It’s noteworthy, too, that Roger mentions in front of Joan how the grandkid resembles his granddad. Of course, as we know, Joan’s child should also resemble Roger.)
Almost needless to say, things go badly for Pop Pop Roger, who is castigated by his daughter for taking the lad to a showing of “Planet of the Apes,” which is causing the little guy nightmares. One of the funniest bits, though, is Roger justifying his film choice by saying Don took little Bobby to the same picture. Margaret’s ultra-sarcastic response: “Oh, yeah. Don Draper is Father of the Year.”
Clearly it’s going to take some doing for us to believe Roger as a family man. It’s as unbelievable as Duck Phillips—also not an angel, right, Peggy?—telling Pete to make family the rock of his life and everything will fall into place at work. Poor, misguided, ruptured Duck. Doesn’t he know whom he’s talking to? Perhaps the booze has clouded his ability to reason. And, yes, Duck preaching about family togetherness is as sickeningly fake as Don and Betty singing “Father Abraham and His Seven Sons” with Bobby at the kid’s summer camp.
Megan: Again Megan, who as an actress gets paid to be other people, emerges from this miasma as one of the few characters who knows who she wants to be and holds on to her principles. While she’s not perfect, we were repeatedly impressed with her last season. She clearly was the adult in her marriage.
This week her character passed a major test when Arlene, the actress on the soap with her, and the wife of its head executive, kisses Megan while Don is off at Bobby’s camp not really enjoying coitus with Betty—but doing a reasonable imitation of a man who is.
At any rate, Megan holds fast to her values. When Arlene calls her “a tease” for sending out signals that she wants a lesbian liaison, Megan eventually says that’s O.K. “I’m O.K. being known as a tease,” as opposed to returning Arlene’s kisses and experimenting with lesbian sex, which Megan isn’t interested in pursuing. You go, girl, by not going.
And Megan also has the sense to confront Don after his weekend fling with Betty, telling him that she’s been holding back and things are not right between them. In an uncharacteristic turn for Don, he admits, yes, he’s been disengaged and hugs Megan warmly. It is clear Don’s an emotional basket case. NY’s greatest Don Juan actually is admitting he needs to be a more attentive husband? Huh?
Choice Cuts: We loved the cuts between scenes this week. Not only did we go directly from Don and Betty flopping amorously on a hotel bed to Arlene giving Megan a juicy lip sandwich, but the writers (Matt Weiner and Erin Levy) and director (Phil Abraham) juxtaposed a brick coming through the window of Abe and Peggy’s tiny apartment with Roger awakening in his luxurious residence in the same city.
Life Imitating Art Imitating Life: We can’t escape without noting the irony that Megan is playing an adulterer in her soap series just as she’s being cheated, unbeknownst to her, by Don. And in a series where few people are as real as Megan, she’s employed as an actress and is so good at it, she’s asked to play two characters. Yup, just as her husband, Don, really is Dick Whitman and is only playing being Don Draper. Oh, the irony.