Sunday, October 4, 2009

Episode 8: Ciao Bella.

This was, above all else, an episode of duality and contrasts. Of the life that could have been and the one that is. Of life inside the Sterling-Cooper offices and life outside its confines. Of innocent first kisses and calculated extra-marital affairs. Of life in the city and life vacationing at the shore. And most importantly, of shirtless Pete Campbell and shirtless Don Draper.

Asking if you prefer shirtless Don or shirtless Pete is like asking if you would rather have chocolate ice cream or uncooked spaghetti for dessert - there might be some freaks who prefer the latter, but then, that's why they're freaks. With Trudy on vacation with her folks [and by "on vacation" I mean taking time off to also film scenes for Community on NBC], Pete was left to his own devices, which included eating cereal while watching cartoons, passing out in a drunken stupor on the couch in the middle of the day, and struggling to yes, take off his shirt. For all his braggadocio Pete really can't take care of himself; he says he feels pity for his single secretary but he would probably be screwed in the office without her, and without Trudy he's more bored than anything else and reverts to acting like a 12 year old boy. A few weeks ago Doctor McNoBrainsInFingers came home drunk and Joan was kind enough to say she would help him get undressed, so clearly men in 1963 don't know how to unbutton their own shirts. I almost felt sorry for Pete, it was so sad to see him struggle with something so elementary like taking off a shirt, not necessarily because he was drunk and uncoordinated but because at heart he's actually a pathetic little child. But then I remembered he's also a smarmy little jerkface I want to sucker punch through my TV screen, and well, we'll get to that.

Shirtless Don on the other hand was glorious, but its not like we haven't been privy to that action before [I do vote for an increase in Don Draper in white form fitting t-shirts however. Thanks in advance Matt Weiner!]. But we haven't seen Don shirtless in a foreign country so clearly that makes it more exciting, or getting shirtless so much in one episode with - gasp! - his wife. While the Great Pete In Shirt Incident of 1963 only revealed his childlike tendencies, a half naked Don manned up, as it were, to task of keeping up with his hot and bothered wife. Ironically of course, Don might feel slightly emasculated if he knew Betty's friskiness could have something to do with the fact that she was getting kissed in parking lots by dashing political assistants.

Which leads us to those calculated extra-marital affairs! Henry swooped in like the chivalrous guy he is and saved the ladies of the Junior League during their meeting with the city council, and proceeded to celebrate by kissing Betty in the parking lot in her dead father's car...which probably leads to a ton of Daddy Issues that I really don't want to think about. Betty came home afterward and did a little dance in her kitchen not unlike this one, and then woke up Don in the middle of the night to tell him she was going to accompany him on his visit to Rome with Connie Hilton. Betty had a taste of the life she missed out on that night - she was desired, both romantically and professionally in some sense, and she wanted to regain that by visiting her glory days in Italy. Also, when you make out with another dude getting your husband out of the country ASAP to distract him with your sultry new black eyeliner and beehive probably isn't a bad move.

While Betty and Don were frolicking across the Atlantic, Pete was back home getting his exotic kicks another way, befriending a hapless German nanny who also lives in his building. Befriends is of course the wrong word, because it was really a Hey-Let-Me-Use-My-Pull-To-Get-You-A-New-Dress-And-Then-You'll-Owe-Me-Sex type of situation [and god, don't you just hate those situations?!], but German Nanny pulled a fast one and told Pete she had a boyfriend. Rejected! But Pete wasn't going to let that stop him, and after a few drinks he showed up at her door asking to be let in - a moment too disconcertingly familiar to a certain moment in the pilot. German Nanny, there is someone out there named Peggy Olsen. You two could be friends, you'd have a lot to talk about.

But while Pete and Betty were using sex as leverage, little Sally Draper was just learning that sometimes you kiss a boy in the bathtub and then later you get teased about it. Just wait for college Sally! Carla returned thank god, to actually raise these fucking Draper kids since no one else does it, and caught Sally wailing on her brother because he spied her planting a wet one on neighbor Ernie's cheek. When Betty returned home she schooled Sally, not necessarily on the fact that she beat up her brother, but told her she needed to learn that "You don't kiss boys, boys kiss you." Oh indeed they do, especially after they hook you up with a new dress or help you stop new water tanks from being built and then expect something in return. And considering Sally decided to ask Ernie if he thought she was pretty after watching her mother get dolled up for her City Hall rendezvous, its safe to say Sally is catching on that making yourself into an object of lust might just get you what you want. Sigh, and you thought she was going to be a "little lesbian" Betty and Don! Haterz.

Sally play-acting the married life her parents lead with Ernie was especially sad because we learned this episode that her parents are still play-acting, and even sadder that seems to be the only time they're actually happy. A trip to Italy reminded Betty of the life she abandoned, a life where she was in control, self-actualized, and comfortable even in a foreign tongue. It was cute at first seeing Don try to "pick up" his newly reinvigorated wife, until it became clear that this was the game he always runs - if it wasn't Betty, there would be a good looking stewardess he'd be using the same lines on. Betty was playing dress up and Don was playing the charming cad, but the supreme irony of it all was that for once they were actually playing themselves. Betty was playing the girl she always [and to some extent, I think still] imagines herself to be, and Don was playing the man who fancies himself reinvented through his choice of one night stand, but this time he became what he truly is - Betty's husband. In last week's episode Don feared a formal acknowledgment of "Don Draper" would mean he wouldn't be able to shake the persona, and this week the man of the shifting identities shifted into the one he held all along.

It is indeed a strange shift because Betty and Don seem to be flipping roles - Karen Valby of wondered if this episode would seem to suggest that this time it might be Betty who leaves Don, instead of the other way around. I think that might have some weight, as Betty clearly hates everything about her simple provincial suburban existence, and the taste of what might have been did nothing to quell her feelings. Strangely Don this episode seemed content that a golden charm would be a good enough token of the Life That Could Have Been, a brief reminder and not the thing itself. But Betty wants the real thing, and I'm starting to think she'll go to lengths this season to get it we haven't seen before.

All in all, this episode was unsettling because it showed that behind their cigarettes, drinks and swagger our favorite Man [Wo]Men are just sad, and a little pathetic. And I didn't even talk about our dear Joanie who is now waiting on Pete in dress shops! Get it together girl! But while Don Draper is good at selling you the life you want to lead, there was never any guarantee he'd get to lead that life himself.

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