Archive for September 28th, 2009

Mad Men 3.7, Seven Twenty Three

I never posted about episode six, because I didn’t really have anything to say about its grand guignol stylings. Just in case anyone forgot that this show comes from the Sopranos stable of writers . . .

In this episode: Don lands Hilton, forcing him to finally sign a contract at Sterling Cooper; Betty buys new furniture, helps the Junior League’s conservation efforts, and reconnects with Henry Francis; Peggy, after receiving a brutal tongue lashing from Don, rejects Duck’s business advances but not his romantic ones.

This week the show is back to being economical. As the brief recap above suggests, we’re only really following three characters in this episode, and the editing highlights this by giving us glances at each character as they’ll appear in a later part of the episode. Don, Betty, and Peggy each push at their boundaries, only to have those boundaries assert themselves forcefully. What follows is some off-kilter, self-destructive behavior by each of the leads. Mad Men has always played on the gap between our fantasies of freedom, power, and success (which advertising props up) and humdrum conformity; never has it been so insistent on the dominance of the latter. Historically minded prognosticators anxiously await the changes of the sixties to show up in the characters, but I’m beginning to think they won’t make it, none of them.

Don takes Dick Whitman out for one last spin, after facing pressure from both work and home about that contract, but bringing back Dick means bringing back the Whitman family’s toxic influence, and Don gets grifted by some hitchhikers.

Betty finds a reason to get back in contact with Henry Francis, the man who lustfully touched her pregnant belly a few episodes back, but decorum and the town’s watchful eyes prevent anything else from occurring. Instead of vaulting ahead into liberation, Betty goes backward in time by purchasing a victorian-style fainting couch. While this piece of furniture invites her to indulge her fantasies, it also ruins her living room for social events–do you think she’ll ever have the Junior League over again? If her decorator is right about the hearth (she says people gather around one even if there isn’t a fire), placing a piece of furniture in front of it seems like a turn inward.

Lastly, Peggy pursues the rumored Hilton contract, but runs into Don at a bad time. His blunt enforcement of the glass ceiling sends her into the waiting Duck’s arms. She’s still not ready to accept the offer to join Grey’s, but she ends up sleeping with the decidedly older man who can be so direct about his desire. Maybe this will prove to be a good thing, what with Duck being more mature and capable in the bedroom, but it could easily turn into a professional disaster. Plus, I mean, it’s Duck. ewwww. He’s still not drinking, but he says he loves the taste of liquor on Peggy’s breath. Ick.

Unless something drastic happens in the next few episodes, this seems like an Endgame of sorts. When a humbled Don is finally coerced into signing a contract, it becomes hard to imagine we’ll get the imaginative exits and the appealing glimpses Dick Whitman provided. But, for now, it’s a real pleasure to watch Don squirm, and to see nearly every character–Bert, Suzanne, the grifters, Betty–call Don out on being just like everybody else, a man living in quiet desperation.


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September 2009