Monday, October 19, 2009
Episode 10: The Writing's On the Wall.
The faintest ink is better than the best memory.
Paul's Chinese proverb proved to be not just the key to the problem of a new Western Union campaign, but to this episode and essentially, this entire season. Don's observation that "The truth is people may see things differently but they don't really want to" applies especially well to memory, itself already a rather tenuous record of what was. And this episode was full of people seeing the truth - or the color blue, as it were - differently, whether it be Mother Sterling's observation of the young woman sitting next to her, Paul's perception of why Peggy was successful at her job, Don and Mrs. Farrell's differing visions of their affair, and at long last, Betty's image of her husband's past.
It's hard to deny the truth of the written word, even if it is the faintest ink - the book of John famously opens by telling us that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God" - but the entire premise of Mad Men is that what we see in print is often a lie devised to make us want the life presented to us. But unlike a memory the written word is solid, concrete and tangible, a disadvantage when it manifests a memory you are trying to hide, as in the case of "Don Draper's" divorce certificate. A memory is mutable and fleeting as the loss of Paul's "big idea" illustrates, something not to be trusted. "I wish I had written it down!" we wail, because we know that if there is any truth in the written word its that the moment something leaves the murky recesses of our brain and shows itself on paper it exists in the real, permanently [Or, at least until the eraser and White-Out show up].
Of course, once an idea flies from our head to the page it becomes something else entirely, a new object with new connotations, and yes, memories attached to it. The writing itself can become sentimental, as Don acknowledged when he proposed that the tag line for Western Union be something like "You can't frame a phone call." [Also: Dudes, The Sound of Music premiered in 1959 so its really a shame that Rolf turned out to be a Nazi because he is the best salesman for telegrams I have ever seen. If I could be assured that a handsome man on a bicycle who was willing to sing and dance would always deliver telegrams to me, Western Union would have my business all the time.] A phone call ceases to exist once we hang up the receiver and resides only in the memory, opening it up to numerous different interpretations and reconstructions.
That isn't to say that text doesn't offer up multiple interpretations - it does, otherwise my English major wouldn't exist - but it does require proof of these interpretations. If I am reading the sentence "Jane pets her dog" I can't possibly insinuate that Jane is actually going for a swim, because that is nowhere in the text. Similarly, once Betty presents Don with actual proof of his stolen identity - "Dick" written on the back of a photo, a deed for a house in California, dog tags with the names Don Draper and Dick Whitman, divorce papers - how can Don explain them away as anything else besides what they actually are? [Though, this is Don Draper, so he'll probably think of something] On the other hand, the mysterious phone call to the Draper House was immediately assumed by Betty to be from Henry, and by Don from Ms. Farrell, because once Sally hung up there was no way to verify who it truly was. At that moment both interpretations of the incident were correct because there was nothing to contradict the assumptions, and the proof, both Henry and Ms. Farell denying their involvement, is dubious particularly on Ms. Farell's part. But unlike the objects in Don's locked shoe box of treasures it was probably for the best that the Drapers couldn't frame this phone call, because I am sure both Betty and Don were happy it allowed for some ambiguity. Because nothing says "love!" like a framed divorce certificate!
This season is rapidly unraveling to its conclusion, and it does indeed all seem to be riding on the burden of proof. Can Peggy prove she deserves her place at the firm, aside from lipstick and Aqua Net accounts? Can Betty prove Don is someone other than who he says he is? Can Don prove he is who says he is? Can Sterling-Cooper prove itself as something other than just that place where someone got their foot run over by a tractor? Can Sal prove it was Lucky Strike Man who wronged him, and not the other way around? Can Ms. Farrell prove that making date-nut bread doesn't make you insane? Can Carla prove she is the most sane and awesome person on this show? Can Pete prove he's not a douchebag?
The last few episodes should be pretty intense, considering the show has all these questions and probably a few more [legitimate] ones to answer. The most pressing is obviously the question of Don Draper's identity now that his Pandora's Box has been opened, and whether his sham will be revealed. Of course two people -Pete and Cooper - already know Don's secret, but they don't really know the extent of the lies. Betty on the other hand, has all the proof - now we just have to wait and see what she does with it. Being Betty, she'll probably sink into indulgent misery for awhile, and then lash out childishly. Or drown herself in the bathtub, because there were a lot of shots of her and the bath this episode and they were starting to remind me of that Grey's Anatomy episode where Meredith Grey's almost drowning in Puget Sound was foreshadowed by her almost drowning in the bathtub.
But the point is, as this season ends, everyone has something to prove. It was appropriate that this episode ended with Don toasting to 40 years of Sterling-Cooper memories, because as Cooper pointed out, dwelling on these past memories is often akin to a funeral. And Don now needs to prove that the memories of his past are indeed just memories, or else we may essentially be watching "Don Draper's" funeral in these upcoming episodes.
Don's written signature on his contract seemed to make us think we were watching the solidification of the Don Draper persona, but now that seems to have been uprooted by the name "Don Draper" appearing on other incriminating items from his past. So the faintest ink may be better than the best memory, except for when that ink preserves a memory you would rather have forgotten.
Sidenote: This is a tangent from the above musings, but we need to discuss Ms. Farrell, because girlfriend is crazy. She reminded me in this episode of Georgina Sparks from Gossip Girl, who is a psycho crazy stalker bitch who makes the wallpaper of her laptop a picture of her and some guy when they have been mildly seeing each other for like, a day. She also sends the object of her affection e-cards circa 1998. And when scorned, she reveals deep dark family secrets about missing love children. Insanity! The 1963 equivalent of this is obviously showing up on the morning train unannounced because your married lover didn't call you back like he had promised. Mad Men has been dropping hints all season that Ms. Farrell might be slightly unhinged, like her barefoot dancing, flower garland, eclipse observing party, long curly hair and even a wardrobe full of earth tones - all of which suggest that her last name is meant to be literal. She is feral; natural, wild and untamed. This is bad news for Don because when she caught up with him on the train there was a glint in her eyes that suggested - to paraphrase the great Beyonce - if a time should come when he was not her everything, he might become her nothing. In other words, check those pots on your stove Drapers, there might be some rabbit stewing there.
These observations on Ms. Farrell made me want to introduce Don to something called the "Hot/Crazy Scale" originated by who else, Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother. Barney warns his friend Ted that the new girl he is seeing might be off the Hot/Crazy Scale, because her level of hotness doesn't outweigh her level of crazy, and the two should have a direct relationship. But then I watched the clip on YouTube and made the greatest IMDB discovery in the history of ever - the crazy girl in question is played by Abigail Spencer...who also plays Ms. Farell! I think this effectively rests my case, and how did the world exist before IMDB!?