Monday, April 28, 2014

In Which I Review Mad Men (7x3)

Yesterday, all my trouble seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they're here to stay. 

Sometimes, the Beetles are better than philosophers. In this weeks episode of Mad Men, "Field Trip," it's judgement day for Don Draper as it is decided once and for all if he'll be returning to SC&P. Of course, such a decision is only brought about because Meghan gave Don the heave-ho and called him on his mountain of crap. Failed field trips wove themselves in and out of the episode this week--something that is seemingly so innocent and enjoyable turned ugly because people never change. Oh and Betty is back, in shinning form as the true ice queen, with her cigarette and petulant atittude. It's interesting how Betty and Don still manage to parallel each other, despite not being married or even having regular contact with one another. Like the teasing accusation Betty's friend hurls at her and like Don's cocktail of choice, both are just too old fashioned in this new age. 

Let's start with Betty.  I want to hit pause on the plot of this moment and focus on the costume. They are as different as night and day (it's a theme given that inside SC&P the creative writers are trying to come up with a pitch for a client with a new "night" product to offset their former "day" product). Betty is pure 1960s well-to-do housewife in her ice blue (it's her color), set hair, gossiping about her husband's job and ambitions (because she, as a proper housewife, is supposed to have none). Now, look at her friend: bright attention getting red, PANTS, suit jacket, casual but stylish hair that was probably just pulled back for the day, walking around with business cards and a job in an office. Ladies and gents, this is the feminist revolution! Or at least the real start of it. Woman like Peggy and Joan are a bit of oddity in 1969; both are career driven, one isn't even married, but both started at the bottom and more or less worked (read: slept, for Joan) their way up. Betty's friend, whom we originally met in season 1 as the frumpy good housewife who's husband was cheating on her and helped clue Betty in to Don's shenanigans, is the new breed. Her kids are growing up, she's got a bit of an empty nest, and she's ready for the next adventure or challenge. Her children aren't enough anymore; undoubtedly she loves them still, but they don't need her now. And when you're not needed, you can be left behind. And then there is Betty who wants to be needed because she is basically five years old and needs to feel wanted. I'm harsh on Betty because she is pretty horrible overall, but it's not an uncommon, or indeed, unreasonable thing to feel. We all want to be needed. But Betty's almost pathological need to keep her perfect life the way she envisions it should be, always leads to problems. Sally was her little doll that she could play with and now Sally is at school; Betty's friend is trying to explain to Betty how it really is--the kids simply grow up--and Betty is having none of it because once they grow up, she is done for.

This is why, when presented with the information that (never aging!) Bobby Draper is going on a field trip for school, Betty jumps at the chance to go with him. Why? If you've watched any season of Mad Men then you know that Betty more or less can't stand her own children. I'm sure she loves them but she doesn't much like them. They are the things she had because it was expected of her. She has neglected them (I kid you not, there is an episode early on in the series where she and Don do nothing but drink all day and pretty much forget to feed their children); she has emotionally and mentally and even at times physically abused them (who can forget Betty slapping Sally when Sally cut her own hair?). But how much hate does Betty deserve? She bugs us, but she bugs us because often time she hits a little too close to home in the real representation of the wife and mothers of this time. Betty did what woman of her generation did: she got a degree from college to prove she was educated, she met a nice man (so she thought), they got married, and she had kids. She didn't have a choice, which is why I often feel guilty over my disdain for the former Mrs. Draper. She's an ice bitch, but to some degree she had to be--it's how she was taught to present herself to the world. Betty, had she not just had this eye opening lunch with her friend, would not be caught dead on a real farm. The last farm we ever saw Betty on was a horse stable for well-off elite club members. There were no cows nor pigs nor drinking milk from a pail. Betty is going on this trip to the farm in order to cling to her vision that her children need her. The nanny isn't going to go with them--Betty is. And the ironic thing is I think Betty actually had a good time, until it all went wrong.

Poor Bobby Draper suffers from middle child syndrome--if he wasn't there, you'd forget about him. Sally is the most important child as her relationship is the real love story in Don's life; Gene is the unfortunate baby who was named after Betty's father, who couldn't stand Don, and was born into a broken family. It was nice to see Betty spend time with her second child, then, and even more enjoyable to see her actually like spending time with him. They joke about movies, have an actual conversation, and Betty has managed to wipe that smug smirk off her face long enough to really get into the field trip. She even drink milk from a pail. Wonder of wonders! So far this field trip is a success; Betty is proving to herself that her children still need her because clearly Bobby is having just as good a time. Then, disaster. In a moment of childlike thoughtlessness, Bobby trades away Betty's lunch. Now, to be fair to Bobby, this is a learned skill. Betty has never paid much attention to him, so when the time comes, Bobby didn't really give Betty a second thought either. He just assumes Betty wouldn't eat and would be okay with not having food. And while Betty might be justifiably angry that she is now being asked to not eat, her ranker toward her child demonstrates just how child-like she is herself. When Bobby offers to go get the sandwich back, Betty dismisses him and instead forces him to eat his newly acquired candy. Seeing that he's miserable and her task is now accomplished, her glasses go back on, the cigarette comes out, and Bobby melds into the background with the other screaming children that Betty isn't particularly interested in either.

Back home and now so disinterested in Bobby that she doesn't even care that he's so consumed with guilt that he's not eating, Betty puts on her best "oh-woe-is-me" performance for Henry. I watch Mad Men with my mother and I kid you not, when Betty asked Henry "am I a good mother," both of us, at the same time, said "no" to the television set. She's really not. Betty's cold and too childlike herself to ever really be a good mother. And now, she's literally clinging to her last baby trying to figure out why she isn't enough for them. What does the future hold for Betty? Well, like most of our characters on Mad Men, I doubt she's capable of change. She'll continue to put on a good face and sell her husband's life for the sake of his career; she'll never stop desiring to be wanted and forever be disappointed that her children simply don't want her as much as she would like them to. Betty is destined to become an old Republican biddy who is never without makeup or set hair, but who always feels like something is just missing from her life. To some degree, I pity her. And I then I remember, "would you love you?" when she confronted Don about being Dick Whitman and how unbelievably cold she was.

So that's failed field trip number one. Failed field trip number two takes us to Don Draper who is finally caught with his pants down (metaphorically). I think Don has been somewhat complaisant. He's keeping tabs on the agency but he has made no effort to try and get back in to work. He goes to movies, he puts on his nightly show for Dawn, he flies out to see Meghan. So when Don gets a phone call from Meghan's agent that she misbehaved, Don figures that he's the one to fix it. Except Don Draper can't fix Meghan because Don can't even fix himself anymore. He can fly in like a knight in shinning armor, woo and bed her, but he's incapable of actually fixing what's wrong with Meghan because Don is just too broken himself (the broken vessel motif from earlier this season). Don used to be able to say all the right things and now he says all the wrong ones and finally the truth comes out: he's been out of work since November. I have to give some major props to Meghan here; she's not Betty. She loves Don but she's not going to take his lies. It took Betty three seasons to finally kick Don out and ask for a divorce. Meghan kicks him out after one fight and then keeps him away when he wants to come back. She's much stronger than Betty, but she's also the new generation of girl. Don tries to explain that he's still getting paid (because money matters more to Don than it should) but Meghan doesn't care. Don tries to tell her that "I don't know if they want me or don't want me" (THEME!) and that he's not even drinking that much anymore. All of which is supposed to placate Meghan but doesn't. Instead it just singles that he doesn't want her, so therefore, she doesn't want him either. And now everything is about this failed field trip to Don. In Don's mind, Meghan doesn't want him because he can't fix the problems anymore. Enter Don Draper, fixer.

After a pretty funny meeting with Roger in his room, Don is invited back to work. But it's just by Roger, maybe one of the few people who miss Don. When Don shows up to SC&P on Monday morning, no one is expecting him and no one is overly happy to see him. In fact, everywhere Don goes, he is met with an almost open hostility. Lou is dismissive, Joan judges him, and Peggy is clearly still bitter over their last time together where Don broke Ted down in front of a client. Instead of being welcomed back with open arms, Don is forced to wait for hours while the various partners try to decide Don's fate. Should he be brought back? Or should he be let go altogether? There are pros and cons for both options, as evidenced by the partners. Roger wants Don back because he's a genius and the agency's creative department is literally invisible right now and Don is better than any ad man in Manhattan. Also, Don's a partner; they'd have to buy him out which would be more expensive than bringing him back. Jim doesn't want Don back at all but that's not surprising for a few reasons. Jim has no interest in the creative side of advertising; he thinks business is good PR and good relationships. Plus, Jim is also bitter over the Ted incident. Bert cares about how his agency is perceived outside of the actual office and knows that Don is the best ad men they have, but also doesn't want to take a risk that Don will have another meltdown. And then there is Joan, who literally whored herself out to land Jaguar only to have Don go and try to undo it and make her sacrifice look worthless. And Joan makes a good point, "this is working." The way the agency is going is working fine; it's not great, but it's working. How does Don fit in now? Can he fit in?

 Not part of the partner meeting, but who's opinion matters almost more than anyone, is Peggy. Peggy is having a rough go of it this week. Her work, work she considers her best, wasn't even submitted for an award. Peggy is forever measuring her success by what she has and what she does not. Peggy has an office, a fancy title, but she doesn't have that little statue. She's invisible in the office nowadays. So when Peggy sees the opportunity to literally be seen, she takes it. Don has always seen Peggy: he was the first one who saw that she might have a real shot in the business, but he's never been that great about seeing Peggy as anything more than just her underling. And then Don was directly responsible for Ted leaving Peggy and breaking her heart. So now Peggy can hurt Don. "I can't say we miss you," she tells him. Which, is a lie. Peggy misses him. She misses how he listened to her ideas, how Don might have been a monster, but he was damn good at his job. He knew how to pitch and sell. And Lou, in his cardigan and lack of vision, is simply "adequate." So, yes, Peggy is being mean here, but she's also lying and I think is secretly pleased to see him.

 And so judgement time. Don is told that, yes, he can come back, but there are stipulations. He must refrain from drinking in the office, he must answer to Lou, he must not be alone with the client. And in a stipulation that really made me perk up, he is being put in Lane's old office. You remember Lane, the guy who killed himself? Hm. Interesting, yes? I expected Don to give a rousing speech in which he shut down the partners, reminded them why they need him so badly. But instead he simply looks at them, deflated, and says "okay." Don knows he is in deep trouble with them; he messed up big and now he must pay the piper. He has two options: agree and come back, don't agree and never work again. And Don must work. The work is what matters. But Don's troubles aren't going anywhere, they are here to stay. Sorry, Bobby. No matter how much you wish it, it can't be yesterday.

Miscellaneous Notes on Field Trip

--Odd to hear characters in the 1960s talk about computers.

--Michael Ginsberg is insane. I actually think he might have some sort of disorder.

--Will Meghan take Don back? Probably. But I think she'll hold out for awhile.

--Go Dawn! She's running that agency. Love her.

--I really need Peggy and Don to have more interaction than this next week.

--I hope that was our Betty quota for the season.

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