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

The Wife:

Happy Holidays, ya’ll! As I sit at home enjoying my well-preserved end-of-year vacation (watching A Muppet Christmas Carol), I started to look back on the year in TV. Even though the writer’s strike stalled a lot of shows, I think we still got a pretty good year of television in. Sure, there weren’t many pilots appearing this fall and, certainly, a number of good shows fell victim to low-post strike ratings and will soon be leaving us for good, but I’d like to take this time to praise some of my favorite moments of scripted television from 2008.

1. Mad Men 2.7: “The Gold Violin”

The other best of ’08 lists I’ve been reading have been heaping their praise on “Flight 1” and “Meditations on an Emergency,” season two’s opening and closing episodes, respectively, but “The Gold Violin” is definitely my favorite episode from season two. This episode was the most magical, literary hour of television all year, utilizing the surprisingly talented Ken Cosgrove’s unpublished short story “The Gold Violin” as a framing device for all of the characters. The violin itself is “perfect in every way, except it can’t make music,” and I think that’s an apt metaphor for many of the things that happen in this episode. Kitty and Sal’s marriage is perfect in every way. They’re best friends. They get along grand, but Sal doesn’t love her romantically and he never will. (Because he is a gay man with a beard, in case you were confused.) Don Draper’s marriage appears perfect in every way, only it is absolutely not working. And every symbol of power and status he achieves somehow becomes imperfect, like the brand new Caddy Betty Draper throws up in when she finds out that Don had been cheating on her with Bobby Barrett. There’s Joan, who is beautiful, curvy, smart and powerful – the perfect woman for a rapidly changing world, except she doesn’t have love and sees the new model of the secretary as a threat to her power and status, especially when that girl endears herself to Joan’s ex.

This is one of Dyna Moes Mad Men illustrations, spawned from a Christmas card she created for cast member Rich Somner. Click through this to visit her Flicker page where you can buy this and other nifty Mad Men prints.

This is one of Dyna Moe's Mad Men illustrations, spawned from a Christmas card she created for cast member Rich Somner. Click through this to visit her Flicker page where you can buy this and other nifty Mad Men prints.

Ken Cosgrove, to me, seems to be the opposite of this. He’s so imperfect. So unthinking, and yet, he’s the only person at Sterling Cooper who’s actually accepted for his artistic endeavors outside of S-C. (Sal’s not making any money as an artist. Paul Kinsey can’t get published and he’s actually a real writer, constantly being shown up by the office sales buffoon whose main job seems to be to get women for clients.) Ken gets what he wants by not actually wanting anything or being powerful at all. I love this episode; it’s about shattering the image of the American dream, and it shows us those shattered dreams beautifully. The writing here reminds me a bit of O. Henry and Fitzgerald, and I could watch it for its subtlety and intellect more than any other Mad Men episode. Watch it again and I think you’ll start to appreciate the perfection that is this episode.

2. Lost 4.5: “The Constant”

Best episode of Lost. Ever. Further playing off the show’s intense mythology built upon pre-existing literary and philosophical texts, this episode takes Desmond David Hume and turns him into Billy Pilgrim, making him unstuck in time. And what’s the only thing we have to hold onto when we come unstuck in time? Love. There is no greater Lost moment than when Des makes his call to Penny at the end of this episode, realizing that it is she who is his constant, the one thing that kept him alive on his Odyssean journey to find her that got him trapped on Lost island with the other castaways. That moment is revelatory, breathtaking and heartbreaking all at once.

3. How I Met Your Mother 4.7: “Not a Father’s Day”

Drunk Baby Lily. That’s all I have to say. This is Alyson Hannigan’s finest comedic work on this show to date in an episode that proves the almighty power of a tiny baby sock.

4. Gossip Girl 2.3: “The Dark Night”

I had to pick this one, because it’s the episode that turned me into a Gossip Girl fan. It’s rare to see a teen soap have such beautiful production design and so many well composed shots, but I have to give complete artistic props to the Gossip Girl team for creating the gorgeous lighting in Blair’s bedroom for the scene in which Chuck seduces her in the dark. The image of him kissing her neck in her yellow Phillip Lim dress reminds me of early 19th century portraiture, but I’ve never seen anything more beautiful than the way it’s achieved on GG. Blair and Chuck forevah.

To quote Paris Hilton, thats hot.

To quote Paris Hilton, that's hot.

5. Pushing Daisies 2.3: “Bad Habits”

This episode certainly doesn’t have the whimsy and color and fun that so many episodes have. And Chuck was in a nun’s outfit the whole time, so there weren’t any fun costumes. But, this was the first episode where Olive got to be a part of the mystery and the location of the mystery forced alive again Chuck to have a small existential crisis about her post-existence. When she sits in the church next to Ned and quietly utters, “I am a person with no past and no future because of what I am,” my heart broke a little bit. Sometimes, Pushing Daisies makes me cry for sweetness, like how I can’t get through the popcorn tossing scene in Tim Burton’s Big Fish (or even think about it) without welling up in tears, but this episode, Pushing Daises made me cry because I realized how sad life must be to be alive again just at the moment Chuck did. This was a beautiful, thematic episode that belongs right next to the better episodes of Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me in the Bryan Fuller canon.

6. Lipstick Jungle 2.8: “Chapter 15: Sisterhood of the Traveling Prada”

Unlike Sex & the City, the ladies of LJ are best when they’re taken out of their element. At Christine Ebersole’s health spa in upstate New York, Wendy takes time to contemplate her recent devastating firing from Parador Pictures and figure out just how to get back in the movie-making saddle, Victory finds out the hard way about Joe’s almost-proposal and finally stands up to her friends about their overprotective nature before deciding that she needs to make amends with Joe and Nico wonders what it would be like to buy the spa and retire from big city publishing altogether. Being outside the city allows each of the ladies to realize something about themselves: Wendy finds her drive again; Victory realizes that she loves Joe, exclaiming to the stars the rallying cry that she would have said yes; and Nico realizes that she and Kirby really are at different places in their lives. For all the joy and self-discovery and female friendship, there is no better moment on this episode or the series as a whole as when Victory, hoping to make amends with Joe and ride home with him to Manhattan, gets handed an envelope with the papers to return her business to her and is left on the side of the road to watch Joe’s limo pull away without her. Thank God, Nico and Wendy stole Joe’s scotch. Free, expensive scotch is necessary after a moment like that.

7. Fringe 1.8: “The Equation”

This was the first in a string of truly great episodes leading up to the winter break, and I chose it for this list because I found it to be not only important story-wise, but also very atmospheric in its storytelling. I loved everything with Joanne Ostler and her underground music lair full of VR equipment, all of which lent a very X-Filesish atmosphere to the episode. But the best part of this episode, hands down, is Walter’s voluntary trip back to the loony bin to get information out of Dashell Kim. Walter risks his life and his mental health to help the cause, and you can see him die a little bit inside, radiating fear, when he enters the doors of St. Claire’s. John Noble’s best performance to date is this episode, showing that the odd root-beer loving mad scientist is all too human inside.

8. House 4.14/4.15: “House’s Head/Wilson’s Heart”

Not only were these episode’s cool from an aesthetic point of view, they were also a great two-part arc in which an amnesia-stricken House must try to figure out the missing person he was riding the bus with when it crashed. When that person turns out to be Amber, Wilson’s girlfriend, the new team races to save her, only to find that she had been taking too many painkillers and cold medications prior to the crash which weakened her to the point where she couldn’t be saved. For a minor character, Amber a.k.a. Cutthroat Bitch was a major force on house. Anne Dudek imbued this role with so much power that the loss of her from the House universe was devastating. I cried, and House is not a show that demands any emotional attention from me. (Damn your puppy dog face, Bobby Sean, for forcing tears out of me!)

9. 30 Rock 2.14: “Sandwich Day”

This episode set up Jack Donaghey’s downfall, establishing a great character arc of him in the coming episodes, as well as lots of Will Arnett. Also, nobody cheats Liz Lemon out of a teamster sandwich. Nobody.

10. Chuck 2.7: “Chuck vs. the Fat Lady”

Lots of fun puzzles, lots of fun bonding between Chuck and Jill and lots of disappointment at the episode’s end when we realize that Jill has been playing Chuck all along and that the poor dude will never get to be happy. Chuck’s such a likable guy, and it’s a shame that he will seemingly never be able to have a normal life again. Also, Casey can hit a high C. That’s just a good fact to know.