Oh man, y’all. I get a little bit tardy (for the party) with keeping my blog promise, and then Sunday night’s episode happened, which was the usual Mad Men greatness. Until the end, which was easily the ballsiest (and most utterly insane) television Mad Men has put forth thus far. I’m tempted to prematurely insist that this episode was a game changer for the show, but I’m getting way ahead of myself.
Before we talk about the crazy, let’s go quickly recap the highs and lows of the past three episodes. A blog promise is a promise, after all, which means we have to discuss things like jai alai, the sport that Regina George would have a few choice words for if she worked at Sterling Cooper:
Maybe it’s the fact that any discussion of sports is inherently a discussion I don’t care about, or maybe it’s just that choosing such an obscure sport felt like an incredibly forced way of depicting Horace as spoiled to the point of delusion, but I was not having the jai alai plot.
Fortunately, when Mad Men tries to get all sporty and butch on me, they give us Sal talking about his vision for the Patio commercial:
Sal gets so excited about Ann-Margret that he starts camping about his bedroom. Kitty makes a sad-face that is totally heartbreaking. What’s not to adore about this scene? Oh, that’s right: NOTHING!
Also, behold what happens when Pepsi’s bad-idea ad baby shimmies and shakes its way out of the womb:
“Failure” must be polite business speak for “My ears are bleeding,” but you gotta admit that this debacle is totally worth the hurt for Peggy’s side-eye. In case you want to try to make it yourself at home, it’s one-cup I Told You So, two tablespoons Self-Satisfied Smugness, and a few dashes of Bitchface. It’s delicious.
The big news, though, was Eugene kicking the bucket. It was oddly abrupt yet equally telegraphed, and the scene in which he gives Bobby Draper the Prussian soldier helmet suggested there was still plenty of tension to be drawn from his relationship with Don, but so it goes. Frankly, “The Arrangements” felt like a whole lot of set-up and little pay-off, but that’s okay when your pay-off comes in the next episode and involves Betty Draper’s drugged-out dreams during labor:
Is it wrong that of all the fascinating moments going on in this sequence, I’m most obsessed with the POV-shots of the ceiling lights going by. HOMO TANGENTIAL RANT ALERT! It reminds me of this fantastic Joan Crawford movie, Possessed, where Joan Crawford gradually goes insane and eventually ends up in an asylum.
There’re similar POV-view shots when she’s first being committed–which is a pretty bold shot to find in a Warner Bros. feature from 1947–and the similarities pretty much end there (Joan Crawford movies and Mad Men tend to deal with female dissatisfaction and the slow psychological decay that can result in wildly different styles…duh), but it was an intriguing–and given Matthew Weiner’s intensive research in the time and culture, possibly intentional–visual touch for a sequence devoted to yet again articulating Betty’s growing unhappiness with her role as housewife. It’s a great excuse for me to tell you to go rent Possessed. GO RENT IT NOW!
Fortunately there was also some levity to the episode:
Don made corned beef hash with a fried egg, and then he shared some with Sally. It was utterly adorable, and the fact that he cooks his corned beef hash with a fried egg on top is yet another reason to love this fictional hunk of a man.
It wasn’t all fried eggs and corned beef hash, though. Duck Phillips, along with his hideous turtleneck, tempted Peggy with the sweet fruits of higher wages and greater creative control. Sally’s teacher apparently had a case of the lonely lovecaves and CALLED THE DRAPER HOUSEHOLD AS BETTY’S GOING INTO LABOR. There was also the plot about Pete Campbell causing the heads of a company to shit bigot blood because he suggested integrated ads (which, to be sure, was ever delightful as it involved Pete Campbell), but that’s not something where we can have a GIF of him dancing, so why go into any further detail? Instead, let’s just consider how Betty Draper continues to wear the most fantastic mom outfits ever:
ANYWHO, this all brings us to this past Sunday’s episode, which was about a whole lot of corporate blah blah blah. I’m not saying that I’m disinterested in the corporate politics of Sterling Cooper; if anything, they’re frequently ripe with drama, and this was particularly juicy. It’s just that we need to be really discussing this instead:
This is quite possibly the worst news of all time ever EVER. She’s leaving Sterling Cooper to play homemaker to Dr. McRapey? UGH. And he drops the bomb that his surgeon hands suck and so he didn’t get the position (I suspect that his awful rape hands are still unfortunately quite fine)? DOUBLE UGH. And then when she told him she married him for his heart and not his hands? UGH TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!
Based on this past week’s developments, I’d like to be willing to embrace Joan’s husband as a more of a pathetic loser than a sexual monster, but this still isn’t doing it for me. Joan’s storyline is becoming an increasingly ugly reminder of what it was like for women before Friedan and feminism. Though it’s fair to ask if we’ve really gotten that far in the past half-century (something I believe to be one of the chief inquiries of Mad Men‘s politics), I for one am ready for us to move on.
There was, thankfully, female rebellion in the likes of Sally Draper. She was not having her new baby brother named after her beloved grandfather in any way, shape, or form. Give her a Barbie doll as a peace offering? That lil’ lesbian-in-training is bound to throw it out the window. You called it, Betty. Quelle surprise.
But mostly there’s just this, which pretty much goes against everything I’ve thus far come to know and love about Mad Men. For a show that’s largely rooted in a nuance and realism and slowly evolving dramatics, this scene felt like the antithesis. And I ADORED IT:
REALLY? Nevermind the ramifications this has for the power struggles as Sterling Cooper (Lane Pryce stays! YES!). There was an accident involving a John Deere mini-tractor/lawn mower/hell if I know and a person’s foot. People got sprayed with jets of blood. Paul Kinsey got splattered with foot! I’d expect something like this from Nip/Tuck, which is on a perpetual quest to one-up its own batshit insanity, but Mad Men? Consider me thoroughly–and pleasantly–shocked.
It remains to be seen, of course, but here’s hoping this latest episode is a sign that this season of Mad Men is as much a narrative/tonal change for the show as it is about the personal and historical changes of 1963. I hardly expect the show to jump headfirst into full-blown, unhinged camp; hell, I appreciate the show so much for avoiding such temptations, but I gladly welcome more deliriously out-there moments like this.
Be it Peggy singing in front of her mirror or Sally getting thrown into a fit of hysterics by the return of her Barbie doll to her bedroom, I’m really enjoying these moments that are further opening up what Mad Men is creatively capable of. We still have little over half-a-season left to see if the show continues down this crazier path, but it honestly doesn’t matter.
I’m just glad they’re keeping it so damn interesting.