Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mad Men Season 1, Episode 6: Babylon

Don Draper put together a nice Mother's Day surprise for Betty - breakfast in bed.  Unfortunately, the toy that he obviously missed when he came down the stairs to make breakfast was his undoing as he climbed back up the stairs with a tray in one hand and the funny pages in the other.  Don lost his balance and fell down to the landing and all the way back to witness himself, as young Dick Whitman, there for Adam's birth.  Though it's not a real memory as he is picturing his younger self in his current house, watching a scene play out in front of him that happened somewhere else.

I'm not sure what this flashback/vision was supposed to tell us.  I suppose that Adam was still on Don's mind after sending him away with hush money.  Maybe he was thinking back to his first meeting with his brother being about as cold as their last meeting.  The biggest revelation from this first introduction to the young Dick Whitman was that as a kid he looked like Wolowitz from Big Bang Theory, followed by the fact that he hadn't learned proper grammar and that he was pretty surly ("he ain't my brother" he says of the new arrival).   

Now that Don has shut out the last connection to his past life, he's free to enjoy his new life.  We see Don the loving, happy family man, complete with red baloon.  At the end of the day, he's reading Rona Jaffee's The Best of Everything, and that seems to be what Don has.  (*The book was written in 1958 and is a soap opera-y book about women in the work place that was released as a movie the next year).

Lying in bed next to each other after a nice Mother's Day, the conversation turns to Betty's fear of aging.  She worries about her looks fading and that worry gets her thinking about her own mother, which makes her even more sad. And Don doesn't want her to go down the path of melancholy.  Perhaps because Don deals with his own sadness by a combination of (a) drinking, (b) philandering, and (c) pretending it never happened, he's uncomfortable with Betty having and expressing actual feelings. 

Their conversation in bed is illuminating in many ways.  You learn just how well educated Betty is, how out of her league Don really is.  He may be the one cheating, and she may be the one who thinks about him all day as she folds laundry and prepares dinner, but it looks like Don was the one who married up.  They seem so happy together, such a perfect match.  Betty is so deeply in love and deeply committed to her role as wife.   It's hard to reconcile this couple with the reality that one of them is so disloyal, able to have a similar level of intimacy with not one but two other women.

So big revelation #2: Joan and Roger are an item.  Well, that's interesting.  Joan had alluded to a fling with Harry Crane in the past, and she certainly was schooling Peggy on what is expected of women at the office.  She also mentioned wondering why Don never made a move on her.  But she and Roger never gave off any clue that they were together.  In fact, Joan makes a cute joke when Roger's wife Mona calls her and Don a handsome couple, "I don't go for handsome."  Poor Roger!

Unlike Don's mistress who doesn't want to hear about Betty, Joan seems more than willing to talk about Roger's wife and daughter. Really unique dynamic between the two. The way she took his daughter under her wing, literally and figuratively, at the office.  The way they seem so comfortable together, it feels like more than just an office offair.

Roger seems deliriously happy with Joan and she's more restrained.  Maybe she's been down this path before, maybe she knows what her role is.  When he suggests that he leave his wife and they go off together, Joan recognizes it for what it is - just talk.  She knows that cheating is part of the fun for Roger and he wouldn't be happier if they made their relationship legit.  He tries to talk her into getting her own place, so they can meet there instead of hotels, but Joan prefers having a roommate for company.  Roger suggests a bird could be company for her and she just laughs because she knows all he wants is for Joan to be his and only his whenever he wants. But not as an old, boring married couple.

We finally meet Freddy Rumsen, and he lived up to his elbow-bending reputation by being seen making a Screw Driver for his morning breakfast at work.  Freddy's a Neanderthal, asking the guys if they can figure out how to pitch lipstick, since he doesn't "speak moron."  Glad to know women are held to such high esteem.  So Freddy settles on a focus group of women from the office to give their feedback (via two way mirror).  It's fairly sexist and demeaning of women, and only Peggy doesn't end up looking like she's fluent in moron.

The men all gather to watch the "girls" and Joan, who knows the men are back there, makes sure to show off a little.  Roger had come in just in time to see her, and was pleased by what he saw, but less so when Ken said he'd like to stand and salute her ample ass.  The scene slows down and lingers on the divide between Peggy, who sits idly by while the other girls slather on the lipstick and stare at themselves in the mirrors.

Don is at a restaurant waiting for Rachel Menken, and his smile is a bit too wide when he sees her.  He may be married, with a mistress on the side, but he is still quite smitten with Rachel and happy for any excuse to see her.  The ostensible reason for the meeting is to get her help on how he can wow the Israel Tourism client.  Rachel is understandably irked that Don called on her as his token Jewish acquaintance and (not realizing he's actually done this) tells him to crack a book.  But reading Exodus is not getting Don the insight he thinks he can get from her.  Nor is it as fetching.

Rachel gives us the connection to the episode title, telling Don that Jews have been a people in exile for a long time, starting in Babylon. It's a feeling that Don may know as well, as we now know him to have fled some other place for where he is now.  What Rachel tells him about Israel, and about her feelings about the Jewish state as an American (and not very religious) Jew is a simple truth - she doesn't have to live there, Israel's importance is in that it exists.  Jews have to know that a place for them exists, like anybody needs to know that there is a place where they are accepted. Don may not know such a place exists for him - the real him - so he creates a fictitious person who will be accepted everywhere.

Don reaches for Rachel's hand, but she shuts him down again, this time by using some literary knowledge.  She tells him about the two meanings of the word utopia - the good place and the place that cannot be.  That is their relationship in a nutshell.

After the brainstorming session with the secretaries, Freddy comes to pick up the waste basket with tissues to see what were the most popular colors.  Peggy is there and as she hands Freddy the trash, she says, "Here's your basket of kisses."  That's the most clever thing Freddy's heard in long time (or maybe it's the vodka) and he's intrigued.  He asks Peggy some questions, but Joan is shooting darts her way. Joan doesn't like Peggy talking to the execs like she's an equal, she needs to know her place.  After Joan dismisses Peggy, she says to Freddy "I bet you wish you could pour that in a glass and drink it" and it's not clear if she really believes he was hitting on Peggy or is this just a nod to his imbibing.

Freddy goes to Don to tell him about his encounter with Peggy and what great insight she had saying, in one of the best (if most sexist) lines ever uttered: "it was like watching a dog play the piano."

Rachel may be playing it cool with Don, but she's smitten.  She calls her older sister and talks to her about her crush  She wants him but she knows it's probably not going to happen what with him being married, not Jewish, and a drunk in no particular order.  But still the heart wants what it wants.  

Freddy would like Peggy to help write some ideas for Belle Jolie lipsitck, but instead of asking her directly, he has Joan ask her.  We don't want Peggy getting a big head or thinking this makes her any more important than any of the other "girls!"  She makes sure to let Peggy know that this means more work for the same pay and that she better not let this side project get in the way of her secretarial duties. 

Don, after being spurned by Rachel at lunch, heads over to mistress #1 Midge for a little romp in the hay but... hey Roy! Nice to meet you.  What are you doing here?  Before Roy's interruption, you see a glimpse of the extent to which sex, and cheating, are like air to Don.  He attacks Midge like a hungry dog after a discarded bone, he must immediately fill the void with someone and that's where Midge comes in. 

Roger also heads off after work to recharge his batteries, but he has more luck with Joan who is ready and willing, if just a little late, for their after-work delight.  Roger has a present waiting for Joan - a bird to keep her company.  Roger doesn't want to share Joan with anyone so he hopes that the bird will be all the companionship she needs when he's oh, say, with his wife.

Midge, Don and Roy are at a Greenwich Village style coffee shop where an Eastern European sounding beatnik is doing what he thinks is art while Don tries not to look like the dad chaperoning his daughter's date.  This highlights the generation gap that is just starting and will swell and grow to be large enough to swallow an entire decade.  For the first time, the younger generation will not look up to their elders, eager to grow up and join their ranks. They will look to the older generation with disdain and a sure sense of their moral superiority.  The older generation looks upon the youth with a mixture of fear and loathing  The divide will be between the perceived crass commercialism and war-mongering of one versus the free love and brotherhood of the other.

Don - the physical embodiment of the rigid older generation - wants to get out of there, but Midge makes him stay to hear her friend, who comes on stage and sings the Waters of Babylon.  As he hears the lyrics, a call out to Zion, is he thinking of Rachel?  Is he thinking about how out of place he feels, not just here in the hipster coffee shop but in his own skin?  Or is he thinking, actually I spent more time on my hair today than Roy and Midge put together?

We see vignettes play out over the folk song By the Waters of Babylon - Rachel at work in the store, Betty at home with Sally (applying lipstick like those hens in the office), Joan at the hotel post sex with Roger.  She leaves with her bird in a cage, he leave a few seconds later, standing just feet apart, but as strangers.  It's a lot of sad.


Betty: To think one of the great beauties, and there she is, so old.  I'd just like to disappear at that point.
Don: I promise you, Bets, The first sign of crow's feet and I'll put you on an ice floe.

Don: Mourning is just extended self-pity.

Roger: Aren't you even gonna have any of this? Look, we've got Oysters Rockefeller, beef Wellington, Napoleons.  We leave this lunch alone, it'll take over Europe.

Don: So, we have a quasi communist state where women have guns, and it's filled with Jews.

Freddy:  I don't speak moron. Do either of you speak moron?

(Off camera): They're brainstorming.
Paul: I wouldn't expect more than a few sprinkles.

Pete: At what point to we run electricity through the chairs?

Peggy: Here's your basket of kisses. 

Rachel: A country with those people, as you call it, well it seems very important.  ... I'll visit, but I don't have to live there. It just has to be.  For me, it's more of an idea.
Don: Utopia?
Rachel: Maybe.  They taught us at Barnard about that word Utopia.  The Greeks had two meanings for it, eutopos- meaning the good place, and outopos- meaning the place that cannot be.

Peggy:   I don't know I don't think anyone wants to be one of a hundred colors in a box.

Freddy: It was like watching a dog play the piano.

Joan: You know what they say.  The medium is the message.

Roger:  The way you glide around that office like some magnificent ship.
Joan:  Well, I don't want to be a distraction.  Shall I order horse blinders for the rest of the office?

Roy: I bet Don here can tell you first hand, Broadway's the birthplace of mediocrity.
Don: Maybe it's born there, but I think it may be conceived right here.

Roy: So what do you do, Don?
Don: I blow up bridges.
Midge: Don's in advertising.
Roy: No way.  Madison avenue? What a gas!
Midge: We all have to serve somebody.
Roy: Perpetuating a lie, how do you sleep at night?
Don: On a bed made of money.

Roy: You hucksters and your tower created religion of mass consumption.
Don: People want to be told what to do so badly, that they'll listen to anyone.
Roy: When you say people, I have a feeling you're talking about thou.
Don: And I have a feeling that you spent more time on your hair this morning than she did. 


Love their college course related double entendres, right up to Don saying he flunked advanced reproduction and Betty saying it was because he was caught cheating.  Good one, Bets.

The people from Israeli tourism say they plan to meet with Mr. Bernbach - he was the advertising genius behind the VW bug ad that got the SC people talking last episode. Here is a copy of an ad for Israel tourism that ran in the early 60s, as you can see, they did use the Bible to advertise.

The song at the end of the episode is set to Psalm 137 which references the Jews in exile from their true home, their sadness at their loss and their desire to reclaim what was taken.  How does this relate to Don?  Does he feel alienated and banished from some place where he belongs?  Is this because of his new name/identity?  Is it because the times they are a-changin'?  

Rachel mentioned that Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann was just arrested which puts this episode at sometime after May 23, 1960. 

Prostitution was a sacred rite of practice in Babylon according to Herodotus (and why would he lie to us?).

One of author Rona Jaffee's other novels, Mazes and Monsters, dealt with people being driven to suicide.
Roger mentions that one of Mona's ex-boyfriends committed suicide.

Lack of Subtlety winner:  Salvatore loves Joan Crawford.
Lack of Subtlety runner up:  Sal doing an early version of Fashion Police, rating the style of the women behind the two-way glass.

Oh how quaint things were back then: The heavy-handedness of Joan's interaction with the women in the office one can only hope is overdone for effect.  The notion that the secretaries would be so intimidated by an offer to try out lipsticks is a scary one.  "It's called brainstorming."  "That sounds intimidating.  Is it like a test?" Ugh.

Spoilery observations (Don't read unless you're caught up) - You've been warned 

Continuity error - Don talks about their relationship being he best year of his life but we see in a flashback in Ep. 4.6 that they'd been together many years earlier. 

Continuity error two:  When discussing her own mother's death, Betty says: My mother looked handsome Actually vivacious and positively cheerful right up to her end.  It's good remembrance.  Later in  Ep. 7.13 Betty says watching her mother die was awful and she didn't want Sally to ever have to see anything like that. 

Rachel talks to her sister Barbara about falling for Don. Her sister tells her that at 28 she needs to start thinking of getting married before she ends up an old maid. She does eventually get married and have two children but Don does not forget her.  

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