Indeed we do, Gene. These latest episodes are so packed with story, character development, symbolism, revealing dialogue, historical allusions and humor that it’s hard to keep up. Poor Gene couldn’t keep up – he dies in this episode, a bit too soon for my taste, as I was greatly enjoying his presence in the show. But he achieved the enviable goal of leaving while we were still wanting more.
Several of the characters on Mad Men are wanting more, as well, and chafing at their present arrangements. Some take action to change them; others have theirs changed for them; others will have changes coming in the foreseeable future.
I am one of those girls. ~ Peggy
Peggy wants out of Brookyn, ostensibly to eliminate the 2 hours a day she spends commuting (which she notes adds up to an extra week of work per month), but also to become a full-on Manhattan career girl (they’re not women yet, in 1963), because as she says it’s “different up here.”
She wants to escape the mother who calls her Peaches yet tells her she’s going to get raped in Manhattan, even though at first the alternative doesn’t look much better, given how the rest of the staff is treating her – the boys getting Lois to make prank phone calls as horrible potential roommates, leaving Peggy to wonder if everyone in Manhattan has decided she shouldn’t live there. Joan critiques Peggy’s ad for a roommate as sounding like stage directions from Ibsen, stressing as it does her responsible nature and possession of a TV and furniture, then offers to help since she thinks the right roommate could do “wonders” for Peggy. Suggesting once again that her talents are wasted in the secretarial pool, Joan dictates a possible new ad off the top of her head, leaving Peggy the professional copywriter scurrying to take notes:
Am I wrong? If this were me, I’d say something like:
Fun-loving girl. Responsible sometimes. Likes to laugh, lives to love. Seeks sidekick for gallivanting No dull men or dull moments tolerated.
But of course the problem is that it isn’t Joan but Peggy who needs a roommate, and as we see in not just this episode but the entire series, people pretending to be who they’re not has unfortunate and even tragic consequences. In Peggy’s case, channeling Joan merely means attracting a comically inappropriate roommate, Karen Erickson, who takes the ad at face value, and offers that she herself only has a few rules, one being “no sailors.” A stunned Peggy agrees and chirpily imitates her new best buddy, as well as fudging on how her life as a career woman makes demands on her, insisting that she might work Saturdays but never works Saturday nights when “I’m out in the city ready for fun!”
Peggy’s new life has a more immediate cost, when she tells her mother about her move, perhaps ill advisedly combining it with a gift of an expensive new console TV that at first impresses Mrs. Olson by making her realize how well her daughter is doing, but then is rejected by her when she thinks it’s a way to buy her off. In a direct steal from 1950’s director Douglas Sirk (in the movie All that Heaven Allows, in which Jane Wyman’s kids try to fill her empty widowed life with a TV, in part to distract her from the younger man they forced her to give up), we see the shadowy images of Peggy, Anita and their mother reflected in the glossy blank screen of the TV, equating the family with it, as her mother soon does as well:
I guess I’m the kind of mother who wants a TV more than a daughter. You got me a new TV because you thought I was born yesterday. You belong in the city. Family’s cheap to you. Take it back. It’s just gonna remind me of how stupid you think I am.
Television has of course been blamed, to some degree rightfully, for the demise of close family interaction from its very inception, but here it’s also used as a symbol of how societal and cultural changes are beginning to put cracks in the parent-child bond, a process that will accelerate at warp speed in the next several years. Peggy’s mother is proud of her success but also afraid of it, and unable to fully understand it (last season, Peggy told Father Gill she was surprised to hear her mother explain what she did for a living). She tells Peggy that she can’t believe anything she says, a clear reference to the secret pregnancy, but also an accurate assessment of how Peggy hides herself from her mother, as even adult children would increasingly do in the 60’s, as they delved into behaviors that their parents found unthinkable.
As she leaves, Peggy’s mother turns away from her, and to the TV, turning it on even after she’s said she rejects it, seeking the numbing solace it will bring her for at least a few hours every night.
Really? ~ Peggy
She’s been through a lot of changes lately. The holy father dying – that was hard on her. ~ Anita
Kill or be killed, eat or be eaten – that’s how I was raised. ~ Bert Cooper
The struggle between parents and their children takes a tragicomic turn in the business side of the episode, as Pete reels in an old college chum, comically nicknamed “Hoho,” who has come into his trust fund and wants to spend it getting jai alai going in the U.S., and wants Sterling-Cooper to handle the advertising, promotion and TV rights to the tune of at least a million dollars a year (although letting slip he has up to $3 million budgeted for marketing).
The staff clearly finds his gullibility and ideas risible (from getting all three networks to cover jai alai simultaneously to having his star athlete headline action-adventure-spy musical extravaganzas) but are happy to soak him for as much as they can. Only Don has reservations, ostensibly because he knows that Hoho’s father is an old friend of Bert Cooper’s, although he is also almost visibly appalled at Hoho’s ignorance.
What about radio? ~ Hoho
You’ll have to take radio the way it is. ~ Don
Arranging a meeting with the more soberly named “Horace Cook, Senior” (David Selby, a million years after Falcon Crest), as well as Roger and Bert, Don questions the wisdom of throwing millions of dollars at a sport that is unknown in America and that Cook Sr. himself derisively terms “Polish handball.” What follows is a chilling example of a father disowning his son, not financially but morally:
You know that’s not the way the marketplace works. A man comes through your door, he knows what he wants, he has the money to back it up, you do your best. I’ve seen his plan -- it’s gibberish. My son lives in a cloud of success but it’s my success. Perhaps when that evaporates and his face is pressed against the reality of the sidewalk, he’ll be of value to someone. […] When we put that money aside for him, he was a little boy. We didn’t know what kind of person we were making.
Don looks extremely pained during this speech, and at Cook Sr.’s offhand remark to Bert’s soothing, “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” of “Easy for you to say; he doesn’t have your name.” Don doesn’t bear his father’s name, but he was the one who rejected it. Hearing a father reject his son so callously and coldly seems to spur him to take one last chance to right a wrong, even though it’s only partly his. When Pete and Don take Hoho (who is so naïve he thinks he should be treating them) out to dinner, Don gives him one last chance to reconsider:
But Hoho is one of those people who think they know a lot more than they really do, and who thus get their pockets picked clean, who discusses advertising smugly but mispronounces “Ogilvy” and who entirely misses the import of Pete’s crack that jai alai would have been just the kind of investment his own (bankrupt) father would have been interested in. He’s utterly unable to see his own blind spots, and therefore to take the blunt words that Don has spoken at face value – instead, he seems to have been spying on Don’s seductions of women:
That’s a sales technique, isn’t it? You zig away from me and I zag back into your arms?
In the end, Don comes around to the logic that Hoho’s father puts forth,which is that if Sterling-Cooper doesn’t take his money, someone else will, and so Don tells his staff, “Don’t stop till you see the whites of his pockets.” As a literal parting shot, he gives jai alai a try, sending the ball into the ant farm and shattering the glass, releasing the busy worker ants, even as the human workers continue to toil in their own glass prison.
Well there you have it. ~ Don
Hoho may have the final laugh, though, as jai alai did have a brief phase as a popular spectator sport in the 1960’s. And we get a laugh right away, learning that Pete’s own college nickname was…Humps.
Peggy may be trying to take on a new identity, but Sal is desperately trying to hold onto an old one, his façade as a heterosexual man. His wife Kitty is getting suspicious, though, as he once again spurns her sexually, despite her sexy new nightie, leading her to question him directly:
Something’s wrong…isn’t it? ~ Kitty
No, don’t say that, don’t say that. ~ Sal
But for once, Sal has a good excuse, explaining that he’s been watching his job disappear, as illustration gives way to photography in advertising, a neat symbol of how reality is beginning to trump illusion in American society. People no longer want a pretty picture that someone’s drawn for them, either in advertising or in life, but an honest depiction of real life. This means that not just Sal’s livelihood is in danger, but his whole closeted life, his face to the world.
Fortunately, Don has not only kept his secret from “Out of Town,” but has given Sal a chance to move up in and secure his career, tapping him to direct the Patio soda commercial. Sal’s worried, though, because as he explains to Kitty, “I don’t want to fail. A single mistake and the entire shot is ruined.” As a closeted gay man in 1963, he knows it only takes one mistake to ruin his entire life, and he’s already gotten one bye from Don. Surely he won’t be granted another.
Yet even as he says this and tries to literally hush Kitty as she voices her concerns, he unconsciously outs himself when he acts out the entire Patio soda TV commercial for Kitty, playing the Ann-Margret part to perfection (far better than the girl they get to imitate her, I might add.)
As he does so, we realize that the choreography of the ad, in which the actress stands on a treadmill and alternately comes towards the viewer and then flirtatiously recedes, is also a metaphor for the slow coming out process of not just Sal but most gay people, especially in the early days of sexual liberation. But as is so often true on this show, the symbolism goes deeper, applying not just to Sal, but to all the characters on the show who are experimenting with moving out or forward or on with their lives, sticking a toe out and then stepping back, as they see how the world reacts to their true selves.
Having let the gay out at home, Sal is going to have a very hard time putting this particular genie back in the bottle. The actress does a superb job of showing us Kitty’s slowly dawning recognition that she’s right that something’s wrong, that her husband isn’t what he’s said he is, or what she wants him to be. And even though she “doesn’t ask for much,” she admits she does need “tending” by her man, and is realizing that beyond cooking and decorating, she’s not going to get that from Sal, a realization that is crushing, since as she tells him: “I have one horrible flaw – I’m in love with you.”
But it’s not just Kitty who is beginning to sense something about Sal. When the commercial is shown to the clients who have demanded it, they reject it immediately, saying, it’s not what they expected it to be, which prompts Peggy to look almost unbearably smug for the rest of the scene (in the last episode, she’d asserted that clients don’t always know what they want, much less what they need.) When Don testily asserts that “this is exactly and I mean exactly what you asked for,” and Ken adds that “it’s an exact copy frame for frame” of the Bye Bye Birdie footage they loved, they sheepishly agree while continuing to express their puzzlement:
I know but there’s something not right about it. I can’t put my finger on it. I’m sorry. I wish I could explain it, but I can’t. It’s just not right.
After they leave, the boys continue to ponder the problem:
It doesn’t make any sense. It looks right, it sounds right, it smells right but something’s not right. What is it? ~ Harry
It’s not Ann-Margret. ~ Roger
Although the clients can’t put their finger on it, in his animal instinctual way, Roger can: It’s just not Ann-Margret in the commercial, just as it’s not really a heterosexual man in Kitty’s bed. It may be an exact copy, it may look and act and smell like one, but it’s not. Let’s just hope that Sal and Kitty can find a graceful way to get off the treadmill, wish each other well and move on to partners who can give them both the “tending” they need and want rather than remaining alone together.
Glad I’m not alone. ~ Patio Client #2
War is bad. ~ Bobby
Maybe. But it makes a man out of you. ~ Gene
As they do for Peggy, the fraying bonds between parents and children also take center stage in the Draper household. Grandpa Gene dotes on his grandchildren, attempting to give Bobby his WWI mementos, until Don objects, taking away the German helmet that bears a bullet hole from where Gene shot the soldier wearing it, telling Bobby bluntly, “That’s a dead man’s hat.”
Don of course knows all about wearing a dead man’s hat, which he does every day in the guise of the actually dead Don Draper, while his own soldier’s hat as Dick Whitman is also dead, in the eyes of his family. These matters seem on Don’s mind, as later we see him look at a photo of his parents in 1928, in which his father looks like the grim SOB we saw in “The Hobo Code.”
Grandpa Gene is even more generous with Sally, doting on her, offering to buy her peaches (gruffly overruling Bobby when he says they give him a rash), telling her she’s smart and “can really do something,” although subtly putting down Betty in the process. We can understand why he’s doting on Sally, who laps up the attention as well as the verboten ice cream he encourages her to share with him, as his relationship with his supposed “princess” Betty isn’t going well. Looking miserable in the unique way that women do at the very end of pregnancy, and being nagged about her smoking, Betty is understandably tetchy, but her reaction to her father’s straightforward attempt to share his “arrangements” for after his death, during which he explains that he’s written it all down, precisely so that “we don’t have to talk about it again” brings out the worst in Betty:
I don’t understand why you like talking about this when you see it upsets me. It’s morbid and it’s selfish. I’m your little girl. I know it must be horrible to be looking at what you’re looking at, but can’t you keep it to yourself?
I think that last sentence sums up Betty’s entire character. She doesn’t want to know what’s really going on for anyone – not her father, not Don, not her children, not even herself. She believes in repression as Christians believe in Jesus’s death – as a way to cover all sins. And she defines almost every human feeling as a sin. Given we never see Betty go to church, I guess it’s that Nordic Calvinist strain that can’t be escaped even when formal religion is eschewed. But at times, she seems more Catholic than Peggy.
In the end, it’s up to Sally to have the feelings that the adults refuse to have, as she mourns her grandfather silently in the dark in that classic childhood hideout -- underneath the dining room table – until she can’t take the adults inane chatter anymore and bursts into the kitchen to confront them, with Betty trying to teach Sally how a WASP woman deals with her feelings properly:
Sally: How can you sit there like nothing’s happened? He’s gone forever and nobody even knows that.
Betty: You’re being hysterical. Calm down.
Sally: He’s dead and he’s never coming back and nobody cares and nobody cares that he’s really really gone.
Betty: Sally, go watch TV.
Once again, TV is the great pacifier, a way to push down feelings and avoid human contact and real connection. And yet, Betty is visibly sad, the evidence of tears shed still in her face, and despite Don’s objections, she eats the peach that has lain in her father’s car all day, the peach bought for Sally, the substitute princess, but which Betty claims as rightfully hers, a last gift from a father who pampered her, even if he earlier blamed himself for doing so:
You don’t want to hear about it. Scarlett O’Hara. You’ve always been sensitive. That’s my fault for shielding you from all the dangers out there. That’s why you married this joker. If you’d even known what was possible….
Sally seems to know what’s possible, throwing herself down inconsolably in front of the TV as directed, only to face the horror of a TV news item about a Buddhist monk self-immolating in Viet Nam to protest Catholic oppression. As we viewers recoil in remembrance from this famous event, and contemplate the tragic era to come, we shift to a scene late that night, as a sleepless Don enters the tiny attic room in which Gene has been sleeping and folds up the bed he’d used. Next to it sits a crib, waiting to be put into action for the new life soon to come into the Draper household. As we fade to black, the old WWI song, “Over There” rises up, a foreshadowing of another war soon to explode in America:
We won’t come back until it’s over