Friday, August 31, 2007

Mad Men: Stair master

Spoilers for the latest "Mad Men" coming up just as soon as I fill up my chip 'n dip...

"You know who else doesn't wear a hat? Elvis. That's what we're dealing with." -Pete Campbell
"Remind me to stop hiring young people!" -Bertram Cooper


Black is white, up is down, and Pete is absolutely right in a conversation where Mr. Cooper couldn't be more wrong. Though Pete's his usual overcompensating putz of a self the rest of the episode (we'll get back to his target practice foreplay in a bit), he's the only man in the Nixon brainstorming session who actually recognizes the threat John F. Kennedy poses -- not just to Nixon's presidential ambitions, but to the status quo that the men of Sterling-Cooper are dedicated to maintaining. Cooper and Roger see Kennedy's hatless-ness as a deficit; Pete recognizes the newness of it, and the fact that the country seems ready to embrace something new.

"Mad Men" takes place at the dawn of JFK's New Frontier, the tipping point when the culture (both high and pop) began being driven by young people. As Andrew Johnston wrote while discussing the Paul subplot in episode two, "the Mad Men era is one of the last times in American social history when younger men strived to appear older rather than vice versa." Of course Sterling and Cooper see Nixon as their dream candidate; they're on the losing side of history and don't even realize it. (Don's not immune to this, either, as evidenced by the deodorant campaign from a few episodes back where he dismissed all of Paul's space-age ideas as something that would scare housewives.)

While the Pete/Cooper exchange is just a small part of episode seven, "Red in the Face," the tension between the generations is a key part of the friction between Don and Roger. Roger, put out when his wife, daughter and mistress all go away on the same weekend, comes home for dinner at the Draper house and when Don's not looking, he makes a pass at Betty as he feels is his right as the senior man. (Note how dismissive he is when he says, "Oh, his war" when Betty mentions Don's service in Korea.) At first, Don -- his head still stuck on a conversation where Betty's shrink claimed she had the emotional make-up of a little girl -- puts the blame on Betty, but when Roger is a bit too effusive in his apology the next day, Don figures out what really happened and begins plotting his revenge, which is built entirely on him being younger and in better shape than Roger. (Note that he never really apologizes to Betty, though.) He bribes the building elevator operator to fake an out of service situation, then takes Roger out for a lunch overflowing with martinis, oysters and cheesecake -- the sort of thing he can just barely handle, but which he knows will cause Roger all sorts of discomfort when they have to climb 23 flights of stairs. Roger ends up projectile vomiting in front of the Nixon people, and I have to wonder how much of Don's glee at the end is about humiliating Roger and how much is about the prospect of not having to work for Nixon.

While Don is busy getting revenge, Pete and Betty are each suffering mini-meltdowns. Pete has to exchange a duplicate wedding gift and it's such an emasculating ordeal that he decides to use the store credit to buy a .22 caliber rifle to overcompensate for his feelings of penile inadequacy. This only leads to more hen-pecking from his wife, and so Pete takes the gun to the office again and creeps out Peggy by revealing a long, detailed fantasy about being an old-school hunter-gatherer in the woods. (What are we to make, though, of Peggy's trip to the lunch cart immediately after? I have a harder time reading Elisabeth Moss than anyone else in the cast.)

Betty, meanwhile, runs into Helen the divorcee at the market, and the snipped lock of hair from episode four comes back to bite her. "He is nine years old," Helen complains. "What is wrong with you?" -- which prompts Betty to slap her across the face (not as hard as the dad slapped the kid at the birthday party, but still) and storm out of the store without any of her groceries.

So here's my question for the peanut gallery: how accurate, if at all, is the shrink's assessment of Betty? We're supposed to view him as an aloof, sexist figure since he reveals everything about the sessions to Don, but at the same time, something is definitely wrong in Betty's head. Giving Helen's son the lock of hair was a poor choice, and slapping Helen was an incredibly childish response.

Another strong episode. What did everybody else think?

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

Several thoughts:

The changing of the guard: The whole firm is on the cusp of being supplanted. The culprit (which would also doom Nixon, at least in 1960) is the rise of television. A print media house better be ready to move to the electronic media.

Betty admitted that she was somewhat complicit when she told her friend that she liked feeling attractive to men other than her husband.

The chip’n dipper store credit was $22 and it bought a rifle. Wasn’t Oswald’s rifle a similar price?

The mano a mano stair climb was a bit much, but loved the smoke halfway up.

Dan Coyle said...

Is Betty Draper gonna have to slap a bitch? I can definitely say that scene surprised me.

Betty says she's 28, but she often acts like she's much younger than that. She's almost a kid.

I loved the shot of Pete sitting there while his wife berates him over the rifle.

Anonymous said...

Betty certainly exhibits some emotional issues with regard to her mother's death. However, it's not grief. Her overriding commentary on her mother is about the woman's appearance and not how much she misses or loved the woman. Betty was most likely raised in an environment where looks trump substance and was probably verbally degraded if she didn't take as much care with her appearance as her mother did. As Betty aged, submission turned into competition.

Betty, though beautiful, believes she is a failure because she can have almost any man panting after her, except for the one man that she desperately wants; her husband.

Which brings us to Don. Don, Don, Don. /sigh

Don is rat in that his conversations with the analyst are more for his comfort than out of concern for his wife. If there is something innately wrong with Betty's personality, then Don is relieved of having to accept responsibility that his actions in sleeping with other women are making his wife unhappy and depressed. Quel putz!

Anonymous said...

Betty revealed that she was not a pretty little girl and that has a lot to do with how she views herself as a woman.

I think that with the majority of housewives in the late fifties/early sixties, she can't understand the world outside her constricted cocoon of home, family and same thought friends. In that era, there was still the belief that the husbands were the "gatherers" and the wives kept the fires burning, had to be prettied up at end of day and everything in the home came to a halt when Daddy came home. Children tucked into bed before adult dinner and every hair in place.

This show is masterful at keeping us focused on chronology as they incorporate current events into the advertising world.

The men are out in the world and see the changes, even if they don't like them. The women are home, waiting to hear the world news/changes from their husbands' points of view. Remember Betty's comment of last weeks episode "I don't know who WE are voting for yet". Betty scowls when talking of Helen, who not only works (the horror!) in a jewelry store, but actually supports the young upstart, John Kennedy. Her vacuumed life can't allow her to see past her front door.

The psychiatrist sees her as a shell with nothing much inside. We are so used to privacy laws and lawsuits that we forget not long ago that DRs could and would tell husbands the details of a private session with a wife. I don't think the character shown in the psychiatrist is foreign to that era. He is a man who thinks Betty should be grateful for what she has with no problems or complaints.

I don't think Betty has the capacity to think deeper than the way we see her. Her mother's comment about the masterpiece and brushstrokes tells us so much about her shallow upbringing. The facade is her truth.

Anonymous said...

The shot of Pete sitting with the rifle across his lap as his wife ranted was priceless! Who wasn't waiting for him to point-aim-fire!

Pete's cozy view of marriage ("can you believe there will be dinner on the table when I get home?") is quickly being challenged.

The woman on the return line with her emasculating comments, his own pathetic tries at getting the $22 in cash vs credit, his aiming the rifle at targets in the office.. all hysterical and still telling of his insecure personality.

The Pete character is one of the best in the series, which offers excellent individual character studies.

What can be said of John Slattery's Cooper? This is the part of his life, he is running with it and taking us with him!

Anthony Foglia said...

"What are we to make, though, of Peggy's trip to the lunch cart immediately after?"

She was obviously turned on. I got that from just her look after Pete's story. She was obviously deeply, sexually moved. And the only way she can placate herself is with a ham sandwich, and a cherry danish. Ham, meat, obvious. Cherry danish, bright red, the color of blood.

BTW, here's a question I should have asked in your free day thread. What's the deal with John Slattery getting a "special guest appearance" credit in every episode? The only other show I've seen do that for a regular is "Gilmore Girls" where it was always "special appearance by Edward Herrmann". Thoughts?

Dan Coyle said...

I think in Hermann's case and GG, he was extremely reluctant to commit to a series full time, and the "Special Appearance" was a way, if had ever decided to, get out of the show. But he stuck around for the duration.

With Slattery and Sterling, I think it's different; I think they're planning to either kill the character off or have him retire by season's end, the big puke scene being the start of his downfall.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I can think of a number of regular castmembers who got the "special appearance" or "special guest star" treatment: Hermann, Heather Locklear on "Melrose Place," Diana Muldaur for her one season on "Star Trek: Next Generation." It's usually a combination of actors being reluctant to commit otherwise and actors who want to seem special by being listed that way. (It always made Locklear seem above the rest of the "Melrose" cast, for instance.)

Slattery's the closest this cast has to a name actor, and it could simply be that he wouldn't commit to a show on AMC, of all places, without getting some extra fluffing.

Steven said...

Is the shrink's assessment "right"? Well, you've got a period when women were encouraged to be more like girls than like grown-ups. This pressure is not just covertly social, but explicit in the power relations of the times ... she isn't allowed to think for herself, but must look to her husband or to her (male) shrink to find out what she thinks. Is the shrink correct to call her a "little girl"? Sure. He's also complicit.

brian said...

I'd agree with Mr. Foglia that Betty was clearly turned on by the story.

Anonymous said...

No question that Betty was turned on and dealt with sexual frustration by eating, a pretty common response. However, it creeped me out that she was turned on by his lame, pseudo-Hemingway scenario. I felt the character was smarter than that--although I suppose the smartest of us can be idiots when it comes to love and/or sexual attraction.

I was liking the whole tone of the show, but the kind of flat, unemotive line delivery by every character is starting to wear on me. Anyone feel the same?

Jon Delfin said...

Let's lighten things up a bit.

Far too many captioning gaffes to list. Highlights or lowlights, depending on your point of view.


heard / typed


(identifying the psychiatrist on the telephone) / physiatrist
jealousies, activities / jealousy's, activity's (lots of apostrophe-s'ing last night)
Montclair / Mount Claire
Last one to Chumley's / Last one to Chung Lee's


names:
Holloway, Rumsen, Lyndon Johnson / Halloway, Rumsin, Lynden Johnson
Betty Draper's nickname sounds like Birdie, though the captioner is torn, once using Berty and later Burty


What'd I say? / What I say?
Polka Dots looks like a lot of fun / Hope it does -- it looks like a lot of fun
simple, to the point, colloquial / simple, to the point
no chute, no body / no shoot, no body
Nights Inn off the Taconic / Knights Inn off the Deconic
bridesmaid's bridesmaid / bridesmaid bridesmaid
The nomination, as expected, is a lock / The nomination is expected as a lock
fan of the mollusk / fan of the mulusk
the stench of Brylcreem / the stench of Brill Cream
those long walks / those long locks
In what way? / The only way
eighth floor landing / eight floor landing


And over the end credits, Rosemary Clooney's memory is tarnished:
Botch-a-me, I'll botch-a-you / Bache me and bache you


That's well less than half of this week's crop.

Anonymous said...

The last scene of the previous episode tells the tale: Betty putting her daughter in a frilly dress, and putting lipstick on her lips. If Betty's a damaged Stepford Wife, then she's stuck at the Every Bit of Makeup Ought to Make You Pretty setting.

I think her impulse control's off, but she's not crazy. Therapy could help, but this is the time of Freud and the Seduction Theory. Her doctor can't help her, and she's not going to unload what really went on in her family, because that time can't handle abuse recollections, especially from 'good' families.

It could be sexual abuse, emotional damage, but we won't know until Betty crashes -- and knowing how this MAD MEN world works, most likely she'll take her kids with her, if not her husband.

R.A. Porter said...

As cracked as I think Betty is, let's not forget that the lock-of-hair incident didn't occur in a vacuum. It was mere moments after she was caught in flagrante lotio.

(Wow. That sounds painful. She should have that checked out. No telling what Don might have caught from one of his conquests.)

Dani in NC said...

I did not make the connection at all between Don talking to the elevator guy and the elevator being out later. I guess that's what happens when I do other things while I watch TV :-).

Also, with the gift exchange, I got the impression from the way Pete's wife was yelling at him that it wasn't a duplicate. He just decided he wanted the money, but got the gun when he couldn't get cash.

Rick said...

Perhaps I'm not paying close enough attention (or perhaps I need to brush up on my US history) but I'm having trouble with the timeline...

Roger was in World War 1? That would mean he'd have to be at least 60, right?

It's curious that the men at Sterling Cooper are either Don's age or younger (Korean War) or Roger's age and older (World War 1) but to my knowledge there isn't any representation from "the greatest generation." I don't really know what this means, but it struck me as interesting.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Roger fought in WWII. The WWI story was about his father.

M.A.Peel said...

Dani, I think you are right, the dip dish was not a duplicate. Pete was just a real sleeze to say it was to get the cash/credit.

Anonymous said...

Don Draper doesn't like anybody sniffing around his wife, maybe--but what he really doesn't like is anybody sniffing around his past, the past he may be unconsciously revealing by "dropping g's" around the office, as Roger mentioned at dinner. Roger's lucky Don's revenge prank only made him puke--it could have killed him. How far will Don go to cover up the truth? Don't know about you all, but I can't wait to find out.

Tom said...

My favorite grace note in this episode: Pete's ludicrous macho hunting fantasy, which echoes the short story he pulled out of his drawer a few episodes back -- a story fit only for "Boy's Life."
("It's from the bear's point of view...")

I love this show, though I'm afraid the Pete/Peggy story is going to be hard to swallow. She seems too intelligent to be impressed by a WASP George Costanza.

Anonymous said...

So no one has mentioned - Pete is totally going to take credit for Peggy's copy, no?

R.A. Porter said...

I figure Pete can go one of two ways with Peggy's copy: take credit for it and score creative points (though we saw how that went last time); or really help her and try to sell the client on her ideas to improve his chances on developing his little bit on the side.

Anonymous said...

Oh - re John Slattery - not only is he the name actor here, but he also has to be fulfilling his committment to Desperate Housewives. There may be some contractual reason why he is billed as a special guest. (Which reminds me, Alan, can you not use your powers to get Homefront released on DVD already? It's criminal!)

Rick said...

His father... of course. Again, watching TV while eating kettle chips rears its ugly head yet again.

Anthony said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Great googly moogly, I forgot about his turn on HOMEFRONT, the series that was the *last* period piece on TV to take its time seriously, without crippling nostalgia.

Karen said...

I don't think Pete's gonna steal Peggy's copy: I think Rumsen is, and Pete will be the only person who knows the truth. What he chooses to do with that info will affect his "relationship" with Peggy.

I third (or fourth?) the notion that Peggy was turned on by Pete's hunting fantasy, not creeped out. It was the audience that was creeped out, Alan--you were just projecting! None of her reactions to Pete make any sense to me. He was a pig to her on her first day, and she just welcomed his drunken ass into her bed two nights before his wedding. He shares his clearly disturbing hunting fantasy with her, and she has to sublimate her own sexual response to it with sandwiches and danish. They're trying to give Peggy depth, but they've only given her sides, and none of them add up to a fully-developed character.

I find this show incredibly frustrating on many levels, but DAMN did I enjoy Don's revenge on Roger.

JustinD said...

I hope nobody's forgotten Betty's response to Don when he grabbed her arm. That scored points with me when she pretty much stood up to him and proved to herself that indeed she's no marsh mallow.

Anonymous said...

"What are we to make, though, of Peggy's trip to the lunch cart immediately after?"

I agree that she was turned on. I think she ended up taking 1/2 of the danish to Pete. Bringing him the ham sandwich would be too obvious.

Toby said...

If I'm not mistaken, the whole concept of listing a show's regular as a special guest appearance began with Jonathan Harris playing Dr. Smith on 'Lost In Space'....

We've been teased with how far Don might go to protect the secret of his past - I think most of us expected him to pull a gun out of his briefcase rather than the 5G he gave his brother. But could he resort to murder? And if so, I'm wondering if he'd make use of Pete's gun there at the office (easy enough access to it there) and make Pete take the blame?

Maura said...

I think her impulse control's off, but she's not crazy. Therapy could help, but this is the time of Freud and the Seduction Theory. Her doctor can't help her, and she's not going to unload what really went on in her family, because that time can't handle abuse recollections, especially from 'good' families.

I haven't seen any indication of abuse in Betty's past. I think her problem is she's become disillusioned with the life she thought she wanted. The appearance of Helen in the neighborhood has made her feel more unstable and threatened, manifesting itself in a feeling of superiority over Helen. No wonder Betty slapped her. The idea that Helen could look down on her was another threat to her security and position.

Also, she's devastated by the loss of her mother, which Don won't let her talk about. "Mourning is just extended self-pity." Wow. That's a hell of a thing to say to a woman whose mother just died.

I agree she often behaves much younger than she is. She's like a lovestruck teenager about Don. But she wasn't the one acting like a child when Don confronted her in the kitchen after Roger left. She was boiling inside, but she stayed calm. He behaved like a petulant little boy - as if someone had tried to steal his favorite toy.

Awesome show. It just gets better every week.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Peggy was turned on by Pete's hunting fantasy, not creeped out. It was the audience that was creeped out, Alan--you were just projecting!

I think I can see that now. The problem, as others have mentioned, is that Peggy is still a tough nut to crack, and it's hard to reconcile the independent side of her with the one who's turned on by Pete when he's at his most juvenile and repulsive. Obviously, smart people make stupid choices, yada yada, but I don't think Elisabeth Moss is doing a great job of reconciling those two sides with her performance.

curious george said...

Alan is either taking Labor Day off or is following the Crazy Dogggs around the country. I know not which.

Rand said...

I thought this episode was pretty good, but I always have to wonder with period pieces set in that not that distant past, what do people who actually lived through that period think. I know many of my generation hate the older generation's disapproving looks, I wonder how the generation from this era feels about this show which I imagine was done by a different generation.

BAL said...

I definitely AM someone, female, who lived there, in Manhattan, during that time, arriving 4 days out of Kent State in June 1961. It's so interesting for me to be able to see inside those closed offices of the MAD MEN, since, with bachelor's in political science in hand, because I was not a nurse or teacher and had not gone on for a master's in something they allowed me to (my best friend at KSU was told not to go into law as she'd never be accepted, so she went into pharmacy), I began my life in NYC as a secretary...and was Peggy, who never had entree to what went on at those meetings. And whenever I told one of "those" kinds of men I lived in the Village, they all ah'ed and nodded their heads in an all-knowing way...slut/tramp/oddball. Therefore, Peggy is very interesting to me especially, even tho so far I think she's incredibly unattractive and boring. She can become a so-called "slut," a goodie-twoshoes, a motivated future women's libber as a result of her acceptance or rejection as an ad-writer in the agency...and eventually perhaps the wife who actually gets to live in the burbs, or even in Manhattan ...as I did. She's interesting because, like me, she may become all these things, because at that time, women were being educated Peggy and myself were just betting an inkling of what we could have versus what we were allowed to have then...and all the rules were indeed going to change enormously. But 1960...no, not for a long time. Absolutely love the show. Sure takes me back.

dez said...

bal, did you ever get to use your political science degree in your career? Or did you enjoy being a secretary? Thanks for your insights into the real world of the MAD MEN.

The Rush Blog said...

"Pete takes the gun to the office again and creeps out Peggy by revealing a long, detailed fantasy about being an old-school hunter-gatherer in the woods. (What are we to make, though, of Peggy's trip to the lunch cart immediately after? I have a harder time reading Elisabeth Moss than anyone else in the cast.)"


Really? I could easily tell that Peggy was turned on by Pete, not creeped out.