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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Monday
Oct052009

« In Which We Drink the Clean Draught of Mad Men »

Dark Waters

by ALMIE ROSE

Male. Female. Shallow. Deep. Lie. Truth. These are some of the conflicting themes boldly represented in last night's tonight's episode of Mad Men.

Mad Men is like a John Updike piece and a New Yorker cartoon formatted into a television show. It's not so much a television show as it is a culturally significant piece of art that I am lucky to bear witness to.

 

In these episodes we witness the eternal struggle between the opposites listed in the aforementioned lines. We watch as Pete tries to balance being a boy with being a borderline rapist. When Pete's wife goes out of town the first thing young Pete does is remove his shirt and tie all in one fell swoop. Pete's shirtlessness speaks volumes about nudity in madmen. Or the lack thereof. Which reminds me of something Kafka once said, but as viewers of Mad Men, I'm sure I don't need to tell you what.

As we watch young Pete grapple with the tower of responsibility we see Betty trying to climb a similar Jenga tower of her own; the one of womanhood. Betty and her female cohorts try to save the reservoir but Betty decides to enlist the help of a craggy looking man of political power. The question is, does Betty save the day, or does Betty's male friend save the day? Water, like gender, is a complex issue.

Don's shirt is white.

Pete's comely German neighbor stains a pink poofy dress, a garment that Pete is all too quick to sweep off of her hands. Pete, the man-child who was previously watching cartoons while eating cereal on the couch, is now trying to juggle the delicate and complex dynamic of gender issues. He wanders like a lost soul, or a poet, in the female clothing department. ("Republic of Dresses" as he refers to it, in his crisp and manly manner.)


Notice how he bows again to Joan who is always taking on the role of the eternal grandmother. Thus Pete is able to return from the department store not with a Chip N Dip, not with a rifle, but with an evening gown. This speaks volumes about the roles of men and women in the 1960s and foreshadows the women's movement. But then Pete basically rapes his female neighbor.

 

Betty is tackling a similar gender bend in which she tries to navigate the male dominated field of politics. She does so by kissing her reservoir savior. Later she and unknowing husband Don have the following exchange about something completely unrelated:

DON: "That's real politics."
BETTY: "Well you know, when you don't have any real power, you have to delay things."

Oh we know, Betty. We know, but can the women's movement be delayed? No, it cannot. The times are a-changing and a magic bus is pulling into its stop. All aboard the magical mystery tour and get off of my cloud. Betty's suit is pink. I think we all know what that means.

When even hinted at infidelity by Pete's starry-eyed wife, much like Lot's Wife, she falls into a pillar of Salt when Pete stumbles and in silence, confesses what his guilt cannot say. In this way, Pete's silence speaks volumes about his infidelity.

Trudy made a variety of cold salads.

And what of Betty's exterior compared to her interior? Betty's hairdo is exquisite. It's like sculpture, much like the fine city of Rome in which she is vacationing. In this way her hair echoes her suroundings, reminding us that Betty is always in style. "You think because of the way I'm dressed I'm shallow?" she asks Don, harkening back to the ever present reservoir theme. When Don later undresses her, we see that Betty is thin, but her hair is fat. This speaks volumes about the 1960s in so many ways. At least four.


They say that still waters run deep. But no water is still in Mad Men. These are churning waters rife with strife. These are waters that cannot be filtered into a reservoir, for no matter how many times you purify the waters of Mad Men, they will never be clean enough to quench your thirst. Bottled water is better for that.

Almie Rose is the contributing editor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. She blogs here, and she twitters here. She last wrote in these pages with tips for gentlemen.

"Where or When" - Diana Krall (mp3)

"I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry" - Diana Krall (mp3)

"Too Marvelous for Words" - Diana Krall (mp3)

References (1)

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  • Response
    NFL is actually a single of the most significant sports in America. It has a big following.

Reader Comments (7)

Don't make fun of US for pointing out how much your usual way of writing these sucks

October 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHall

You're better with Oates.

October 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteralmie

criticizing Almie is like telling a kitten it's "not being cute enough"

October 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMolly

Mad Men AGAIN?! You guys do realize that not everyone who reads your website is an avid watcher, no?

October 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGaby

I am, and I dig Almie's work too. You want serious dissection, there are reams of other blogs that can do that for ya.

October 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAvid watcher

Still looking for Sally looming larger: Little Miss Temper trying out the lipstick and kissing the neighbor. Maybe Betty's little talk put the kibosh on that for a couple episodes.

October 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHugh

i am not okay with the way you write these because you have a very complex sense of humor that my mind does not understand. please bring it down to my level so i can enjoy this thank you

durrrrrr wap wap wap

October 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChloe

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