"Of course. This never happened." -JoanJoan's sentiment will be later echoed by Pete in his conversation with poor Gudrun the au pair, but nearly every scene in "Souvenirs" is one that one or both of its participants will try to disavow later. Everyone's playing a role, and while it may briefly be fun for some of them - particularly for Don and Betty on a short but sweet Rome getaway - in the end they have to ignore the fantasy and get back to the crummy reality of their lives.
Joan is composed enough to play the bored but happy housewife for Pete, but her face falls as soon as he's out of site. Pete tries playing carefree bachelor, then helpful neighbor, then sexual aggressor, but as soon as Trudy comes back from Rehobeth, he reverts to the scared, wounded, manipulative little boy we know he is. Sally plays at being a grown-up woman like her mom, but Bobby mocks her for it and the boy she kisses seems mostly confused. Henry Francis plays at being Betty's hero, and even gets a kiss out of it, but Betty makes it clear that that's all he'll get, telling Francine (in reference to the reservoir fight), "I'm done with that."
And for a couple of days in Rome, Don and Betty play at being a happy couple, and then attractive strangers having an international tryst. When they return home, Don is eager to keep playing - adopting new identities is his specialty, and seeing his wife doing it makes him more attracted to her than he's been since their first kiss days - but Betty for once is the more grounded and realistic one. She knows their marriage is still fundamentally broken - she was there for Don's temper tantrum last week, and for all the other problems they've suffered - and that her life will always be unsatisfying, but it's the marriage, and the life, she's stuck with. Their Italian getaway is a great story Don can tell, but it doesn't make their relationship any stronger than a week at Lake George did for Francine and Carlton.
When Henry shows up to (temporarily) save the day with the town council, he tells Betty and Francine that when you don't have power, the best move can be to delay - to put things off and hope the problem goes away on its own. With their role-playing in this episode, our characters are trying to do the same, but most of them realize there's a moment where the costume has to come off, and then the reality will be the same as it ever was.
But if most of the characters have to pretend by the end of the episode that their role-playing didn't happen, at least we get to witness the playing, whether it's sexy (Don and Betty) or creepy (Pete and Gudrun).
Now, I think we can all be in agreement that January Jones is a lovely woman, particularly in the Grace Kelly style the show puts her in. But everything in "Souvenir" - the costuming, hair, makeup and lighting (particularly in the Rome scenes) - seems designed to make her look extra-glamorous. And where Don seems doomed to be out-of-fashion with his Cary Grant look, Betty slides naturally into the '60s when she emerges from the Rome Hilton's salon with that amazing beehive, the dangly earrings, the dress and the blue eyeshadow.
I say this not to objectify one of the show's leads - though goodness knows, we could all spend a lot of time in these discussions drooling over Jones, or Jon Hamm, or Christina Hendricks, etc. - but to note that Matthew Weiner (who wrote the script with Lisa Albert), director Phil Abraham and the crew were making a concerted effort to augment Jones' natural beauty. They want to make absolutely clear how wasted Betty is (or, at least, how wasted she feels) as a housewife in Ossining. Here she is, this gorgeous creature who speaks fluent Italian, studied anthropology, and has the charisma on top of her looks to wrap men as powerful as Henry Francis, or as distant as her own husband, around her finger when she puts a mind to it, and she's suffocating in the life she has. Some of this is on her, and on her upbringing, but it's still hard to see how vibrant and happy she is in Rome, and how deflated she is back on Bullet Park Rd.
(Incidentally, when I was on Bill Simmons' podcast earlier this week, we talked about how different, if at all, "Mad Men" might be if it was on HBO, and we came to the agreement that the show doesn't need, and wouldn't use, nudity. And Don and Betty's drunken foreplay in their hotel room backed me up on that. It was a reminder of how powerful and erotic a scene can be even when the participants are (semi) clothed and the camera discreetly pans away before anything major happens. See also the famous love scene from "Out of Sight," though that one was spiced up by the non-sequential storytelling.)
"Souvenir," like last season's "The Inheritance," builds its two main stories around Betty and Pete, the show's two overgrown children. But where Betty's story here is a reminder of how strong and powerful she can be when she acts the grown-up, Pete's is a reminder of just how dangerous a boy in a man's suit can be.
Is what Pete does to Gudrun rape? It's more ambiguous than what Dr. Greg did to Joan - here, the pressure Pete was using was emotional, not physical, since he knew how much Gudrun feared losing her job - but whatever you want to label it, it was stomach-churning. (And made even worse by how Gudrun's boss treated it as an accepted thing that he objected to solely because it inconvenienced him.) And then it was sad to see how easily Pete was able to deflect his guilt for the thing - not the forcing, but the cheating - onto Trudy by telling her, "I don't want you to go away anymore without me."
Included in the stylistic template of "Mad Men" is a reluctance to use establishing shots. Though we occasionally see the outside of the Sterling Cooper building, most scenes don't get any kind of transitional image to tell you, "Okay, now we're moving from here to here" or "Okay, we're back here on the following morning." It's not always that noticeable because the show does such long scenes, but there were several sequences in "Souvenir" where we just followed either Betty or Pete throughout their day, bam-bam-bam - no establishing shots, no dissolves or other obvious transitions, just one quick cut after another of their frustrated, empty lives. But where Betty manages to be perfectly put-together even when she's bored, we see just how easily Pete lets himself unravel when Trudy's not around and he has nothing to do and no one to stroke his ego. He's drinking more, blacking out on the couch, looking at times like a cross between a little boy (particularly eating cereal on the couch as he watches "Davey & Goliath") and a feral animal.
I don't know that he sets out to take advantage of Gudrun. Again, Peter Campbell is in constant need of outside approval, and in the au pair he sees a chance to play the hero and be profusely thanked for it. But then the thanks come, and they're not enough, particularly when combined with still more booze. And so he goes back, wolf-ish, to get what he wants.
And then Trudy comes home, and Pete can't keep this indiscretion from her. But Trudy has clearly learned by now that the only way to thrive (or at least survive) in a marriage to Peter Campbell is to play the role of his ever-doting, supportive wife/mother/housekeeper. "You're my husband; I want what you want," she says, dismissing her desire for a child because she knows it upsets him. And the poor girl lets the schmuck off the hook. Like Betty, this isn't the life she wants, but the life she has. And by staying in it, she's enabling Pete to do what he wants, when he wants, because he can always cry for Trudy's forgiveness when he needs it.
We see in the vanity mirror scene(*) how much Sally is fascinated by and worshipful of her mother. Puberty is still a few years away, but she's starting to become interested in makeup, and boys, and playing House. She also possesses her daddy's temper, which she takes out on Bobby after he catches her K-I-S-S-I-N-G Francine's son, but what she really wants is to understand the power Betty so obviously holds over men.
(*) Interesting things tend to happen when "Mad Men" characters are in front of mirrors, don't they?
After briefly giving into her attraction to Henry Francis, Betty puts him out of her head, explaining her reasons to Sally (who thinks her mom is just talking in generalities), saying of first kisses, "It's where you go from being a stranger to knowing someone. And every kiss with them after that is a shadow of that kiss." Maybe she would feel differently about the idea if she was married to a man who actually loved her. But all she has is Don, who can only pretend to love her, and so of course every kiss now seems a shadow of their first.
I'll be curious to see over the season's remaining episodes if Betty is just done with Henry, or with adulterous flirtation in general. Has she decided the whole concept is pointless, or is she preparing to play the role of vulnerable, lovelorn woman to a series of men who can each provide a first kiss?
Some other thoughts on "Souvenirs":
• Last week I said I thought that Don, Betty and Peggy were the only characters to appear in every episode. Then we get an episode with no Peggy at all. Has this happened before and I'm misremembering?
• The August setting also makes it easy to save money by keeping several other regulars (Roger, Bert, Sal) off-camera, and it sets up Ken's hilariously crude line about SC upper management: "Cooper's in Montana, Sterling's in Jane, and Draper's on vacation."
• While Bonwit Teller, the department store where Pete exchanges the dress, has closed, the Gristedes grocery store chain (Pete had one of their bags when he found Gudrun trying to throw the dress down the trash chute) is still in business.
• It's funny: even though I knew Pete had gone to Bonwit Teller, when the camera pushed in on Pete's back, I thought for sure the woman coming to see him would be Rachel Mencken, and I was gobsmacked (as I'm sure I was supposed to be) when it turned out to be Joan. And note that poor Joan, even in depressing circumstances she'd rather her old co-workers not find out about, once again completely rocks any job put in front of her. Now, do you suppose Dr. Greg is actually exploring psychiatry, or is that just a specialty she pulled out of thin air when Pete unexpectedly asked a follow-up question? You could read the pause (and the catch in her voice) either as a lie, or as Joan once again coming to grips with her new situation.
• Also, while Betty temporarily goes with the beehive, we see Joan has let her hair down in the new job.
• I liked the contrast of Betty's goofy, endearing "We won!" dance in front of Don with her disdainful suggestion that they put the water tower up in Newburgh, since "it's already disgusting." She can be really warm, and then really cold, in short order.
• Francine's been largely absent this season, which is a shame if you (like me) are a fan of Anne Dudek, but we got a good concentrated dose of her in "Souvenir," as she shows herself to be both savvy and pushy about Betty's private business, and as she once again casually tosses off comments that were acceptable at the time but cringe-inducing now. ("The board is trying to Jap us with a sudden meeting.")
• I thought it was a nice touch that Don scribbled the flight information onto Betty's cold-call list. Not only have we seen Don frequently jots down thoughts on whatever piece of paper is handy (cocktail napkins, inter-office memos), but it's a reminder to Betty of how little he really values what she's doing. To Don, the list is just glorified note paper.
• A couple of other guest star notes: The mayor was played by Mark Metcalf, who's best known for one of two roles: fascist ROTC leader Niedermeyer in "Animal House," and The Master on the first season of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Pete's neighbor Ed Lawrence, meanwhile, was serial guest star Ned Vaughn.
Finally, the slightly modified version of the commenting rules mostly worked last week, so let me just remind you how this 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?