I feel a bit ambivalent about last night’s episode of Mad Men. On the one hand, the action was kind of clunky and predictable (believe me, I called some of this stuff back in August, but on the other I think my mild disappointment with the events unfolding made me notice some really small, yet absolutely amazing details that I’m usually too preoccupied to really notice.
But first, the plot: Conrad Hilton has taken to calling Don in the middle of the night, waking the entire Draper clan and sending Don to the office at 5am. I can’t wait to be an eccentric millionaire. As Don heads to work he spots Miss Farrel jogging (I didn’t mention it in that week’s recap, but it did come up in that episode how she’s an early morning jogger) and is all about giving her a ride, in more ways than one. Miss Farrel acts all coy, so he just drives up to the house where she’s renting an apartment. This will be important later.
At Sterling Cooper, Peggy, Smitty and Gay European Man Kurt pitch their Hilton Hotel ads to Don. He’s a total bitch about all the bad ideas, half of which are his. So I guess despite the yelling and the sexism Peggy ended up getting to work on the account, and learned how to keep her mouth shut, as she takes the criticisms fairly well. Later that night Connie calls Don again, who drags himself into Manhattan to have a midnight drink at the Waldorf. After expressing his opinions on how the next crop of ads should look, Connie gets all emotional, telling Don how he’s like a son to him, especially because Don grew up without the luxurious trappings Connie’s own sons did thanks to his success. I swear, Don looks like he’s about to cry. But their besties-for-life routine ends quickly as Don does not work Connie’s ideas into his ad presentation at a meeting later on at SC, so Connie leaves unhappy and Don continues to become less relevant at Sterling Cooper. At home in the wee hours of the morning Don wakes a sleeping Betty, pretending that Connie had called him in. Instead, he totally shows up at Miss Farrel’s house, where they have sex. Being right is so much fun.
What isn’t so much fun? Being a closeted gay man who loses his job because another, though more financially powerful, closeted gay man comes on to you in the editing room. Such is the story of Salvatore Romano, who is working on a commercial for Lucky Strike with Campbell, Crane, and Lee, the dude from Lucky Strike. Lee comes to see a rough edit of the commercial, where he hits on Sal, who rebuffs him. Later, a drunk Lee calls up Crane to tell him to get Sal off the project, warning him not tell anyone—meaning Sterling or Campbell. Because Crane is a wimp, he does nothing. When Lee comes into the office to see the cut of the commercial and spots Sal sitting at the conference table with everybody else, he storms out, leaving Campbell and Sterling confused. Crane explains what’s going on, and an enraged Sterling fires Sal and orders Crane to tell Don to fix this. Don yells at them some more, and privately intimates that Sal should have just gone with what Lee wanted. This scene between Don and Sal is weird and uncomfortable, and I guess Sal really is fired. Does that mean Bryan Batt is done with the show for good? Man I hope not.
Meanwhile, the Betty and Creepy Belly Feeler storyline moves forward, as Betty continues to flirt with both Henry, and the idea of having an affair. They start sending each other letters, and things reach a boiling point when CBF shows up unannounced at the house. When Carla catches them, they fake like they’re planning a fund raiser, and appearance-loving Betty decides to actually throw one. However, when some lady from the governor’s office shows up to talk to the guests, rather than CBF himself, Betty has a very hard time maintaining composure. She angrily drives up to his office, throws the money box at him. Oh, and they kiss. But when Creepy Belly Feeler suggests they get a room, Betty is singing a whole other tune, saying that would be tawdry, and leaves. I’m sure that’s not the last we’ll see of Creepy Belly Feeler, which is unfortunate as I find him, well, creepy.
Now, onto the details: With the the show comfortably into its third season, I have to admit that I’ve started to take the amazing visuals a bit for granted. I’ll make amends here. Since last night’s action was a bit lacking, I found some of the details to be absolutely stunning. The best visual example here is probably the styling of many of the characters. Sal for one was wearing some awesome, and quite colorful ties, throughout the episode. Also, I thought Peggy looked more put together (and was definitely wearing way more makeup) than she has before. I’m by no means an expert on the subject, but I definitely got a “1963 new fall fashion vibe” from last night, be it from Peggy’s more polished look, to Sally’s back to school jumper, or the fancy fund raising duds worn by Betty. Of course, the fresher looks aren’t just eye candy for the viewers—they just serve to underscore the fact that Don is increasingly becoming outdated, both in his fashions (see: his too wide hat brim) as well as his approach to advertising (see: every idea he’s had this season).
I also thought the pains of Betty’s domestic life were handled beautifully in this episode. Again, it was all about the minor details. The short montage of Betty and the kids played to voice-over of her letter to Creepy Belly Feeler was really great. We know she hates being the house wife and mother, but seeing her standing behind the sink while a freshly bathed Bobby and Sally brush their teeth really illustrated the mundane-ness of her life in an extremely eloquent way. And yes, Betty would totally have such elegant handwriting.
The last truly great detail here was the voice of Martin Luther King Jr. playing on the radio during a couple of key moments. (Historical note: the episode takes place from early to mid September 1963, so the use of the “I Have A Dream” speech in the episode makes sense.) MLK’s disembodied voice floating through scenes with Betty or Don demonstrates that all he (and the Civil Rights movement) means to the Drapers is some distant noise with little bearing on their lives. That is, unless it poses a threat to their existence. I doesn’t seem to bother Betty, whose latent racism proves a stark contrast to Miss Farrel’s point of view, who tells Don during their first scene that she will read the speech to her students on their first day of school. While none of these little components of the show impacted last night’s action, they do show that things are swiftly a-changing, both in the world and at Sterling Cooper. Only four episodes to go, kids, and anything can happen.
(photo credit: Carin Baer)