Monday, September 20, 2010

'Mad Men:' The Beautiful Girls

*Warning: Spoilers ahead from the recent episode of Mad Men.*

This episode was called “The Beautiful Girls,” but what it should’ve been called was “Beautiful Girls Put in Challenging, Compromising Situations.” It opened with Don and Faye taking their relationship to the next level as they literally knocked over a lamp while slamming around on Don’s bed.

The next day wasn’t so amorous for Don. In a day from hell, Don’s secretary died while sitting at her desk while he was in the middle of a meeting with clients and the staff comically tried to drag her body away so the clients wouldn’t see. This occurred right after Don’s daughter Sally ran away from home and begged for him to allow her to live with him “all the time,” by promising, “I’ll be good.”

It was hard not to feel for Sally who hates living at home and her mother clearly dislikes having her there as well, resents Sally. Sally was willing to scream, yell, kick, to do whatever it took so she wouldn’t have to return to Ossining to where Betty does not seem a whit happier than she was when she was married to Don and where she takes Sally’s unhappiness as a personal insult. When Don angrily told Betty to come and get Sally because he had “a business to run,” Betty replied, “Because it’s so easy. It’s so much for to take care of her. Enjoy . . . Enjoy Don, I’m meeting Henry in the city tomorrow night, I’ll get her then.”

The scene where Sally made French toast for her father – she said Carla had taught her how to make the dish, though I doubt she was taught to top with rum – reminded me of the scene after Betty was still in the hospital after having had Gene, where Don made hash and eggs for himself and Sally late at night and sat next to one another at the kitchen counter. The moment was a bonding one, a sweet one between father and daughter, an indication that Sally feels more connected to him than to her mother.

As for Don asking Faye to deal with a distraught Sally after Don had made it clear she had to go back home with Betty (this was the day after he’d asked Faye to watch Sally for an afternoon after she’d turned up at his office), I agree with what Faye said to Don afterward: That asking Faye to deal with Sally was a test, whether unconscious on Don's part or not, to see if Faye’s up to the task of dealing with his kids. I think the jury’s still out on how Faye would deal with the kids if she and Don made things official as she seems very stiff and formal around Sally, contrasting with how comfortable she seems with adults.

Then there was Joan, rocking a set of glasses in that scene at home, who wasn’t having a much better time of things, as her husband was informed he’d be shipped to Vietnam right after basic training. Roger tried to buck up her spirits by scheduling her for a massage then taking her to a dinner, after Mrs. Blankenship died. Then it became even grimmer: Joan and Roger got mugged and then, while they were full of adrenaline, did it in a filthy alley, steps away from where a gun was pointed at them.

Meanwhile, Peggy dispatched with an arrogant, big-mouthed radical activist named Abe who thought she’d find charming his criticism of her for working at an ad agency and doing work for clients who refused to hire African-Americans, especially when said criticism took the form of a “poem.” While Peggy seems fond of dabbling in the counter-culture, she doesn’t seem well suited for someone who’s got a political litmus test for the people he dates.

Most surprising were Peggy’s remarks about racial and gender discrimination: “Most of the things Negroes can’t do, I can’t do either and nobody seems to care . . . half of the meetings take place over golf or tennis at a bunch of clubs where I’m not allowed to be a member. The University Club said the only way I could eat dinner there was if I arrived in a cake.”

I loved it when Peggy got up and left the bar after the sanctimonious Abe, who clearly was blind to gender discrimination, joked about whether there was a need for a “civil rights march for women.”

Best line of the night came from Burt Cooper when speaking of Mrs. Blankenship: “She was born in 1898 in a barn. She died on the 37th floor of a skyscraper. She’s an astronaut.”

Overall, this episode felt odd to me, not bad “odd,” just odd, odd, with wildly varying themes like Civil Rights and feminism, fall-out from a divorce where a child doesn’t like her custodial parent, the concern of a wife whose husband is being sent to a war zone and the fear of one's own mortality in the face of a colleague's sudden death.

What did you think of “The Beautiful Girls?”

Image credit: Michael Yarish/AMC.


Katie said...

I think the episode felt uneven. I am wondering where the season (or series for that matter) is going and do the writers/creators have a plan.

Meredith O'Brien said...

I agree Katie. Very uneven. It was coming off of a pair of really strong episodes so it was quite a stark difference.

I do hope that there's an overall plan.

When I saw Don pause then suck down the drink in his office after Sally's fracas and Faye had told him she's not good with kids, I wondered if that was a signal that Don's going to fall off the health kick he's been on.