As “Mad Men” nears the end of Season 3, the start of the rest of the century beckons. The dramatic irony lies in the contrast of the characters’ expectations versus audience’s knowledge of events to come. Whereas Roger Sterling sees the rest of the century playing out in a similar fashion to the first forty years of Sterling Cooper’s existence, we know all too well that a few bullets in a few weeks time will end one era and start another.
[Full recap of Sunday (Oct. 18) night’s “Mad Men” after the break…]
“Enjoy the world as it is…They’ll change it, and never give you a reason.” Words spoken by Roger’s mother to him on the way to the anniversary dinner for the company her husband co-founded. While she’s clearly dislodged a few screws during her long life, she hit the episode’s theme directly on the head. Don’s professional, private, and extra-curricular lives all drastically changed this week, and he’s not even remotely clued in as to just how different his life currently stands. Let’s look at each in sequence:
Aside from the occasional dismemberment via riding lawnmower, not much of interest has really happened at Sterling Cooper this season. The office has provided more of a central location for recurring characters to meet rather than the home base from which the majority of the show’s drama has flowed. But it looks like when the Yanks went and (literally) undercut the future of their parent company, they may have severed all ties to their own futures as well.
The one possible thing standing in the way of the firm’s second sale in less than two years? Lane Pryce, nebbish CFO, slasher of corporate fat, husband to a homesick wife, and the sole member of the office aware that Putnam, Powell, and Lowe are planning to sell the firm. Looks like Pryce’s expertise in reducing redundancies has made the firm worth much more in just a short time. And whether or not the John Deere incident truly affected their judgment or not, it’s clear that London no longer sees Sterling Cooper as an economically viable entry into the American market. They’re flipping companies the way some people flip houses. After forty years, Sterling Cooper’s turned into a run-down bungalow.
But for Don, none of these things are on the radar. For him, it’s still morning meetings with the junior staff. Peggy and Kinsey both strive to impress Don, but both feel inferior in his shadow. Their attempts at inspiration differ: Peggy free associates into a Dicatphone, whilst Kinsey drinks and…um, relieves stress. Kinsey hits upon a great idea while drunkenly talking to the night janitor, the dramatically named Achilles. But Kinsey’s own Achilles’ heel? The inability to write his bold, brilliant, once-in-a-lifetime idea down before passing out on his couch. Interestingly, Don sympathizes with Kinsey’s predicament, and a passing reference to Peggy about a Chinese proverb ends up selling Don on their impromptu, combined idea. Kinsey looks at Peggy’s nimble mental skills with a combination of impression and depression. All the schooling in the world can’t help him in the face of Peggy’s natural talent.
But Peggy wasn’t the only one taking a bold step towards the rest of the 1960’s tonight. At the Draper home, Betty’s eyes looked upon the past and sent her hurtling towards the future.
When watching “Mad Men,” one cannot help but register, even on a subliminal level, the way in which characters and environment are lit. Often, these lighting effects call attention not just to mood, but time period. So watching Betty fall back into the stark, natural sunlight pouring through their office window after opening Don’s Big Box of Secrets, one could almost see the filters of the cinematographer’s lights yanked away in an instant, transforming Betty’s face from historical replication to modern reflection.
It’s not for nothing that the episode showed Betty reading Mary McCarthy’s “The Group,” a feminist novel filled with Vassar grads seeking emancipated lives beyond that of their parents’ generation. Not only has the shadow of her father’s death still clung to her all season, but so too has Don’s dual/triple/quadruple lives. The key to his drawer rattles about throughout the episode, ever louder, almost as if his true nature were coming to the surface while she performed the mundane task of doing laundry.
Betty waits up all night for Don to return from “work,” but gives up around two o’clock in the morning. While I would have appreciated a knock-down confrontation outside of the season finale, I am anxious to see how carefully Betty deploys this atom bomb of information in the future. Given her incredible ability to internalize emotion, it should be a while before Don catches on. In her eyes, she’s little more than a figure upon which clothes are hung and displayed in public. Fine when a model, but not when a wife and mother. Given her increasingly contentious relationship with her status as suburban housewife, I sense Betty will be looking for a way out of her station.
But while Betty might be looking out, Sally’s former teacher appears to be attempting to crow bar her way in.
Miss Farrell, a little dating advice: a guy that was loathe to sign a three-year contract that ensured him a $5,000 singing bonus has NO INTEREST in meeting your brother. I’m no Dr. Drew here, but I think I can say with confidence that it might be a little too much commitment for him. What Don needs from you is a quiet sanctuary of two in which he can fetishize your nominal purity of purpose in order to try and obtain some for himself through osmosis. In you, he sees a possibility of a better self, though by the very fact that he’s looking for it in the arms of a woman two miles down the road from his house suggests that he’s possibly beyond complete redemption.
While Betty gazes through old photographs to get a glimpse into Don’s past, Don himself sees a more recent history reflected in Danny, her brother. A smart man crippled by epileptic fits, he fits into a Don Draper duality: sweet on the outside to his sister, cold and unfeeling when only with Don. The Artist Formerly Known as Dick Whitman is torn when confronted with Danny’s desire to not report to the janitorial position Miss Farrell has found for him. On one hand, he knows all too well that supporting a sibling through money alone doesn’t solve problems. On the other hand, he respects and identifies with Danny’s need for freedom in his life. In the end, he offers Danny his personal information in an attempt to set up a source of help outside Miss Farrell’s innocent eyes. However, it’s as much a way to atone for Adam Whitman’s suicide in Season 1. No wonder Don never got rid of that box of memories: they keep staring at him in the face regardless.
Now, I’m not saying Miss Farrell is a gold digger, but she’s not minding Don’s involvement in her life getting bigger. Did she call the Drapers’ residence and hang up? Probably, given the fact that she’s hopping a one-stop ride on Don’s commuter rail to NYC just to get a little face-to-face time. For Don, she’s an escape from the real world, not another attempt to live in it. It’s his version of Eden, even though it’s simply a rental apartment above a garage. Hell, he even wants her to stay quiet during sex, as if one cry of pleasure could bring the whole house of cards down upon him.
Of course, as we saw tonight, they’ve already started to tumble. He just doesn’t know it yet. “See? It all works out,” he tells a chastened Kinsey, unaware just how much is actually unraveling.
Will Don still be with Sterling Cooper by the time it’s sold? And will Betty still be with him? Leave your thoughts below!