"'I want what I want when I want it.' And you don't care what it does to the rest of us - like someone else I know." -BettyHow do you solve a problem like Conrad Hilton? Or Lee Garner Jr.? Or Betty Draper? How do our characters - particularly Don Draper, whom we've grown accustomed to as master of his own universe - deal when they have to accommodate the whims of fickle men and women of power? How do you give the person you're beholden to what they want when even they don't know what that is? What do you do when you're trying to satisfy grown adults who are as changeable and demanding as baby Gene?
"Fine. What do you want from me, love? Your work is good. But when I say I want the moon, I expect the moon." -Connie
"I don't know what you want." -Henry
Those are the big questions of "Wee Small Hours," as Don, Sal and Henry Francis all struggle to decipher mixed signals from, respectively, Connie, Lee and Betty. In the end, none of them manages to satisfy his demanding master or mistress, and the only one getting any personal satisfaction at all is Don, who finally gives into his attraction to Suzanne Farrell.
Having already given up the freedom to run from his life, Dick Whitman-style, thanks to the deal with Conrad Hilton, Don discovers that he has to give up his sleep as well. (Not that any new dad sleeps that peacefully, even in the '60s when Don wouldn't be expected to do much during the night.) In their late-night chats, we see why Connie so powerful, and also why he's a little nuts: he has a missionary's zeal to "bring America to the world, whether they like it or not." He wants his hotels everywhere, including the moon - a line that Don assumes is Connie using hyperbole to make a point, but which Connie is deadly serious about.
Yet for all the aggravation Connie has brought him, we see just how important this relationship is to Don - how much he admires Connie, a man from circumstances so much like his own, who didn't have to cheat to get where he is, and who seems to appreciate both the Dick Whitman and Don Draper parts of our hero's life and personality. When Connie likens Don to a son, Jon Hamm shows just how shaken and touched Don is by this. He's never had approval from a paternal figure before, but it matters to him - dearly. He can't get Archie Whitman to say he's proud of him, even in a delusion, but dammit, he can get Conrad Hilton to say it, and he's going to do whatever he can to stay in Connie's good graces.
The Don we see at the office throughout "Wee Small Hours" isn't the commanding figure we're accustomed to. He's tired, and he's desperate, and he's creatively blocked. You can see that Peggy (who wound up on the Hilton account, after all) isn't so much upset when Don belittles her work as she is worried about him. She understands Don so well that it's scary to see him this frayed; it's not quite as startling as when Don turned into Dick and asked Rachel Menken to run away from him, but this is not what Peggy expects or wants out of her boss.
In the end, Don comes up with a fine campaign, gives another vintage Don Draper pitch... and Connie couldn't care less, since Don neglected to include the moon in it. That it's an irrational request - even if Don were to do some sort of moon campaign, it would have to be its own thing, not part of a campaign for the terrestrial Hilton hotels - doesn't occur to Connie, nor does it matter when Don points it out. This is what he wants, and what Conrad Hilton wants, he gets. And so we see Don in the bizarre position of desperately defending his idea - "This is a great campaign!" - in a position where he would previously have acted as scornfully as he did when the Belle Jolie guys initially rejected Peggy's Mark Your Man campaign.
Much as Don doesn't want to hear it from Roger, he is in way over his head with Hilton, and with all the new responsibilities he's taken on in a post-PPL version of Sterling Cooper. He's in trouble, and we know that when he's in trouble, he runs. Between the baby and the contract, though, he can't run very far, and so finds himself giving into the attraction he's felt for months to the geographically-convenient Miss Farrell. This is not a mistake he would have made in an earlier era - even she can tell that he doesn't usually operate so close to home - and it's going to end horribly (Miss Farrell is a little too in touch with her emotions to go quietly when things inevitably get rocky), but Don needs someone right now, and we know that unfortunately that someone will never be Betty. He needs a Midge/Rachel type, and she's the only one within an easy driving distance. But he understands her only slightly more than he understands Connie, and I suspect she doesn't understand our two-faced protagonist any better.
As vulnerable and sympathetic as Don is in the "You're like a son" moment in Connie's suite at the Waldorf, he is as as cold and cruel as he's ever been when poor Sal comes into his office, hoping that Don his secret-keeper will save him from Lee Garner's petty wrath. And I, unfortunately, had the same expectation. Back in "Out of Town", I braced myself for the worst when Don and Sal were on the plane back to New York, and Don turned out to be mostly cool about Sal's double life. (Undoubtedly, he could relate.) And because of that, I assumed Don would be able to pull a rabbit out of his hat to rescue Sal. But this hasn't been a season of rabbits for Don. He couldn't avoid signing the contract, couldn't please Connie, and he sure can't fight Lucky Strike. And in his powerlessness, he unloads on Sal - who's already terrified for his livelihood, and for his public standing - and contemptuously suggests he should have whored himself to Garner to keep the client happy(*).
(*) Fun with hypotheticals time: put Peggy in Sal's position in this story, as Sal more or less tries to do. How does Don react when he finds out a client ordered her firing because she wouldn't have sex with him? Go.
"You people," he tells him, and it's a testament to Hamm's bravery as an actor that he doesn't in any way try to protect his alter ego's image in that moment. This is Don as complete and utter bastard, destroying Salvatore with two words, and not really caring. Even if his larger point is sadly correct - that the firm can't afford to lose by far its biggest client, and Sal therefore has to go - his presentation is beyond wrong.
And my god... Bryan Batt... what can you say about the guy after an episode like this? Salvatore episodes tend to be rare, and therefore a treat when they come up. Here's a character who started out as obvious (some would say too obvious) comic relief and has become one of the show's great tragic figures. Everyone on "Mad Men" suffers in some way (except maybe Ken Cosgrove), but Sal's burden is especially great, and Batt rises to the occasion every time he's called to show that burden with almost no dialogue. Sal dare not speak his problem's name, so Batt has to internalize most of it, play it with the eyes and body language, and the look on his face when Don turns out to be another villain, not a savior, is just devastating.
And that encounter in the editing suite was nearly as brutal. In the past, when Sal has been identified by a fellow traveler, it's in a personal situation, and Sal has a choice. He walks away from the Belle Jolie guy, and he lets the bellboy ravage him, but in both cases, it's up to Sal. Not here. Lee Garner Jr. wants what he wants when he wants it, and he's gonna take it personally when Sal isn't into it, even as he acknowledges that Sal may not want to do anything where he works. If this isn't Sal's worst-case scenario - that would be complete public exposure - this is pretty close, and he winds up out on the street, literally. He can't tell Kitty the truth, or even a fraction of it - How does he explain the firing otherwise? And wouldn't any version of this story finally give Kitty her Eureka moment, if she didn't already have it in "The Arrangements"? - so he has to pretend to still be employed, all while doing tawdry things with men in the park.
Betty's standards for assignation are higher than that - or, at least, they've gotten higher since the time she and Captain Awesome had sex in that bar's back office - and so she won't sleep with Henry in his office, or even at a motel. In the end, she won't sleep with him at all, to his - and, a little, to my - frustration and confusion.
Roman interludes aside, I've felt far more engaged by the show this season when it's at Sterling Cooper than when we're following Betty on her attempt to find fulfillment. And though an argument could be made that Henry is the powerful, confounding figure in this particular story, I think it's Betty who has all the power. Like he says, she's the married woman, so she has to choose to come to him, and she gets to choose to walk away from him. She's the one who decides to be his pen pal, the one who insists on going through with the fundraiser idea, and the one who throws the lockbox full of
And because of that, Betty's story was the least compelling part of "Wee Small Hours." It's one thing to watch a character we know and care about like Don struggle to satisfy a bewildering master; it's quite another for the bewildering master to be someone we know and care about, and for the confused one to be the guest star. As written, and as played by January Jones, Betty is designed to be a frustrating, and frustrated, character. She's trapped in a life that should make sense but doesn't, with a man who professes to love her but only occasionally acts like it, with mixed signals coming from family and friends from childhood on. Of course she wouldn't know quite what she wants - might drop the idea of Henry in one episode and then decide to pursue him again in the next - but dramatically, it's not always that interesting, particularly when Betty's directionless quality is pitted against a relatively minor guest character.
Maybe that story is eventually going somewhere, I don't know. With only four episodes left in this season, I'm damn curious to see where all of this is going, particularly now that Sterling Cooper has said goodbye to both Joan and Sal, at the same time that Don is tied to the firm for another three years. I sure don't want to say goodbye to Christina Hendricks or Bryan Batt, but if Don isn't going to set up his own shop, how realistic is it to keep them as part of the narrative? Or will "Mad Men" increasingly spread its world beyond the walls of Sterling Cooper, as we see where the '60s take all of these characters, even if it's not together?
But I suppose it's no easier to decipher what Matthew Weiner wants than it is with Connie, or Betty.
Some other thoughts on "Wee Small Hours":
• This episode was the directorial debut for "Mad Men" executive producer Scott Hornbacher, who, like Weiner, used to work on "The Sopranos." I'm guessing, but don't know, that it was Hornbacher's choice to put Miss Farrell in the Bowdoin t-shirt, since it was one of the two schools Tony and Meadow visited in the famous "College" episode of "The Sopranos."
• So it turns out Don's "I want no contact with Roger Sterling" line to Cooper as he signed his contract in "Seven Twenty Three" wasn't about keeping Don away from Roger, but keeping Hilton away from Roger. That makes more sense, as I imagine trying to end all contact between the creative director and a founding partner (even if he's something of a figurehead now) is untenable. Also interesting to see Roger continue to be more passionate and invested about his job ever since his wake-up call in "Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency."
• I want to be clear that at this point in the season, I'm seeing my episodes one week at a time, only a few days before you all, so when I joked in my review of "The Fog" that Chekhov had said, "If you put a drunk woman with a half-buttoned blouse and a dangling bra strap on screen in episode five, she's going to have sex with Don Draper by episode nine," I had no idea that the sex would actually first happen in episode nine.
• Unless he was using a pre-existing bit of music I didn't recognize, David Carbonara's theme for the Betty/Henry scenes was some of the lushest stuff he's yet composed for the show. It really sounded like something out of a '50s or '60s melodrama.
• Some "Mad Men" episodes cover the span of a day, others (most notably "Three Sundays") a much longer period. This was one of the latter, as it opens before the start of the school year and ends on September 17, the day of the funeral for three of the four girls who died in the Birmingham church bombing.
• Speaking of the bombing, I don't think it's a coincidence that Martin Luther King and the civil rights struggle are so prominent (on the radio, anyway) in an episode in which Carla gets stuck in the middle of the unfaithful Drapers. Carla's no dummy; you can see from the instant she walks in on Betty and Henry that she wishes she hadn't, and that she resents Betty's later attempt to get her to participate in the fundraiser lie to Don. And her brief conversation with Betty about the bombing underscores how difficult that working relationship must be for her. You understand where Betty is coming from when she suggests now might not be the best time for civil rights - it's the same patronizing attitude expressed by baseball people who weren't racists but were afraid Jackie Robinson would be in danger if the game integrated. But Carla doesn't want to hear that, even though she knows she has to hold her tongue and not tell Mrs. Draper what she really thinks (which is that change will never happen with that attitude, that the bigots will always win). If there's an area where Weiner has been consistently dinged even by ardent "Mad Men" fans, it's been how little the series has touched on the black experience of the era. I'm hopeful that's starting to change, and that whenever season four is set, black characters will be a significant part of it.
• Harry Crane, idiot. His plan to take a step back and do nothing turned out to be just as bone-headed as his usual impulse decisions. Had he gone to Roger, or even Pete, they might have been able to fix things - sent Sal far away for Lee's visit without firing him, or talked Lee out of it, or some other brand of client-cooling - but Harry's complete inaction ensured that things went down as poorly as possible. And I suspect Paul could have told him that, but chose not to because Paul would rather witness the carnage.
• After his spotlight episode last week, Pete largely recedes to the background here, but Vincent Kartheiser gets a choice gag to play, as non-smoker Pete spends the entire scene at the commercial shoot loudly coughing in the background after Lee forces him to sample the product. That's also another sign of what a bully the guy is, and how he's used to people doing what he tells them to.
Finally, 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.
Keeping that in mind, as well as the usual commenting rules (no spoilers, no talking about the previews, etc.), what did everybody else think?