Thursday, September 13, 2007

"I really want to get a picture of her crying one day.": Mad Men

Mad Men turned its focus back to Betty Draper for the first time since its second episode and also unleashed what was probably the funniest episode of its entire run. Some of the symbolism was a little heavyhanded (this IS Mad Men, after all), but it was, overall, an enjoyable look at the politics of the Draper marriage and gender roles at Sterling-Cooper. And the final scene worked on a variety of levels, not the least of which was just simply as something to laugh at.

Betty was the focus of the show's A story (such as there was one). After meeting up with a guy from one of the biggest ad houses (who also had designs on stealing her husband away from Sterling-Cooper), Betty was surprised to find herself interested in returning to the world of modeling, something she had insisted she hated to Don in the past and something she had seemingly left behind forever when she became Mrs. Draper. Tantalized by the idea, she started slipping into her old skin, trying on dresses made for her by a famous Italian designer (for a while, I thought they were aiming at making us think of Versace, but he would have been too young).

To a real degree, Betty's identity as a housewife seems like a mask that she puts on, a kind of smile she affects, just another modeling job. So it was interesting to learn that she hated modeling at one time. And a session with her psychiatrist revealed even more, tying in her issues with modeling and being pretty to a mother who saw her only as someone who could become beautiful and land a husband (her mother also hated Betty's career as a model). Betty's repressing a lot of anger at her mother, the psychiatrist sort of suggests, and this sets Betty (who has frequently spoken of her mother in glowing terms) off. Betty's a bundle of contradictions that seems likely to snap at any moment, but as long as she keeps her ability to shift between the different smiles she wears, she can't be capsized.

So Betty returns to the world of modeling, sitting in for a Coke campaign as the fresh, glowing mother at the center of the ad. January Jones' modeling experience comes in handy here, as Betty seems a natural. Sitting in that photo session, readying to be a fake wife and mother, Betty seems somehow more alive than she ever has as a real wife or mother. And when she makes insistences that she be allowed to return to modeling and when she doesn't take no for an answer, the Draper marriage lights up as well. Don likes strong women, we've seen, and this new, pseudo-independent Betty intrigues him.

Betty's return to work is cut short, though, when Don turns down the offer to work for the ad house and she is let go. She seems devastated at first, but she puts a big smile on her face and presents the development to Don as her idea. He suggests to her that she's a great mother, the best one there is, really, and she smiles again. The next day, when she calls up to her kids and tells them to play safely, she smiles again when they shout their affirmation. Then she takes a BB gun out in the yard and shoots at a bunch of pigeons.

Allow me to explain. The Draper kids were out with a neighbor, watching him tend to his birds (the heavyhanded symbolism in the episode mostly came here -- more caged birds). At the start of the episode, they watched him while Betty was there to watch. Later, though, they were alone with their dog, and the dog seized one of the birds in its mouth. After the neighbor told them that if he saw the dog in his yard again, he would shoot it, Don's daughter had a nightmare and confessed everything to her parents (Betty said the quote in the post title -- more evidence of a sort of deeply suppressed sadism that has popped up every so often in her character). So Betty went out at the end of the episode and shot at the pigeons. It was a great sight gag, but it also worked as Betty trying to re-establish control, both over her neighbor and over Don, who compartmentalized her yet again as a perfect little housewife, a caged bird. Her anger wasn't just at the neighbor for terrorizing her kids; it was also at her husband.

Pete and Peggy made up the other big thread of the episode. Peggy's putting on a little weight (though she doesn't seem to be pregnant -- thank God), and she's become the talk of the office for doing so (the attempts to bulk up Elisabeth Moss were valiant but didn't quite succeed). Peggy, realizing that she's valued for more than just her looks now, doesn't need to make herself an object. Whether she also connects food with sexual desire (as was suggested a couple of weeks ago by her bizarre Danish fetish) remains to be seen, but when the cracks about her weight get to be too much, Pete slugs one of his friends and it turns into a brawl (prompting one of the best jokes of the episode from Sterling to Draper). It was bizarrely honorable to see the often small and venal Pete stand up for his girlfriend in a way he wouldn't stand up for his wife. I don't think it's true love or anything, but this, coupled with Pete's strategy to choke out Kennedy in undecided states so Nixon can win the election, suggests to me that he actually has a future ahead of him, unlike most of the others at Sterling-Cooper.

Don's wooing by the other ad agency was a fairly straightforward plot (at least until he took his wife down with him when he turned down the job), but I did like the shadings it put on the relationship between him and Roger, who really, really needs Don if he's going to keep Sterling-Cooper in business.

One thing I'm unclear on: How much time was skipped in this episode? It seemed like it might have been a few months, but I couldn't pin it down.

1 comment:

Libby said...

To me it seemed that Peggy's added pounds served as an easy excuse for the men of the office to turn on her. After all, she has spurned everyone's (to their knowledge) advances so really, it's a relief to them to have an excuse to stop trying. It seems that it's not an issue of weight at all, as when she borrows Joan's spare outfit it hangs off her like a sack, yet no one in the office sees Joan is unsightly, though perhaps that's because Joan is fat in all the right places. That, or because she's a slut. Either way ...