Friday, September 14, 2007

Mad Men: Gianni on the spot

Spoilers for episode nine of "Mad Men" (titled, appropriately in more ways than one, "Shoot") coming up just as soon as I start a diet...

How many different types of splendid was that final shot? Scary, funny, tragic and kinda hot, all in one. But we'll get back to that, after looking at all the forces that conspired to have Betty in her nightie (at 1 in the afternoon) casually shooting at her neighbor's pigeons.

Betty was a model, you know. She'll tell you (in nearly identical words each time) if you raise the subject. It's her crutch, her way of dealing with this desperate housewife life she absolutely doesn't want. In the back of her mind, she knows that she was once a model -- and still has the Grace Kelly looks to potentially be one again -- just as in the back of her closet she keeps the designer clothes given to her by "Gianni." (BTW, Gianni Versace would have been about 14 in 1960 -- and practically fetus-sized back in Betty's modeling days -- and it's a common Italian name, so I don't think the show was going there.)

Back in the day, modeling wasn't really something looked at as a long-term career. There were, as Betty notes, some women who became very rich and famous doing it, but the era of the model as routine celebrity was still a bit off in the future (thanks to Andy Warhol and Twiggy) and Betty no doubt looked on the profession as a means for landing a man just as obviously as Joan thinks Peggy should be doing. (More on that in a minute.) But the choice was also tied into her mother's "painting a masterpiece" philosophy expressed a few episodes back (when Joan looked even more Grace Kelly-ish than she did last night); Betty no doubt thought her mom would be pleased she chose a job that highlighted her beauty, but instead her mom called her a prostitute for it. (The more we learn about Betty's late mom, the more I think Betty isn't so much grieving as letting out a few decades of repressed anger.) So she modeled for a while until she got with Don and became trapped in suburbia.

Jim Hobart offers her a lifeline -- only as a means to get at Don, which Betty doesn't realize -- but I'm really fascinated by Betty's reaction to getting fired by the Coca-Cola people. She gets upset, but not in a defiant, "I'll show them" way where she intends to use those gorgeous photos to get another gig; she just gives up, surrenders back to her stifling life in Ossining, where she's bored but at least not subject to rejection. Don consoles her by telling her what an amazing mother she is -- and of course that's Don's chief attraction to her, given his upbringing and the fact that he seeks sexual and intellectual satisfaction from outside women -- and she responds by showing the neighbor what a real protective mama bear looks like, casually shooting away at his stupid birds in response to his threat to shoot her children's beloved dog Polly. She gets to show off her matriarchal side while also taking out her agression on the world that she feels has confined her to this house, this lawn, this life where she can still be in a nightie in the afternoon and it won't really matter. Ronnie, the Salvatore-esque art director for Coke, tells her that getting fired "has nothing to do with" her. The problem is, nothing has anything to do with her, and that's slowly driving Betty crackers.

Meanwhile, Don's reaction to all of this was equally interesting and unexpected. I just assumed he would be against the modeling thing from the start, want to keep Betty confined to her motherhood box, but he seemed genuinely supportive throughout, even after the incident with the kids and the neighbor suggested that Betty was falling down on her original job. Then Hobart made the mistake of sending over the photos and Don finally recognized that the whole thing was just another set of golf clubs. So if you're Don, what do you do? You do love your wife and want her to be happy (even as you pursue relationships with other women) and know how much she cares about this job -- which will disappear if you don't sign on at the bigger firm. But you also hate being manipulated by others -- if Hobart would pull this stunt with your wife now, what might he try in the future if you and he clash? -- and are, at heart, a selfish Ayn Rand man. I guess you do exactly what Don did; you finagle a ginormous raise out of Roger and tell Hobart to cram it. Still, it's really sad that Betty got turned into a pawn in all of this.

Some minor bits of business with Peggy, Pete and Joan this week. I really liked Joan and Peggy's talk about the dress and Peggy's motivations for doing the copy-writing thing, as it clarifies once and for all that Joan isn't jealous of Peggy, just confused. The notion of trying to play the man's game at Sterling/Cooper has never even occurred to her.

I also liked Pete repeatedly getting shot down in his attempts to celebrate his big triumph with the laxative/Nixon stunt, whether it was Don responding to Pete's "Are we done here?" with a simple "No" or Pete's poor secretary refusing to drink or even flirt with him and the other chipmunks. I don't read too much into him taking a swing at Kenny for trash-talking Peggy, as there was a definite "nobody picks on her but me" vibe to it all, as opposed to Pete realizing he had treated her like garbage last week. (Also, vis a vis Kenny's "lobster" description of Peggy, I suddenly imagined him as an old man today complaining that J-Lo and Jessica Biel are too fat because they have some junk in the trunk.)

What did everybody else think?


Eric said...

I don't know if it's been mentioned here before, but I just realized how cleverly chosen Don and Betty's home town is.

Shawn Anderson said...

I thought the whole birds thing was such a great metaphor... Betty sees them initially and dreams of flying out of her coop herself. When she does, the birds become even more tied to her character. When the family dog downs one of the birds, Betty soon gets maimed as well. And to cope with it all, she takes hollow shots at the modeling job she once thought she wanted, and, in turn, at the birds she once looked at admiringly (notice she didn't hit one.) Brilliant!

Shawn Anderson said...

Oh, and did anyone else notice Don called her 'Birdie' at one point in the episode, instead of his usual 'Bets'?

Anonymous said...

It's so Soprano, with the white-feathered avians and all....

But I'm kvelling more over the range war, now on, between Peggy and Joan. Peggy knows herself enough to not wear Joan's clothes, figuratively and otherwise, and Joan's clueless about Peggy's own goals.

As the series moves forward, we see that most of Joan's worldliness was gathered around age 15, with a bit of polish and excessive women's magazine reading, thrown in.

That's kinda revolutionary, in showing the sex bomb as hollow, but not stupid, and the mouse as deep, but with a guileful naivete. Both survival strategies will take it on the chin, hard, when feminism tried again to get a toehold in the workplace.

Unknown said...

God, I love this show.

Mark Netter said...

I was wondering whether the rifle Betty used at the end was just her son's toy, as she kept cocking it without adding ammo, and no birds fell. Back in those days boys had air rifles like that -- I remember shooting petals off flowers at point blank range. It would also reinforce Betty as being kept in a childlike (powerless) state. Although the horror of the neighbor seemed to indicate it was a real rifle (bb gun?) but maybe he was too far away to see for sure.

Her shooting also points to her past as a privileged girl who probably did do skeet shooting with her family back then. More of what's simmering inside of her, all the better with the cig sticking sideways out of her craw.

Going back a few episodes to her slapping the divorcee in the supermarket, I think both that and the potshots at the birds are evidence of childhood privilege, or at least growing up in a family that considers itself better than the plebes.

floretbroccoli said...

Was that Matthew Weiner as the bird-loving, dog-and-children-hating neighbor?

Do his birds know Tony's birds?

Was the correction, when the child said "ducks" and was told "pigeons" meant for the audience?

Todd said...

That really looked to me like a BB gun or air rifle.

Anonymous said...

I had just turned to my husband and said, "I don't really get Betty, there's something so opaque about her." And truth be told, I'm not sure the actress in the show is 100 percent up to the challenge of playing Betty, which admittedly is a very difficult role.

But then she walked out with the gun, which blew away everything that had gone before, sort of. That was an utterly brilliant ending. It drove home how full of rage she was, so it was in line with what we know about her, but yet it was utterly unexpected.

That's why I love this show -- as Alan pointed out re the Salvatore episode, things happen that are really surprising yet in keeping with what we know. And those things end up shedding more light on what's gone before.

I do love this show. May it confound and surprise us for many, many years.

Also: The bit where they guys were fighting in the background as Roger offers to give Don a lift to the station -- nicely done comedy.

Joan-Betty -- terrific. Agreed with Alan and other commenters 100 percent on how they keep surprising us with Joan. She's not just one thing - shrew, sexpot, independent gal.

That's the fun here, you think you know these people then what could have been a meandering plot ends up revealing something you'd never thought of, a new, even more interesting layer.

Think Pete and Betty should start a gun club?

Anonymous said...

Best episode EVER!! I love this show...dittos on all of the previous posts; couln't have said it better myself.

Toby O'B said...

It was some sort of bb gun or air rifle toy that belonged to her son, because we saw it at the beginning of the episode - Betty was cleaning up the living room while talking to her friend and she picked it up off the floor and put it away.

Shawn Anderson said...

Alan... you'll also appreciate that this episode was directed by Paul Feig, creator/writer of Freaks and Geeks (and director of some of my favorite episodes of The Office, Arrested Development and Weeds.)

You could certainly see his touch when Roger and Don walk out during the Pete/Ken brawl.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Dammit, I even made a mental note to mention that in the post and then completely forgot. A very good job behind the camera for a guy whose other recent directorial credits include "30 Rock," "The Office" and "Arrested Development." The man's got good taste -- but then, we knew that from "Freaks & Geeks," didn't we?

Dani In NC said...

I'm not as good at all the metaphor business as the rest of the commenters :-). However, the scene at the end really struck me as having a sort of redneck beauty. I mean, if Betty was just outside scaring the birds away, then it says "protective mother". The nightgown and the cigarette seem to add a bit of "I'm tired of caring what I look like all the time." It also made me think that if there had been a similar situation in Don's childhood and he really had a mom like Betty, this is what the solution would have looked like.

Unknown said...

This episode also featured the second best line ever by Roger Stirling - after Pete's success with the radio buying comes to light, he says 'I didn't think you had it in you, and I really mean that'. The other best line ever was in the episode where Pete got fired and then Roger made it look like it was Don who saved his job. I can't remember exactly what was said, but after Pete promised to never let Don down, Roger's reaction was one of the best lines I've heard in TV. If anyone can remember what it was, that would be lovely.

Rain said...

@floretbroccoli - I believe the kid said "doves," not ducks. And he was corrected by pointing out that they're just pigeons. Mere common pigeons.

Unknown said...

What does everyone make of the fact that Don didn't take the new job? It seems like for the first time in his life he has decided to stop running and stake a claim.

Although he sort of ruined that immediately by talking about when he DOES leave it will be for something else.

Also the way he treated Betty in this episode was different. It was the first time he really seemed committed to her too.

Maybe he's changing.

Tosy And Cosh said...

Don and Roger leaving and ignoring the fight - while very funny - did take me out of the moment, though. I just didn't buy that they wouldn't have reacted at all to the melee.

Jon88 said...

For Drake: Don has called her Birdie in previous episodes.

I won't belabor the captioning this week, other than to point out that every opportunity for a screw-up was met. Last week's almost flawless captioning must have been an aberration. Or an ABBA ration.

Karen said...

Since jon delfin has demurred, I will belabor the closed-captioning, which rendered "Fiorello!" as "Theorello." It wasn't until the characters mentioned the exclamation point and Tammany Hall that I even realized what they were watching.

Teh other egregious gaffe was referring to "Y.N.R." instead of "Y&R" for Young & Rubicam, when Hobart and Don were talking ad biz in the theatre lobby.

These last two episodes have been better than the preceding half-dozen or so, but they still leave me unsatisfied. The characters are still two-dimensional to me--although, as mo ryan points out, that might be the fault of some of the cast members (I'm looking at YOU, January Jones and Elisabeth Moss!).

I'm assuming that Peggy is preggers--seeing as she slept with Pete the same night she began taking the Pill, it's unlikely it provided much protection--but I am open to it turning out differently. After all, the writers did surprise me in Peggy being feted by the ad men for her copy, instead of having it stolen by one of them.

Tom Servo said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but won't this season's story end in December 1960, and if it's renewed it will skip ahead two years between each season?

And Alan, are you that tall or is Tara Ariano that short?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but won't this season's story end in December 1960, and if it's renewed it will skip ahead two years between each season?

First I've heard of this. Not saying it's not true, but it's a new one on me if it is.

And Alan, are you that tall or is Tara Ariano that short?

I can't speak to where Tara rates vs. the average-sized woman, but I'm pretty tall (6'3") and have very little sense of how tall or short anyone below, say, 5'8" is.

Anonymous said...

This episode also revealed much about Don's reasons for marrying Betty (aka "Birdie"). While there's a libidinal attraction on his part (e.g. his aggressive courting of Betty during her young modeling days), it seems like his key attraction to her is tied to his own unfulfilled childhood wishes and desires. Abandoned by his "whore" mother, and raised by an adoptive(?) mother who so far appears cold and cruel, Betty--in his eyes--represents the perfect, idealized mother. That moment at the dinner table when he told her how he wished he had had a mother like her, "so kind, so loving, like an angel," seemed so revealing. She's the perfect advertisement version of a sweet young mother, and of course that's what Don's always wished for. No wonder he seems to prefer having sex with other ladies; it seems like he only wants Betty to fulfill a maternal function.

Poor Betty; she clearly would like to be just about anything besides a "kind," "loving" mother, but what are her options at this point?

Man, I love this show. I can't wait until 1963 and (hopefully) all of the ladies in the neighborhood start reading Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique." Do you think Betty will be hitting the wine even harder by then?

Tom Servo said...

Here's where I read about Weiner's plan for Mad Men (it's at the end). Hopefully we'll be able to see what Don Draper's like in 1970.

arrabbiata said...

Great Betty episode- we get to learn a lot about her past and present. That last shot is something this show does so well, something you never would imagine, but is absolutely what the episode needs. Indeed scary, funny, tragic, and hot (kind of scares me that I agree with the last one). This scene is the culmination of all she went through in the episode, leaving her dispassionately firing a gun into the air. Dangerous and she doesn't have it in her to care. I have to wonder how Don would react if he witnessed it.

On the other hand, things more intense occur between Peggy and Joan. The confrontation scene is short but it crackles as each unloads previously unsaid thoughts. A few more puzzle pieces fall into place.

As for Pete and his attack on Kenny, my reading is that it's the result of frustration that has built through the episode. He gets little respect from his colleagues, his secretary won't flirt or accept a drink (unlike Peggy recently accepting one from Don). I see the final insults about Peggy's appearance setting him off not because he felt a need to defend her or to be her sole tormenter, but maybe from his embarrassment that the only woman in the office who will have him is the object of ridicule by his peers. A ridicule he would also suffer if word of their relationship got out. So he slugs Ken. I am mystified that no one there has questioned why, but maybe brawls were just part of the advertising business.

Anonymous said...

We don't need cameos from today's stars, in future seasons, but if MAD MEN survives (and gets beaucoup bank for its budget), there should be a musical episode.

No, silly, not by Joss Whedon.
By Stephen Sondheim.

It's not like he hasn't done TV before (EVENING PRIMROSE), and it's not like this time isn't his homeroom. I can hum a number of his finest showtunes, when I see Betty sipping wine alone, or Don, naked, contemplating his reentry into his Brooks Brothers suited life.

Before that glorious melodic bastid leaves this mortal coil, he could do a lot of good, by considering this series as SWEENEY TODD in COMPANY's clothing. Hope his people call their people, and do lunch....

Elroy said...

Does anyone else think that Peggy is pregnant? I find is suspicious that after she sleeps with Pete a couple of times she immediately starts gaining weight. I can envision a scenario where she ends up turning to Joan to get help finding a 1950’s Doc that performs abortions.

Tom said...

Nice episode, and excellent comments here (as usual).

A few random thoughts:

Betty was taking potshots at the pigeons with a b-b gun, clearly. (I remember Don, in "The Marriage of Figaro," welcoming the divorcee's son by saying there was an air rifle in the backyard.)

I really love the show's broad yet sophisticated handling of politics. This episode even foreshadows Watergate, for Pete's sake. Cackling over his bourbon as he hatches a dirty trick -- inspired by a frat prank -- Pete is definitely a prototype for Donald Segretti. (Remember that HR Haldeman was an ad-man before joining the Nixon team, and would have been a few years younger than Don Draper in 1960.)

The image of Peggy walking around the office in one of Joan's flaming red dresses, which fits her like a burlap sack -- priceless.

So...does Don love Betty? He certainly loves his kids, so he loves the *idea* of Betty as a perfect mom. That's why the last image of her -- protective American motherhood unhinged and unvarnished -- is so memorable and strong.

"Well, Betty, we don't want life to look difficult, now, do we?..."

Note to self: Watch Kubrick's "Lolita" again. I'll bet the team behind "Mad Men" have. It's the closest thing to this show, tonally, that I can think of.

Anonymous said...

It's become one of those shows I watch even though I don't think it's as good as I want it to be. I loved the ending, but... the opening shot of the pigeons being released caused me to turn to my wife and say, "Extended metaphor of the show" or something snotty like that. I know subtle don't get you far this in this world, but still.
Having bitched, I will say that the Pete and Peggy characters are the most interestingly drawn people I've seen on TV in a long time.

Unknown said...

How many more episodes are there? I live in dread that the series will end, even though I know it must. And, any word if it's been renewed?

Unknown said...


There will be thirteen episodes, and according to Variety, AMC is set to renew Mad Men for a second season.

Thoughts on life said...

I don't agree with your assessment of the Hobart effort. When talking with Charline (I think), Betty says that Don says that Hobart wants to sleep with both of she is quite aware that he wants Don and is schmoozing her. She might not draw the straight line connection to his offer, but they both know he WANTS something. I think Don was inclined to turn it down even more because Hobart specifically tied her hiring to his offer when he sent the pictures. I think Don let Betty say she wasn't interested because he wanted to let her preserve her dignity. After all -- she didn't lose the job on her own, and he didn't need to pile on by questioning her view of her termination/departure.
LOVE this show.

Rewatcher/rereader said...

his [Pete's] secretary won't flirt or accept a drink (unlike Peggy recently accepting one from Don).
But Peggy was offered a drink because of her own achievement, whereas Pete and the boys just wanted a girl at their party, all the better if she's tipsy.

The G Lover said...

Watching now for the first time thanks to AMC's catch-up Sundays. Gotta say first that I enjoy the three-a-week (which I burn every two days off the DVR) pace over glutting myself off Netflix.

Thanks to the commenters who have put me on the preggo Peggy theory. I'll be watching it with interest as the season develops.

The one thing I don't get is why, when Cosgrove refers to Peggy as fruit that went bad before anyone could taste is, why didn't Campbell own up to his conquest? None of the boys would have told his wife, and the fact that he pulled Draper's secretary must have earned him some respect from the junior execs. Pete Campbell is a curious and complex young man.

Also fascinated by the 2007ers hating on Pete Campbell. I'm nine episodes in and he's clearly the most compelling to me on a personal level. He's actually quite brilliant at his job, easily the most forward thinking of the staff yet derided by the old men for understanding the changing world they deride. At the same time, he so deperately seeks their approval, their imprimatur, but all his efforts to impress ust drive the wedge deeper. He seems stuck in a life where he makes his way on his name when he could likely make it on his talent and effort. Perhaps the fact that he lives not far from me reinforces the point...

mommacharbear said...

I am surprised you didn't mention that repeated shots of the birds flying freely. Maybe it was a cheap shot? (Ba-da-DAH) Betty shooting at them is also showing her resentment for not being able to "fly away" and escape from her humdrum housewife life. She never hits and kills any of them, which was an interesting symbolism of how she never really hits the mark, so to speak, of getting what she wants.

When I first saw Mad Men, when it came out, I really didn't think January Jones was a very good actress. And maybe it had something to do with her one major credit prior to MM being an American Pie sequel and her dating Ashton Kutcher. And after seeing her guest host SNL, I stand by my opinion, but after more analysis of Betty Draper, I'm seeing January Jones come more into the role. Betty is a shallow person, so of course you hire a shallow person/actor to play her. But at Betty's deeper moments, I can't help but picture how a more credible actress might portray her better. And, come one, I know Grace Kelly, and she is no Grace Kelly.