Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mad Men: We All Need a Fainting Chaise

Posted By on Tue, Sep 29, 2009 at 10:39 AM

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Sunday night's episode was definitely my favorite of the season, if not ever. It had everything you need to make a classic season three ep: some subtle plot unraveling, Don bonding with a complete stranger two, actually!), a little bit of blood, and a hallucination featuring a disapproving parent, plus some chatter about Vietnam, an appearance by Miss Farrell AND some delightful Roger Sterling quip Also, the narrative structure of the episode was great. I realize not two sentences ago I hailed the subtlety of the episode, but there was also some loud plot movement here, so the starting-with-the-end framing device wasn't really even necessary, as the momentum of the events themselves would been satisfying enough.

For the purposes of this recap, I'm going to stick to each character's narrative thread and follow that forward, starting with the first scene, or the chronological end of their stories. It's confusing, I know, but I promise you its totally worth it.

Peggy's thread opens with a naked Peggy in bed with a man. Hopefully I wasn't the only one who had the internal dialogue/argument of "It's a dude she picked up in a bar! It's Pete! It's Pete? Can't be Pete! Who is it? AHHHH." When we flash back to the chronological beginning, it turns out Duck Phillips sent Peggy an Hermes scarf, and Campbell some cigars, to get them to join him at Grey. Campbell storms into Peggy's office where the two have an amazing volley of words. While they don't really appear to be listening to one another, its made clear that this is the rapport of two equals. It's the kind of scene that would have been impossible for them just a season ago, and makes me adore the new Peggy and her pot smoking, flipped out hair ways. Anyway, Pete tells her to send the gift back and she says she'll do whatever she wants. Later we see her on the phone with Duck, trying to return the gift. He's at a hotel conducting meetings, and invites her to stop by. She says she won't, but then does because Don is an asshole to her (more on that later). At the hotel, Duck tells her he wants to take her in the bedroom and fuck her (but uses nicer words) and then they do. I'm not sure how I feel about this. I mean on the one hand, gross because it's Duck. But on the other, go Peggy for getting some.

Betty's thread starts with an exceptionally placid Betty lying on what I assumed was a fancy shrink couch. At the start of her story, Betty has redecorated her living room and has some neighborhood ladies over for a Junior League meeting, because they are upset about a reservoir being built or something. What she's campaigning for is kind of irrelevant because it's obvious Betty doesn't give a shit, so I don't either. Turns out they need to go right to the governor's office with their agenda, and you know who works in the governor's office? Creepy Belly Feeler from a few episodes back! Ugh, I thought that was a just a weird, throwaway moment. Guess it's better, storytelling-wise for it to have mattered in the long run. Well played, Weiner. Anyway, Betty is all, "Oh I let one of the governor's advisers awkwardly feel up my pregnant stomach at a party!" And all the other ladies are like, "Cool, you should probs talk to him." So Betty and Creepy Belly Feeler have coffee and pie the next day to talk about the reservoir or whatever. Their meeting is awkward in that they're into each other but neither knows how to manage it. The scene primarily serves to set up a good storyline for Betty. As they leave they pass by a Woolworth's where Creepy Belly Feeler points out a Victorian fainting chaise (not a fancy shrink couch) and tells her it was for Victorian ladies when they couldn't handle the world. Oh, and that Betty could totally use one. Dead on, CBF. Turns out she'll need one right quick because later Roger Sterling calls the house to discuss Don's contract and sends Betty into a tizzy. She confronts him, and then we arrive at the end with Betty reclining on her fainting couch.

Don's thread kicks off with him lying facedown on the floor of a strange room. He groggily gets up and has what appears to be a broken nose. Best one of the three, I'd say. We cut back to the beginning of the story with Don walking into the Sterling Cooper offices with Roger. The Mad Boys are loitering outside his office (sans Babyface Cosgrove), as Conrad Hilton is inside. Notice Campbell is with them, as this is ladder-climbing related, and not just goofing around. Connie is seated behind Don's desk, and after some small talk, he puts Don in charge of his New York hotels. Everyone is all atwitter, including the Mad Boys who want in; the bosses, who want Don to sign a friggin' contract already; and Peggy. During the Peggy-Pete powwow, Pete had let it slip that Hilton was a new client. Peggy then goes into Don's office under the pretense of getting Don to sign off on an ad, but really just wants in on the Hilton account. Don calls her on it, and is a dickhole in the process. I know it makes sense for Don to take out his aggression on a female employee, rather than a male, when they all wanted the same thing, but I still take offense to the blatant display of sexism, historically accurate as it may be. Of course, contrasting the Peggy-Pete scene with this scene serves to show as far as she's come, Peggy still has a way to go in the standing up for herself department.

Another lady who tries to stand up for herself and gets an angry earful is Betty, who attacks Don the second he comes home (and rightfully so) about the Roger Sterling phone call. She demands to know why Don hasn't signed the contract, and despite the fact it is 100% related to her life, Don tells her it's none of her business and storms out. The scene made me angry as a woman, but stoked as a viewer since Don storms out HOLDING his glass of booze. Drink in hand, he drives along, stopping to pick up a couple of teenagers who are trying to get to Niagara Falls to get married in order to save the dude from having to serve in Vietnam. Would that have worked? Someone research and get back to me. They also offer Don some phenobarbitals to get him to pass out so they can steal money out of his wallet. While he's driving? I guess they knew he would stay conscious until they got to the motel. What they probably didn't count on was a drugged up Don conversing with a hallucination of his dead father. So the guy knocks him out, which is how we get to the opening scene.

The episode ends with Don walking into the office with a bandage on the bridge of his nose, and Peggy in yesterday's clothes(!). Don enters his office to find Cooper seated behind his desk, Conrad Hilton-style. In his eccentric, Cooper manner, he reminds Don that he knows a little something about him, which causes Don to immediately up and sign the contract. Remember when Campbell unsuccessfully tried to blackmail Don back in Season 1 by spilling the beans on the whole Dick Whitman thing to Cooper? I nearly had forgotten that until he just used it to completely leverage his authority over Don. Guess thats why his name is on the building, and Campbell is just buddying around with Ho Ho and Apache.

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