Mad Men 3.4, “The Arrangements”

In this episode: Peggy attempts a move to Manhattan; Pete Campbell secures a wealthy, stupid client, to Lane’s delight and Don’s chagrin; Gene kicks the bucket, sparking some prime rebellion by Sally.

This week asks, what do children owe their parents? By extension, the show suggests that we may owe some sort of debt to the past, to tradition, that we’re ignoring. Gene, uncharacteristically lucid, lays out arrangements for his will with Betty, just before his death at an A&P. Meanwhile, Sterling Cooper lands a young, wealthy client, who, as it turns out, is burning through his father’s hard-earned cash. This causes Don to reflect a bit on what he might owe his own parents. Even Peggy, in her wish to live in Manhattan, seems to be dodging some sort of obligation to her mother, supplying a new television as “hush money,” only to see it backfire.

Gene takes up the bulk of this week. I’ve always thought of Gene as more of a plot device than a fully fleshed-out character; he makes Don and Betty feel out-of-sorts, supplies a few entendres for the viewer, and doesn’t really rise to matter on his own. I don’t think he transcends that use here–Gene is an Exploding Plot Element. Don’t get me wrong. In many cases, I love Exploding Plot Elements (my favorite show, The Wire, was able to use them to enhance realism, not detract from it). And just as I’ve enjoyed the way Don bristled at Gene, I’ll probably enjoy the ripples Gene’s death will cause. But his death here, in the same episode as he lays out his will, feels tawdry.

Sally’s reaction to all of this is the most interesting, even though it’s expected. She’s devastated, but she rebukes her family for falling into defense mechanisms, like laughter, which for many of us define adulthood. There’s a meta-critique being proferred: we might find it easy to laugh at the kinds of things that the characters in Mad Men take for granted–smoking, drinking, sexism, racism–but that’s not the emotionally honest reaction.

Mad Men makes us nostalgic about terrible things. It can be easier to laugh than to tackle that ambivalent feeling head-on.

Peggy’s business is better. Her plotline threatens to fall into cliche at every turn, but it’s saved by sudden twists. Joan helps Peggy advertise for a roommate, and it works–but it’s the kind of roommate that Peggy will despise. Peggy has to break the news to her mother that she’s moving, and is surprised by the strength of the reaction, if not the tenor.

The Sterling-Cooper business with Horace Jr., the Jai Alai proponent, also feels a bit unnatural, but it yields such wealth! Lane is defined more closely than ever before, and we also get that great shot of the Ant Farm’s destruction. The show indulges in some on-the-nose symbolism again, this time about Bert’s role in the organization, but at least it looks spectacular.


2 Responses to “Mad Men 3.4, “The Arrangements””

  1. 1 Deborah Barlow September 11, 2009 at 6:05 am

    I just found your blog and I’m in such bliss. Catholic interests (small c on that) and a facile hand at writing make this a keeper site.

    Your insights re Mad Men are compelling to me, especially since you are both 1)very smart and 2) too young to have been there so your view of that time is unsentimental. It is of endless interest to me, that cuspy time right before the world completely changed.

    I’ll be checking in on a regular basis for more of this really good brew.

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