Monday, November 2, 2009

'Mad Men' Monday: The Grown-Ups

*Warning, spoilers ahead from the recent episode of Mad Men.*

The latest episode -- built around the assassination of President Kennedy and the destabilizing impact that violent act had on everyone in the Mad Men world -- was unexpected and outstanding.

I would’ve never imagined, for example, that the combination of losing the senior accounts post to Kenny-boy Cosgrove and watching the news coverage of the Kennedy assassination would've prompted Pete Campbell to retreat into his apartment with Trudy where they clung to one another, to opt not to attend Margaret Sterling’s wedding (a risky professional gamble) and to seriously consider Pete jumping ship to Grey with Duck Phillips.

Betty Draper became unmoored, especially after seeing Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV. Don Draper -- who has appeared distinctly uncomfortable with outward, expressions of deep emotion and sadness -- responded by glibly telling Betty to take a pill and go to bed the night Kennedy died, and continued repeating the line, “Everything’s going to be all right,” as though it was a mantra that would fix everything. But it didn’t. Kennedy was still dead, as was Don's marriage and Betty's trust in him. But, ever the ad man, Don seemed as though he was trying too hard to push the "Everything's going to be all right" pitch, thinking that if he said it enough times, it would be so.

I absolutely did not see coming that witnessing Oswald’s murder on TV would send Betty running to Henry Francis, particularly after the doting behavior Don displayed toward her at the Sterling wedding. I was likewise stunned to watch as Henry proposed marriage to a cash box-hurling woman he doesn’t even know.

The more I thought about the varied reactions to the Kennedy assassination, the only parallel I could make that resonated with me personally was 9/11. On Sept. 11, 2001 and in its aftermath, not only was I, along with millions of other Americans, riveted to news coverage for upon days and days as we sat there feeling stunned and shocked, but there was the lingering fear that we were no longer safe (something Trudy mentioned when she said that if they could get to the president, they could get to anyone). There was an instinct to draw closer to the things and people who were important to you. Thanksgiving 2001 was particularly poignant for Americans as we remembered and cherished what was dearest to us.

Perhaps Mad Men mastermind Matt Weiner was trying to convey that same powerlessness and fear created by Kennedy's and Oswald's public deaths as he had his characters do things that they otherwise might not have done, like ask a veritable stranger to marry you, tell the spouse who’s been lying to you since the day you met that you no longer love him and feel nothing when he kisses you, call your former lover on the phone – your voice brimming with longing -- when your shallow young thing of a second wife is passed out drunk on the bed beside you, and blow off opportunities to advance your career at work when you determine that there’s no longer any future in it.

While darkness and gloom swirled around each character – in particular around a broken Don who sat alone in his shadowy bedroom after learning that the thing he always feared would happen if the truth about his identity came out, had actually came true: that someone like Betty would never love someone like him – there was a bit of lightness in the person of Margaret Sterling in all her bratty, self-centeredness. As the scenes switched from location to location depicting people’s reactions to news that the president had been killed, mostly with tears and astonishment, there was Margaret, in a heap of rich, blindingly white fabric crying, “It’s all ruined!” Mourning her wedding, not the president.
Mourning . . . doesn’t that seem like a common thread throughout “The Grown-Ups?” Don was mourning the death of love. Betty was mourning the president and the death of her marriage. Pete was mourning his once promising career at Sterling Cooper and the fact that people at work cared more about business than what had transpired in Texas. Roger seemed to be mourning the fact that he no longer had Joan as a confidante. Margaret was mourning the disintegration of her parents' marriage. And there were Sally and Bobby, their childhood innocence shattering, bit by bit, as they sat in front of the TV and learned that the president’s young children had lost their father.

What did you think of “The Grown-Ups?” By the way, was anyone else miffed that the preview for the season finale contained no new footage? I'm unwilling to accept that next week is the last new Mad Men episode until next summer.

UPDATE: Just saw someone mention on Twitter that there was a similarity between the Aqua-Net storyboard in Peggy's office (four people in a convertible) and Kennedy's limo. I didn't catch that.
Image credit: Carin Baer/AMC.


Cooley Horner said...

I was kind of happy that we didn't get new footage for the finale. Now we don't know what to expect (not that one ever does with this show). My only hope is that everyone gets a hand in the pot with the finale. The season has focused heavily on Don and Betty, but I hope the writers will bring all of the characters into the mix for the big season 3 finale showdown.

The best moment of this episode was Roger's call to Joan. I'm not a fan of adultery, especially when I find myself urging a guy to cheat on his second wife (which whom he cheated on his first wife) with the woman he initially slept with to jilt said first wife. It's all terribly confusing. Nonetheless, that's how I felt as I watched Roger call Joan last night--those two NEED to find each other again, and I certainly hope they do. Roger, moreso than Don, seems to give Joan credit for being a woman and an individual, and I have always liked that about him. In contrast, Greg sees Joan as a "thing" and an ornament, and I've always liked thinking that Roger valued her more than that.

I cannot believe Betty is considering Henry Francis' offer. They do not know each other! I would think that learning about Don's past would teach Betty to be even more cautious if she should find herself husband hunting again; after all, marrying a stranger didn't work so well the first time!

I'm icked out by Peggy and Duck Philips. It's v. disappointing for me. always does a write-up of the episodes after they air, and like your recaps, they always point out elements and dynamics I missed. I especially like this observation: "No moment tells us what’s changed more shockingly than the reveal of the storyboards for a TV commercial featuring two couples in an open convertible. What a few weeks before was just an innocent story is now an uncanny duplicate of the Zapruder film, a romance turned to tragedy. We’ve left the era of women being worried about their hair being blown around and entered the era of men worrying about their heads being blown off – in both the U.S. and Viet Nam. The Aqua Net 50’s and the early 60’s of JFK’s New Frontier, with its promise of shiny happy change, are both over, and the mid to late 60’s – which will bring darker, grimmer and more profound changes to America -- have begun." (

So, what do I want from the finale?

>> Pete and Peggy to share some form of a moment or conversation where we discover they can still exchange a few sentences together

>> Betty to learn something horrible or offputting about Henry Francis so she won't pursue that--I think this season was a bit slower because of the big shakeup of the Brits buying Sterling Cooper. I think season 4 would be even MORE shaken up if Betty and Don actually got divorced.

>> Joan to leave her lame husband.

Johnston said...

Perhaps this episode should have been called Mourning. I don't think Grown-ups is apropos. I agree that the whole mood of the nation was altered with the president and his apparent assassin both being gunned down in a very public way. Similar to our country’s more current experience on 9/11/01. I found Don’s lack of concern or interest with the assassination to be odd. I would expect him to be more engaged if even for business reasons.

As we get to the end of the season, I would like to see the sale of Sterling Cooper (actually I would like to see Sterling or Cooper actually do something to add to the value of the company) perhaps to make Don have to sweat it out and compete with other creative talent. I am not sure if a Betty/Don split would be more or less interesting. What does an unrestricted man such as Don do if he is not stepping out? Does he get multiple girlfriends? And is Betty better off with or without Don? I am not sure a Henry Francis relationship ends well.

Meredith said...

You're so right about the similarities between Betty learning that she actually knew nothing about her husband's real identity for over a decade, and her knowing virtually nothing about Henry either. Why would they leap into something so serious, given that Henry's also been married before? Could it be the fear and instability, the emotional fall-out after the Kennedy assassination that's making them contemplate this?

I just updated this post to include a reference to the whole Aqua-Net storyboard analogy with the Kennedy limo. That is completely fantastic. I love it when creative threads come together so neatly like that. Someone's done their planning and their homework.

As for Joan and Roger, they both seem like "grown-ups" -- which is the title of the episode -- and seem to be a better fit together than Roger with his child-bride and Joan with her child-minded husband.

Cooley Horner said...

I think, when all is said and done, I just want Joan and Roger to find each other. Don and Betty are clearly never going to get their acts together, and Weiner is clearly tired of the Pete and Peggy story, so I am now rooting for Roger and Joan. I don't think he'd ever make her play the awkward accordion in front of his friends, and they seem to understand each other better than any other character pairings on the show.

Anonymous said...

I caught that Aqua Net story board similarity and it gave me the creeps! What did Peggy say...something about "Don't worry, it doesn't go to print until after Thanksgiving" or something like that? Don didn't seem to have much of a reaction to the drawing. It was left up to the viewers to react, I guess.

I'm glad Betty spoke her mind to Don. I wanted to see Don suffer for the lies he has told Betty for so many years.

Yes, Betty and Henry Francis barely know each other but they show their true feelings when they are together. Betty sure doesn't get that from Don. Maybe she is escaping into Henry Francis' arms, or maybe she really does love him.

Loved last night's episode. Will be so bummed when the finale is over! :(

-Kris Spazz

Cooley Horner said...

Kris--I guess I just don't see how she *can* love him. Like so many people (including two of my thrice-divorced uncles), Betty's proving that she's in love with the chase and the honeymoon phase, but she and Henry know nothing about her. From the collective scenes they've shared, Henry knows Betty is hot, kinda sad, classy, prone to throwing metal boxes, and unsure of her own desires. Betty knows that Henry is into classic furniture, sorta-hot, well connected, into her (perhaps his biggest appeal), and says all the right things at the right time.

I'm just saying, if I were Betty and I'd had the month she's had, I'd say, "Henry, darling, I love you madly. Can I please see two forms of government-issued identification, a tax record, and four living relatives."

Perhaps this show has turned me into a cynic, but that's how I see it. This is just doomed. Someone on pointed out that Henry's car isn't as nice as Betty's, and from there that person deduced that Henry is lying about his own wealth and security. I don't know if I'd take that leap, but he could easily be someone other than who he says he is.

Dun dun dunnnnn

Momlissa said...

To be honest, I thought the prior week's episode (Gypsy & Hobo) was perfection. In my opinion, that should have been the season finale. The shot of Betty and Don responding to the question "And who are you two supposed to be?" (when they are finally, only themselves) That episode made me cry, it was so good. So, this past week's episode and it's going in a completely new direction has me a bit perplexed. Honestly, I don't think that Betty will ever leave Don. She has always lived an entitled life and I seriously doubt she will be leaving behind all of that any time soon.

Also, have been disappointed in the minimal Joan screen time this season. Need to see more of her, preferably back with Roger.

Anonymous said...

Cooley: Valid points. Betty is probably escaping into HF's arms. And perhaps the writers purposely set up the Betty-HF story this way so there will be some shock value when Betty finally gets to know the real you mentioned, lying about his own wealth and security or other surprises. I wish we didn't have to wait until next season to find out!