Friday, June 13, 2014

Mad Men Season 2, Episode 3: The Benefactor (Recap/Rewatch)

"What are you worth?"

Thanks to many dropped balls - Ken's inability to tell Don about the Schillings' visit, Lois' inability to handle Don's desk, Freddy's sleeping on the job - the corpulent wife of one of the firm's clients is subjected to a hailstorm of insults about her weight.  This leads Don down a path that he had sworn to avoid at the end of last year.  With Betty knowing about his infidelities, there was an agreement of sorts that he would stay on the straight and narrow.  But he meets a feisty, sensual brunette and falls right back into old patterns.  At least for once Don appears if not guilt-ridden at least troubled by his double life.


The episode starts with the introduction of a new character, insult-comic Jimmy Barrett, who was hired to pitch Utz potato chips but ends up biting the hand that feeds him by hurling fat jokes at the client's plump wife.  Don is brought in to extinguish the fire and ends up becoming sexually involved with Jimmy's agent/wife Bobbie.  We see Don's old bad habits come back into play -- attracted to a strong woman with her own job and life.  He weakly tries to rebuff her, before falling into another tryst.  But unlike the previous dalliances we've observed, this one takes a violent turn that is shocking and scary.  We've never seen this side of Don before, in fact, he's been the controlled one, the one who keeps his emotions in check.  Seeing him brought to such a point, and to do such an aggressive, demeaning act, moves Don from lovable rogue to jerk.  

Don is not one to be crossed, and it's not just the Barretts who learn this lesson.  His secretary Lois thinks her job is to cover for Don, but fails to realize that Don does not want to be reminded that he's a cad and needs cover.  Her job is to keep Don's work separate from his private life seamlessly and not to become frazzled and certainly not to let on that she knows what Don is up to.  Things just don't go Lois' way.  First, she attempts to seduce the closeted Sal and now she tries to move up from swtichboard operator to secretary.  

While Don dives head first into another affair, Betty again dips her toe into the waters of cheating then pulls out before getting soaked.  She is as unfulfilled as she was first season, now looking to horseback riding to fill that emptiness inside her.  Yet she again regresses to the pretty girl whose worth is measured in male adoration.  She first gets that from the stable stud Artie who offers himself to soothe her sadness, then later from the enrapt Jimmy who is mesmerized with this living doll.  But at the end what really fulfills her was being next to Don, helping him, being his partner.  "We make a good team," she tells him and this is as happy as we've seen Betty.  But look at Don, he's filled with guilt.  Probably not enough guilt to stop cheating on her, just enough to feel crappy for doing it.

Betty is still the directionless girl looking for something to steer her path and for a brief moment we think it might be young Arthur, but she rebuffs him.  Though his words - "you're so profoundly sad" -sound like a weak come on, they do ring true.  As Betty walks away, her shaking hands show that her anxiety has returned.  There is a glimmer of hope when Don suggests they go out to Lut├Ęce, a hot new restaurant.  The glimmer quickly fades, though, when Betty learns that the dinner is for work with Don doing damage control with Hunt and Edith Schilling.  Still, Betty gets that chance to be Don's bright and shiny better half and it's a role she's comfortable filling.



At the dinner, Betty does her part - she's beautiful and coy without being aloof, and Jimmy Barrett is eating her up with a spoon.  But this does little to address the elephant in the room.  Oops, my bad.  Anyway, the apology from Jimmy to Mrs. Schilling needs to come and quickly, but all Jimmy wants to do is flirt with Betty.  So Don takes Bobbie aside and tells her that the window of opportunity is about to close.  Bobbie thinks she holds all the cards and tries to parlay this situation into even greater advantage for Jimmy.  And that's when things turn ugly.  Don grabs her, violently, and threatens her and Jimmy.  It is quick and aggressive and disgusting and then they part and go back to their five star dinner. 

Jimmy makes his peace with the Schillings, all is forgiven, and on the drive home Betty beams about the evening.  Getting to be Don's partner, his better half, helping him with work.  This is what she's been hungry for. Her tears in the car show just how much this means to her and how everything she's been trying to do to fill her days is just a substitute for what she's missing - feeling that she's part of Don's life. 

The "C" story this week involves Harry Crane.  Harry had some relationship repair to do after last season and it seems that he and the now-pregnant Jennifer have moved forward as a team. But Harry's newest problem is finding out just what he's worth to Sterling Cooper.  Harry learns that Ken Cosgrove makes half again as much as he makes per week and he's furious.  He tells Jennifer - and Sal - and now has to do something about it other than whine, pout, or quit. Both his wife and Sal tell him the same thing - decide what you're worth and go after it.

By the end of the episode, Harry rises to the occasion, coming up with a way to help a client maximize its exposure and to show that how he can help Sterling Cooper be a player in the TV-side of the business.  He created a job and department and a new title - with a little extra money as well.  It showed Harry to be an opportunist, in the best sense of the word, and to possess an ability to stumble into success.  It is a great ability to figure out what one wants and go after it - a trait not everyone possesses.

That was the theme for many of the characters.  Don doesn't know what he wants let alone how to get it.  He slips out of work not for a fling, but to hide out in a darkened theater watching a foreign film about infidelity.  He tells Bobbie Barrett that he wants to be left alone, but she tells him that's not what he really wants.  She wants to be in charge, but Don won't give her that, telling her how things are going to be in no uncertain terms.  Arthur wants someone to need him and he looks to Betty to fill that void and part of Betty wants the attention, wants to be wanted.  But what she really wants is for her husband to need her and for that brief moment in the car after dinner she she is satisfied.

OBSERVATIONS:

Betty's friend says of Artie, the boy learning to ride at the stables: "He reminds me of Monty Clift in A Place in the Sun, learning how to ride so he can worm his way into the upper crust."  When Artie is alone with Peggy he complains about his fiancee and her rich relatives and it looks like the parallel may not be too far off. She's rich and spoiled, he feels emasculated and on a leash.  She can never be happy, he can never make her happy.  That seems to be what he wants, to make a beautiful woman happy, and he tries to get that from Betty. 

The Schillings are the benefactors of loud-mouthed comedian Jimmy Barrett and Tara Montague is the benefactor of boyish fiance Artie, but wielding money does not ensure that the object of your support will be grateful.  Jimmy insults the porcine Mrs. Schilling and Artie flirts with the MILFs at the stable behind his girlfriend's back. No matter how much money you have, you can't buy respect or  happiness. 

After trying to sell Belle Jolie on how that controversial episode of The Defenders was a must-watch for women, Harry has this exchange with his wife, Jennifer:  "J: What's the show?  H: Just some show.  You wouldn't like it."  He is learning to be a good BS artist from the creative department at Sterling Cooper.

The only glimpse we had of Peggy this episode was manning the projector during The Defenders' screening.  Her one line, "There's no doubt in my mind" was meant to convey confidence that women would flock to watch the controversial episode.  Unfortunately, the client was unconvinced.  Perhaps Peggy might have been more convincing if the topic - a young girl dealing with an unwanted pregnancy - hadn't hit so close to home.

Love Jimmy's fist-biting reaction when the hefty Mrs. Schilling says she "doesn't have the stomach" for his type of humor.  An obvious reaction, but still funny.  I also loved Roger's "I don't smoke" response to why he bums cigarettes from Don rather than getting a pack from the well-stocked store room. 

The movie Don saw in the theater was Michelangelo Antonioni's La Notte a 1961 film "about a day in the life of an unfaithful married couple and their deteriorating relationship."  I thought movies were meant to take you away from everyday reality. 

Don's reference to the bumbling Roger and Ken as "Leopold and Loeb" seems an out-dated reference, even for 1962.  The two young law students were arrested and imprisoned for the murder of a young teen (part of their plan to commit the perfect crime) way back in 1924.  However, their story was the basis for a number of adaptations, including the 1959 movie Compulsion which might be why their names would be the ones to pop up then.  Today, Don would probably settle for "Dumb and Dumber."

Jimmy jokes to Don Draper, "Loved you in Gentlemen's Agreement."  That movie (available on Netflix) starred Gregory Peck and the equally handsome John Garfield (both of whose film shoes Jon Hamm could easily fit) and was about a journalist uncovering anti-semitism.  The movie came out in 1947 and if you haven't seen it, you should.  Not only does it deal with anti-Jewish bigotry, but there is a not-so-subtle nod to gender bias as well when people are shocked that the idea for the undercover article came from a - gasp! - woman.  No matter your age, you're probably familiar with Gregory Peck, who had the lead in To Kill a Mockingbird.  But you should also check out John Garfield.  I happen to be a huge John Garfield fan and if you've never seen any of his movies, you should give them a try including The Postman Always Rings Twice, Force of Evil, Humoresque and Body and Soul.

A lot of not very subtle metaphors when Betty instructs Arthur how to handle his horse.  "Just pull up on the reins. Straighten her out. You can't let her do that. ... She needs to be told what to do."  The parallel between Betty's suggestion of how you handle your horse and how her husband handled Bobbie is a bit too on the nose. 

QUOTES:

Jimmy Barrett: Open your mouth, sweetheart.  I want to see if Gepetto's building a fire in there.

Jennifer Crane:  What are you worth? You go in there and ask for it. Demand it. Be polite, but think about what you're worth to them.

Sal:  Then you're worth every penny they're paying you.

Don:  Has anyone tried to save this yet besides Leopold and Loeb over here?

Roger:  He knows what that nut means to Utz and what Utz means to us.

Don:  A guy like that must know how to make a charming apology, or he'd be dead.

Don:  You do not cover for me. You manage people's expectations.

Joan:  I'll just continue looking for another Miss Olsen.
Don:  No. I want someone who'll be happy with that job.

Bobbie:  I've seen the man sober.  He's not funny.

Artie:  I've just always been more comfortable with animals when they were on the other end of my rifle.

Bobbie Barrett:  I like being bad and then going home and being good.

Artie: Her house is a slightly smaller version of my high school. And I realized why she was so happy all the time, and then, why she was so angry when she didn't get what she wanted.

Artie: You're so profoundly sad.
Betty:  No. It's just my people are Nordic.

Don:   I need you to be shiny and bright. I need a better half.

Roger (to Harry):  Cooper thought it showed initiative.  So, you're in here now, and I'm smiling.

Jimmy: Are you two sold separately?... I bet little birds hang up your laundry. ... And make it fast, while this place is still French.''

Betty:  I spend a lot of my time riding horses.  It's really a passion for me.
Jimmy:  And for them, I bet.

Betty:  When I said I wanted to be a part of your life, this is what I meant. We make a great team.

 *******************************************************************************
 SPOILER-Y OBSERVATIONS (DON'T READ UNLESS YOU'RE TOTALLY CAUGHT UP)

"I don't care that you drink, Freddy, but it's interfering with your job."  We were first introduced to the character Freddy Rumsen via his reputation as a sot, when Don invoked his name as an excuse for why he wasn't reachable the day Betty crashed her car.  There have been other jokes about Freddy's drinking, but this is the first (sadly, not last) episode where his drinking is seen as a liability.

Harry Crane is a go-getter.  He figured out how to make himself indispensable.  He created the need for a media department then offered himself to run (and man) it.  In the nine years since, Harry has stayed loyal to Sterling Cooper despite not getting a partnership, not getting as much money as some of his peers, and being treated a bit like a red-headed step-child around the office.  Here we see a generally nice but mild mannered guy standing up for himself for the first time at work and starting on the path of turning his job into a career.  But with all his success, he always falls just a bit short of where he wants to be.

This is the first time we've seen Don take a violent, aggressive turn with a woman and it was scary and distasteful.  He did about the rudest thing a man can do to a woman and I would have preferred if she had slapped him or done something other than continue an affair with him. This could only lead someone like him to think maybe this is what women want or, at least, think he can continue to get away with it.  As we later learn, Don's mind is messed up enough when it comes to women, it didn't need violence added on top of the mix.  He loses his temper again in the next episode, Three Sundays, pushing Betty during a fight.

Betty flirts with Artie, as she did with the guy from the gas station in Season 1, and as she will do with Harry Francis and others later on.  We know she's of the age, and was certainly raised, to believe that her worth came from her attractiveness.  The more she's flirted with, the better she must be. 

Betty gets the opportunity to be part of a team with her second husband, Henry, for whom she's the perfect political wife.  That is, until she decides to actually express her own opinions, which he frowns upon.  She should be eye candy - beautiful and shiny - but nothing more.

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