08/04/10 3:00am

Super Sad True Love Story
By Gary Shteyngart

Random House

Gary Shteyngart may just be the go-to literary satirist of the aughts: a perennial critics’ favorite, and one of The New Yorker‘s recently anointed “20 under 40,” his parodies have grown in scope with each of his three novels. His debut, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, was set in the barely fictional post-Soviet city of Prava, while his incisive 2006 follow-up, Absurdistan, took an entire country to task. And now, with Super Sad True Love Story, Shteyngart has set his sights on mocking an entire world, resulting in an expansive satire that at times forgets the love story at its core.

Painted in the broadest of strokes, the so-near-it’s-probably-tomorrow dystopia inhabited by protagonists Lenny Abramov—the latest permutation of Shteyngart’s classic first-generation Russian-American Jewish geek anti-hero—and Eunice Park—Lenny’s Korean love interest, fifteen years his junior—is a distinctively retro Future, as hyperbolic as The Jetsons or Epcot. Glued to their Ãpparati (the laptop/cellphone/socialnetworking/Big Brother device of the future), the denizens of Shteyngart’s post-literate, “pre-Rupture” New York City are too busy ranking themselves on everything from Credit to Fuckability to notice that Bipartisan Party America, led by Venezuela-invading Defense Secretary Rubenstein, is about to be foreclosed upon by her very frustrated Chinese, Norwegian and Arab creditors. Things aren’t much better on the domestic front: Low Net Worth Individuals are about to wage war on their High Net Worth counterparts, and the corrupt National Guard, as run by the American Restoration Authority (“Together We’ll Surprise the World!”), isn’t doing much in the way of keeping the peace. Lenny’s position in the Post-Human Services division of the multinational Staatling-Wapachung Corporation, the ethics of which are plunging faster than the U.S. Dollar, is dicey at best.

The humor derived from this world is straightforward: companies have names like LandO’LakesGMFordCredit and AlliedWasteCVSCitigroup; Israel and Brooklyn have been re-dubbed SecurityState Israel and BrownstoneBrooklyn, respectively; and books are now called “bound media artifacts,”best known for their bothersome smell and inability to disseminate data at a useful speed. But despite the heavyhandedness of the setting and its obligatory intrusion into the plot, Super Sad True Love Story is, at heart, a wonderfully wrought super sad true love story. Emerging from Shteyngart’s world of mega-conglomerates and cheekily renamed boroughs is the tale of two woefully mismatched people, perhaps the only two characters with any real understanding of the world that existed before their time (Lenny compares Eunice to her “ahistorical” peers). Told from the dual perspectives of Lenny’s personal journals and Eunice’s GlobalTeens account (think Facebook but scarier), their relationship highlights the driving conflict of the novel: the desire to connect with other human beings on an interpersonal level in a world where that’s not possible. Halfway through the book, Lenny muses on his status with Eunice: “Any gap between us was a failure. Success would come when neither of us knew where one ended and the other began.”For Shteyngart, success comes when he pares down his sometimes intrusive futuristic trappings and focuses on the small bits of humanity with which he manages to imbue his ambitious tale.

12/10/09 11:57am


With a mere two weeks until Christmas Eve, it’s time for Jews and their non-Jewish-but-still-want-to-go-out counterparts to start planning for December 24th festivities. This year, The L Magazine has teamed up with HEEB Magazine to give away a pair of tickets to their annual Heebonism bash and embarrass you horribly in the process!

For those unfamiliar, Heebonism is the magazine’s annual Christmas Eve bash that “gives New Yorkers an alternative to Chinese food and watching reruns on cable. With live music, DJS and comedy, this is the night before Christmas blowout…there will be drinks, dancing, and even contests like ‘Strip Drediel,’ moderated by local swingers community The Kinky Jews.” Press release’s words, not ours.

Sounds like good times, right? Starting today, after a prompt tweet from @TheLMagazine, @reply us your most horrifically humiliating and shameful Chanukah and Christmas stories in a pithy 140 characters or less for your chance to win 2 free tickets to the party! The top 5 most cringe-worthy tweets, as determined by a panel of unsympathetic L Mag staffers, will garner eternal internet fame and glory by being re-posted here on The Measure, while the person with the singularly most mortifying tale will win 2 free tickets to Heebonism. So start your reminiscing…

And if there are any of you left out there who still manage to value privacy in 2009, you can simply buy tickets here.

12/02/09 12:14pm


If you didn’t spend your holiday weekend with children between the ages of 7 and 13, or on your parents’ couch hoping to catch Full House reruns, then you probably don’t that know that ABC Family is airing 2 hours’ worth of Pixar Short Films (or 20 shorts) tonight at 7pm, and then again at 9pm. (Ed. Will they include the recent Up-related short, George and AJ for super-holiday-shopping-season synergy?) This is a legitimately awesome use of television airtime, especially for a network that tends to devote such blocks to movies starring George Lopez as an irascible radio jock who needs a good dose of holiday cheer. What? We read it on the website. Anyway, set your DVRs and get excited. And if you’re still not convinced, there’s a personal favorite of ours after the jump for your viewing pleasure.

11/09/09 1:10pm


Well kids, the season is over. And I have to say that it was excellent. And that I hate Betty and/or January Jones. And I kind of like Pete (!). And I will always forever in my heart love Joan. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, so before I get into last night’s action I just want to thank a few people—Mike for letting me do this in the first place, Ben for sometimes editing slash adding fun links. My Gram for answering a never-ending stream of ridiculous ’60s-related questions, and Roger Sterling for being all around awesome. Now, onto the show!

The season-ender was jam-packed with action and plot movement, which I like to think was a fuck-you to everyone who accused the show of being too slow-simmering and reflective. There was a lot of (unreasonable) backlash, and then backlash to the backlash for the supposed lack of action this season which is a) untrue, and 2) in no way different from the previous two seasons. I actually thought too much was going on this episode for the first 25 minutes or so, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

We open with Don meeting with Connie, who tells him that McCann Erickson is buying Putnam, Powell & Lowe, thus Sterling Cooper as well, and that he’ll will have to let Don go as his ad man. Don sort of tells him off, but once you get to be an eccentric millionaire, you tend to shake of criticism like that fairly easily, so Connie doesn’t seem to be hurt. Don comes back to SC to find out exactly what is going on. But first there’s a flashback to Drunk Pa Whitman telling off a farming cooperative because of the collapse of the price of wheat. With this memory lighting a fire under him, Don basically tells Cooper to nut up and buy back the company so they can go back to exactly the way things were. At first, Cooper explains to Don why the plan is flawed, but he eventually agrees to play along, assuming they can take some SC accounts—especially Lucky Strike—with them.

After they go to the always lovely, ever quip-worthy Sterling and convince him to agree to the plan, things begin to move fast. First Don, Cooper and Sterling confront Lane, who is all, “PP&L isn’t being sold, you ninnies,” and that their offer to buy back SC pales in comparison to what McCann Erickson is paying. Then Lane calls the home office in London to tell them that the cat is out of the bag, who informs him that PP&L is in fact being sold. Fed up with being constantly pushed around by the big boys back in England, Lane goes to Don, Cooper and Sterling to concede and try and come up with an alternative plan. Don realizes that Lane has the power to sever their contracts, so he tells Lane to fire them all. Lane agrees, as long as he’s made partner in the new company. They decide to bring a few people aboard, and then make a plan to gather clients and as much information as possible over the weekend.

The first person they approach is Peggy, who Don brings into his office and immediately starts ordering around. In a glorious scene I’ve been waiting for all season, a very composed Peggy stands up to Don and says he can’t just tell her what to do, and declines to join them. Next, Sterling and Don head over to Pete’s apartment. With the extremely fast moving mobilizing-of-the-new-company whirlwind of scenes, I was getting a little dizzy by the time the Campbell meeting rolled around, even though I loved the fact that Trudy was calling all the shots. Oh Trudy, I know I’ve hated on your hats in the past but, well, you and your smarm of a husband are starting to grow on me. Dammit, Weiner! I’m also glad that Don and co. finally realized what I’ve been saying all along; that Pete is the future of Sterling Cooper (or this new permutation of it). Back to my plot-induced vertigo: I have to admit I was slightly put off by the constant flow of action. I’m used to the drawn out moments and intense silences that Mad Men is noted for, an aspect of the show that is equally acclaimed and reviled. So an episode full of constant action was a bit odd for me – UNTIL the wonderful Roger Sterling dropped the bomb to Don about Creepy Belly Feeler and the divorce story line exploded with intensity and crazy Betty.

The other huge development last night was that Betty told Don she wanted a divorce, had an appointment with a lawyer and suggested that Don do the same. Of course, she doesn’t tell him she’s seeing one WITH Creepy Belly Feeler. Ugh – that seems weird. Since there were pretty strict guidelines for getting a divorce in New York State in 1963 (none of which include domestic abuse I noted) the lawyer suggests Betty go to Reno for 6 weeks and get a quickie divorce, and she doesn’t seem against it.

As Betty says in her own defense to Don, she did have a fairly difficult year, what with her father dying, the baby, and her little faux affair of the heart. And yet, at some point all of these things hardened her beyond the point of garnering my sympathy. I know shes an important character—I defended her to many of my male friends in a bar once—but I’m starting to turn against her. The maladjusted, stifled creature that I definitely had compassion for in the past is gone. Now she just sucks. And while it could be attributed to Jones’ performance, I think it’s more of a poor choice in her character’s development, and unfortunately one that has been a long time coming. Starting from the return from Rome, Betty has been looking more sluggish and, well, matronly. Her outfits went from cute Laura Petrie pedal pushers, to boring slacks and frumpy nightgowns. The woman who wouldn’t go to a motel because it was too tawdry is now going to Reno for a quickie divorce? She complains to Don of “never being enough for him,” and how could she be? She is now a shell of herself—cruel and bearing zero resemblance to the commanding woman who kicked Don out of the house but a season ago.

Don is against the divorce, or maybe he is just against leaving his kids. In a poignant moment, Don (who has been relegated to the cot in Gene’s nursery) comes home to find Sally sleeping in his bed. He flashes back to the scene where Pa Whitman is kicked in the head by a horse and killed, and then climbs into bed with his daughter. Tears. His reconciliation plans are thwarted when Sterling—in what I believe is the amazing turning point in the episode, after all the frenzied, business-related scenes—drops the bomb that Betty wants the divorce because she has been having an affair with Creepy Belly Feeler, aka Henry Francis, father of one of Margaret Sterling’s best friends. Enraged, Don wakes Betty up and they have it out in the bedroom, Don calling Betty a whore and saying he’ll get the kids. And Betty, well…see the above paragraph. In a scene somewhat mirroring my own life (though my parents don’t suck – hi Mom! Hi Dad! Thanks for raising me!) Don and Betty sit the kids down in the living room to drop the D-bomb. Don hedges around the truth, saying he’ll be back, and Sally, truly being her mother’s daughter, calls him out on it, saying, “You say you’ll do things, and then you don’t. You can’t do that!”

And now onto the plundering of Sterling Cooper’s clients and offices in order to build the new company. First, though, we have Don going to Peggy’s apartment and making amends for his treating her like shit for the whole season. It’s a quiet and emotional scene, and I think Jon Hamm was pretty great in it, so ’nuff said.

Back at Sterling Cooper, the new company has gathered: Sterling, Cooper, Crane (seriously?), Campbell, Don, Peggy, and Lane. The group had a little bit of “Michael Scott Paper Company” feel to it as they have absolutely no idea what to do and know it. It was at this precise moment I started gleefully chanting “Joan Joan Joan” aloud to no one. And of course, with one phone call from Sterling, Joan comes to the rescue, mobilizes the gang and becomes an integral part of SCDP. YES! Now, here’s a question—can they get Sal back? In terms of having Lucky Strike as their biggest client and Sterling in the room? Answers please!

After clearing out files, offices and some furniture, the group leaves, with an apparently reconciled Don and Sterling looking out at the looted office. Sterling wistfully asks, “How long do you think it will take us to be in a place like this again?” And Don (or perhaps Dick Whitman) counters: “I never saw myself working in a place like this,” Oh the misadventures to come!

The episode ends with Don’s secretary coming in on Monday morning and discovering Don’t pillaged office. She thinks they’ve been robbed, but poor, left-out babyface Cosgrove knows whats going on as he (I think) lost the John Deere account over the weekend. Kinsey looks into Peggy’s empty office, realizes they wanted her instead of him, and looks sad. Over in Lane’s office, he gets an angry call from London, is promptly fired and heads over to the new Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce HQ which is in a hotel room. The gang is all there, plus office manager Joan who is telling everyone where to go, and Trudy, who has just delivered lunch. In the final montage, we see Betty, Baby Gene, and Creepy Betty Feeler aboard a plane, Sally and Bobby at home watching TV with Carla, and Don unlocking the door to his new downtown digs. And… season!

11/02/09 4:29pm

Mad Men season 3 episode 12

Hello, everyone. I’m back from my admittedly poorly-timed hiatus, but I learned two very important things these past couple of weeks: food poisoning and the ALCS will indeed keep me from Mad Men. But it wasn’t like I missed too much—well, beside the revelation that Putnam, Powell and Lowe plans to sell Sterling Cooper.

Oh, and the fact that Betty discovered Don’s secret drawer of evidence and he had to come clean about the whole stealing a dead man’s identity thing. Also, Joan hit Dr. Asshat in the head with a vase, so he joined the army. Would it be too crass of me to say I hope he goes to Vietnam and dies? In light of last night’s long awaited episode focusing on the JFK Assassination, yes, it probably is.

I have to say I was extremely pleased with the way the episode was executed. I have been a little obsessed with waiting for November 22, 1963 to roll around in the Mad Men Universe. Probably because the second season episode focusing on the death of Marilyn Monroe was so good, I had sky high expectations for this bad boy. And it did not disappoint.

While I was a couple decades shy of being alive for the Kennedy Assassination, I’m no stranger to watching a national tragedy unfold on television, and the shared-experience phenomenon that goes along with it. So, on that note, there was something compelling and familiar about seeing everyone from the Drapers and the Campbells in their respective living rooms, to Duck and Peggy in a hotel room, to half of the office piled around Crane’s desk absorbing the news as best they could.

Before I continue, I want to emphasize that I understand that Mad Men is just a television show. And yet, last night was one of the weirdest confluences of fiction and reality that I’ve ever experienced while watching an hour-long TV drama, and the effect was almost chilling. In a way, everyone who was too young for the real thing (like myself) was experiencing it for the first time, albeit in a hyperbolic and condensed way, as they watched the show. Even though we knew what was going to happen (I personally was anticipating Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald live on television) I was just as sad and dumbfounded and angry as the characters were.

Watching the events unfold in that way, and not, say, in later films, or YouTube clips, or however else people have watched it in the last 45+ years (ed: in novels), made it as real for me as an actual person and audience member as it did for Betty and Carla watching from their couch. Maybe I only think this because I’m conditioned to believe this was the defining, unifying moment for all Americans up until September 10, 2001. Or maybe I’m just romanticizing the whole thing because I’m from Massachusetts and all things Kennedy-related elicit a certain reaction. Or maybe I’m an idiot. Whatever explanation I can give for my reaction is arbitrary; the point is I found it to be a powerful hour from an awesome TV show that I’m sad to see come to a close next week.

That being said, let’s talk final predictions! What with Babyface Cosgrove officially being the Vice President Blond Head of Accounts or whatever, Pete will finally take up Duck’s offer to switch agencies, which will not bode well for the Duck-Peggy romance. Oh, and that whole Betty not loving Don thing? I’m fairly confident that despite this pronouncement, like some others we’ve seen this season, Betty will not act on anything—including accepting Creepy Belly Feeler’s ridiculous marriage proposal. And the season-long unraveling of Don Draper will probably come to a head in some crazy way that will keep the die-hards in eager anticipation for many long, cold months. See you next week!

(photo credit: Carin Baer)

10/28/09 4:00am

What the World Will Look Like When All The Water Leaves Us

By Laura van den Berg
Available Now

The stories in this debut collection delve deep into Laura van den Berg’s quiet but unfettered imagination. Each follows a similar pattern: a woman emotionally adrift searches for herself in a world populated with mythic creatures, from the familiar Bigfoot to the little-known Mokele-Mbembe. Despite this similar pattern, each story is finely individuated through the complexities of van den Berg’s characters.

The dissolution of romantic relationships is a common struggle for protagonists. In “High in the Air” a professor blames her crumbling marriage and subsequent affair on her husband’s obsession with the Mishegenabeg, a creature inhabiting the furthest reaches of Lake Michigan, rather than the toll of her mother’s dementia. Moving on after the death of a loved one is another popular theme, shown best in “The Rain Season” the story of a recently widowed missionary who ingratiates herself into a Congolese village to escape haunting memories of her husband’s death. Van den Berg brings quiet grace to these stories, whether she is cataloging the details of her protagonists’ disparate lives, or describing the literal and figurative monsters they encounter.

The intense delicacy of van den Berg’s prose might be the only weakness in the collection. Hushed tones and quiet movement occasionally create distance between reader and protagonist, as is the case in the story of a struggling actress, “Where We Must Be” which suffers from a lack of immediacy. Happily, it is with the final and eponymous “What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us” that the full possibility of van den Berg’s writing is realized. This story of a woman who drags her teenage daughter (the narrator, here) to Madagascar in search of nature’s most beguiling creatures, finds a perfect balance between the metaphorical and the real, as the daughter is both plagued and compelled by the vast expanse of water that surrounds her. With exquisite attention to detail, van den Berg creates a fantastic world underscored with restrained gravitas—a fitting end to a lovely debut.

10/14/09 1:02pm

Mad Men suit by Brooks Brothers

For all you Mad Men fans out there who want to live more like Don and crew, but don’t think sexually harassing your secretary is the way to go, Brooks Brothers has the perfect solution! Partnering with AMC and Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant, Brooks Brothers has created a suit inspired specifically by the classic looks of Don Draper and Roger Sterling.

According to ArtsBeat, the suit goes on sale next Monday (October 19) and is available until November 8th (air date of the season 3 finale!), so for those of you who are planning to dress up as Don and Betty for Halloween (and have a generous budget, as the suit will run you about a grand) you’re in luck! Unfortunately, there’s still no word on when the Trudy Campbell Hat Line or Salvatore Romano Tie Collection will hit shelves.

10/12/09 3:53pm

Lee and Sal Mad Men

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)

10/05/09 4:52pm

Mad Men in Rome

Mad Men last night was Roman Holiday x Revolutionary Road ÷ Pete and a German Girl. Not a whole lot happened, and it seemed like the sole purpose of the episode was to remind us of Betty’s and Pete’s relevance, as they both get top billing for what feels like the first time this season.

It’s late August, it’s hot, and everyone is on vacation. That is, except for Pete who is stuck at home, and Betty, who is campaigning for her reservoir project while Don travels the country visiting Hilton hotels at Connie’s behest. His people call Don at home to tell him his latest destination is Rome, and Betty—still reeling from her reservoir victory and celebratory kiss with Creepy Belly Feeler—decides she wants to come along. Betty really takes the old “When in Rome…” adage to heart, showing off her fluency in Italian and getting herself all dolled up in the latest Italian fashions. She and Don do a little stranger role-play, have a bunch of sex, and seem like they actually like each other for at least a little bit. Then Betty comes home and hates everything again.

Meanwhile, with Trudy out of town Pete reverts to bachelorhood by watching cartoons, throwing his clothes everywhere and diddling a neighbor’s nanny. And that is more or less all that happens. Sure, the episode didn’t have the spectacular pacing of last week, but it certainly showcased the complexities of Betty and Pete and why they matter in the grand scheme of Mad Men.

The episode highlighted the fact that Pete Campbell really is progressive and conservative, a lout and a charmer, an innocent boy and conniving man all at once. His seemingly contradictory, and even at times hypocritical behavior works because the push and pull of his character rings so true. In this case, I don’t believe that Pete wanted to help the German au pair replace the ruined dress just to get into her pants—I think he was bored and genuinely thought he could help someone out of a jam. Later on, once the problem is fixed, I think he’s simply still bored and figured he had a decent shot with her and went for it.

I’ve always thought Campbell was kind of a douche, but I do find it both realistic and compelling that he seems to be waffling between an outdated, Sterling Cooper way of thinking (bullying a saleswoman with no compunction about it; blaming his wife for his own infidelity) and a more modern point of view (feeling actual guilt about the entire nanny incident; reading Ebony in his office). It pains me to say it, but he’s kind of the future of Sterling Cooper (ironic since he and Trudy can’t have babies!) and any foray into Pete’s world is important to the show.

Which brings us to the Betty portion of the recap. The lull in action of last night’s episode allowed for some really great (and one not so great) Betty moments. First we have Creepy Belly Feeler coming to the rescue for the reservoir project at a town meeting attended by Betty, Francine, and some other Junior League lady. In a rather stilted moment afterwards, Creepy Belly Feeler walks Betty back to her car (Grandpa Gene’s Lincoln, which seems important though I’m not sure why) and kisses her. At home, a super-ecstatic Betty does a little dance in the kitchen, and when Don walks over to give her a hug you can actually see the joy drain out of Betty’s face. She then places her hand on Don’s chest as if to push him away, and her distaste with their life in that moment is unmistakable.

So she uses the timeless cure-all of a change of scenery to pull her out of her misery, and it seems to work. In Italy she not only seems happy, but also seems like she is both in love with and attracted to Don. It was quite astounding to see Betty blossom while away from her roles as housewife and mother. Charming everyone with her Italian and relishing the advances of Italian men, Betty seems more in her element here than she ever has before. Is it all that surprising? Of course not, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t deserve to glimpse the stark contrast between Betty Draper stuck in Ossining and Betty Draper flourishing in Rome.

So it’s no great shock that Betty immediately returns to her unhappy, maladjusted ways the second she and Don come home. What is surprising, however, is that she articulates it. After discussing the trip with Francine, Betty mopes up to the bedroom with Don, who wants to start in with the stranger-in-the-cafe role-playing again. Betty, however, wants no part of it and actually says, “I hate this place. I hate our friends. I hate this town.” That was a bit too April Wheeler for me, and I think out of character for Betty. We know she’s unhappy; we certainly saw it quite clearly in this episode. But she’s never supposed to say it, because Betty is all about appearances and propriety, and it seems unlikely to me that she would rock the boat with a statement like this, even to Don in the safety of their bedroom. Besides the fact that she’s horrible at managing her feelings, I find it hard to believe she’d come right out and say that she hates her life. But she did, and it’s out there, and I don’t know what to think. Of course, if Betty—the benchmark for all of the female characters on the show—can be honest for even just a fleeting second, then maybe Joan and Peggy can drop some truth bombs of their own.

09/29/09 10:39am


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.