Tuesday, September 08, 2009

"Mad Men" Ep. 3.4: "The Arrangements"

As Alan Sepinwall observes, parenting is a central theme of "Mad Men" that comes to the forefront of this week's episode. Horace Cook, Sr's weirdly, almost wearily resigned attitude towards "Ho-Ho," Jr. serves as a prism through which every other parental relationship in the show is reflected (or is it refracted? no physics major, I). Most obviously Don's, both with his own parents and with his children, but also, Pete's, and, somewhat more indirectly, Peggy's, Betty's, and Gene's. Is it better to be more or less involved? To try to help your children to realize potential they may not know they have, as Gene seemed to be trying to do with Sally (and suggested he didn't do with Betty), or to prevent them from making mistakes with huge consequences?

These issues for the most part don't lend themselves to easy resolution. Though judging from the comments I've seen online, there's popular consensus on at least one point: that Betty is a terrible mother - and, by extension, a terrible person, or at the least, a mean, cold, selfish, narcissistic bitch. As I don't share this view, I'm going to take a minute to defend her treatment of Sally. While Betty's never exactly been warm towards her daughter, I've always chalked that up to a combination of the way she herself was raised and the general parenting norms of that time: Children were to be seen and not heard. Even prior to "Mad Men," I was under the impression there was much less cuddling and coddling of kids than we seem to expect today, or at least much less of it in families of a certain background and social class. (Those Nordics!) And for the most part, Sally seems to roll with it; she's never struck me as being particularly unhappy, even though I won't dispute that she's being very subtly effed up by her upbringing in any number of ways. (Though no more so, I would argue, than anyone else on the show.)

Of course, this time Sally was upset. Really and understandably upset, and no one, not even Don, gave her any comfort. But what do you expect? While I felt for her during her outburst in the kitchen, Betty's response - telling her she was hysterical and ordering her to watch TV - didn't faze me a bit, though it did sadden me. To me, it seemed obvious that Betty was wrestling with her own grief and was either stung by Sally's accusation that no one cared that Grandpa had died, or incapable of abandoning the drilled-in conviction that such a raw, unrestrained display of emotion was unseemly and improper, especially in a young child. Or both. Not exactly mother-of- the-year behavior by a long shot, but not beyond the pale of humanity, as some people seem to think.

I will say that Betty's behavior as a daughter has tended to bug me more than her behavior as a mother - not that the two aren't intertwined - and this was especially true of her reaction to Gene's attempts to discuss his post-mortem "arrangements." (That said, I must confess I myself am no better whenever my parents try to bring up the same subject with me.) She was so ridiculously, smack-worthily childish in her attitude. I think her pouty "I'm your little girl" was actually a bit too much - the line really wasn't necessary to drive the point home. We get it, writers. We really do.

Anyway, on the flip side of the overly detached WASPy mother, we also get the overly involved Catholic mother (Peggy's), laying on the Catholic guilt with a trowel. Am I awful for laughing at the line "You'll be raped?" While my own mother's never delivered precisely that line to me, let's just say Asian guilt is a close cousin of Catholic guilt, and I have more than a nodding acquaintance with both types. Luckily, Peggy seems more capable than anyone I know of leaving that load behind her. It must be that inhuman streak in her, which I find at once fascinating and a little repellent.

Perhaps for the same reason, I do not see the new roommate turning out well (wonder what Joan, the brilliant Joan, would have made of little miss Swede?). But Pegs has surprised me before, so I wouldn't put it past her to do it again. Oh, and the chipmunks? Are 12. Seriously, grow up, boys. Though Peggy's petulant "You're a jerk!" made me laugh out loud.

Other observations:

Jai Alai: While I get that the folks at Sterling Cooper - outside of Don and, perhaps, Bert - were only too happy to help part young Ho-Ho and his money, I couldn't help wondering if they really wanted to be associated with what they plainly perceived to be a fool's venture. Isn't it better for an advertising agency to launch successful products, as opposed to campaigns that become fodder for jokes? Will we see this storyline again? Is it possible that Jai Alai will enjoy at least a brief period of interest? I don't know enough about the history of the sport to say, though they did make it look awfully dopey.

Peggy's smirk at the failure of the Patio ad: Priceless. The ad itself: Horrible. Sorry, Sal.

And oh, Sal...channeling Ann-Margret? That performance, taken in context, was almost more shocking (at least in effect) than Roger's blackface of last week. Poor Kitty. I have no idea exactly what she realized in that moment, but she definitely realized something. I tend to think, however, that she still doesn't understand its full significance. There's a clear parallel to that moment last year when she picked up on Sal's vibes towards Ken; once again, she seems to be seeing, or close to seeing, the truth through a glass darkly. I've no doubt it will become clear to her eventually, even if she never brings herself to articulate it. And even amid all of MM's myriad marriages built on lies and self-deceptions, that would be the deepest tragedy of all.


Blogger ToastyKen said...

I feel like I missed so much. I totally didn't catch the parenting connection till I read Sepinwall. :\

What's funny is that at the end of the episode, I totally felt like the episode was all about Sally. But I find that I have a lot more to say about all the other character than I do about Sally. Also, immediately after, I was about to say, "I wonder where they're going to take this Sally thing," as in what the lasting effects will be on her character.... when I was interrupted by the previous of next week's episode, which immediately answered my question. :) (Aside from that, though, I was amused by how the "preview" was mostly a random assortment of inconsequential lines that revealed nothing about the plot. They were almost as contentless as the minipreview at the end of Battlestar Galactica opening credits.)

I also wondered whether the source of the commercial's failure was in Sal's failure to know what men want. Also, was it just me, or was the singing horrible? Finally, I bet it was tough for the real director to film that commercial, btw.. He had to intentionally film something that wasn't HORRIBLE but just wasn't quite right.

I loved Peggy's "I told you so" look also. She's my favorite character, and her inhuman streak, as you put it is part of what makes her interesting. It makes her more than just an obvious feminist postergirl. When she told off her secretary after smoking out last week, I felt she was being a bit mean, too...

Agree that Joan's pitch was Don-brilliant. So sad to see her talents squandered like that, and I want her to succeed eventually, but I'm afraid that this show will not lead us down that path.

Peggy pretending she's fun: Hilarious. :) In general it's really fun to watch Peggy try something new, like when she said, "I would like to smoke some marijuana." :P

And finally: Poor poor Kitty Romano.

3:15 AM  
Blogger Leguleius said...

Is it my imagination or do we never seem to see Ken with a date? He even mentioned it in "My Old Kentucky Home."

11:29 AM  

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