Spoilers for "Mad Men" season two, episode four coming up just as soon as I call 1-800-MATTRESS...
"Don't you love the chase? Sometimes it doesn't work out. Those are the stakes. But when it does work out, it's like having that first cigarette." -Roger Sterling
There's a lot of chasing and not a lot of catching in "Three Sundays," an episode that's largely about foiled expectations -- for both the characters and the viewer.
Betty's about to get spontaneous, Don-initiated sex when the kids burst in, and her pleas to get Don more involved in disciplining them go largely unanswered. Peggy's hope of finding someone she can relate to in her mother's world gets ruined when her sister Anita blabs about Peggy's "nephew." All that time and effort spent on the American Airlines pitch are wasted after Duck's contact gets fired, and to put us in the characters' heads, writers Andre and Maria Jacquemetton choose not to show us a second of the pitch we've spent so much time preparing for. (For us, seeing a vintage Don pitch is the fulfillment that Sterling Cooper would get from landing the client.)
Really, the only character who catches what he's chasing is Roger, and even there he has to literally pay for it.
Not that there were many blanks left to fill in with the story of Peggy and Pete's baby, but Peggy's budding friendship with Father Gil -- and Anita's jealousy of same -- gives us a better sense of how things went down in the Olson family. Her mother is a devout and very old-fashioned Catholic, the sort who treats the arrival of a priest in her home like she just won a contest to meet her favorite movie star (she even takes a souvenir photo), and the sort who's so strict about tradition that she feels comfortable giving Gil lip when he recites a version of Grace that matches the spirit but not the letter of the law.
Why would such a woman be so tolerant of a daughter who had done what Peggy did? Because she, like everyone in the family but Anita, believe what the shrinks must have told them after Peggy gave birth. They think Peggy had a nervous breakdown -- explaining, in their minds, both her ignorance of the pregnancy and the affair that led to it -- and so they walk on eggshells around her, just pleased when she makes a new friend who didn't know her during all the unpleasantness.
Anita, though, sees Peggy for who she really is: a girl who slept with a married (or, initially, engaged) man without thinking about the consequences, and who seems perfectly happy to use her psychiatric diagnosis as an excuse to avoid future responsibility. What Anita does to Peggy in her confession to Father Gil is awful and manipulative, but I can sympathize with her resentment. Now, in a different time, and/or a time when Peggy wasn't so naive that she didn't recognize what was happening to her body until it was too late, Peggy might have gotten an abortion or arranged to give the kid up for adoption, and it's not like she chose to have the kid placed with her sister. But it's still her son that Anita has to raise, and Peggy does her best to act like that isn't so, and if I was Anita -- the "good" sister who plays by the rules and takes responsibility for the entire family -- it'd drive me a little nuts too, you know? (Especially if I was as devout as Anita and I saw the new priest paying more attention to my wicked sister than to me.)
Father Gil's reaction to this news is interesting (and well-played by Colin Hanks). We learn fairly quickly that he's a progressive priest by 1962 standards, more worldly and more open to new ideas, and while he doesn't shun Peggy upon learning about the baby, he does seem more reserved around her in the episode's final scene. I know Hanks is going to do a few more episodes; I just hope Matt Weiner doesn't try to travel the Carmela/Father Phil route and have Peggy fall in love with her local man of the cloth. She does seem to like him, because he's a nice guy who doesn't fit the mold of either her work or family life, but I don't want to see it go further. There's paying homage to your old show, and then there's copying it wholesale.
Don doesn't get the American Airlines account, nor does he get to see Duck take any kind of punishment for dumping Mohawk on this foolish gamble. (On the other hand, I imagine that Roger and Cooper may listen more closely to Don than Duck in the next argument.) And in his frustration over that disaster, and over having to witness how quick Betty -- whom he views as the ideal mother -- has become to judge the kids as harshly as she can, he explodes. Yet it's a good explosion in the end, because it forces Don to open up to both Bobby and Betty about the son of a bitch who raised him.
Neither Don nor Betty is getting what they want out of this relationship. She's angry, and lonely, and unfulfilled, and she's taking out her frustrations on the kids (especially on Bobby, whose denials about breaking things cut her just as deeply as Don's denials about his cheating). He's entered into this fake ideal of the the perfect marriage and the perfect mother, but he has little use for the kids and isn't really attracted to Betty. They both usually refuse to admit to those feelings, or to open up in any way, but for a brief moment, Don's explosion -- and sweet little Bobby showing how much he loves his daddy -- leads him to drop his guard and talk a little about his horrible childhood. If Betty knew how Don really grew up, who he really was and why he acts the way he does, they might be able to have something resembling a functional relationship. But hopefully this one moment of honesty will lead her to ease up on the kids, and maybe on Don, too. And maybe seeing what a mess Betty's reationship with the kids is will cause Don to be a little more present. This being "Mad Men," though, probably not.
As for Roger, all he wants is the chase. His wife Mona expected happily ever after that wedding day she speaks so glowingly about (to the daughter that Roger feared would never find a man), but instead she found herself married to a man with no use for the sedentary, predictable nature of that. Mona is old business, and if he had ever left her for Joan, Joan would have become old business, too.
At first, I wondered why Roger would feel the need to pay for it, as opposed to dipping into the secretarial pool, or picking up a girl in a bar, or whatever, but then I realized that it's just like him bumming a cigarette off of Ken last week. After his heart attack, Roger made a pledge to change his wicked ways, to cut out the smoking and the whoring and (some of) the drinking, but he's doing that in ways that allow him to deny his own actions. "Oh, I don't carry cigarettes around anymore; I just bummed one off of Cosgrove!" "Oh, I would never have an affair with another woman. This is a hooker! It's not real!"
Some other thoughts on "Three Sundays":
• So much wonderful, largely wordless stuff with the secretaries during the Sunday cram session, whether it was them swooning over the sight of Don bringing his little girl to the office, them gazing with frustration at having to wait their turn at the buffet, or especially them giving former secretary Peggy the stinkeye while she enjoys her dinner.
• Even before his unfortunate defeat with America, Duck turns out to not be the complete villain the earlier episodes this season suggested he might be. Not only does he make sure that the gum-chewing secretary gets to keep her job (Cooper doesn't even notice that she's the one introducing the American contingent), but he shuts down the chimpunks' gripe session about Don, acknowledging that ultimately, Don is more important to the process than he is.
• In yet another time-warp moment, I love how dressy everyone gets for working on a Sunday. Don could probably be one of the more stylish people at your average 21st century office on a weekday, and you just know that Ken or somebody would show up today wearing a throwback basketball jersey and cargo shorts. (Though I suppose Pete's tennis whites were the 1962 equivalent. That boy's like school on Saturday.)
• As I suspected when Melinda McGraw showed up with the regular cast for the Television Critics Association awards, it looks like Bobbie's going to be sticking around for a while. And it looks like those people who suggested last week that Don grabbing her by the "reins" was a move that she had not only invited, but enjoyed, were onto something. That is one seriously damaged woman. I look forward to Joan having to hold her tongue about Bobbie. Also, at first I assumed Bobbie refused Joan's offer to take her coat as some kind of minor power play, but then it turned out she wanted to use it to aid her in finding a way to keep things from getting dull with Don.
• Sally Draper, comedy genius: I can't decide whether the episode's funniest moment was Sally clapping wildly at the end of Don and Betty's argument, or Sally admiring Joan's "big ones" and suggesting that she'll have some too one day. (I guess if she wears a bra like her not-too-busty mother, she can look like she has big ones, too.) Question: between her junior bartending gigs and her sneaking a swig of some leftover SC booze, are they setting up Sally to have some sort of alcohol problem by the end of the series (or, at this rate, season), or is it just a sardonic commentary about how little adults in 1962 worried about kids being around liquor?
• I loved the sequence leading up to the big meeting with American, as the SC people did last-minute fixes, limbered up, etc. It was shot very much like the locker room scene that takes place before the big game in a sports movie -- which only made Duck's announcement and the episode's omission of the stillborn pitch that much more (deliberately) frustrating.
What did everybody else think?