Monday, October 05, 2009

"Mad Men" Ep. 3.8: "Souvenir"

Wow, that was...beautiful. And incredibly sad.

As a general rule, I don't tend to enjoy episodes of TV dramas that take the action completely away from the main setting of the show. But I found myself really enjoying "Souvenir," despite having only one brief opening scene in the office and absolutely no follow-up to the dramatic events of 7/23.

Perhaps that's because the episode focused so heavily on Betty and Pete. I know I'm in the minority on this, esp. as regards Betty, but those two are, if not my favorites, the characters who interest me the most. Not because they're better or more complex than the others, but because in their different ways, they don't seem altogether fully formed...and I refuse to write either of them off as cases of arrested development. To me, they're still evolving, in the sense that they're fumbling towards a higher state of consciousness. They're a good ways away, but I'm still invested in seeing them get there and what will happen if/when they do.

Did they get any closer to that self-awareness in tonight's episode? Betty, definitely; harder to say for Pete, who just went back on my shit list, and probably everyone else's too, for obvious reasons. I'm not going to pontificate on whether what he did was technically rape; it's enough that he was in a position of power and took advantage of it in the basest way. All the more disturbing that up till that point he had been acting like such a little child - ripping his shirt off because of the heat, watching cartoons, telling the au pair girl to hang the dress back up & blame it on the kids. And even afterwards, his look of guilt and his plea to Trudy seemed more like a child's appeal to his mother than a grown man admitting horrible transgressions to his wife. That said, he at least seemed to realize that he can't be by himself because he's his own worst enemy.

Betty, on the other hand, seems to be approaching the realization that she might, just might, be happiest and most fulfilled when she's by herself. Or maybe not. She definitely needs an audience to blossom - that is, an audience that's not her husband and kids. I think she was supposed to dazzle in this episode, and she did...and not only because she looked even more drop-dead gorgeous than usual. We saw more sides of Betty in this hour than we've seen so far this entire season. Energetic & purposeful in her efforts to save the reservoir, giddy afterwards at her success (how cute was her little twist and "We won, we won, we won"?), her euphoria tinged with guilt over Henry Francis (that slick old smoothie), then projecting her attraction and excitement on to Don.

And then: the return of Betty the Model-Sophisticate in Rome. "La Dolce Vita" is still on my Netflix queue, so I don't know how Fellini-esque those scenes were; all I know is they were languorously seductive, and Don & Betty ridiculously hawt. But also ineffably sad, with their overarching sense of the ephemerality of their fantasy. Seeing sexy, happy Betty return to unhappy-wife Betty just hurt, esp. with Don so obviously trying to preserve some of their Roman afterglow. I liked him better than I have for a while, esp. coming after his caddishness in "Seven Twenty-Three." Still, when Betty finally started to articulate her misery - "I hate this place. I hate our friends. I hate this town” - I actually wrote down, "Finally, she says it." That's one small step for womankind, one huge leap for Betty Draper.

I've been undecided on January Jones' range as an actress, but this episode, if nothing else, reaffirmed my conviction that she was ideally cast for the role of Betty. It was amazing to see how swiftly the warmth could evaporate off her face - in the moment after Henry Francis kissed her, in the post-vacation conversation with Francine - and leave the Nordic Ice Princess we've grown to know too well.

I live in hopes of seeing Betty's spark rekindled - but it's becoming increasingly clear that Don's not the one to keep it lit.

Funniest lines (there weren't many):

Sally, on her "first kiss": "But I already did it. It's over." Bwah! Betty's response, OTOH - "Every kiss after that is a shadow of that kiss" - was just sad.

Pete: "Of the Republic of Dresses!"

Francine, to Don and Betty: "From what I hear, you two must be very tired." (With the exact same arch look that she gave Betty when leaving her alone with Henry Francis. No wonder Betty hates her.)


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