Halloween fast approaches, both here on Mad Men with last night’s excellent episode, “The Gypsy And The Hobo,” and it’s time to put on a mask and be someone else for a night. Or, even more terrifying, time to take off the mask off. Either way, join us for the dog food focus group that August and Marco have in store…
August Bravo: “I’m not going to sit here and brag about how big I am.”
Marco Sparks: You know, if it weren’t for the big confrontation between Don and Betty towards the end of this episode, this would’ve been Roger’s sterling moment, I think.
It was fascinating to see Roger, the guy who’s always lived his life like he was on shore leave, through the eyes of someone else, the woman who got away. And when they try to look back on their lives though Casablanca-colored glasses, she, of course, sees herself as Ilsa. And Roger sees her as Peter Lorre.
August: I can’t get over Betty in this episode. Oh Betts. Trying to get Don to shell out some cash, because you know he’s good for it, and then start asking some questions.
Marco: I felt that moment strongly. Whenever you learn a deep dark secret about someone, especially someone you care about, something so unbelievable, of course you start to think yourself that it might actually be unbelievable. You don’t want to throw all your cards on the table yet. I think she wanted Don to go into his secret drawer full of bills there and give her more justification to get at him about this whole Dick Whitman nonsense. It’s entrapment, but emotionally needed entrapment on Betty’s part.
August: Okay, back to Roger and his old flame.
Marco: An old flame who apparently is still carrying the torch for Mr. Sterling.
August: I think Roger’s probably got a lot of skeletons in his closet. And that bitch looked an awful lot like a skeleton.
Marco: You think so? I wouldn’t mind being her cougar meal, I think.
August: Maybe I’m just too used to his new wife, Jane. The “teenager wife.”
Marco: “Does Mona know?” Which was one of the best lines of last week’s episode that we criminally neglected.
August: Every time Don’s new breeze talks, I like it. She doesn’t push anything. She knows what she wants. She obviously knows what Don wants, yet she never pressures him on it. It’s so unusual. The last thing you would expect is Don to do anything rash because she’s not asking him too, but I could see it happening because it seems so right. I love her character. She’s a woman in the fictional 1960s, but her personality nicely compliments someone in our day and age.
Marco: I think August Bravo wants to date Miss Farrell.
If we hadn’t seen her interacting with other characters, I’d almost think that she was a figment of the imagination of Don Draper’s escapist side. I think she is a dream come true, but not tethered to any concrete reality, except when she gets smart and gets scared of the situation she’s in. A guy like Don Draper could fuck up her life in a lot of ways, and I think she knows it.
But letting him off the hook so easily, fear of losing her job aside, is just too much for me. I still ponder if she’s going to reveal a slightly crazy side before this season is out. From going to a place called Mystic, which sounds like a magical Never Neverland for young lovers on the run, to a little Play Misty For Me?
August: Okay, I gotta say this. WTF is Joan still doing on this show?
Marco: She’s playing with out tightly wound emotions, for one.
August: It’s not that I want to see her go, but she needs to just come back to Sterling Cooper already. It certainly would appear that she wants to, but that she must also maintain her pride.
Marco: With everything that she’s been put through and put herself through for this husband of hers, I’m glad Joan maintains a sense of pride. As I’ve said before, she is the sexy spine of this show. If she doesn’t have pride, no one on this show should. She’s Joan Fucking Holloway after all.
August: She really, really does deserve better than this shitty fiancee of hers. Wait, are they actually married? This guy is such a pussy little kid. And I hope that she really puts him in his fucking place.
Marco: For now, I just want to see her break a vase over his fucking head.
OH. WAIT. THAT HAPPENED. And it twas awesome.
But it ties into something that I can’t help with this show, which isn’t just a view of the past, but the way the future sits right on top of the past, from our perspective anyway. I love how we’re watching these characters in this place culturally,and in this time period, and we know what’s going to happen. Not just intellectually, but you can feel it building behind the scenes, between the moments.
Civil rights and women’s liberation and drugs and the Beatles and an even freer sense of free love and geopolitical paranoia are about to wash over all these characters, changing just about everything they know, and you just have to wonder how they’re going to get caught up or lost within these events. One of them being Vietnam. And I honestly can’t wait to watch Dr. McRapist die face down in the shit.
August: Now why does Betty’s little brother care to much about that house?
Marco: I’d like to say that it has something to do with family and memories and a sense of belonging, but this little shit just wants to sell the place, it seems. Perhaps to reaffirm his manliness within the context of his family? And then there’s their dad’s lawyer…
August: Yeah, really. Life was different in the 60s. Husbands can cheat on you, you may or may not know, but you still shouldn’t consider divorcing him, not really, because he “provides” for you and the children.
Marco: Remind me to get my next divorce in New York state. For serious.
August: What did Betty want out of the conversation with the lawyer? It just seems like she wants someone to make a decision for her, that she’s so indecisive that she’s wanting someone to tell her what to do, because maybe she doesn’t even know what she wants.
Marco: For starters, I think she got some bad legal advice there. The guy may have been right, in that era perhaps, but it also seems like a very one-sided view of her situation. A very male, perhaps way too pro-family view. I mean, couldn’t you make the argument that by lying to her about who he is, Don defrauded her and therefore their entire marriage is a sham? I think she’d be entitled to something more than the crown she wears in her mind.
And secondly, I think you hit it on the nail there. What does she want? I don’t think Don is the only person who doesn’t know who he is.
August: But does she even want her own husband?
But back to Roger and his old flame. I like that he’s “the one” and she’s, well, jut not. And I love the way Roger puts it, the segue from his first wife to his much younger second wife: There wasn’t much of a window, they kind of overlapped. What a gentleman you are, Roger. At least you don’t lie… much. And how noble you are, you aren’t going to cheat on your wife… much. At least not this time.
Marco: Well, at first, I think he was remaining faithful, as best as Roger can, to Jane rather than resuming things with his old squeeze, the horsemeat peddler, and I think that says a lot about Roger as a man desperate to reclaim a sense of youth, a sense of being hip and interesting.
But then, of course, it’s the curvy redhead elephant in any and all rooms: Joan. For Roger, she’s “the one.”
August: I just hate how much he doesn’t impress me anymore.
Marco: Really? The way he describes Joan to prospective new employers for her, plus offering to help finish off the bottle (that’s the Roger Sterling I like: total alcoholic), and “You walked around like you were hoping to be a character in someone else’s novel.”
Casablanca is fitting for the mindset of the men of Mad Men, that they’re perpetually carrying on after having lost something special, that their suffering is noble. But I love that Roger puts his own personal suffering, along with his ex-flame’s pining, into real perspective: “That woman got on a plane with a man who was going to end World War II, not run her father’s dog food company.” That alone impressed me about Roger, a man who life straight out of The Sun Also Rises would be perfect, especially for a show about a Hemingway-esque character such as Don Draper. Call it the Clinton effect, if you will.
That, and the fact that for the most part, Roger was painfully kind in his letting the woman down. And that’s what made it all that much more mean, almost taunting. And wonderful.
August: And then finally, CONFRONTATION TIME! Thank God.
Marco: This show is brilliant with how it plays with our expectations, so manipulative. Don’s got his dish on the side out in the car! And Betty’s all like, “Get your hat later. We need to talk.”
August: That scene, the confrontation at the kitchen table, was so good, so potent.
Marco: “All this time I thought you were some football hero who hated his father.” For a moment I had to wonder if Betty was finally seeing Don clearly or just seeing herself more opaquely.
August: That scene was so good, the tension so palpable that… for a moment I could almost taste it.
Marco: Yeah, really, you’re right in that moment. I loved Don’s old tricks, the “let me get a drink,” etc. and his inability to really be himself, to properly pour his drink. “I can explain,” Don tells her, his eyes betraying the fact that his wheels are already spinning at full, stunned speed. And Betty is finally on point: “Oh, I know, I know you can. You’re a very, very gifted storyteller.” Don Draper’s writing a bad Hemingway tome and using his life as the ink and maybe just for a moment there, Betty’s onto it.
Bratty though she may be, and may always be, Betty’s slowly becoming a person this year, and it’s both perfect and sad that she no more fully comes into herself than when playing the surgeon who’s taking apart her husband’s long string of lies.
August: And it all pours out. The words, the moment, the scene clearly hurts Don Draper so much that it physically hurts me to watch it.
Marco: In a good way though, right?
August: In a great way! In such a compromising situation, every breath between his words is making my heart skip. We’ve known Donald Francis Draper for such a long time, or, at least the Don that he wants us to know, and it’s so unusual to see him so defensive.
Marco: But amazing to take in. Don hasn’t been this undone since when Pete found him out in season 1. It’s amazing how Dick Whitman will always be the thread that pulls apart the full Don Draper tapestry.
And honestly, Jon Hamm’s hands seriously deserve the same high praise that I think Tom Hanks’ hands never got for Saving Private Ryan.
August: All I could think of when watching that scene was that he was going to leave. That he had to.
Marco: The cry of the baby and fade into commercials gave him a good enough distraction, but he didn’t take it.
August: It isn’t just that I thought he would run out, it’s that I actually wanted him to do so. It’s honestly what I would have done.
Marco: I loved that he just seemed to completely forget about Miss Farrell in the car. I almost didn’t want that cutaway back to her in the car, I wanted the show to leave us hanging and guessing for a few scenes/minutes.
But again, I have to say, Miss Farrell just took it way too easily. But perhaps she’s truly as much a realist as she is a romantic. The look on Don’s face as he told her to cool it, I think was perfect. Not so much perfect, but… probably exactly what Don wants out of every one of these flings.
August: How so?
Marco: I don’t think Don just cheats on his wife. He’s a serial philanderer, definitely, but he’s also a storyteller and I think with each new girlfriend he’s creating a new process. A new excitement, a new running away from his life and responsibilities, but that he ultimately wants it to end with another notch of regret on his belt. He wants to have that pained look on his face as he does bad again…
August: Interesting you put it that way. I can’t wait to see each and every new scene with Joan and Greg…
Marco: Dr. Don McRaper.
August: … It’s just wonderful to me how young and stupid he is. Of course he failed out of psychology.
Marco: “It’s not even medicine!”
August: His psychology is so fucked up. Such a man. And yet it’s like men haven’t changed a bit.
Marco: Every man wishes that his flaws and darkness were deep and interesting and exciting. That they had meaning and purpose and that each was a strength, something worthy of making a TV show about. Or worthy of an ex-pat sitting in a cafe in Paris to write about. We’re flawed, sad, tender creatures at times, and yet, despite how full of ourselves we are, I think we have to flirt with that darkness just a little. Hopefully it gives us perspective and a little illumination.
Which brings us back to the notion of trick or treat and All Hallow’s Eve. Beyond my desire to Dr. McRape die in the muck, I still have to worry what the future has in store for little Sally and Bobby Draper, with the guidance they’re being given, the idea of family they’re being shown. I mean, this is a world where Minnie Mouse and the astronaut can end up as the gypsy and the hobo.
August: I hate this segment in Don’s life. I’m sure it happens quite often though. The record hits the end, it gets flipped back over, and the song starts over again, the pattern resumes anew: and Don resorts back to the family man.
Marco: I think that’s one name you could put on Don Draper/Dick Whitman. But maybe it’s been poisoned, and while a new one that can possibly stick may not be easy to find, it’s just “a label on a can.”
August: And I just have to ask…
Marco: You have to love how the realistic little accidents in life fit so seamlessly into the show’s narrative in that the neighbor could perfectly sum up this time in another man’s life with…
August: And who are you supposed to be?