The past two weeks’ worth of Mad Men have been full of “Holy Shit” moments, some major, some minor. Let’s list them:
- Holy shit! Joan is actually leaving Sterling-Cooper? This will not do!
- Holy shit! Can Ken Cosgrove ride into every scene atop a John Deere? That’s officially the most awesome thing he’s ever done.
- Holy shit! Did Betty just touch herself a little bit?
- Holy shit! Is that Don passed out on the floor?
- Holy shit! Is that Peggy in bed with Duck?
- HOLY MOTHERFUCKING SHIT THAT SECRETARY JUST MANGLED THAT LIMEY’S FOOT WITH A FUCKING JOHN DEERE! ZOMG!
As far as that business with the John Deere is concerned, the British honchos from PPL invade Sterling-Cooper, appropriately, over 4th of July weekend to announce their plan to restructure. Cooper has convinced Don that this may be advantageous for him, possibly changing his job to head of creative for both branches of the company, which means he could relocate his family to London if he so chose. (Betty is as excited as Betty gets about anything in regards to a possible move: “I could get a proper nanny and a pram.”) But when the Brits arrive, things do not go as expected. The grand restructuring plan, lead by upstart ad man Guy McKendrick (who reminds me of British version of Pete Campbell), leaves Don basically where he was, with Guy getting the promotion Don desired. Roger Sterling, whose name is in the name of the company, gets left off the list entirely, and Pete is relegated to being subject to Ken as head of accounts “for the time being.” Lane Pryce is told, via a plastic snake in a basket, that he’s done such a good job whipping Sterling-Cooper into financial shape that he’s to be shipped off to Bombay to do the same thing to PPL’s Indian holdings. In short, the only person to come out on top of this deal is Harry Crane, who gets a promotion to head of Television and Media Development.
Although Joan’s final day at S-C has been usurped by the British, she makes a good go of things by making sure that the office is running in tip-top shape, instructing her cadre of secretaries to schedule all deliveries for the morning so that the office looks busy while the Brits are around. Hooker and the girls attempted to plan a surprise for Joan’s departure, ruined, of course, by Hooker’s giant idiot mouth. But her final days at S-C are, of course, bittersweet. Her husband, Dr. Greg, did not make chief resident, a fact I cannot believe he was not aware of at that dinner party. It was pretty obvious that he wasn’t going to make chief resident, especially with all the chatter between his colleague (who did receive chief resident) and their boss. But Greg, being so sure of his own ambition, asked Joan to quit her job, erroneously thinking that he would, for some reason, get the job over someone with smarter fingers. After spending the day drinking, he asks Joan to get her job back, but she knows she can’t. What’s done is done.
So on her final day at Sterling-Cooper, Guy McKendrick is big enough to turn the day into a farewell party for Joan, wishing her the best things he can think of that start with the letter C: champagne, caviar and children. This causes Joan to burst into tears. People get trashed and ride the John Deere across the floor . . . leading to Guy’s unfortunate encounter with the out-of-control tractor, which mangles his foot and sends a splatter of blood onto the crisp, white shirts of Kinsey et al. Truly, that was the best thing I’ve ever seen on Mad Men. So grotesque. So amazing.
Fortunately for Guy, Joan dried her tears and rushed to his side to create a tourniquet. Thanks to her quick actions (no doubt Hooker would have passed out at the very sight of blood), the young ad man didn’t bleed to death on the floor of Sterling-Cooper. But despite that, he still loses his foot. Don, who had skipped the party to meet with Conrad Hilton (who was, for some reason, bartending at Roger’s country club the other week, which I still find to be totally weird), waits with Joan at the hospital and the two share a moment of levity and some Dr. Pepper, despite the rough day they’ve both had.
What really interested me here, since I work on embodiments, is the way Guy’s superiors treated him upon learning he’d lost his foot. Rather than noting his physical pain and, now deformity, they are concerned that he’ll never be able to golf again, which means he has become useless to them and should be cast aside. If he can’t golf, he can’t schmooze clients. And if you can’t make money for PPL, you have no value. You may as well be dead.
These questions of value arise again in “Seven Twenty Three,” in which Pryce, who gets to stay at S-C due to McKendrick’s accident, tries to lock Don into a three-year contract — especially since Don simply being Don managed to attract Conrad Hilton’s business to S-C. Don is inherently valuable, and S-C needs to own that value in order to assure they’re own success. However, the idea of the contract is presented not as an option to someone who, last year, essentially made partner, but as an ultimatum. Sign, or work elsewhere.
Don hesitates, and so Roger goes behind his back and tries to wheedle Betty into getting Don to sign the contract. Though both are offended by Roger’s actions, Betty still does what Roger wanted her to do and urges Don to sign, pointing out how ridiculous it is to think that he’d be anywhere but where he is in three years. As he does anytime he is questioned by Betty, Don walks out and ends up picking up a couple of kids hitching to Niagara to get married so they can escape the Vietnam draft. The two dope Don up on barbiturates, punch him out and rob him. They are, however, kind enough to leave a note and his car.
Betty, trying to find something to occupy herself, gets the living room redone and gets involved in the local Jr. League’s efforts to bar construction on a water tower in town. Using Don’s connections, she lunches with Henry Francis, whom she had met at Roger and Jane Sterling’s Kentucky Derby fete and shared an intense few words. Though Henry ultimately can do nothing about the water tower, he does keep her from fainting when she (naively? intentionally? defiantly?) looks into the eclipse. He playfully suggests that she get herself a fainting couch, and so she does, placing it in front of the hearth, despite the advice of her decorator. This piece of furniture makes Betty happier than we’ve ever seen her, running her hands down her body as she lies there, caressing her thighs like Manet’s Olympia, or practically any other French impressionist painting of a prostitute or harem girl.
The episode opened with images of Don passed out, Betty enraptured on that divan and Peggy in bed with a man, and we were asked to make sense of these images, following each character to that end point of them in repose. Though Betty in repose reminded me of a Manet painting, there’s something to the fact that her choice of furniture is old and clashes with the modernity of the room. She’s like that couch, a thing out of joint with the time. And yet, somehow, she, Manet’s Olympia and that fainting couch harken back to a time of repressed, yet blossoming, sexuality. The Victorians always had an undercurrent of sex and naughtiness, and I think we all know that Betty does, too. (Like when she totally fucked Captain Awesome in a bathroom last season.) The idea of placing her and that divan next to the hearth speaks to a Victorian conceit that a woman should be the Angel in the House, and, like that hearth, should be the seat and soul of the family.
There’s a lot to be said there, about Betty and femininity and sex and couches, but that requires a lot more thought than I am presently willing to put into a massive post on two episodes of Mad Men.
It’s interesting that I read the image of Betty in repose as similar to a prostitute, because I clearly should be reading Peggy’s in repose shot that way. It turns out that Duck is still trying to court Mr. Campbell and Ms. Olsen to join Grey, sending them Cuban cigars and Hermes scarves. Pete pleads with Peggy not to go (especially after his desire to join the Hilton account is shot down by Don), but she defies him. She has no intention to tell him her plans, but insists that she should keep the gift, as it is a really nice scarf. Later, Peggy herself is shot down by Don when she asks about the Hilton account. He is angry that she has such a perceived sense of entitlement and reminds her that she was once his secretary and should work for what she wants like the rest of them, not simply ask for it. “You’re good,” he tells her. “Get better. Stop asking for things.” And with that, Peggy makes a fateful call to Duck to say that she’ll be returning the scarf. He coerces her to return it in person so she can meet the Hermes people at Duck’s hotel room — his preferred place of business because he is a smarmy d-bag. Only a few very icky, very lusty words later and Peggy and Duck are in bed, doing things I’d rather not think about because, well, it’s Duck. I can’t decide if this is an upgrade from her usual manchild attraction, of if Duck is just the most extreme example of the kind of manchildren Peggy is into.
- Chicken salad and Ritz crackers: dinner of champions.
- Bert Cooper really likes pudding. You know what would be an awesome crossover episode/spin-off back-door pilot? If Jared Harris’ Lane Pryce crossed over to an alternate dimension, tracked down Fringe’s Walter Bishop and imported him to the Mad Men universe so that Cooper and Bishop could share their love of custardy desserts and, perhaps, abandon their mutual jobs altogether and start a pastry shop.
- “Can I pet him?” — Bobby Draper, misunderstanding that babies are not cats.
- “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency” had a lot of references to lights: Edison, Sally’s nightlight, Joan asking Greg to let her turn on the light, Don staring up at the light fixtures when he’s unable to rest. These things all point to a sense of illumination in the future: Don rethinking his position at S-C, Joan rethinking her marriage to that dbag, Sally growing up and setting aside childhood.
- “Babies get fairies to do things. You know that.” — Betty, attempting to make Sally more comfortable with her little brother by giving her a Barbie from Eugene. She’s right. Babies totally do get fairies to do stuff for them.
- I’ve glossed over Don’s conversation with Miss Farrell here, but I wonder why she’s even trying to put on a good face when she’s the one who called him the other week, drunk and blowsy.
- Picking up on “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency” and its light references, here we have an eclipse. Betty and Don choose to both look directly at it. Are they staring into the penumbras that obscure their own illumination? Or does looking into the eclipse achieve the illumination on its own?
- By the way, Don’s barbiturate-fueled visions of his father were totally creepy.
- “It’s a beautiful night. It smells good. But then everything smells good when you’re high.” — Stoner Girl
- “I was an anthropology major. Imagine that.” — Betty, who I really didn’t think attended college at all, let alone Bryn Mawr.