The Wife:

When I saw the opening of this week’s Mad Men, featuring S-C employees discussing how the big wigs are out of town on vacations and business trips, I had hoped to receive an episode on par with my favorite from last season, “The Gold Violin,” which concentrated on minor characters and beautifully explored the themes in Ken Cosgrove’s titular short story as they applied to the lives of Sal and other characters. “The Souvenir” was not quite so astonishing, but it did tell us a lot about the fantasy lives of Pete and Betty.

With Trudy away at her parents (i.e. being on Community), Pete is spending his summer holiday alone. His first act of freedom is to sit alone with his shirt off in the dark, followed by a hazy montage of Pete eating cereal while watching Davy and Goliath on Children’s Catholic Television (side note: I totally watched that show at my Catholic grade school), sleeping for most of the day and then suddenly realizing he should buy other food, only to come home to find Gudrun the German Au Pair sobbing over a stained party dress in the hallway. Save for that last event, it is evident that Pete is just a giant manchild, in one way enjoying the deregulation of married living, but on the other hand, utterly lost without a caretaker. In his Pete Campbell-y way, he convinces Gudrun to let him solve her dress problem, and he does, by storming into a high-end dept. store (which I’m assuming was not Menken’s, but Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s) and lying his way into an exchange of merchandise. This exchanged happened, and it was awesome:

Pete: Let me speak to the manager.

Salesgirl: Of the entire store.

Pete: Of the Republic of Dresses! Whoever can help me!

And when the manager does arrive, it happens to be Joan, ruling over department store girls with the same stately authority with which she once drove the secretarial pool at S-C. But it’s evident there’s something different about Joan. Her hair is free of its official French twist, loosely curled around her face in what I can only assume is a “younger” fashion. And she’s lying just as much as Pete is. “I’m just filling in. They needed some extra help,” she says, when Pete incredulously asks if she’s working in retail now. She takes care of the entire dress exchange for him, free of charge, despite his insistence on paying.

Let me get that for you . . . and youll have sex with me, too, right?

Let me get that for you . . . and you'll have sex with me, too, right?

I think this act is important because it shows Joan’s attempt to present the same face to Pete that she always presented at S-C (notice how she sighs in shame at being “found out” once he leaves her sales floor), but it also contributes to Pete’s further misunderstanding of how the world works. He believes himself to be such an influential man that things just happen for him, but more often than not they don’t. In fact, when he gives Gudrun the new dress to replace the one she’d ruined, he fully expects a reward in kind, but Gudrun shuts him down. I think Pete is always looking for some kind of Madonna-Whore figure. He wants someone to mother him, but, just as much, he needs someone to be submissive to him sexually. (See Trudy for the former, Peggy for the latter.) So when Gudrun turns him down, the only alternative in his mind is to get trashed, force his way into her apartment (as gently as one can invade a home) and take at advantage of her. At the very least, we know he kisses her. But given the way Gudrun’s employer speaks to Pete at the end of the episode, I think we can safely assumed that more was implied. He is told something he should have already known: the first rule of nanny-fucking is that you stay out of your own building.

As for Betty, thanks to Mr. Henry Francis showing up in the nick of time with a letter from the Governor, she and the Junior League manage to successfully stall the Tarrytown reservoir project until further study can be done. Don is impressed by her efforts, and so his Henry Francis, who takes the time to make out with Betty in her car after the meeting. This whole Jr. League business, including the makeout session, imbues Betty with a new sense of control over her own life and she wakes up Don in the middle of the night to ask if she can tag along on his business trip to meet with Conrad Hilton in Rome.

Once there, Betty seizes onto the life she could have had — if only she’d kept up modeling, if only she hadn’t married Don, if only she hadn’t had children. In Italy, men are popping into frame to light her cigarettes all the time, and fashionable women stroll the lobbies of rich hotels. Here, we learn that Betty apparently learned Italian sometime during her few years at Bryn Mawr and speaks it well enough to get around Rome on her own. While Don is still sleeping, she calls a beauty salon and shows up at that evening’s dinner in the Hilton courtyard with Conrad Hilton dressed in a darker, sexier version of the clothing the fashionable Italian girl she’d seen in the lobby earlier: her hair in a complicated updo befitting any Fellini heroine, her black dress bedecked with the first hints of shimmy fringe the 1960s of Mad Men has ever known. She’s a knockout, and she knows it. And so do the ever-so-forward Italian men she takes a table beside in the courtyard. Certainly, Betty is complimented on her beauty enough back in New York, but here she’s a completely different girl. The girl she’s always wanted to be who can trade barbs with suitors in a foreign tongue, playing her aloofness off as mystery and intrigue.

After their dinner with Hilton, Don and Betty have one of the most passionate nights they’ve had in a long time, making love in view of the ruins. It was very Antonioni. But soon they return home to their life as usual, dealing with Sally’s temper and their two month old son and all of the other banal problems of suburban life. She’s returned from abroad a different woman, wearing her brand new Pucci maxi dress and smart headband around the kitchen, showing it off with nowhere else to go. (I note here that I have actually witnessed Italian women doing dishes in their Cavalli gowns, and I still can’t decide if it was sad or amazing.) She’s visually out of place amongst the summery sleeveless tops and Capri pants lining her block, and its no wonder that Betty should so suddenly and strongly announce her hatred for the suburbs and their friends there. Even when Don gives her a Coliseum charm for her charm bracelet, sent all the way from Rome by Connie Hilton, it’s not enough for her. It’s not the promise of a different life, but merely “something to look at when I tell the story of the time we went to Rome.”

Stray thoughts:

  • “They should just do it up in Newberg. It’s already disgusting.” — Betty, telling NYC suburbs what’s what.
  • I really don’t know what to make of the scene where Sally watches Betty blot her lips, followed by the scene of her brutally attacking her brother after playacting Mommy and Daddy in the bathtub with Francine’s kid. She’s trying so hard to be feminine, but she’s just got such a damn mean streak in her.
  • That vintage Pucci Betty brought back from Rome, by the way, was a stunner. I’m not into maxi dresses so much, but I fucking adore that one.
  • Does looking at that stupid fainting couch just make Betty think about kissing Henry Francis now, or what?
  • I actually like Joan’s hair down.
  • Italian suitors! How dare you call Jon Hamm ugly! YOU SPEAK FILTHY LIES!
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The Wife:

The final four episodes of this season of House almost made up for Kutner’s random-ass suicide in their inventiveness. Almost. I thoroughly enjoyed the return of Amber as House’s ghostly hallucination and his three-episode quest to discern exactly what’s wrong with him, either way knowing that if he’s crazy, he can’t practice medicine, and if he’s experiencing side effects from his Vicodin addiction, he can’t practice medicine because once he’s clean he’ll be in too much pain. Anne Dudek was delightful has his subconscious manifestation throughout this arc, especially the moment in which she reappears after House thinks he has staved her off by OD’ing on insulin, singing old jazz standards over the microphone at his bar, echoing her first appearance beside his piano. But nothing, really, was more chilling than the final episode, when House realizes he’d hallucinated the entire night he spend kicking Vicodin with Cuddy, ending in the two of them sleeping together. Reliving all of the moments we saw of him flipping coins or examining a tube of lipstick are replayed with Vicodin bottles replacing those objects, suggesting a very powerful drug addiction that has completely taken over House’s life, was pretty brilliant. Frankly, I’d prefer more arcs like this, rather than so many one-off episodes. But what else are you going to do with a 24-episode season? So while everyone else attends Cameron and Chase’s wedding (they spent these past few episodes almost not getting married because a. Cameron kind of got cold feet b. House nearly killed Chase with a stripper covered in strawberry body butter . . . that apparently was made with actual strawberry extract and c. Chase was being a dick to Cameron about keeping her dead husband’s sperm on ice because he took it to mean that she thought they weren’t going to work out, rather than, you know, being the last thing she has to hold on to of her fucking husband), House checks himself in to a mental institution . . . which he will inevitably check himself out of at the beginning of next season because you can do that kind of thing with you are voluntarily committed.

I should have known this was too good to be true . . .

I should have known this was too good to be true . . .

As far as the patients were concerned, I’m often irritated by how precious the conceits are in which every patient is a metaphor for someone on the team, etc. So I totally get why the guy with split brain whose hand was not his hand was necessary for the metaphor of the finale, it was also perhaps added just a tad too much levity, despite how much Thirteen et all tried to tell me it was creepy. The only patient that really got to me out of this bunch was the ballerina who lost her skin. A lot of my research deals with holes in the surface of the body, mitigations of that surface or the abjecta beneath the surface, but I found her skinlessness to actually be quite frightening. Perhaps its because I’ve had skin cancer that I find the idea of losing that much skin so terrifying (which, for the record, makes no sense, because the removal of skin cancers just leaves some awesome scars), but its more likely the fact that, without the mitigation of the surface, the inside is all that much more frightening. We forget that our skin is the largest organ on our bodies, and so it is vital that we take care of it. Losing a little bit when you scrape your elbow or knee is fine, and hardly horrifying, but losing so much that we are exposed so wholly to the world is truly unsettling. And deadly. I shuddered for that poor girl. She’s just damn lucky that Princeton-Plainsboro has so many fresh cadavers from which to harvest grafts. I know the episode wanted us to sympathize more with the possibility that she, a dancer, would have to have her gangrenous hands and feet removed in order to live (Taub managed to revive the tissue, somehow), but the loss of her flesh was something I couldn’t get out of my head. And I doubt I will.

So, damn you, House, you actually got me. Good for you.

Considering how poorly I did at keeping up with House this year, I don’t think I’ll write about it next year. I’ll still be watching, though, storing up dozens of episodes on my DVR to marathon whenever I get a break from my book learnin’.

The Husband:

And so the month of season finales involving hallucinations continue, and between this, Bones, and Grey’s Anatomy, I wonder what else have I not come across? I know how the US version of Life on Mars ends (but since neither my wife nor I have finished watching the second half of the season, I’ll refrain from saying what it is), but what about the shows I’m behind on?

Smallville, of course, always has at least a couple hallucination episodes a season – and more now that they’ve been struggling to find stories in Metropolis, a task that doesn’t actually sound very hard – but will Prison Break get all wonky during its final five-episode run that’s sitting on my DVR? (Michael does have major brain shenanigans last time I checked, so this has potential.)

Does Lie to Me, which we’ve DVRed but haven’t touched yet, turn everything on its head by revealing that Tim Roth is just a figment of our imagination? (Considering he’s been both a futuristic ape and Abomination in The Incredible Hulk, this could be a possibility.)

Is Reaper going to turn out to be an extremely vivid dream concocted by Sock during a very long nap at the Work Bench? Will that explain Andi losing her personality this season?

Is that missing episode of Sit Down, Shut Up an apology to the idiots who didn’t find it funny and complained about the intentionally awkward animation-on-top-of-real-backgrounds?

Motherfucker! Ugly Betty ended in a hallucination, too! What happened here? Is this a veiled backlash against Obama? Did all the showrunners stop taking their medication?

The only time I can remember even the slightest bit of consistency across certain shows during season finales was May, 1996 (I had to check Wikipedia for the year, but remember everything else about the following without any aid.) For some reason, three major shows in my life decided to kind of lose their minds and go way too dark for my young teenage brain. With Seinfeld, it was Susan, George’s fiancée, dying as a result of toxic envelope glue, and when the main cast stopped by the hospital, they pretty much felt nothing and went to go get some coffee. On Roseanne, Dan breaks his diet and he and Roseanne get into one of the foulest shouting matches I’ve ever seen on a family sitcom, devolving into back-and-forth screams of “Fatty! Fatty! Fatty!” (Let’s not even mention the final season, which was all a dream.) And, finally, Mad About You challenged Paul and Jamie’s marriage when she kissed the man she was campaigning for and Paul lusted after another woman but didn’t do anything, leading to a quiet, disturbing fight.

It just seemed like, for no discernable reason, sitcoms ended that year wanting us to feel like absolute shit. So I ask, does anybody have an explanation for this madness in dear old 2009?

Don’t get me wrong, I thought everything with Dudek was some of the most compelling minutes House has ever had, and even without her, the final mindfuck, while hard to avoid in the press after the fact, was still eerily effective, thanks in no small part to Hugh Laurie’s continued brilliance on this show. Does he still not have an Emmy? (Now that Boston Legal is gone, Spader’s absence in the category will help considerably. That is, if Jon Hamm’s John Ham doesn’t take it, which would not be a bad thing per se.)

On another note, do any of you out there seriously care about Chase and Cameron? At all? Boooooooring. How about hiring another intern. I’m fine with that. Anything to get away from the dour blondes.