Monday, September 15, 2008

Mad Men: A Night to Remember

As I mentioned last week, AMC's Mad Men is appointment TV for me. This week's theme seemed to be: "Mad Men's Female Leads and the Men Who Cluelessly Take Advantage of Them." Let's review, shall we?

This week, Father John Gill (played by Colin Hanks) reappears and tries to coax Peggy back into the life of the parish by asking her to do some pro bono work for the Catholic Youth Organization dance. Peggy designs a flyer and then Father Gill asks her to meet with the dance chairs, who come up with some clueless criticisms, which means that Peggy must alter the flyer.

Moment of high comedy: Peggy asks if she may speak with Father Gill in private after the meeting, and one of the church ladies suddenly remembers she would like to speak to Father Gill, too. He politely puts her off. This is funny to me, because it doesn't matter what denomination you're in, the priest/minister/rabbi/ etc, is always the center of attention and competition among some female church members.

Peggy tells Father Gill that she expected him to back her up in this meeting because she knows more than the church ladies about how to advertise the dance. As the priest, if he had asserted that Peggy knew what she was doing, the church ladies would have acquiesced to Peggy's original design. I liked how firm she was about this. After all, she is doing the work for free, and as she tells him, she has been busy at work and is very tired.

Finally, when Father Gill comes to pick up the new copies, he tries to get her to talk about what is keeping her from taking the Holy Eucharist and participating more in the parish community. Peggy politely parries his attempts to get her to talk about her pregnancy, but he strikes a nerve when he asks if she thinks if she is unworthy of God's forgiveness and love. She seems genuinely rattled before she recovers. Our final shot of her is alone in her bathtub, looking shocked and devastated.

I didn't like Gill's attempt to turn Peggy's office into a confessional, but I could see him trying to reach her in the one place he can find her. After all, Peggy is not going to wander into the confessional any time soon. I think Gill also realized that he had fumbled in his attempt at pastoral counseling. To me, that's why the shot of him taking out his guitar and singing "Early in the Morning" was poignant. He's trying to do the right thing, he sees that he's not doing well at it, and he wants God to show him how to best reach Peggy.

Joan: When Harry Crane needs some help reading scripts to avoid troublesome placement of commercials, Joan is sent to find him a "girl" to help out. She actually ends up reading the scripts and is pleased to see that something novel and exciting will happen in As The World Turns--a patient will wake up out of a coma!! Her fiance the doctor is amused by this, but tells her that she shouldn't be reading these scripts; she should be watching her stories with a box of bon bons in her lap. This is only Clueless Male #1 in Joan's story. Later, she makes a brilliant pitch to Harry's clients that makes them think about buying air time in a different way. But does that get her the job as Harry's assistant? No, of course not. Instead he hires a new guy, whom he expects Joan to train. Harry becomes Clueless Male #2, and then Joan has to teach Clueless Male #3. Christina Hendricks does a brilliant job showing Joan's gradual awareness that she has found a "man's job" she enjoys and excels at, as well as her disappointment under her facade of agreeability.

Joan seems to have hoisted herself on her own petard in this situation. She has made it clear to Peggy that she has never wanted to be a copywriter or take on a man's job, and she has made a big deal out of her engagement ring. Yet, just when she has done excellent work that may have gained her a new position, no one considers her for it, because a) she's a woman and a secretary, and b) she has seemed content with her role as office manager. I loved the last shot of her, massaging her shoulder where her bra strap has dug into her shoulder. It captures a sense of how she has willingly constrained herself into a limited role that she is only beginning to find a burden.

Betty: Oh, Betty, what a crappy few weeks this has been for you. First, Jimmy Barrett making you see the light about Don and his philandering ways. Then, being used as an experiment in marketing by your husband with your dinner party and choice of Heineken beer. Finally, Don's insistence that he hasn't had an affair with Bobbie Barrett, that he loves you, that he says he loves you all the time (which he doesn't) and that he doesn't want to lose all this (the house, the kids, the trophy wife for public functions). Don thinks he knows you because he can predict that you would be an ideal customer for a foreign beer, but he doesn't know what you really want--to be loved for yourself and respected in your marriage and home. No wonder you've taken to drinking in the late morning and sending the kids to bed at ridiculously early times.

Moment of high comedy #1: Roger Sterling's introduction of Duck Phillips to Crab Colson: "Crab, Duck. Duck, Crab."

Moment of high comedy #2: Don's grimace as he sits down at the dinner party. Earlier, Betty had destroyed a wobbly chair, possibly out of frustration at Don's slackening off on preparing for the party. Was he given the less comfortable replacement out of spite?

Moment of awesome thematic coherence:
Betty's big epiphany in this episode comes at the end, when she sits down to read a magazine while the children watch Father Knows Best. The camera cuts to the TV screen where we see the youngest son pout about how his "girlfriend" has betrayed him. How does he know this? Because he saw her in the soda shop, with "another boy at the end of MY straw." Then a cut to the Utz potato chip commercial with Jimmy Barrett insisting he isn't nuts, and would he lie to you about the goodness of Utz? That does it for Betty and she calls Don and tells him NOT to come home, she does NOT want to see him.

Why is this so awesome? Because earlier in the episode, Harry, the head of broadcasting operations, had been reamed by Duck because of a poorly placed ad. That is why Harry needed someone (Joan) to read scripts to identify potential placement issues. As he told Joan, "if there's a kid pushing his dinner away in disgust, we can't have Gorton's Fish Sticks." To anyone else watching TV that day, there would have been no connection between infidelity and Utz potato chips. But to Betty, even only half-engaged with the show, the ad brought back everything about Don's infidelity and dishonesty. Thus the decision.

Wondering who the heck I'm talking about? Catch up on last season:

Let me know what you think of last night's episode! Please!!!!


LoraSara said...

I recognized the chair Betty broke. We had a few in our apartment that came from an aunt of my husbands. I missed the grimace and its implication.

She knew her husband was unfaithful before Jimmy Barrett said anything to her. It was the knowledge that his infidelity was public knowledge that burned. This made his humiliating her at the dinner she did for him and his business associates that much worse.

enlightenmentgirl said...

Good point about the humiliation. I cracked up at Don's "What the--?" look as he sat down.