Spoilers for "Mad Men" episode two coming up just as soon as I buy a new child safety seat for the car...
After devoting much of the pilot to the title characters, episode two of "Mad Men" is for the ladies -- mostly.
Betty Draper, kept off camera for most of last week to serve the pilot's not-so-shocking twist ending, gets to play screentime catch-up. We learn that she's suffering from some kind of condition where her hands freeze up at inopportune moments. (I don't know enough about medical history to understand whether Betty's condition is really psychosomatic, as her doctor suggests, or simply something a doctor in 1960 wouldn't be able to diagnose.) She's out of sorts, depressed about the recent death of her mother, crushed by her role as homemaker but not understanding that there could be an alternative, frustrated that Don is just as big a mystery to her as he is to everyone else. When they lie in bed together, she looks at him and whispers, "Who's in there?" It's not apparent yet whether she suspects Don is sleeping around, but she's thrown by the news that a divorcee has moved into the neighborhood. As claustrophobic and terrifying she may find her life, being a single mom in 1960 Westchester sounds infinitely more terrifying.
It's really scary to see how constrained Betty's life is, how much control of it is placed -- by her ignorance and by the standards of the time -- in the hands of Don. He's the one who pushes her to see a therapist, and he's also the one who can then call up the therapist to find out what Betty talked about in her session. January Jones has a look that works really well with the style of the time (in present-day movies, I don't usually notice her, but she has this vaguely Grace Kelly quality when you put her in the dress and the hair and the makeup), and I'm glad she's portrayed as more than just the ball and chain that Don escapes from with work and with Midge.
And speaking of our resident beatnik floozy, we find that she's not just Don's mistress, but rather a free love type who sleeps around, an arrangement that has its pluses and minuses for both of them. Don doesn't have to feel completely guilty that he goes back to Betty the next day because he knows Midge has other guys, but he also can't help getting upset when evidence of those guys -- say, Midge's new TV set (on which her favorite show is the same as Don's kids') -- stares him right in the face. And Midge doesn't have to feel like a kept woman who's breaking up a marriage, but she still can't stand to hear about Betty. When Don says, "I can't decide if you have everything, or nothing," she tells him, "For the moment, nothing is everything." On some shows, that line would sound like psychobabble masquerading as profound insights, but the small details of how these characters are written and played gives it real meaning.
With Pete off on his honeymoon (an excuse to sketch in the other young guys at the agency), Peggy gets a bit closer to Paul, one of the copywriters on Don's team. Paul is set up to be everything that Pete and his cronies aren't -- well-read, semi-enlightened (he at least sees the value in women copywriters for certain types of jobs), not as blatant in his advances -- but in the end he's revealed to be just another horny guy trying to get with the new girl, and Peggy is only able to fend him off by hinting at her involvement with Pete. (Paul assumes the man she's talking about is Don, and in one of my favorite lines of the episode, says, "Do you belong to someone else? Shit. I don't even like to sit in Don's chair.")
I'm just very taken with this show, and if I wasn't so burnt-out from being at press tour for two weeks (see the latest iteration of my Bon Scott/Alex O'Loughlin problem), I'd attempt to elaborate more about what it continues to well. Instead, it's on to our friends the bullet points:
- Yes, People Really Lived This Way moments of the week: the Draper kids drive without child seats, or even seat belts, and are completely unharmed in Betty's fender bender, and the daughter runs around the house with a dry cleaning bag over her head and Betty's only concern is that her dress might get ruined without the bag on it.
- John Slattery has just nailed the arrogance and indifference of a guy like Roger. Again, an exchange like the "What do women want?" "Who cares?" bit between Don and Roger could have come across as being written in italics, but Slattery makes Roger's attitude seem like the natural thing.
- Robert Morse! How perfect is that? They cast Robert Morse -- star of the original version of "How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying" -- as Mr. Cooper, head of the agency.