The Wife:

Because Sal is one of my favorite characters, his storyline in “Wee Small Hours” stood out the most to me, and seemed almost like a separate, isolated event when compared to Betty’s continued flirtation with Henry Francis and Don’s late-night rendezvous with Miss Farrell and Connie Hilton, all of which seemed last week to be building toward a massive fallout — a bomb which indeed dropped all over Draperville with this week’s installment, “The Color Blue.”

Do you remember how happy we all were just a few episodes ago when Sal was promoted to Sterling-Cooper’s commercial director and finally able to feel somewhat secure with himself in this changing world — a world where knowing the opening sequence of a popular musical beat-by-beat might not be so horrible? Well, all of those dreams for a potentially gay future have come crashing down . . . all because Sal wouldn’t fuck Lee Garner, Jr. in the editing room. Sal’s rejection of Lee’s admittedly rape-y advances earned a late-night call to Harry Crane to can Sal, which lead to a big mess for Don that could only be cleaned up with the very thing Lee Garner, Jr. had asked for: the removal of Sal from Sterling-Cooper.

But Im married!

But I'm married!

The idea of Garner attempting to take advantage of Sal was revolting enough, but the abuse of power was even more so. Can’t a gay man on the down low catch a break on this show? All I can say is that I hope Mad Men jumps forward in time enough to see Stonewall happen, because I desperately want Sal to be able to be Sal (and free Kitty from the chains of her beard-dom). Worse, even, than Garner’s abuse of power was Don’s hate-fueled firing of Sal. When Sal was called in to explain the situation, he tried to do so as delicately as possible without making himself or Mr. Garner look bad. But in Don’s eyes, Lee Garner, Jr. isn’t queer; Sal, however, is. And Don knows it because he’s seen it. He creates a vision of Sal as a lecher, implying that something more must have occurred than what Sal told him. My stomach churns when I hear Don spout, “You people” at Sal, reinforcing the cultural norm of homosexuality as a dirty, marginal position.

And so Don pushes Sal out onto those margins, booting him and his turtlenecks from Sterling-Cooper, after which Sal makes himself into exactly the kind of gay man Don thought he was as he calls Kitty from a payphone in Central Park to tell her he would be home late, just before he sets out to troll for some strange. As a person who has taken exactly one class in gay literature, let me tell you something about anonymous park sex: it never ends well. I fear for Sal. I really do.

Don, meanwhile, is incredibly restless. Connie Hilton has him on retainer for ideas at any given hour, and Don is already having trouble sleeping. He goes on an early-morning drive and spies Miss Farrell, Bowdoin Grad, jogging along the road. After a fateful conversation in the car about MLK and the changing face of the world, he drops her home, but goes out looking for her again another morning. Eventually, Don finds his way to Miss Farrell’s bed, fulfilling the expectations we’ve had for him ever since he watched her dance around the Maypole and he touched the earth upon which she trod.

Don’s work for Hilton provides a nice cover to the night he spends in Miss Farrell’s over-the-garage apartment, making love to a woman who, unlike his wife, is loud in bed and likes to be on top from time to time. Unfortunately, one of their lovemaking sessions is interrupted by Miss Farrell’s brother. She wants Don to meet him, but Don would much rather slip out the back unnoticed. Part of the fun of an affair, after all, is that no one knows. And Miss Farrell’s brother can easily see how uncomfortable Don is with the situation. It’s obvious to him that guys like Don prefer to keep a public face and a private face, but Miss Farrell insists Don isn’t like that at all.

It’s clear then that even though she thinks he knows him, she only knows him about as well as Betty does. Don has a secret drawer in his desk at home where he’s been squirreling away all of his cash bonuses, as well as all evidence of his former life as Dick Whitman. And its an unfortunate accident that Don’s carelessness — interrupted by Eugene’s cries as he stashed his latest bonus away — made him leave his secret keys in his bathrobe, which Betty later found tumbling around in the dryer on laundry day. As I think any curious person would do, she opened the drawer and found the money and a box of items belonging to a man she absolutely doesn’t know. Photos. Dog tags. Divorce certificates. Deeds. Each item dissolving her image of Don further and further into nothingness. Her first instinct seems to be fear, instructing Carla to take the children out of the house as though she had just discovered Don was a serial killer and her family had to be protected during the confrontation. But when Don didn’t return and instead returned to the arms of his lover, her fear and confusion turned to rage, which she tried to mask when Don called her from work the next morning, donning one of his stash of fresh white shirts and instructing her to be ready to be the perfect accessory for his arm at the Sterling-Cooper anniversary party that evening.

We dont like you very much either, Don.

We don't like you very much either, Don.

I don’t know how this show has done it, but I really don’t like Don very much anymore. Suddenly, I hate him as much as Betty does. I, too, would be nearly unable to move in that icy sheath, preparing to put on a face to meet the faces that I’d meet, had I found out my husband was not at all the man I thought I knew. The image of Don and Betty as that couple on top the wedding cake is not simply beginning to show cracks in its foundation, but has completely fallen down. Though they sit together at the anniversary party, there is nothing about them that seems whole or connected, and there’s a part of you that wishes Betty hadn’t given up on her affair with Henry Francis because then, in some way, she and Don would be a bit more level.

Meanwhile, at Sterling-Cooper, Paul and Peggy are competing for jobs. Kinsey is angry that Don doesn’t like his writerly idea to sell Aquanet, fearing that with each “And then” the ladies at home will misunderstand. Peggy distills Paul’s idea into its essence, a pithy version of his narrative made for the short attention span of a television viewer. And Kinsey, ever jealous, hates her for this. The two work late, but separately, on Western Union, Peggy speaking off-the-cuff into her Dictaphone while Paul gets soused and distracted from work by jacking off to the Maidenform ad. (I’d like to add here that the version of the Maidenform ad he pulls from his desk is the Dyna Moe rendering. She’s the awesome lady who helped you all MadMenYourself prior to this season.) Unable to concentrate, Paul strikes up a conversation with Achilles the janitor and happens upon the best idea of his career . . . only he gets too drunk, falls asleep and fails to write it down, losing the idea forever because the “faintest ink is better than the fondest memory.”

Before their meeting with Don, Peggy sympathizes with Paul’s plight and encourages him to tell Don what happened. When indeed he does, Don isn’t upset. He understands what it’s like to lose an idea. And it’s here that Peggy spins her magic. She remembers the Chinese saying and posits that a telegram is something you can save, unlike a phone call, which is so temporal that it disappears from existence the minute it’s finished. Paul is stunned at her quick wit, and realizes that she really is this good and her gender hasn’t unfairly endeared her to Don as he previously supposed. Don likes the idea, too, and urges the two to keep working on it.

All this in the midst of a massive change at Sterling-Cooper: the Brits are putting the 40-year-old ad agency up for sale, which means Lane Pryce might get to give his shrewish wife her wish to return to London. Maybe Betty can go with them. She can get a real nanny and a pram there.

Stray thoughts:

  • Why is Don being such a dick these days? He’s so mean to everyone at Sterling-Cooper that it’s become a point of mirth in my house.
  • “There is no deadline. Give me work as you think of it. I need more ideas to reject.” — Don
  • “America is wherever you look, wherever we’re going to be.” — Hilton
  • “Your work is good, but when I say I want the moon, I’ll get the moon.” — Hilton
  • Don has had an awful lot of fateful conversations with people in cars: the grifters who rob him, Miss Farrell, her epileptic brother . . . it feels very Kerouac.
  • “There was nothing and then there was it and then there was nothing again.” — Kinsey providing us with one of Mad Men’s most existential lines
  • I really, really, really enjoy Roger’s mom. Truly.
  • I feel like these two lines from the people cheating on Betty bear some weight on her situation:
    “The truth is that some people may see things differently, but they don’t really want to.” — Don
    “People are ignorant. They’re scared of things they don’t understand.” — Miss Farrell
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The Wife:

“I could really do something.”

“You could really do something.”

“You’re gonna do great.”

“You can do better.”

Different permutations of those four quotes, said at different points by different characters, appear throughout this episode, and each very neatly comprises an aspect of the episode’s chief theme. “The Arrangements” was an episode about these characters’ potential and possibilities, and the things, either internal or external, that hold them back.

Pete is all set to snag a new client, a friend from Dartmouth who’s just crazy about jai alai, which he wishes to make the next great American pasttime and is willing to sink a lot of money into. “I could really do something.” But Campbell’s friend also happens to be the son of one of Bert Cooper’s friends, and Don isn’t about to let S-C family sink it’s money into something that could be potentially foolhardy. When Don confronts the investor’s father about this, he reiterates that his son has great potential with his fortune, but that he would appreciate it if his efforts were directed into an investment that could really do something. But Campbell’s friend cannot be dissuade, so certain is he of his own potential that he tells both Don and Pete that if jai alai fails, it will be the fault of Sterling-Cooper.

The proper arrangement.

The proper arrangement.

I actually felt a great amount of empathy with little Sally Draper this week. Unlike her parents who basically ignore her, spending time with her grandfather has given her a renewed sense of self-worth and encouragement. Though Gene feels its too late for his own daughter, commanding her to cease washing dishes because “I don’t want to watch you commit suicide,” he takes little Sally out for a spin in the Lincoln and tells her not to grow up like her mother, urging her, “You could really do something.” Though I was immediately worried for the kind of trouble little Sally could get into, learning to drive at her young age, I also remember driving with my grandfather. He wouldn’t take me out on the street, as we lived on a large hill, but Ed would let me practice driving within the confines of my grandmother’s large driveway.

But the memories we form as children with our grandparents are rather fleeting, and had little Sally only known that Grandpa Gene had given Betty a guide for his funeral arrangements, she perhaps would have been more prepared for him to not pick her up for ballet lessons, fresh peaches waiting for her on the ride over. When the policeman arrived at the Draper house to announce Gene’s death, I certainly felt more connected to Sally’s cry of disbelief than Betty’s affected swoon. In the ensuing discussion of Gene’s life and the arrangements to be made, I was with Sally. As an adult, I understand that we deal with loss by doing what needs to be done, remembering the good things about those we’ve lost and trying to move on as best we can. But yet, I also understand how Sally feels, the way she doesn’t understand her family’s reaction and her outburst about how everyone should be just as sad as she is. Of course, Betty is just as sad as her daughter, defiantly eating that overripe peach, simply because it was the last thing her father touched.

I’d like to think, in some small way, that the news program Sally watches about the monk who self-immolated in protest colors her view of her grandfather’s death. I wonder if she will look at that, too, as an act of protest, and view this event as a catalyst for whatever she may be able to do in the future, rather than let her mother’s path hold her back. I think it’s what Grandpa Gene would have wanted.

Peggy, of course, has already done a great many things with her life, but living in Brooklyn, her family holds her back from ever really having her own life. So here, she makes arrangements to find a roommate so she can move to Manhattan, thereby removing two hours of commute time from her daily routine. (For the record, this move to Seattle marks the first time in my life I’ve lived in an actual city, and I am so thankful that I will no longer spend 2.5 hours of every day getting in and out of San Francisco.) Unfortunately, Peggy also seems to prevent herself from “doing something” by posting an overly conservative and fastidious roommate ad on the memo board at Sterling-Cooper. This prompts her copywriter colleagues to have one of their secretaries prank call her, pretending to be a girl from a tannery with severe facial burns looking for a roommate. (It’s not all that funny, and I can’t tell if the joke itself was meant to be cruel or collegial, but I’m betting Kinsey wrote the copy for it. It just seems like it was his style.) Joan, further establishing herself as Peggy’s spiritual guide to femininity, instructs her on how to write a better ad and where to post it, and, lo, Peggy instantly finds a roommate in Carla Gallo, who is all over my TV lately and, apparently, only has one kind of boy she doesn’t like: sailors. (That’s absurd.)

And then there’s Sal, who gets handed the opportunity of a lifetime to direct the Patio commercial when the original director quits due to a scheduling conflict. Knowing that his job as an illustrator is falling by the wayside due to a rising demand for photographic images, Sal is distracted by work and fears that if he doesn’t do well, he’ll be left in the dust. This is the excuse he gives Kitty, who purrs beside him in her new green nighty, sad that Sal hasn’t touched her in six months and proclaiming that she, too, needs “tending.” When he explains his upcoming big project to her, Kitty says she doesn’t really remember the beginning of Bye Bye, Birdie so Sal, in his silk pajamas, performs the entire thing for her. At first, it’s clear that Kitty finds this delightful. She’s thrilled about this thing — this commercial, this opportunity — that makes her husband happy, but by the end, when he’s throwing himself at her with all the girlishness of Ann-Margret, she seems shocked, like she doesn’t know what to make of what she’s just witnessed. All she can say, with a nervous laugh, is: “You’re gonna do great.”

And Sal does, but ultimately, the product is awful. He followed client instructions and the shot to a T, but the product is wholly unsatisfactory and the client walks away. (Psst! I think it’s the awful lyrics! And the fact that the girl can’t sing!) Don assures Sal that he did nothing wrong and that the most important thing to come out of this bum deal is that Sal can now officially call himself a commercial director. It’s clear enough to say that Sal’s repressed sexuality is holding him back from “doing something,” but I hope that, just as Peggy’s new roommate and new apartment will move her forward, so, too, will the change in title.

Stray thoughts:

  • So the short version of my essay on theme is this: everyone’s family is holding them back. Or trying to.
  • Those old school wicker jai alai gloves remind me of Prawn hands.
  • Speaking of which, I am thankful that jai alai never really caught on.
  • “Don, look at this. Victory Medal. France. I should have another for beating the clap.” — Grandpa Gene, making a joke that is definitely appropriate to make in front of your grandson
  • What do we make of the scene where Joanie kills all the ants in the broken S-C ant farm?
  • I just watched Undeclared this summer, and am currently watching the last season of Californication, where Carla Gallo plays a porn star named Daisy (which is also her character’s name on Bones). So I’m ODing a little on Carla Gallo, so much so, in fact, that when she appeared on Mad Men this week, all I heard in my head was, “Forget it, Jake, it’s Vaginatown.”

The Wife:

There’s a certain kind of storytelling I’ve come to expect from Mad Men. It was admittedly a show that took me some time to get into. It took my husband and I forever to get through the final four episodes of season one, having TiNoed them after even taking our time to get through the first episodes of that season. (Husband Note: Not because I didn’t love them, but MM is quite intimidating television.) But those final four episodes of season one were so strong that I was wholly prepared to launch myself into this universe of careful, subtle, deliberate storytelling.

The show feels more like a novel than a television show. We’ve grown accustomed to a certain kind of story style as viewers: stories fit neatly into their hour-long format, characters are constantly moving forward, the motivations and themes within the work are very accessible. I’d be selling short a lot of great television to say that most things on TV just aren’t that deep, but not even shows with great depth tell their stories as slowly and poetically as Mad Men does.

I was happy to have “Out of Town” as a season opener. While I didn’t feel that this was one of the shows most subtle episodes, every moment of it was riveting. The producers have spoken much about how this season will really strip down the characters we’ve come to know and love/hate to answer fundamental questions like, “Who is Don Draper?”

Fittingly, the episode opens and closes with stories about birth. Don reminisces about his own less-than-upstanding origins while warming some milk to help pregnant Betty get to sleep. The Whitmans did not have a happy marriage, and Don’s mother was unable to bring a child to term, for which her husband squarely blamed her. Just barely peeking into the bedpan holding her stillborn child was almost as terrifying as the stillbirth nightmare that opens Orphan. Across town, a working girl has found herself in a troublesome situation, having offered her services to a service man for 85 cents, because he didn’t have the extra quarter to afford a rubber. She promises him then that if he got her in trouble, she’d cut his dick off and boil it in hogfat. She mutters these words to herself as she lays dying from complications during childbirth, echoing across town as Mrs. Whitman’s midwife delivers little Don Draper to her in a fruit crate.

“His name is Dick, after a wish his mother shoulda lived to see.”

Though Don meanders on his business trip in a manner befitting his birth mother, he returns home to his wife and children and tells Sally the story of her birth after scolding her for breaking the latch on his briefcase.

On a non-birth related note, I am pretty sure Sally is going to grow up to become some coked-out rock groupie for all the scoldings she gets and the childhood mistakes we’ve seen her make. Her mother announces the broken latch to Don by saying that their maid “saw Sally hitting it with a hammer. She’s taken to your tools like a little lesbian.” Don’s punishment for the broken suitcase is for Sally to find out the cost for repair and to have that amount deducted from her allowance. “I don’t get an allowance,” Sally meeps. “Then don’t break things.” Last season, she drinks herself to sleep at Sterling-Cooper. This season, she’s committing acts of violence against inanimate objects. She’s about three steps away from ODing at Studio 54, if you ask me.

Missing from this picture: Grant Shows pornstache.

Missing from this picture: Grant Show's pornstache.

But between those birth stories of the Draper family, Don and Sal jetted down to Baltimore after the firing of Burt Peterson to take over his London Fog account. A couple of very randy stewardesses, recognizing Don’s brother-in-law’s name on the tag (Betty’s brother, it seems, loves to put his name on anything he can get his hands on), invite themselves to dinner with Don and Sal, all of which is just a precursor for dalliances. It’s clear that Sal is not so used to playing the “pick-up-a-stew” game, though he puts on a show for Don, exclaiming that he’s never seen stews so eager as Lorelai and Shelly, only to let Don take the lead at dinner, letting Lorelai go back to her room alone (or with the pilot, perhaps?) while Don takes Shelly upstairs.

Having caught the eye of an attractive bellhop during a brief glance in the elevator, Sal takes a chance and “breaks” his air conditioner to get the young man up to his room. Sal has been one of my favorite characters on this show, and my favorite episode from last year involved his flirtation with “author” Ken Cosgrove in “The Gold Violin.” I was so much more excited to see Sal finally get a little action, rather than sitting at home pretending he’s happily married to his beard, and I thought back to a line he tossed out at the London Fog meeting as he writhed in ecstasy: “Our worst fears lie in anticipation. That’s not me. That’s Balzac.” But it is Sal. His entire life is lived on the down low, both fearing and desiring to give in to his homosexual attractions.

But a slightly-too-convenient fire drill prevents Sal from fully giving in, just as it keeps Don and Shelly from cheating on their respective significant others. (Honestly, I think Shelly reminds Don just a little too much of the Betty he married . . . the hopeful model. Not the one who breaks chairs and gets upset over serving Heineken.) As Don descends the fire escape, he pauses outside Sal’s window and sees his companion redressing, as well as the young bellhop hurriedly handing him his pants. Don, being a gentlemen, doesn’t cause a scene about what he’d just witnessed. Instead, ever the clever ad man, he saves his advice for Sal for a London Fog sales pitch on the plane ride home. He describes the ad he’d like to see, a woman in a short trenchcoat, standing before a businessman on the train. Her coat is open. “Her legs are bare,” Don continues. “We know what he’s seeing. ‘Limit Your Exposure.’” Sal knows just as well as we do that this pitch is also a warning. He gulps back all of his anticipatory fears. “Yes,” he breathes. “That’s it.”

Back at the home office, the British Invasion is in full swing. Pryce appreciates Bert Cooper’s new hentai painting, not because he agrees with Cooper’s vision of ecstasy, but because he sees it as a metaphor for what his company is doing to Sterling-Cooper. That painting isn’t about giving oneself over, but about being overthrown. And Pryce is executing that notion by firing loads of people . . . and playing chess with others.

Case #1: Pete Campbell is named Head of Accounts to replace Burt Peterson. I suppose he’s gotten over the world of hurt Peggy threw on him at the end of last season, because he immediately calls Trudy (who has given up on having a baby and has decided to throw her worth into charity functions) who happily shares his joy. Unfortunately for my favorite sniveling bastard, Kenny Cosgrove has also been named Head of Accounts. Neither one of them is told that they’ll be sharing the job, but both are eager to subtly gloat to one another through subtext-laden conversations in elevators about how they admire one another’s work and think they’d each be good for the job.

There’s really nothing funnier to me than indignant Pete Campbell, and throughout all of his conversations with Ken, I kept thinking back to a line of his from season one when trying to return a duplicate wedding item. The item in question is a chip-n-dip, a new bit of entertaining ware from the 60s that he constantly has to explain to the men he works with. His indignance is always wearing this mask of civility, though, so whenever I think of Pete Campbell, I feel like the best way to explain the kind of man he is is simply to grit your teeth and say, “It’s. A chip-n-dip,” in the clipped way only Vincent Kartheiser can. I was waiting here for his chip-n-dip reveal, and it came in the first Heads of Accounts meeting in which Ken, being empty-headed as usual, thought nothing of Pete’s presence and was merely happy to write down his list of clients, bobbing along to the lilt of Joan’s voice. But Pete sat across the table from Kenny, utterly livid, unable to hold back his anger and letting his mask of civility slip.

Case #2: Pryce has brought with him his secretary, Mr. John Hooker, who insists, of course, on being addressed among the other secretaries as Mr. Hooker, not as John, because, frankly, he’s not that kind of secretary. Pryce and Hooker are like an acting dream team imported from FOX. Pryce is played by Fringe’s Jared Harris, while Hooker is played by the adorable Ryan Cartwright from Bones, who, in my mind, will always be referred to as Mr. Nigel-Murray. (Cartwright, it seems, enjoys playing characters who enjoy being referred to with a degree or two of formality.)

Mr. Hooker is distracting Peggy’s secretary, which makes Peggy angry, and making ludicrous demands of Joan, regarding his method of address, how he won’t do his own typing (making Peggy’s secretary do it for him, actually) and demanding his own office. He’s sort of a douchemeat, really, but Cartwright’s voice is just so adorable I can’t help but love him. Maybe Lola’s right: there really is something about that accent that makes you want to listen to him read the phone book.

It’s great to have this show back. I’ve missed looking at gorgeous suits and beautifully furnished rooms. And on a fashion-related end note, what am I to make of the fact that Trudy’s black hat mimics the hairstyle of the girl being ravished by an octopus in Cooper’s hentai painting?