Monday, March 17, 2008

Mad Men redux: Gianni on the spot

(Note: Because AMC is rerunning the first season of "Mad Men" every Sunday at midnight, and because a lot of people missed the show the first time around, I'm reposting my blog reviews for each episode the morning after. These are written as they were back in the summer/early fall; if I feel differently about anything in retrospect, I'll mention it in the comments. Also, while comments from both newbies and people who watched the first time are welcome, if you've seen these episodes before, please be vague about events in later episodes so as not to spoil things for the newcomers.)

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?


Anonymous said...

That final scene of Shoot is just one of the many reasons why this show is so great.

In retrospect, many episodes of Mad Men have had awesome final shots. Hobo Code, Shoot, and Babylon come to mind immediately. I can't even think of the final shot in most shows (who can?), but on Mad Men, they are unforgettable.

Xtina said...

The scene with the fight and Don and Roger casually leaving is one of the best moments I've ever seen on TV. Such a small touch, but it says so much with so little.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Alan.

How many different types of splendid was that final shot? Scary, funny, tragic and kinda hot, all in one.

A thousand kinds of splendind. My husband and I finally watched this ep last night; we both LOVED that final shot. I felt very badly for Betty the pawn, but she got to show some strength in that final moment that I loved.

As far as the Pete/Peggy stuff... I was a bit confused. Are we supposed to think Pete really has feelings for her as the punch would imply? Because I don't get that vibe. Also, I kept thinking, are they trying to imply that Peggy is pregnant? She had that ripped skirt, that sweater around her waist, and comments were made about her big butt... I kept thinking, I hope they don't go there with a "Pete impregnated" Peggy storyline. I also feel quite ambivalent toward Peggy. If she is supposed to be a sympathetic character that we root for, I just don't. She's an enigma to me, one I don't particularly like or dislike.

Anonymous said...

Late to the commenting party. I do think they were implying that Versace was the designer--the clothes had his over-the-top sense of color and design. Like the ads they use, I think they were fudging with the timeline.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the few episodes that made me cry. When Don tried to console her for the loss of her modeling job, pointing out that she does a great job as a mother, the look on Betty's face made me cry. It seemed as if someone truly realized, for the first time, how much of a prisoner of society's expectations, he or she really is.