Monday, September 28, 2009
Episode 7: Total Eclipse of the Heart.
Leave it to Mad Men to make me fully appreciate Bonnie Tyler's now karaoke standard in a whole new light. That song is kinda deep man! To silence the haterz who complain nothing really happens on this show except for Joan wearing fabulous dresses, shit went down in this episode and my caffeine deprived brain realized a lot of it actually aligned with Bonnie's song. Like, seriously.
And because no other episode of Mad Men will feature an actual eclipse [probably!] its clearly time to reduce this excellent episode to Bonnie Tyler lyrics for further analysis:
Every now and then/I get a little bit nervous/that the best of all the years have gone by
Ever since Duck told Peggy that "now was her time" she seems a little bit anxious that she's letting the prime of her life pass her by, which is ironic of course considering of all Mad Men's women she is the one who seems to be making the most inroads when it comes to shattering expectations for her life. On the other hand, the best of all the years really have gone by for Betty, as in previous seasons we see that continuing her modeling career is basically out of the question thanks to Go-Watch-TV-Sally, Bang-Your-Head-Against-The-Wall-Bobby and now Ghost-Baby-Gene. Betty is a selfish parent because she never got the chance to sort her own Self out before she was saddled with a few other human beings, and honestly, if she knew the route Peggy had taken she would probably be jealous and wished she had thought of it first. Yet as much as Peggy fancies herself as "one of those girls" that isn't to say her life is easy or glamorous by any stretch - she still gets dressed down by Don for asking for a new account and is easily seduced by Duck's not so seductive "I can taste the whiskey on your breath" line. But as Peggy walked into Sterling-Cooper wearing yesterday's clothes [just as Don did the same] the sly look she shot her boss clearly said that she knew his game, and that she could play it too - her life might not be glamorous, but she was living it for herself.
From its opening cuts, this episode did an excellent job drawing a line of parallel between Peggy and Betty, a connection that wasn't necessarily all that fleshed out before. But both women really are the two sides of the same "what if?" coin; while Peggy turned to adoption and used the birth of her child as a sort of emancipation - she didn't "shame" Pete into being with her, but instead sought to unhinge herself from him permanently - Betty looks at her children as merely accessories needed to keep up the front of her perfect household. And while Peggy at least has the initiative to bump her head against the glass ceiling, Betty is passive enough to lay on a Victorian fainting couch because some man told her she needed one [And the Victorian shout out only reinforces my belief that Betty will be Yellow Wallpaper crazy by the end of this season].
Every now and then I get a little bit restless/ and I dream of something wild
Everyone knows that Don is more than a little bit restless, he's always restless and restless enough to continually want to become someone else. Last week Don got a taste of something new when he was mistakenly made to believe he might become an ocean hopping executive, only to be brought down to size by some uppity Brit's flow chart. So it must have smarted doubly this episode when his bosses handed him a contract good for three years - the fact that he probably would still be at Sterling-Cooper in three years of course didn't mean as much to Don as the fact that he didn't have to be at Sterling-Cooper in three years.
Don has been surprisingly restrained this season [I mean, for Don] so of course the only way to handle such an upset was to go careening wildly in his Cadillac and pick up two drugged out hippies headed for Canada and go with them to a seedy motel room. Don's many affairs are basically like him living out one of those Choose You Own Adventure books over and over, just each time picking a different woman, and a different outcome. And Don's new hippie friends were certainly a boon in the Don Draper Affairs Department, as they offered drugs [reds!], cheap three way seedy motel sex [Almost happened! Don't you just hate when hallucinations of your dead dad kill the mood?] and most importantly, a younger version of Don who was also keen to abuse the strict rules of the military to find himself a new life.
Your love is like a shadow on me all of the time/I don't know what to do and I'm always in the dark/We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks
This episode of course featured an actual eclipse, the shadow of which actually did weigh heavily on Don and Betty's marriage. When Roger calls the house under the pretext of looking for Don but really to convince Betty to force her husband to sign his contract, Betty realizes she really is always in the dark when it comes to the life Don leads in the city. But what Betty won't admit to herself is that being in the dark is actually what she wants - would she really be all that interested if Don came home and started talking to her about Patio campaigns and Connie Hilton? What she really wants is a man like Henry who tells her she needs a Victorian fainting couch and who literally puts her in the dark when he chivalrously shields her eyes from the eclipse.
This is perhaps why Don finds himself so attracted to Ms. Ferrell, she looks right at the eclipse in a contraption of her own creation without the help of the those boring dads just hanging uselessly about. Oh and calling Don out on his similarity to all the other dads there? Well played, Ms. Ferrell, well played. Now he only wants to give you and your drunken loose bra strap self more of a go around then before.
Obviously Don always wants what he can't have so now when he actually does give Ms. Ferell the go around [Thanks 1963! The "go around" is now my new fav euphemism!], the powder keg might actually explode. This season has been slow building, but the sparks are starting to fly, which can only mean that the inevitable explosion will be all that more awesome. To quote Don quoting Sal quoting Balzac, our worst fears do indeed lie in anticipation.
Forever's gonna start tonight
7-23-1963. The date Don Draper became Don Draper permanently. This is at the very least what Don fears when he signs his name to his contract, as if the act of writing in non-erasable ink his adopted name inks into existence this persona forever. Ms. Ferrell was right, Dick Whitman is bored with his "Don Draper" existence, and even worse his contract now makes him acknowledge that he is stuck in a world of his own creation, and one which he now can't stand.
In his hallucination Archie Whitman told his son that all he grew was bullshit, which is of course true. The entire premise of Mad Men is lies, and Don is the master - in advertising he writes lies for a living, and as Don Draper his living is a lie. But now that the name "Don Draper" has been inked with certainty, a lie has finally become the truth.
The point this season seems to be unraveling to is that Don's game might be up; to pull a Simon Cowell, he's not as good or as special as he thinks he is. In this episode Peggy showed that she could play with the boys, and Mrs. Ferrell made Don realize that one plaid shirt really isn't that different from another plaid shirt. And most devastatingly, Cooper reminded us and Don that he really does have the means to end the game entirely - if Dick Whitman could be replaced, who's to say that Don Draper can't?