"The truth is, people may see things differently, but they don't really want to." -DonI always like to pick a theme or story to spotlight in these "Mad Men" reviews, but "The Color Blue" was so busy in terms of both that it's hard to choose just one.
I could start with speculation about how PPL's attempt to sell Sterling Cooper will impact all the characters we care about (and whether it might somehow facilitate the return of Sal and/or Joan), or with speculation about the atom bomb that just got dropped in the middle of the Draper marriage when Betty finally got a look inside Don's secret drawer.
Or I could note the number of characters in the episode who build up great plans or escapes in their heads - Paul with his glorious Western Union pitch, Mrs. Pryce with her desire to go back to England, Miss Farrell's brother Danny with his scheme to give Don the slip on the drive to Bedford, Bert Cooper with his desire to skip the anniversary party, and, of course, Betty with her plan to have a dramatic confrontation with Don about the contents of that shoebox - that don't work out at all in reality.
But I think I have to start with the pillow talk between Don and Miss Farrell about my favorite piece of shared little kid/stoner logic - How do I know that what you see as the color blue is the same thing that I see? - and how that applies to this episode.
There are plenty of moments in "The Color Blue" where two characters look at the same situation and see different things. Paul thinks Peggy is Don's pet, while Peggy (still shaken from Don's recent scolding) knows otherwise. Don looks at Danny Farrell and sees a junkie, when he's really an epileptic down on his luck; Danny, in return, sees Don as arrogant where Suzanne views him as merely secretive. Lane is horrified at the thought of PPL selling the company, where his wife sees it as a dream come true. Etc.
You could say that many "Mad Men" episodes are in some way about different perspectives, most notably season two's "Maidenform," which gets referenced here as Paul prepares to use the shelved campaign art as inspiration for a, um, non-productive endeavor.
But what's interesting in "The Color Blue" are those moments where one character after another briefly has their own prejudicial filters lifted so they can see the color blue (or its current metaphorical representative) for what it really is, and not necessarily what they always thought.
Paul discovers that Peggy is much more talented than he ever gave her credit for - and, worse from his perspective, that she's more talented than he is.
Lane sees St. John and his bosses for the vultures they truly are, and realizes they never had any long-term interest in this company he feels personally invested in.
In watching Suzanne's relationship with her brother, Don has to again look at what a terrible turn he gave his own brother, Adam.
And while Betty has often suspected Don was hiding something bad in that drawer, she could never have fathomed that it was evidence of a previous marriage.
The scary part of Betty's discovery, of course, is that she really hasn't seen the truth of her husband just yet. All the evidence is there, but she doesn't have the context that we do to put the pieces - the two sets of dog tags, the Whitman family photos, the divorce decree - in the right configuration.
And what does Betty do with what little information she has? She's all prepared to confront him that night - waiting way past bedtime in one room, and outfit, after another - but by the time she goes to sleep, she seems to have given up, putting the box back in the drawer, and Don's keys back in his robe. (Couldn't she at least have gone to the hardware store to make a dupe?) Maybe she'll go after him again down the road, just as she keeps going back to Henry Francis (who's starting to get frustrated as he realizes what an overgrown child she can be at times), but the Betty who went to Sterling Cooper's 40th anniversary party seemed a woman defeated, not one plotting her next move.
For that matter, Paul seemed quite deflated at the end of the Western Union pitch in Don's office. Paul has carved an entire identity for himself out of being the smartest, most cultured man in the room, and it hurts him whenever someone punctures that balloon. (Remember how upset he got in "My Old Kentucky Home" when his ex-roommate started poking holes in his stories of Princeton life?) He can only rationalize Peggy out-shining him with the thought that she's Don's pet, or that she has an unfair advantage as the only woman. But after he neglects to write down his brainstorm(*) and sees how quickly Peggy is able to take his Chinese proverb and turn it into a campaign - because she has natural instincts for the job, where Paul only has book knowledge - he can't be in denial anymore. As with Betty, I wonder what he's going to do with this realization. In general, Paul is a small and petty man, so he could grow to resent and snipe at Peggy more than he already does. But it might be interesting to see him treat her better, even if it's in a naked attempt to learn from her so he can one day pass her.
(*) Like Don and Peggy, I winced in sympathy at that story. It's happened to every writer, and it sucks. In fact, several of the points I make in this post came to me right before I fell asleep, and I quickly grabbed my phone to e-mail them to myself.
Paul subplots tend to be jokes at the expense of the character's sizable ego, but this was a more empathetic look, and very well-played by Michael Gladis, particularly during the drunken, sweaty, self-gratifying interlude in the largely-empty SC offices. Yes, Paul's a pompous twit, but he's worked very hard to make himself into one, and it hurts to realize he hasn't even done a very good job at that. Peggy, Kurt and Smitty have all overtaken him in terms of youth, hipness and, it seems, talent. So what's Paul's niche now? The guy who, if he shaved and put on glasses, could pass for Harry Crane?
And if he gets sent back to England, what's Lane's niche? Despite being constantly treated like a second-class citizen by St. John Powell and friends, Lane still has a capacity for being disappointed by his bosses. So now that he knows they only bought Sterling Cooper to flip it once Lane had cut down expenses(**), what does he do with that information? It's clear from his conversations with his difficult wife that he's become quite taken with New York, and with this company. Would he risk his marriage, and his professional standing, to stay in New York, perhaps by tipping off Bert, Roger and Don and giving them a chance to put together the money to re-acquire their own company?
(**) Or did they? On the one hand, that would explain their refusal to do the MSG deal, since it would be an increased expenditure for a reward that only the next owner would enjoy. On the other, they did seem to have grand plans for a Guy Mackendrick-run Sterling Cooper, and perhaps only decided to sell the assets once he lost the ability to golf.
It's obvious that both Cooper and Sterling would welcome an opportunity to be relevant again, and maybe with Alice Cooper's help, they could compensate for whatever money Roger has spent on his divorce and trophy wife. And in the chaos that creates, I could certainly see Joan being begged to return. (Sal is a trickier problem, but I don't want to say goodbye to him yet.)
But whether Sterling Cooper becomes Sterling/Cooper-owned again, or whether we get yet another new ownership group in place, I do wonder what the point of this British ownership arc has been. Yes, it's introduced the terrific Jared Harris to the cast, and it gave us the black comic masterpiece that was "Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency," but if the status quo is restored, or if we just get a new owner, why did we bother at all with these guys? There hasn't been as much culture clash as I might have expected, as this season has been a bit more Draper marriage-centric than the first two. I know Matthew Weiner resists comparisons to "The Sopranos," and to the idea that Duck was this show's Richie Aprile, but depending on what happens with PPL over the final three episodes, it is starting to feel like "Mad Men" needs its own annual equivalent of Richie/Ralphie/Vito/etc. to provide a little (in this case, very little) external professional conflict for Don.
And given what's going on with the two women in his life, I'm not sure how much time and energy Don's going to be able to focus on his British overlords over the next three weeks.
Based on the comments here, opinion seems about evenly split between whether Miss Farrell is cuckoo bananas or just someone on a different emotional wavelength from our repressed 1963 characters. I tend to go back and forth (though "cuckoo bananas" is fun to say, which prejudices me), and certainly a lot of her behavior in "The Color Blue" could be read either way. Yes, she follows Don onto his train, but with no cell phones, or e-mail, or possibly even a work number (I wouldn't be surprised if Don gave his card to Danny before he ever gave it to Suzanne), and with her smart enough to not call the house(***), how else is she going to get ahold of him when he doesn't call as promised?
(***) Or did she call it? There's a long pause after Don asks her, but that could just be annoyance that he would suggest such a thing. I don't believe it was Henry Francis, but it's funny to think that both Drapers have good reason to suspect entirely different people of the hang-up.
But whether she's nuts or just passionate, it's clear that she is very, very into Don, even more than he's into her (and he's very into her), and I still fear this ends well for no one. She tells Don, "I don't care about your marriage, or your work, of any of that, as long as you're with me," and in fact seems so untroubled by the adultery aspect that, when she asks him if he feels guilty about something, it's his career and not his cheating. But there's going to come a point where she will care, and/or when Danny gets into trouble(****) and uses that business card, and then what happens to Don's marriage?
(****) Not only does Don feel like a bastard when he sees Suzanne taking care of her little brother when he drove his own to suicide, but he also sees something of himself in Danny, who, because of his epilepsy, feels the need to constantly stay on the move, hobo-style.
Or will Betty's glimpse, however incomplete, into the man her husband truly is lead to another Draper separation long before the Farrell family comes into play? For all his creative struggles this season, Don seems ascendant in that moment on the dais at the company's anniversary dinner, but has his life peaked? With all that's going on away from his field of vision, is it all downhill from here?
Some other thoughts:
• Baby Gene's another season-three-long subplot that hasn't led to as much as I was expecting (other than the outstanding hospital interlude in "The Fog"), but at least one of his nighttime cries leads to Don forgetting to put his keys back in his briefcase.
• Because people keep asking me about it, here are my brief, completely uninformed thoughts on the situation with both Kater Gordon (who shared the writing Emmy with Weiner for "Meditations in an Emergency," and who co-wrote this episode with him) and Robin Veith (twice nominated for eps she co-wrote with Weiner) leaving the show's writing staff, which Nikki Finke has tried to turn into a scandale: I don't know the specific dynamics of the "Mad Men" writing staff, but I do know that on some shows with meticulous and demanding creators (David Milch, David Kelley and Aaron Sorkin, to name three), any relationship the other credited writers have to the final versions of scripts can be tangential at best. I'm not saying that's the case here, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was, and therefore it wouldn't surprise me if any writers either chose or were asked to leave because they were viewed as fungible.
• As I've mentioned in the past, "Mad Men," like most primetime series, is under restrictions on how many episodes most of its cast (with the exception of Jon Hamm and January Jones, and maybe Elisabeth Moss) can appear in, so I was pleasantly surprised to see Pete, Trudy, Alice Cooper and several other characters who hadn't previously been in the episode pop up on the dais for the anniversary dinner. Maybe because they had no dialogue, the budget people were able to work a little mojo? Or can a regular castmember like Vincent Kartheiser not work at the rate a non-speaking extra gets?
• A small touch, but I like that we're seeing these little glimpses of Allison and Don developing a rapport. She's gone from not being able to read his moods to having the kind of telepathy that we've only seen Joan share with him before. She arguably seems like a better secretary for him than Peggy, who was too caught up in personal drama and then distracted by her copywriting career.
• Danny Farrell was played by Marshall Allman, probably best known for playing Lincoln's annoying son LJ on "Prison Break."
• Heh. Lane and Mrs. Pryce hate Moneypenny just as much as the Americans do.
• Of course 40 is the average lifespan for someone in the ad game, given how much these characters drink and smoke.
• Trying to figure out how Don has his old Dick Whitman dog tags. Did Adam include them in the box of photos he mailed before he hung himself? Did Don hold onto them when he refused to get off the train and see his family? Or did I forget some other reference to them in seasons 1 and 2?
• Roger's mother is just as good with the one-liners as her son, albeit perhaps not as intentionally. Loved Mrs. Sterling assuming Jane was a grown-up Margaret, and then, when Roger explained this was his wife, asking, "Does Mona know?" The tone of Jane's voice as she said, "Yes, she knows" suggests she's getting really tired of all the baggage that comes with this marriage.
• Still more tension between Betty and Carla, as the kids express interest in going to church every Sunday, just like Carla does.
• Also, I like that Sally's starting to not let her mother get to her as much; check out her "Geez, Louise!" after Betty yelled at her for asking too many questions about the hang-up.
• A sign of how well Lane has adjusted to this office: the funny "Who told you I was vain?" / "Please, it's obvious." exchange he has with Cooper to cajole him into attending the party.
• "How do you talk to Achilles?" "He's a janitor with a very bad memory." I have no point to make here; it just makes me laugh every time I think about it.
Once again, we're going to stick with the slightly modified version of the commenting rules for these posts, so let me repeat how it works. Until we get to 200 comments (i.e., until the comments are split into separate pages), the original rules apply (skim everything before posting to avoid annoying duplication). After 200, if you're going to ask a question, or if you're going to suggest a theory or observation that you don't think has come up yet (i.e., "I think that guy Connie from the country club bar might be Conrad Hilton" or "Do you think Joan's bloody dress was supposed to be a Jackie Kennedy analogue?"), or if you want to answer or correct something from a previous comment, I want you to do a word search (every web browser has one, usually listed as Find in the Edit menu) for some possible keywords you might be using. (In those cases, try "Hilton" or "Jackie" or "bloody.") If you don't see any of your keywords - and again remember that Blogger splits the comments into multiple pages once you get past 200, so check 'em both - then ask/opine away.
It may seem annoying or laborious for you to do this, but I want everybody to show respect for - and not waste - everyone else's time and effort, and this seems the best way to do that.
What did everybody else think?