Posts Tagged 'mad men'

Mad Men 3.5, “The Fog”

In this episode: Betty gives birth to a baby, but there are nightmarish complications; Don discusses failure and fatherhood with a prison guard; Sally acts up in school; Sally’s teacher calls Don; Duck hatches a scheme to bring Pete and Peggy over to Grey, an S-C rival; Pete’s idea for “integrated” advertising receives mostly negative reviews; Peggy asks for a raise.

Now that’s more like it.  “The Fog” is the most compelling episode we’ve seen this season.  Every once in a while, Mad Men achieves a liquid state of being that transforms the show’s building blocks into something ineffable and fascinating.  Would we tire of the show’s unceasing ambiguity and its on-the-nose dialogue without that dreamlike wonder?  I know I would.  Most of this episode exists in that liquid state, particularly the middle sequence in which we cut between Betty, doped up and hallucinating, and Don, waiting and ruminating.

You don’t need a dream dictionary to decipher Betty’s garden-variety imagination.  In one dream, she takes a caterpillar in her hand and crushes it; in the other, she finds her dad, mopping blood in her kitchen, as her mother tells her to keep her mouth shut, and dabs a bloody handkerchief on Medgar Evers’ head.

Now the crushed caterpillar is probably a premonition that Betty’s going to have trouble loving baby Eugene, but it also reminds me that Betty’s been in a state of chrysalis for two-and-a-half seasons now.  We keep expecting her to blossom into Friedanesque independence, but Betty has instead engaged in abortive strikes at freedom, such as her one-night stand at the end of last season.

The other dream connects women’s lib to the civil rights movement.  Before his death, Gene commented on Sally’s intelligence, indicating she could do “something else” with her life.  Now, after Gene’s death, Sally has been absorbed with the news coverage of the Evers murder.  Betty’s mother and father remind her to keep quiet and know her place, connecting Betty’s desire for something more with the death of Evers.

It’s not the symbolism that impresses–it’s the way these dreams begin to infect the surrounding bits and pieces of the show.  Conspiracy theorists have already launched the idea that Dennis Hobart, the man sitting with Don in the waiting room, is a figment of Don’s imagination.  I don’t think there’s much evidence of this, but I understand why people might feel that way. If it were an ordinary scene, Don’s interactions with Dennis Hobart, prison guard, would grate.  Every line is a cryptic references to Dick Whitman, Don’s promises to be a better husband, and his guilt over mistakes. But when they’re couched in this moment of surreality, where “time has stopped” according to Don’s watch, those ordinary observations suggest something else, that has yet to be said. It’s wonderful to watch Don slip in and out of personas when he speaks with complete strangers–the acting gift that keeps on giving.

Elsewhere, the logic of dreams is pervasive, crashing right up against reality. Duck magically reappears, drinking . . . coffee and wearing a turtleneck, offering jobs to Pete and Peggy at his new company, the more successful Grey’s.* Duck tells them both exactly what they want to hear about themselves–whoever said this guy was bad at advertising. Pete’s too offended, but Peggy gives the thought some serious consideration. Meanwhile, Pete, for the first time in a while, really loses himself in an idea. He pitches “integrated” advertising to Admiral TV, which responds negatively, leading to an S-C management beatdown. But Lane picks up on the worth of Pete’s ideas, and proposes pushing them elsewhere.

* again, the mood of those scenes with Betty has colored these interactions to such a degree that some wonder if Duck really does have a job there.

Some other observations

  • Loved the awkward conversation between Pete and Hollis, the black elevator operator. It echoes back to Don’s conversation with the black waiter in the very first episode of the series, and manages to illustrate the huge gap between Pete and Don, as well as the changing relationships between blacks and whites. Of course, Pete does display his ignorance of what’s going on in the country, but not his ignorance of Hollis, who he does correctly ID as a baseball fan.
  • Lane Pryce is proving to be a pretty enjoyable character. At times he can threaten to be a one-dimensional budget-hawk, but he appreciates Don’s suggestion to get free office supplies from S-C clients, and recognize’s the quality of Pete’s push for profits. He’s also aware that “there’s something going on,” RE: race, which you can’t say about Roger or Bert.
  • Don’s sequence with the prison guard flushes out all the Draper hobbyhorses: new beginnings, parental guilt, imprisonment. “Everybody in pinstripes” indeed. Don is attempting to be more responsible, but that also feels like a trap. In one dream, Betty heads for the hospital exit, only to end up in her own kitchen. And Peggy continues her slow-motion escape to Manhattan, but can’t get a raise or leave the company without hurting Pete. And let’s not forget about Sal, whose escapade with the bellhop in Baltimore keeps threatening to be exposed (this time through Pryce’s examination of hotel room tips).
  • I don’t really care too much whether Don decides to sleep with Sally’s teacher–after all these affairs, I’m a little jaded, I guess. But it does seem like the graceful Suzanne Farrell is a proponent of more sympathetic teaching methods than her predecessors–consider the contrast between her response to Sally’s bullying, and the way that Betty disciplines her own children.


Error: Please make sure the Twitter account is public.



August 2020