There will be blood…and Barbies that rise from the dead.
Any sense one may have had of a lull in the action was obliterated by this week’s episode of Mad Men. But beyond the shock of office lawn- mower maimings the episode was a study in irony and disorder, some of it humorous (starting with the very tongue-in-cheek episode name) and some of it tragic.
If the first two seasons glamorized the glossy world inhabited by the characters, this season’s mission appears to be to show us the growing cracks in that facade. There is a sense of the futility of plans in a changing world in this episode, with Don’s evident discomfiture when he is not given the promotion that Cooper imagines may be in the works and Roger’s bewilderment at being completely left out of the future vision of a company he helped build. The once unassailable calm and confidence of these two characters is clearly slipping as they feel the earth shifting under their feet. Don’s new business association with Conrad Hilton may yet help him regain some of his verve, but even as Roger partook in a joke at the expense of MacKendrick (and his foot) there seemed mixed with laughter a sense of uncertain relief — the lingering fear of a bullet narrowly dodged.
But the real victim of irony in this episode is Joan, and this irony is reiterated time and again. We all knew her husband/rapist not getting the chief resident position was inevitable, but that didn’t make it any less heartbreaking to watch as she delivered statements seemingly designed to convince herself as much as to comfort him: “I married you for your heart not your hands… you’re still a doctor.” Joan barely holds herself together in scene after scene, until the mask finally drops during MacKendrick’s farewell toast to her. Children and caviar indeed. All of this culminates in the brilliance of her scene with Peggy – “I’m really happy that you got what you wanted. I remember you saying it could happen to me if I played my cards right on my first day.” As I watched Joan go from snapping at Lane’s “executive assistant” that he shouldn’t call her for any forgotten details pertaining to the inspection, somewhat wistfully noting that she is partially responsible for Peggy’s success and of course, in true Joan fashion, saving the day I got the impression that she is only just now beginning to realize what her job means to her, and the repercussions of the choice she has made. She is supposed to be leaving, but since her husband needs her to work for another year and I refuse to conceive of a world without Joan, I assume she will be worked back into staff of Sterling Cooper somehow.
Away from the topsy-turviness of the office, the Draper household is also in disarray. Sally is still struggling with the death of her grandfather. I get a kick out of the tension between Betty and Sally, and nearly laughed aloud when Betty was trying to convince Sally that the present was from baby Gene not to mention the existence of fairies. She shot her mother a look that so clearly said “Do you think I’m an idiot?”. But aside from rooting for Sally and her increasing outspokenness I also felt a keen sense of frustration with Betty and her unwillingness to deal with anyone’s feelings but her own with regards to her father’s death. Here is her daughter, clearly distraught at what she perceives as a replacement of her grandfather, both in location in the house and by name, but Betty is too intent on her own memorializing of her father and the maintenance of her childishness that she cannot comfort her own child. It was good though to see the name of the baby act as a rallying point for Don and Sally and a segue into yet another intimate scene with the two of them. It will be interesting to watch what direction Sally’s relationship with her father takes as the one with her mother deteriorates.
Other things that caught my eye/ear:
– Harry Crane may be on the come up if the plans for an bigger role for the media department go through. Is this the start of him becoming a major player and developing some moxie?
– The look on Pete’s face when MacKendrick said “Pete Campbell…for the present” – priceless.
– Kinsey perched on his desk playing the guitar during the inspection. What was that about? Was he composing a protest song?
– Passing acknowledgement of Vietnam entering the public consciousness, and the naivete that will soon evaporate – the foreshadowing of chaos yet to come.
– Interesting notions about disability – he lost his foot so now he won’t be able to be an accounts man? This is of course to say nothing of the somber declaration that “he’ll never golf again”.
Alright, have at it. And watch out for John Deeres.