Two By Two
by KARA VANDERBIJL
creator Matthew Weiner
When the news breaks that Dr. Martin Luther King has been assassinated, we're sitting in a room full of white people listening to Paul Newman give a speech. Shock reverberates; it's a moment not unlike the one in a much earlier installment, when JFK was shot. Suddenly everybody is a neighbor. Everyone wants to make a call. Megan is up for an award for her writing on Heinz Beans, but the relevancy of an award show, not to mention the defunct Heinz account, is quickly lost in the fray.
I didn't hear at first who had been killed. This added to the mayhem of the moment, and I was just as quick to respond in worry as this room full of people. Nobody cares who died or what happened, what matters is what is going to come of it, who else is going to have to pay, how we can prove our mettle. Destruction seems imminent. Fires break out and, like the ancient flood which gave the episode its title, they threaten to engulf the city.
So it is murder for King, and it is softcore murder of whatever uncomfortable unity had begun to creep into offices and apartment buildings. "Negro" punctuates scenes. Other than two moments in Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and Cutler, Gleason & Chaough, we aren't privy to what any of the black characters are thinking or feeling. They are marginalized, either as the perpetrators of violence in their neighborhoods, looters and rioters, or as objects of pity.
When Joan puts her arms around Dawn and says, "I'm so sorry", it is deeply patronizing: what will you do now that you've lost your messiah? Compared to the compassionate hug between Peggy and her secretary, which happens just moments before, it creates more division than the street blocks separating downtown from the riots. Fear, pity and guilt are not the biggest feelings. They are not the only ones we are capable of experiencing, but they are the most difficult to sidestep. They sell.
Critiquing, perhaps, the past weeks' media frenzy over Boston or the advertising industry in general, Weiner gives both Harry Crane and an insurance salesman that Roger is trying to court for business the callousness that we have almost come to expect alongside catastrophe. Profits will soar, but at what cost? People will buy a t-shirt if you tell them part of the proceeds are going to a good cause, but what they're really doing is filling their closet with more shit. Fear, pity, guilt.
Family was important this week, even if nobody can get along. Pete calls Trudy and offers to come spend the night, but the only thing uniting them, even in this moment, is the television blaring in his Manhattan apartment and her suburban living room. Megan may be exasperated by her father's intellectualism and Don's drinking, but it hasn't been enough to push her out on her own yet, although we're catching more and more glimpses of how successful she is becoming.
Peggy, who opens the episode dreaming of a future in a new apartment on the Upper East Side, seems surprised to learn that her live-in boyfriend Abe has imagined their future children and the "different kinds of people" he wants them to be exposed to. Don is worried about Sylvia, whose husband whisked her away to Washington D.C. for a medical conference, and whom he can't call.
Tragedy has a way of showing us what we really want — and nobody is content, no matter how much they may talk themselves into it. Like Don's (hilarious) speech: "When you have children, you act excited, but you don't feel anything. Especially if you had a difficult childhood. You want to love them, but you don't. The fact that you're faking that feeling makes you wonder if your father had the same problem", we are made aware in this episode by the fragile presence, not the previous episodes' absence, of the things that are soon to disappear or fall apart. Megan and Don's intimacy and marriage. Don's relationship with his children (who are quickly growing into adults who know better.)
Even Peggy, who seems so excited about new apartments and Abe, keeps making eyes at Ted Chaough. Michael Ginsburg, who doggedly refuses his father's attempts to set him up with a nice Jewish girl, reveals how nervous (excited) he is by prattling on at her in the diner about children and the fact that he's never had sex before.
We finally got more of a glimpse of brunette Betty, whose dreams for her political husband seem to be coming true as Henry reveals that he'd like to run for state senate. "I can't wait for them to really meet you," he murmurs, and we know Henry well enough to understand that he means his supportive, charming wife, but Betty still parades in front of the mirror holding a party dress of yore against herself. These old habits are comfortable; it takes calamity to reveal how poorly they fit.
Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about Mad Men. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of our recordings about Mad Men here.
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