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Robert Altman Week

Tuesday
Nov032009

« In Which I Hope It Was A Hard Decision »

What The Hell Is Going On?

by MOLLY LAMBERT

The problem with being Don Draper is that while a code of silence may carry you through for a long time, eventually there will be something you need to talk about. This is the problem with old school masculinity in general, with "never complain, never explain." It's the reason Tony Soprano started having panic attacks and needed to see a shrink. It's why Don Draper is going to be totally screwed for the rest of the sixties. 

Mad Men's penultimate episode starts with several false starts. The heat is out at Sterling-Coop. Pete gets demoted by that British dick. Duck, ever the paternal smug fuck, tell Peggy "come on creative, be creative" and lures her to a nooner with the promise of Monte Cristo sandwiches. Peggy Olson resembles Liz Lemon in her trailblazing feminism and love of sandwiches and repressed desire to fuck Jon Hamm

Don thinks everything is copacetic with Betty now that they've had their first real conversation of all (canon Mad Men) time. He's smugger than usual, playing Mr. Mom for a hot minute and staring dreamily at Bets like he didn't just fuck and run on that teacher betch with the name ganked from a Leonard Cohen song last week.

Then President Kennedy get shot and dies, and Betty and Carla sit on the couch together and smoke. Given that nothing seems to make sense anymore, Betty is overtaken with the nihilistic desire to destroy her shitty life, probably fed up with the way Don Draper née Dick Whitman has gone about destroying his awesome one.

Duck and Don and all the other former walls of masculinity prove less stable than ever before, trying to shield the children/women in their lives from the scary truth that nobody knows now what the fuck is going to happen next. Everyone wants to watch TV except Don, who seems intent on shutting out the reality of most things in his life.

Everybody goes to Roger's daughter's wedding for the second act except Pete and Trudy. Pete is drunk and becoming radicalized by the larger tragedy at hand and the smaller ones that speckle his own life. Like Betty he is taking stock of his life and finding it wanting. You mean he and Trudy did the charleston for nothing?

 In Pete's mind he is the protagonist of his own story, not someone who would get passed over for a promotion at work. His ambition far exceeds his grasp, and maybe he really doesn't have a future at Sterling-Cooper. Trudy has strong patriotic feelings that sound like Gretchen Weiners; "This is America, you don't just shoot the president."

 

Pete Campbell: "it felt for a second like everything was about to change." 

Mona's new beau is out for Lee Oswald's blood and Mona is out for the blood of whoever fucked up delivering the wedding cake. Henry Francis shows up with his much younge girlfriend, except oops it's his daughter. Betty is relieved/skeeved out/super turned on. No one understands her attraction to Henry except Betty and Grandpa Gene.

Henry Francis is not hot at all, on the other hand Roger Sterling is a total silver fox

Everyone kowtows to Roger's desire to hear the sound of his voice over a loudspeaker except Jane and Bert Cooper, who are both probably so sick of Roger's narcissism at this point that they've managed to tune him out. Roger almost seems loath to toast except that he's already poured so much money into the wedding.

Betty doesn't feel like dancing with Don because she's sick of his crap. A wise friend of mine pointed out about Don's confession last week that it was forced, and that men will cry most of all when they get caught in a lie, doing something they knew all along they shouldn't have been doing. Don gives a damn about saving the Draper marriage now that Betty no longer does. Can you blame her for not giving a fuck? Or for not being impressed that Don is only just realizing he's been taking her for granted? 

There are only antiheroes and anti-villains on Mad Men. No character is so loathed that they can't have a redemptive moment. It's like how in The Wire you follow and feel for the cops and the criminals, only in Mad Men you sympathize with the misogynists and the feminists. Because like most things in life, it is entirely shades of gray.

No man is so misogynist that he can't understand feminism (except old style James Bond, who doesn't exist), and lots of women are fairly misogynist to begin with because of the horrible patriarchal culture they grew up in.

 

"Hang In There, Red" Mad Men OTPs: Roger/Joan, Don/Rachel, Pete/Peggy, Sal/Ken

Roger Sterling drunk dials Joan Holloway to put it all in perspective. For whatever reason, their basic sexual and verbal chemistry, they are a great match. Joan knows how to deal with any stressful situation, how to pacify Roger after he's had to pretend to know how to pacify everyone else.

Betty tells Don she's "going out for a drive" to clear her head which as we know from Don is the universal euphemism for "I'm going out to commit adultery." Betty no longer believes white men when they tell her that it's going to be okay, which means the sixties are finally starting in earnest. Henry wants to marry Betty, which freaks her out considerably less than it does us. He probably could make her happy, since all she wants is a father figure type to take her to the movies. Let's face it Betty Draper is probably pretty vanilla in the sack considering how often Don is out bed-hopping with Jewesses

And then January Jones stretches her acting tethers as far as they will possibly go in order to tell Don that she doesn't love him anymore. Don demonstrates him mental and emotional pain by furrowing his brows deeper than every before, telling her she'll feel better tomorrow, and walking out of the room. Betty might just be less superficial than we are, as she is somehow able to resist Don even in his Gene Kelly in An American In Paris sweater/collar combination. 

People are often in love with one another at different times, at the wrong times, at times that overlap but somehow manage to conflict. You're with someone else, they're with someone else, you're still thinking of somebody else. Supposedly we remember incomplete actions more vividly than finished ones, which might help explain the sort of perverse pleasures associated with longing, regret, and melancholia. Look, I'm not in love with the tragedy of this thing.

Don goes to work on JFK memorial day because, as he tells Peggy "the bars are closed." Peggy goes to work because the crazy roommate she found on analog craigslist is driving her insane, a quintessential twenty-something urban experience. Don declines the opportunity to hang out with Peggy, even though she might be the only person who understands him, out of who knows what, pride, shame, a desire to maintain the rapidly crumbling facade that is "Don Draper." 

About the possibility of the Sterling-Cooper office disbanding for good, Matthew Weiner said "What's the point of the universe if there are no stakes?" It's true. Why should a fictional dramatic universe be any more stable than the real one? Who knows, maybe Don will surprise us all and learn to roll with the changes. One episode left...

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. She also tumbls and twitters.

 

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"Melodica" - Choral (mp3)

Reader Comments (1)

well done well done

November 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermeredith

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