Friday, March 21, 2014

Mad Men Season 1, Episode 7: Red in the Face

"It's a chip 'n' dip."

"Basically, we're dealing with the emotions of a child here."

The second line is said by Betty's therapist in one of his secret phone calls with Don, breaking rules of privacy and professional responsibility that had to be the law even back then.  And while the therapist views Betty as a child, she's not the only one behaving childishly in this episode.  From Pete (who utters the first line more in this one episode than anyone has said that phrase since they were invented) pouting that Trudy won't let him have what he wants, to Don pranking Roger to pay him back for coming on to his wife,  there are few grownups in this episode. 

What was most interesting about Dr. Wayne's comment to Don about Betty was Don's response: "She wasn't always like this."  I said in the last recap that it was clear that Don had married above him and this quote shows that there was a time when Betty was the sharp Bryn Mawr alumna that caught his eye and not the "girl" who would cut off her locks at the request of a nine-year-old boy.  Why did she change?  Was it the era and the pressure to become a housewife (a role that does not seem to give her pleasure) rather than pursue a career?  Was it her mother's death, which obviously affected her deeply.  Was it growing older and her fear of aging and losing her looks?  Was it having a husband so emotionally, and often physically, distant?

The doctor suggests that this malaise is common of housewives of the era, feeling unfulfilled and unmoored.  If this is true, then wouldn't fulfillment be the answer and not talking therapy?  But I digress.

Roger's on the phone with his wife who tells him that she and their daughter are heading up to his mother's place in Montclair.  Bert Cooper comes in as Roger is assuring Mona that he's drinking his milk (she didn't say he couldn't add anything to it) and later Bert chastises Roger for smoking.  Poor Roger, he has two people who are worried about his health!  As a side note, I enjoyed both the story Bert told of how smoking may have had a role in the Munich Agreement and Roger's takeaway from that story - "Hitler didn't smoke.  And I do."

With Mona gone for the weekend, Roger approaches Joan for an after-work rendezvous, but she is not his bird in a cage; she has made other plans.  Roger does not want to be alone, so he goes to Don and invites him out for a drink.  A glorious, if short, interchange with Pete solidifies the Roger Sterling character as the fount of great one-liners from here on out.

After being emasculated by Roger, Pete tries to relocate his alpha male with some quick flirting with Peggy (which makes Hildy very displeased) and an offer to help her by reading her Belle Jolie copy.

Roger is still hoping to score in Mona's absence and he eyes some lovely young ladies at the bar.  He tries to enlist Don to join him in pursuit, but Don acts like a loyal husband who can't even fathom what Roger is thinking.  Does Roger know what a libertine Don really is when it comes to faithfulness?  He doesn't call him on his hypocrisy, so maybe he doesn't know. Without a wingman to help him score - and seeing how the ladies are all drooling after the disinterested Don - Roger instead ends up wrangling an invitation back to Don's house for some home cooking.  

The dinner conversation is fascinating.  Betty fishes for compliments, mentioning how she used to be chubby as a girl.  Roger is charming as he talks about his wartime experiences and the two have an easy back and forth.  She and Roger both reminisce about childhoods full of summertime night swimming.  There's some mild flirtation as Roger mentions swimming nude.  When Roger tries to pull Don into their memories of summer pools, he reveals a little - he used to swim in a quarry (shades of Breaking Away) - before shutting down any further discussion when Roger pushes about his past ("by the way you drop your g's every once in a while, I always thought you were raised on a farm.  Someplace with a swimmin' hole.").

This is the second time that Don has had his own childhood - whatever that was - contrasted with the life of privilege that Roger, Betty and others around him had (recall the dinner with the Sterlings where they all - aside from Don - discussed their nannies).  Is what we see in Don's eyes as he excuses himself from the table class envy or something else?  Or is this just his knee-jerk reaction to any prying about his past?

While Don is gone, Roger makes a drunken pass at Betty.  This is no doubt motivated by Joan not taking him up on his offer and the young girls at the bar who were more taken with Don.  Roger, who believes he is in competition with Don, is not willing to lose and wants someone to react to him, to be charmed by him.  To make him feel still viable, still virile.  But Betty does not react the way he hoped.  While she deflects this unwanted attention, neither she nor Roger are able to quickly cover the awkwardness upon Don's return and the whole scene is so terribly uncomfortable.  It only gets worse when Roger leaves and Don accuses Betty of throwing herself at Roger.  He gets angry and physical as he rages about being "treated like that" in his own house.  Betty calls his brutish bluff, asking if he wants to bounce her off the walls, and Don instead echoes what Betty's therapist said about her, "sometimes I feel like I'm living with a little girl."

Was Betty flirting with Roger?  Not intentionally.  She was being the good wife, the good hostess.  But does she like the attention from men, does she like getting noticed for her looks?  Clearly, the answer to that question is yes.   Don was wrong to blame her for Roger's actions, but I doubt we've seen the last of the young, flirtatious Betty who likes the attention her beauty gets her.

Roger's purported apology the next day is telling.  He invokes his own prestige and power and takes no ownership or personal responsibility for his drunken rudeness.  Instead, he speaks obtusely and relies on the third person by explaining his behavior thusly: "When a man gets to a point when his name's on the building, he can get an unnatural sense of entitlement."  Not, I got drunk and went too far and I'm sorry.  Roger won't be that direct, nor cowed.  And what is Don, his employee, to do?  Not accept the apology and find a new job?  Get into a fistfight and find a new job?  

But what Don doesn't do is accept Roger's lame apology, the first one nor the second one about "parking in the wrong garage."  We can guess whether Don would have been more receptive had Roger not spoken in circles, and had manned up and taken responsibility for his actions. But he didn't do that.  Still, Don gave Roger ultimately what he wanted by seemingly moving on.  Again, it was an interesting power play.  Roger was in the wrong, but he's the boss.  He doesn't necessarily have to apologize, he could just use his position and power. But getting Don to accept his apology seemed very important to Roger.

Ah, the chip 'n' dip.  The guys at work mock Pete for running errands for Trudy and it gets only worse for Pete at the store where he finds himself mocked by the housewife behind him in line (when he says he doesn't know her husband, who's also in advertising, she snarkily replies that's because Pete is there at the returns counter).  He is frustrated in his attempt to complete a simple return, and it's a wonderfully drawn out scene that really encapsulates the way that something so mundane - a store return - can reflect so perfectly on everything in life that is not going Pete's way.  Watching Pete as he tries to be suave or funny, and failing miserably.  The way the saleswomen knock him down peg by peg - you should have registered, you should have brought your receipt, maybe it's under your wife's name - just chips away at his manhood piece by piece.

Pete is further embarrassed by a college buddy who happens upon the scene.  He friend is tall and has an easy confidence, flirting successfully with the saleswoman.  Pete tries to flirt his way into getting cash instead of store credit and fails at that as well.  If only he had a receipt!  Pete doesn't even see how creepy he comes off flirting while returning A WEDDING PRESENT.  Pete may well be the least self-aware person on the show.

But Pete finds a way to reclaim his masculinity, using the store credit to buy himself a rifle.  He is so proud of himself and it seems to work with the guys who claim they had come in to needle him further but now that he's sporting a weapon, he's one of them once more.

The next scene, though, is the one that really shows where Pete is at and how under-appreciated and misunderstood he is. Pete is the true visionary at Sterling Cooper, not Don, not the old guard.  It's Pete who recognizes that JFK will be a strong threat to Nixon, that his youth and coolness factor will connect with the voters.  His observation - that Kennedy and Elvis share a common element - was struck down by Bert Cooper as youthful folly, but it was dead on.  Pete is underestimated and disregarded by everyone, but he might be the most forward-thinking man on the show.

It is in these next brief moments that Mad Men really shines, these slices of domestic reality.  Betty is at home, in the kitchen, preparing a roast for Don.  We know, from what she told him in bed last episode, how she plans her whole day around his arrival home and, following last night's surprise dinner guest, she's gone out of her way to make a special meal tonight.  And what does Don do?  He looks at the roast, confused rather than impressed, and says, dismissively, "you know it's just me."  You can see the hurt on Betty's face as her efforts go unappreciated.  This scene is contrasted by Pete at home with his wife where the tables are turned.  He's the one feeling not understood.  He's the one on the wrong end of the marital power dynamic.  As he sits there, forlorn, the rifle laid across his lap, we hear Trudy yell, "You're always telling me to grow up."  Pete looks completely deflated.

Pete comes in to work the next day still carrying the rifle, no doubt on instructions by Trudy to return it immediately.  We now know Pete pretty well.  He wants to be the big shot, but he's just a mid-level exec whose father thinks he's wasted his pedigree, whose colleagues don't respect him and whose wife controls him.  So when Peggy walks into his office, calling him Mr. Campbell, and looking up to him for help, we know what he sees.  This is the one person who might view him the way he wants to be seen.

He starts to tell Peggy about hunting and then he has her sit down as he regales her with his fantasy where he is the alpha hunter who kills and prepares the animal and brings it to some idealized woman who is there waiting for her man.  The woman cooks what he has killed, serves it to him, and watches as he eats.  Peggy sees what Pete sees in this fantasy and says, breathlessly, "That would be wonderful."  So overwhelmed is Peggy with this macho reverie, she can't go back to work but instead grabs some food to sate her ravenous reaction to his story.  

"What is wrong with you?"  That's what we were all wondering when Betty agreed to give creepy Glen a lock of her hair and we're not surprised to see Helen Bishop finally confront Betty with that very question.  Betty slaps Helen and storms out of the store rather than deal with the fact that she did something so awkward and unsettling as agreeing to Glen's request.  Her husband and her therapist think she's a child and maybe she is.  Why would she give a nine-year-old boy a lock of her hair?  Why would she be surprised that others would find it wrong?  Betty has been told by her husband that he embarrassed her with his boss and now she is being told she's embarrassed herself with Helen's son.

Francine hears about the grocery store incident and comes to check on her friend.  Betty is nonplussed by her actions, but Francine tells her not to worry.  All the ladies will be Team Betty, they don't like Helen Bishop and her weird ways (walking! divorced! working!).  Again, the topic turns as it always seems to with Betty to her looks.  As long as she's still able to attract attention, she's earning her keep.  

We think that Don and Roger have patched things up as we watch their alcohol-soaked lunch binge.  Both are in fine form, hilarious as usual the more tipsy they become.  Roger is impressed with Don's ability to keep up and Don is matching Roger oyster-for-oyster and martini-for-martini as they pre-game before the GOP pitch meeting. 


When they get back to the building, Hollis the elevator man has bad news (not at all related to the exchange of money between him and Don earlier that morning - wink wink) - the elevator is out.  Don plays it great, suggesting that they miss the meeting.  But Roger plows ahead and suggests they walk the two dozen or so flights of stairs to the meeting.  And then we see that Don may sometimes put things in the past never to think of them again, he can also think about things very deeply and plans them out in great detail.  And he apparently has a vengeful streak.  A way to right wrongs that only he can appreciate.  He doesn't need Roger to know he has the upper hand, or to know that he was still mad at him for coming on to Betty.  He doesn't need Roger to know that he planned out a way to get even.  He just needs for it to all work out, if only just for his own satisfaction.

By the 8th floor, Roger is winded and ready to pass out while Don is calmly lighting a cigarette. The old machismo game is afoot and Roger can't let the younger Don win.  He may be ready to keel over, but that doesn't mean he's willing to admit it.  Don goads him, reflecting on his tenacity with a "navy man" knowing that's just the right button to push with Roger.  For the second time in their interactions Roger mentions that it's his name on the building.  He may be weakened, but he will still assert whatever power he has.

Eventually, Don goes off ahead and greets the clients, looking none the worse for the 23 floor hike.  But when Roger finally hobbles in he quickly becomes sick right in front of the clients.  Everyone laughs about it and Pete escorts the clients to a nearby office as Roger collects himself and we see Don, beaming, as he enjoys his revenge.  A childish prank, certainly.  But also a fairly ingenious way to deal with feelings of powerlessness.


Bert: Stop smoking so much.  It's a sign of weakness. 

Roger:  all I got from this story is that Hitler didn't smoke and I do. 

Pete: Did I miss something?
Roger: No.  Don and I talk all the time when you're not around.  In fact, we're gonna do it right now.  Don, shall we?
Pete: Well, good night, boys.
Roger: Goodnight, Paul. (pause) I love doing that.

Roger: By the way you drop your "G's" every once in a while, I always thought you were raised on a farm, someplace with a swimin' hole.

Don:  Bored?  What about scared? That never comes up in these stories. 

Don: You made a fool of yourself. You were throwing yourself at him.  Giggling at his stories. 
Betty: I was being friendly. He's your boss. 
Don:  I don't like to be treated that way in my own home.  I know what I saw.
Betty: You want to bounce me off the walls? Would that make you feel better? Don: Sometimes I feels like I'm living with a little girl.

Pete:  You have your fingers in your ears? It's a chip and dip.  You have your friends over.  You put chips on the sides and dip in the middle.

Ken:  When you finish shopping, come to join us.  I hear they make a great grasshopper, Mikdred.

Roger:  When a man gets to the point when his name's on a building, he can get an unnatural sense of entitlement.
Don: What does that mean, Roger? Roger: You're not gonna make this easy? Don:  I don't even know what this is.

Roger: So, I guess what I'm saying is, at some point, we've all parked in the wrong garage.

Pete:  I'm here to return this.  There's nothing wrong with it. We got two.
Employee: That's why we suggest that people register, to avoid duplications.
Pete: We did register.  We got two.
Do you have your receipt? 
Pete: It was a gift.

Pete:  It's a chip and dip.  We got two.
That's practically four of something.

Pete: It's a chip and dip.  You put chips on the side and dip in the middle.  For entertaining.
Matherton: It's a beaut!

Employee: Do you have a receipt? 
Pete: No, I I might've already said that. It was a gift. 

Pete (holding rifle in the air): Same price as a chip and dip. 

Pete:   You know who else doesn't wear a hat? Elvis.  That's what we're dealing with.
Bert: Remind me to stop hiring young people.

Roger: "He was a bold man, that first ate an oyster." I believe that was Jonathan Swift.
Don: What, are we naming them now?

Roger: I had no idea you were such a fan of the mollusk.
Don: Never really gave them a chance before.  But, I'm acquiring a taste.  It's like eating a mermaid.

Roger:  I like redheads. They're mouths are like a drop of strawberry jam in a glass of milk.

Don: Drinking milk.  I never liked it.  I hate cows.

Betty: My mother always said, "You're painting a masterpiece. Make sure to hide the brushstrokes."

Roger: I love redheads with big breasts.
Don: We'll find you one if we still have jobs.

Roger: My name is on the building, they can wait for me. 

Client: Those boys over at United Fruit talk about you like invented the damn banana.

Roger: Oysters.
Bert: I can see that. 


The episode's title, "Red in the Face," can refer to embarrassment, which was certainly a theme here.  Roger embarrassed caught making a pass at Betty, Pete embarrassed to be doing a "womanly" chore of a department store return, Betty embarrassed at the grocery store by Helen, Pete embarrassed when his wife calls him out on getting the rifle, Don implying Betty should be embarrassed for flirting with Roger and, of course, Roger embarrassing himself all over the carpet at Sterling Draper.  But the title can also refer to the literal flush of one's face whether because of passion - like when Peggy gets worked up by Pete's hunter fantasy - or exhaustion - as when Roger comes near to passing out on the stairs. 

But the episode is really all about power struggles and the old guard versus the new.  Pete is marginalized at the office as being too young -- a child, with silly ideas (Kennedy over Nixon!).  Roger is in the middle of a three generation struggle for supremacy.  While he feels he has it over Don - he fought in the Pacific during the Second World War, Don was just in Korea - he knows his father wins this battle as WWI trumps them both.  Roger's virility is challenged by the dark-haired Don and his wife fussing over what he eats and drinks only intensifies his fear of aging.  And those girls at the bar!  How deflated he was by their lack of attention.

For her part, Betty is threatened by the new woman that Helen Bishop represents and only feels happy when she feels she has the power that her looks have given her.  But she knows that her youth and looks will only last so long and the fear of losing both looms large.  Don wins his power play with Roger, displaying energy and youth while Roger gasps for air and loses his lunch.  It is just 1960, but we see the blueprint for the entire generation-gap focused decade spread out in front of us.

Lack of subtlety: Francine drinking while pregnant.  Francine smoking while pregnant.
Lack of subtlety runner up: Bobby saying his eyes are burning while Betty blows cigarette smoke in his face then says he's being ridiculous.  

Spoilery Observations. (Don't read unless you're caught up). 

Roger notices that Don sometimes would drop the "g" at the end of some words which made him think Don might've been raised on a farm.  We later learn that his suspicions were correct.

Roger talks about his experience in the Pacific during World War II.  This is never far from his memory and it comes up again in Ep. 4.05 when he refuses to do business with a Japanses company. 

When Pete waves his new rifle around the office. Ken covers his face.  Foreshadowing?? In Ep. 6.12 he gets shot in the face while hunting with clientsfrom Chevy.  

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