Every time I think of you I feel shot right through with a bolt of blue It’s no problem of mine But it’s a problem I find
I named this post after a line from Pete Campbell, since it seemed to sum up the theme of the episode — appearances. Marriages seem to look good and the war looks like it’s being won, at least if you’re sitting in that New York restaurant.
Last week’s two-hour season premiere gave us a lot to think about, but let’s face it, it wasn’t thick on plot. So I am glad that in this episode, more plot developments got set into motion (and in some cases, called back upon) but as is true for many Mad Men seasons, it’s clear we’re still building, building.
Bizarre Love Triangle(s)
We were treated to the visual gags and total awkwardness of love triangle after another, in this episode: Pete and Trudy plus neighbor, Don and Megan plus neighbor, Megan and neighbor plus Don.
Don’s cheating on Megan despite being honest with her about his past. Don separates the women in his life. They are either the madonna and the whore (interestingly, his actual mother, who died in childbirth, was both). I’d wondered whether Megan played both roles for him in the way that Betty did not. But this season’s reveal of his infidelity, plus Megan’s admission of her fleeting pregnancy puts her in a clear classification.
All Men Are Liars?
This episode, if nothing else, reminds us of adultery’s slippery slope: it does lead to pregnancies or breakups or beatings or more. While Don cheats because he can’t stop himself even when he wants to, Pete seems like he does it to fit in, or because Don does it. The Campbell situation is less a character study for me than a society study.
America, despite a culturally progressive shift when it comes to homosexuality and women’s rights in the last fifty years, is still pretty buttoned-up about infidelity. Trudy and Pete’s situation, in which she got him a New York apartment so he could have his flings out of her sight, seems like something more accepted back then than it would be today. “She lives on our BLOCK,” Trudy said. She was more mad about Pete mucking up the appearance of their “blissful” union than the actual contract.
“Compared to the citizens of just about every other nation, Americans are the least adept at having affairs, have the most trouble enjoying them, and suffer the most in their aftermath,” Pamela Druckerman found, while researching her book, Lust in Translation. Should we be cooler about cheating?
I’m interested in what you guys, er men, think about the Pete and Don situations and what Weiner is trying to say about infidelity. I wonder how much my point of view is colored by the fact I’m a married woman, and I know some of you fellow Mad Men Convo bloggers are single dudes.
Questions About The Flashback
So the woman Dick Whitman was with in the flashback was Abigail, the stepmom who took him in after his real dad died in that horse kicking accident. We learn here that Abigail clearly had to turn to prostitution to keep food on the table, even while she was pregnant with Dick’s half-brother Adam. (You recall he hanged himself in Season 1 and was about a decade younger than Don/Dick.) That means both Dick’s real mom and his stepmom were prostitutes. That’s gotta really have an impact on how you think about women and relationships. And sex.
Joan’s comeback about creepy Jaguar guy’s penis was friggin brilliant, I should have written it down. Something about “I know there’s a part of you you haven’t seen in years…” I laughed out loud.
More doorways. The season premiere was called The Doorway, and we see Episode 3 continue on that theme, especially with the gorgeous final shot of Don sitting outside his doorway on the floor. Our characters are each in their own little purgatories, uncertain where they’ll wind up.
Peggy trying to be nice was more wonderfulness from actor Elisabeth Olsen.
OK that’s all the stream of consciousness from me for now. Men, what did you think?
“Not every girl can do what she wants.” -Megan Calvet’s Mother
In the finale to a melancholy season five, showrunner Matthew Weiner writes and directs an episode in which business is doing better than ever, but that’s about the only thing looking up.
The times change, but do people ever change? Weiner was a head writer on The Sopranos, the sweeping mob drama whose primary premise was that we never do change. And in this season finale’s final set piece, which puts Don Draper back into the Chinese-themed bar of the pilot episode, Don’s on the precipice of proving that despite his yearlong stint as a happily married, successful man, he’s ultimately a self-loathing skirt-chaser that can’t be reformed.
He gives Megan what she wants, even though Don’s principled stand about how she should be discovered by someone rather than get a job because she’s someone powerful’s wife was correct. Here, he had a chance to wind up with a woman who waited for him to come home, just as Megan’s mother told him. But instead, he demonstrated how much he really does care for his wife’s happiness (in a way he did not care about Betty’s) by helping her realize her dream … of being a commercial actress? Methinks that’s not really her dream, just as Don pointed out. But she did seem happy.
“I don’t know you. And you don’t know me. We just happen to have the same problem.” Perhaps the only way we can divorce ourselves from the past, the episode surmises, is by erasing our brains. But as other art (read: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and this episode’s own example (Beth has been shocked before) show us, the deepest imprints of dissatisfaction, or the opposite, love-filled bliss, can’t be electro-shocked out of us. So Beth will likely become “blue” again, Pete comes to terms with his permanent wound, and Don may forever be haunted by his mistakes — little brother Adam, who killed himself in Season 1, Lane Pryce and the bitter sacrifices he made for SCDP, and the cascading casualties of living a lie for so long. On the flip side, we chase after, perhaps in vain, some sort of ingrained notion of how things should be better and we should be happier than we are.
…Which can drive drug use. Roger’s LSD trip earlier this season was so life-altering that he’s chasing after whatever honesty he encountered before. That shot of naked Roger was about the only thing that made me smile in a finale montage that otherwise felt so blue.
- Nice shot of the five partners in the empty office space at the end. So well composed and cinematic.
- Good to see Peggy, and to have the two kindred spirits of Peggy and Don run into each other at an afternoon movie, which is perfectly in line with both their characters. I was wondering whether Elisabeth Moss’ exit two episodes ago was a permanent goodbye.
- I wanted to see more of Joan, but I suppose they rounded out her character arc pretty well by making her a partner after she essentially had to whore herself out. And it hurt when she said that she should have done the same for Lane, as if that would have stopped him.
- Looks like Bert Cooper will finally have an office again. Maybe he will purchase another Rothko for it.
So, modernism aligns with realism and post-modernism is literature that’s aware it’s literature, or art that’s aware it’s art. You could argue any advertising creative is post-modern, because advertising by the sixties was all about using language and art to control consumer behavior. But our characters, in this decade of great evolution, are in very different places on that spectrum.
Walton, on Peggy’s post-modernism:
When Peggy rages on Don, in Don Draper style, she’s dazzling. She exacts an ability to control the messages around Don. Peggy is able to do what Campbell can’t: power and language control. As she explains to Megan: I cannot lie to him. Peggy may have become a postmodern already. But when Don toes the edge of the abyss, the open elevator shaft, he pulls back, unwilling to plunge.
Phillip, in his recent post, touched on the same themes, maybe without knowing it: How much do we control the messages we send to others, and by extension, how they react?
But I’m not sure I agree with you, Phil, about Pete being backward. From Phil’s post:
Pete is as backward-looking as Peggy is forward-looking. Pete is still trying to find acceptance from some father figure, and has chosen to make himself out to be like Don. Whether it is wanting a bigger office, wanting praise for clients, wanting to sleep with hookers, wanting to cheat on his wife, or just wanting to act lost and desperate, Pete has metamorphosed into Don.
Pete’s always seemed raised by wolves; so uncertain of his identity that he has had to model himself after other people. After Don rejected him in Season 2, Pete clung to Duck Phillips, for example.
But I do think he has been on the right side of history and creative culture even though he doesn’t get much credit for it. In Season 3, Episode 5’s “The Fog,” Pete lobbies for integrated advertising — trying to sell the untapped “negro” market. The client hated it, Sterling joked, “Well, if it isn’t Martin Luther King,” but Pete was looking forward when everyone else in his universe wasn’t.
Similarly, in Season 1, Episode 10, “Long Weekend,” the firm watches Nixon and Kennedy TV ads and the old guard, which obviously backs Nixon, laments “it should never have been this close.” Pete sees what the others don’t: “The president is a product, don’t forget that,” he says. That was 1960, and Pete was arguably post-modern even then.
I point this out to say that while yes, Pete seems to want a life like Don’s, his frustration in not succeeding suggests that he is actually not backward, but ahead of his time. I’m with Walton on this one: “Pete is bridge character: he is both the last modern and the first postmodern character on the show.”
And I’d definitely put Don behind Pete in the race to the future.
Ever the thoughtful writer, Ken Cosgrove’s short story voiceover that ends this episode concludes with a line like “all the beauty was too difficult to bear,” a theme that describes both the subterranean crises that brought on the social unrest of the sixties and the suffering of Pete Campbell.
It’s true that everyone in the office and the audience has been waiting for someone to punch out the glib, preening Pete, the one whose family is some major botanical garden benefactor but has never been rich in spirit or in many cases, decency. But because of the layered way he’s been written, I’ve come around on Pete over the years, especially in episodes like these, when it’s clear he’s always been treading water and now finds himself drowning under the weight of his perfect life.
That’s the thing about water that makes it such a great motif; it’s a force both placid and powerful. A little dripping faucet can explode with too much pressure, much like our beloved Mad Men characters.
Here, Pete (who despite blue blood bonafides seems to be raised by wolves) again searches for a father figure in Don. And Don not only disapproves when Pete beds the prostitute who guesses correctly (on the third try) that his turn on is to have a servant/underling to his “king,” but Don also doesn’t come in and stop Lane from beating the crap out of him. Again and again in the show we’ve seen instances in which Pete looks to Don for fatherly advice. Remember how Pete sought out Don after his real dad’s death in the American Airlines plane crash that starts Season Two? Don shuns him and he goes right to Duck Phillips, who he then pimps out his father’s death to to get an account. Now, after being humiliated in the workplace where he shined, the young account man feels he has nothing.
It’s mayhem on Mad Men, indeed. Between those car wreck scenes we’re shown in Pete’s driving class, and the news of Charles Whitman’s cold-blooded rampage from the University of Texas tower, and fashion changing from suits to madras sport coats, the teenager was right: “Things seem so random all of a sudden, and time feels like it’s speeding up.”
Megan’s power over Don is ever evident. Megan has the power to stand up to Don about going to dinner parties, and to make Don change into a ridiculous madras sport coat. I guess they all had sport coats on cause it’s “the country.”
While Roger knows he’s a “professor emeritus” at the firm, his unsolicited advice session with Lane showed the silver fox actually DOES KNOW SOMETHING about being an account man. That was an excellent “Sterling Method,” ordering a scotch on the rocks but only drinking it until it’s clear while waiting for your client to tell you all his problems…
Speaking of problems, interesting to put a man with mommy issues who had a whore for a mom in a whore house. Thought they could have done more with that.
Anyway. What a fine episode. I found it to be just a breath of fresh air after last week’s contrived first half in California. This one injected so much more humor into dark situations:
Peggy peeking over the high window to get a look a Don, which aptly mirrored the focus group through-the-looking-glass situation
“You son of a bitch.” (After Pete again resorts to arm-twisting family members in order to get ahead at work.)
Peggy’s banging her head on the table (I can so relate)
Allison’s spectacularly dramatic globe-throwing
The return of Bert Cooper’s old hag, Mrs. Blankenship
The shot of Bert Cooper sitting in the lobby reading a newspaper or magazine
The bear head! FTW!
Funny moments aside, I thought this episode stood out thanks to solid pacing and character development (or in Don’s case, non-development) vis-a-vis their situations. Peggy gets introduced more deeply to the counterculture (“Did you know Malcolm X was SHOT last weekend?”) and it will be interesting to see how the pull of these “genuine” writers and artists affect her as she continues to work in an old-boys club; that final scene as she runs off with her new hip pals and the men-in-suits are all standing in the lobby really said it all.
And speaking of that moment, the baggage between Peggy and Pete clearly weighs Peggy down, despite Don’s mantra, as he presented to Peggy in the hospital after she delivered Pete’s child: “”It will shock you how much it never happened.” We still don’t know exactly what it was like for those two after Peggy revealed to Pete that she had his bastard baby and that she “could have shamed” him into being with her. But I’m doubting the two are going to hash out their feelings over a long lunch anytime soon.
Allison. Such a sad casualty of Don’s downward spiral. It was interesting she assumed Peggy went through the same experience, but it only highlighted how low Don’s stooped; he used to regard the secretary pool as off limits. (Remember the cold war Roger courting and marrying former secretary Jane?)
Part of Don’s outburst at Dr. Faye also hit on a common theme: “You can’t tell how people are going to behave based on how they have behaved.” OR CAN YOU? Do people have the capacity to change? (You’ll remember this was major theme of The Sopranos, also written by Matthew Weiner.) Faye advises that the Pond’s Cold Cream campaign play on young women’s desires to get married. Don thinks that’s too old-fashioned. Don is essentially arguing that new ideas, presented well, can change behavior. But Don, Peggy, Pete (especially in this episode) show their behavior hasn’t changed much at all since 1960.
I’m sure I’ll have more to say once I expose myself to other observations. But as usual, this is my initial brain dump, free of influence from the professional critics. What did y’all think?