Monday, September 14, 2009

"Mad Men" Ep. 3.5: "The Fog"

Still processing this episode, but I can say, overall, it was a DOOZY, and for the most part in a good way.

Visually, it was brilliant, and unlike anything I've seen before on the show - think David Lynch meets Douglas Sirk. And it even made me think of "Rosemary's Baby": after all, when was the last time the process of childbirth played like something out of a horror movie, as opposed to the usual 30 seconds of crying and pushing followed by the emergence of an improbably large infant and a weary, happy smile on the new mother's face? Come to think of it, this isn't the first time "Mad Men"'s made a point of avoiding that particular cliché: as with Peggy, we never see the actual moment of delivery. The effect in both cases is to make the mother seem totally alienated from the baby.

But if anything, this birth was even colder and creepier and more surreal, from Betty's second glance backwards to see Don seemingly disappear (as she says later, "he's never where you expect him to be!") to the distant screams she overhears from some other mother, to the enemas and the distinctly discomforting nurse and the virtual invisibility of the delivering doctor. And, of course, her drug-induced delusions and dream sequences (more on those in a minute.) Even when it's all over and she's back to being a picture-perfect mother, there are still ominous signs: the pattern of the drapes - like prison bars - against the wall of her hospital room, the passing reference to Carla being let go (only temporarily, I hope?) at a time when Betty can surely least afford to be without help, to that last, chilling shot of Betty pausing before going to baby Gene wailing in the night. I don't know if her shoulders actually slumped, but everything was written in the set of her back. It was an incredibly tense moment in an episode chock-full of incredibly tense Betty-related moments; I actually said out loud, "Please don't let Betty kill the baby."

I really felt for Betty throughout this episode, but never more so than in the passing moment - right after she's signed the birth certificate, I believe - when we see a hopeful expression on her face, as if she's thinking maybe this will all be ok after all. A sentiment that others in this episode vocalize - the prison guard to Don, Don to Peggy - even when we have every reason to believe it ain't true. Sadly, Betty was probably closer to the truth when she was drugged up and in labor: "I can't do it." And, even more pregnantly (sorry): "I'm just a housewife. Why are you doing this to me?" Once again, the writers hammered a little too hard on the theme that Betty's been raised solely to be, in the words of her dream, a housecat - but January Jones (still criminally underrated as an actress, IMO) makes the most of what they give her. And those dream sequences were weirdly haunting.

(btw, for anyone who's wondering who the bleeding black man in her second dream was supposed to be - that's Medgar Evers, the black civil rights activist who was murdered in June 1963, shortly before the events of this episode, and whom Sally couldn't stop talking about in class. Although I'm not convinced Betty would have dreamed up the line "See what happens when you speak up?")

But if Betty is and has been feeling trapped, there's no question Don has, too. It's no coincidence that the episode put him in an extended tête-à-tête with a guard from Sing Sing. Like Betty's second dream, that whole encounter was a bit too heavy-handed for my taste, from Hobart's comments on bad men blaming their offenses on their parents to his telling Don he was going to be a better man and that he knew Don was "an honest guy." I like my irony a little subtler. Still, I did like the cuts to Don's expression throughout this scene. And I'm still trying to figure out what was up with Hobart's avoiding Don's gaze when they pass each other later in the hallway.

I really, really hope Don doesn't end up becoming involved with Sally's teacher, though all indications certainly point that way.

Meanwhile, back at the office, Sterling Cooper continues to toss about like a rudderless ship. Enter, or rather reenter, Duck Phillips (DUCKK!!!), now working for what I assume is a Jewish-friendly agency and, in an intriguing development, looking to steal SC's two most talented employees who aren't named Don Draper. Looks like Peggy is at least considering the offer, particularly after her frustrating conversation with Don. The plot thickens! I'm esp. glad to see Duck again, because I like his character and I really like Mark Moses.

Pete was at his Pete-est in this episode, once again demonstrating he's got mad skillz when it comes to spotting and capitalizing on sociocultural trends but no knack at all for understanding or interacting with individual members of the society he's so good at observing on a holistic level. Both his conversations with Hollis (hilarious) and with the Admiral brass (awkward) exemplified this dichotomy. Interesting that after the dressing-down Pete got from Roger and Bert, it was Lane "pennies make pounds" Pryce who was most willing to entertain his ideas. Is it, as he seemed to suggest, his outsider's perspective that allows him to see what many Americans still could not? Or does he just like Pete and the numbers he's pitching?

One thing's for sure, though: of this lot, Roger Sterling is the guy who's going to be left farthest behind. Even Bert Cooper was willing to say, of the "Negro" market, "we're looking into it," while Roger looked supremely uninterested and even a little disgusted. Hear that sound, Roger? It's your relevance deflating just a little bit further.

Best line of the episode: Pete to Peggy - "Your decisions affect me." Absolutely perfect delivery by Vincent Kartheiser.

Runner-up: Peggy to Don - "What if this is my time?"

What if, indeed. That's what we're all waiting to see.


Blogger EC said...

On Don and the teacher, I loved what Sepinwall had to say, "What is it that Chekhov wrote? I think it went something like, 'If you put a drunk woman with a half-buttoned blouse and a dangling bra strap on screen in episode five, she's going to have sex with Don Draper by episode nine.' Right?"

I was very happy to see Duck alive and well, and Pete and Peggy squirming while they misunderstood what he meant by their relationship was a classic moment.

3:10 AM  
Blogger ToastyKen said...

Here are some of my thoughts while watching the ep:

I like the image of Don sitting at a kid's desk. :P

Man, does Sally's teacher have the hots for Don, too?! That guys needs to fight 'em off with a stick!

Roger saying "Da Da" at Don. How appropriate for his mental age. :)

Hm. Not sure what to make of Pete's conversation with Hollis. It reveals a bit about the gap of worldview between the two, but the baseball comment at the end and Hollis' reaction to it, reveal some commonality and hope, maybe?

Weird. Why was Creepy Prison Guard unhappy to see Don? Embarrassed about how he cried and poured his heart out earlier?

Admirals upon hearing the word "integrated": "I don't think that's legal." :\

I like the way the Admiral meeting shows Pete being in some ways more progressive than his demeanor might suggest, and it's good to see him being somewhat competent for once, though in his own incompetent way. :P

eww... right after I typed that, he was all gross to Peggy about Duck. :( [That was my initial reaction, until I realized I had forgotten about the baby. Then I felt Pete was totally justified in being mean to Peggy :P)

Man, I love these Mad Men previews. SOOOOO cryptic. :)

7:17 AM  
Blogger lylee said...

As I've said before, I'm so over the irresistible powers of Don Draper w/r/t the female sex. (I really need to see that SNL skit.) Perhaps they'll do something interesting with the teacher lady, but I'm not very hopeful.

The baseball comment puzzled me, too - not the comment itself but how we're supposed to read it (and Hollis' reaction). On the one hand you could see it as Hollis laughing at Pete's cluelessness; on the other, it does seem like genuine common ground and, yes, possible grounds for hope. Is it a moment of connection or isn't it? I'm not sure, but I'd like to think so.

12:29 AM  
Blogger vern said...

i just love to watch mad men as its is one of my favorite shows on tv. it is completely a visual treat to watch with fabulous story based on 60's America

3:25 AM  
Blogger Johnny Hands said...

@ ToastyKen, I'm pretty sure the reason the prison guard hung his head (as he was wheeling his wife holding their new baby) while passing Don is because consequences of the "breech birth" that was mentioned non-chalantly by the nurse in the waiting room earlier in the episode. This is actually as serious condition and causes brain damage or death. So the prison guard had probably been briefed by hospital staff about his son having brain damage - and he probably thought he was less of a man than Don because he couldn't father a healthy child. Make sense?

4:07 PM  

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