Spoilers for "Mad Men" season two, episode eight coming up just as soon as I take care of an agitator...
"There is no sin too great to bring to God. You can reconcile yourself with him and have a whole new start." -Father Gill
Confession is reportedly good for the soul, and it would be very good for several characters in "A Night to Remember" if they could bring themselves to do it. Father Gill wants Peggy to confess her sin of adultery (and whatever else happened with Pete Jr.) so she can get on with her life. Betty wants Don to fess up to the affair with Bobbie Barrett so they can have a chance of saving their marrage. Nobody wants Joan to confess anything, but she might have done herself a lot of good if she could have admitted, both to herself and to others, how much she had grown to love her fill-in job with the television department.
But all three refuse to fess up, and so Peggy's left alone and lost in the tub, Joan is sent back to her less exciting life playing lifeguard in the secretarial pool, and Don has to sleep at the office after Betty tells him not to come home.
Betty's explosion at Don has been a long time coming, at least as far back as her finding out about Don and her shrink. And the tension builds and builds through the early parts of the episode, as Betty runs herself and her horse ragged to vent some of her fury, then pathetically (and verrry slowwwwly) demolishes a rickety dining room chair (that was no doubt on the to-do list she gave to Don). But maybe the most brilliant part of Robin Veith and Mattthew Weiner's script is the misdirection they use at the dinner party. We've been waiting all episode for Betty to confront Don, and then all of a sudden Duck shows up unexpectedly at the party, surrounded by both drinks and drinkers, and so instead we hold our breath waiting for Duck to give in to peer pressure and swig a bottle of Heineken, and we temporarily forget the Betty/Don issue. Then Duck drops the proverbial straw onto the proverbial camel by chuckling over the inside joke with Don about Heineken and Betty finally has her excuse to unload on her cheating husband. (As often happens in marriage, fights about big things are usually started as fights about little things.)
If Betty's looking for honesty and contrition, she's married to the wrong man. (Well, she's married to the wrong man for all sorts of reasons, but we haven't got all week to list them.) Don will never confess his sins to Betty because he can't confess. It's not a choice; it's a pathology. He has sold himself so thoroughly on the lies he tells others that he believes them himself, which is why he always looks so thunderstruck when someone (his brother, Bert Cooper, Jimmy) reminds him of the truth. Don honestly thinks that he looks Betty in the eyes and says he loves her all the time. That's why he's so hurt and confused (and so brilliantly played, as always, by Jon Hamm) in that scene on the couch; Don really does love Betty (or has convinced himself he does), and he can't understand why she doesn't see that, even as he continually and casually does things to hurt her.
It's funny: Don hated his father so much that he patterned his life after the hobo, but he's just as deserving as the old man (if not moreso) of having the liar's mark placed on his fencepost.
Peggy, meanwhile, has started to fashion her life after Don's, and it's unclear how much of his pathology she shares. What exactly does she remember about Pete Jr.? Is she unwilling to confess to Father Gill, or is she unable? Is there a chance (as one commenter suggested a few weeks back) that Anita wasn't pregnant at the time of the hospital flashback, that this was Peggy's mind's way of explaining the existence of a baby she refused to believe she had? I don't know how much I buy into the theory, but you could tell that she wanted to tell Father Gill something before the copy machine turned off and the spell of its hum was broken.
(Question for the Catholics in the audience: is Father Gill violating the seal of confession for pushing Peggy to admit to something that Anita told him under the seal? Or is it appropriate for a priest to confront a parishoner who won't take communion? I know there was some rancor after "Three Sundays" over whether Gill had violated the seal when he gave Peggy the Easter egg "for the little one." Some people insisted he had, while others argued that we only felt that way because we knew what Anita told him, where to Peggy it could have easily seemed like he was giving her an egg for her nephew, who happened to be toddling around in front of them.)
Joan has steadfastly refused to follow Peggy's path into the "men's game" -- has repeatedly mocked Peggy about it, in fact -- but when placed in a position to temporarily step out of her traditional role, she discovers that she loves it. Yet she can't admit that to anyone, not even her doctor fiance, who seems like a nice enough guy but will make her absolutely miserable if this wedding actually happens. (She wants a life of adventure and excitement; he wants her watching TV, eating chocolate and combing the Long Island real estate section.) The success of the revamped television "department" is almost entirely Joan's doing, yet either Harry's too foolish to see that or simply can't imagine a scenario where Joan would want to take the permanent position, so he's more than happy to take Roger up on his offer to hire an outside man to do it. (Do you think Roger had any idea that Joan might like it and was doing this to stick it to her again, or could he also not imagine her wanting to continue?)
Christina Hendricks was so perfect in that moment where Harry unwittingly delivered the bad news, particularly when he asked Joan if she had the time right then to fill Danny in on the job. As Joan admits that, no, she's not busy right now, you can see her flashing back to her fiance's joke about how all she does all day is walk around and get stared at and wondering, "Is that really what I'm going to do with the rest of my life?" But Joan has been trained for far too long to play her role to the hilt, and that means swallowing her ambition and her tongue; unlike the similarly well-trained Betty, she hasn't reached her boiling point yet. She's strapped into her role a little too tightly, just like the bra-strap that left such a deep imprint on her shoulder.
Every episode of "Mad Men" is in some way a visual feast, with the fetishistic devotion to the costumes and hair and sets, but what made "A Night to Remember" so striking were the moments when the characters were out of their familiar costumes. Betty spends half the episode wearing the same increasingly wrinkled dress and ruffled hair, and when she confronts Don in the middle of the night, she's wearing a plain white robe, her face scrubbed of makeup. We see Joan dressed casually for the first time ever, in slacks and with bare feet, and the episode's closing montage features Joan and other characters stripping out of the armor that makes up their identity: Joan out of her dress, Peggy naked in the tub, and Father Gill removing his priestly vestments so he can play the guitar not as a priest, but as the man he reminded Peggy he was (and still is).
I'm still not sure how much of the character of Betty is being created by January Jones and how much by the hair, makeup and wardrobe people, but in this case, it didn't matter. Seeing Betty go from Grace Kelly to that drunken, disheveled mess told us all we needed to know about how badly Don has damaged her. By episode's end, she was looking put together again, but who knows when or if she or her marriage will be close to healed?
Some other thoughts on "A Night to Remember":
• Betty confronting Don about his adultery, and Don's reaction to that, makes it very clear that Betty did not do something similar during the 15-month gap. Nor did Betty's shrink dutifully report her suspicions to Don. There was still some kind of negotiation, based on Don's reluctance to step out early in the season and on Betty's comment in "The New Girl" about how Don promised to stop "disappearing" all the time.
• I got a kick out of how the interaction between Peggy (creative), Father Gill (accounts) and the CYO committee (the client) paralleled all the recent arguments between Don and Duck over how Duck was too willing to sell the clients' ideas to Don rather than vice versa.
• The song Father Gill is playing, by the way, is "Early in the Morning," off of folk supergroup Peter, Paul and Mary's self-titled debut album. Given the lyrics and Gill being established as a hipper-than-average priest, it seemed an appropriate choice.
• Even if you excuse Harry for missing Joan's value to the television operation, he does not come off well at all in this episode, displaying little foresight, understanding or even ambition about his new position. He wants the prestige and the higher salary, but he doesn't want to put in the work to really achieve that -- note that his big directive to Joan was his desire to leave the office by 5 every day -- and the most he takes out of Duck's lecture about the agitator/Agitator fiasco was that the Maytag people are "very sensitive to communism." Harry has in general been presented as more likable than Pete or Ken or Paul, but they all seem to be much better at their jobs.
• They're still underusing John Slattery, but his token priceless moment for the week was the amused look on his face as he introduced Crab to Duck and vice versa.
• Admit it: you all would love to watch a "Peggy Olson: Undercover Nun" spin-off.
• I don't exactly move in the same kind of 21st century social circles that the Drapers did in the early '60s, so I have never been to a dinner party remotely as formal as the one Betty throws, complete with mandatory performance by little Sally and Betty making the guests stand around the table while she goes into a detailed run-down of the themed menu. (Maybe she's been watching a lot of "Top Chef"?)
• I like that several of the cocktail napkins and other scribbled notes Betty found in Don's desk were recognizable as slogans Don cooked up earlier in the series, notably the Right Guard campaign he argued with Paul about way back in the series' second episode.
• For those wondering about the subject line, "Make Room for Daddy" was the sitcom that Bobby and Sally were watching when Jimmy's Utz ad came on the screen at the exact wrong moment for Betty. The sitcom was better (or at least longer) known as "The Danny Thomas Show," but "Make Room for Daddy" was its original title, and the one used when NBC was airing reruns from earlier seasons (which this almost certainly was, based on the age of Danny's son Rusty) in daily syndication from 1960-65.
What did everybody else think?