Monday, June 30, 2014

Mad Men Season 2, Episode 4: Three Sundays (Recap)

Betty's tears of joy after spending the evening as part of Team Draper at the end of last week's episode are all dried and Betty is back to feeling like she's alone in the marriage.  She's the only one who's charged with disciplining the kids and Bobby's (quite age-appropriate, mind you) rambunctiousness and fibbing are driving her up the wall.  It doesn't take a Freudian analyst to realize that Betty may be overreacting slightly to her son lying brazenly to her face.  But when she turns to Don for some of that good early 1960's brand of punishment (before time outs and taking away your iPhone), he's not there for her.  Her frustration builds, as does Don's, until it erupts quickly and violently and Betty learns that poking at things can be dangerous.

But first, it's the Sunday before the Sunday before Easter and Peggy is joining her mother and sister at Mass.  Peggy tries to sneak out and instead meets the new priest with whom she quickly forges a bond (the young people stick together).  Father Gill is invited over to dinner and his arrival is met with the same excitement as if the Holy Father were there himself.  Peggy's mother and sister are old-fashioned Catholics (favorite moment - when the mom says, after he gives a new age-y blessing before the meal "That was beautiful. Are you doing to say grace now?") whereas Peggy has a more tenuous relationship with the religion. 

What we see over the three Sundays is how jealous Peggy's sister Anita is.  To her mind, Peggy should be if not shunned for having a relationship with a married man and bearing a child out of wedlock at least held accountable.  But her mother beams and expresses pride in her younger daughter and Father Gill goes so far as to ask Peggy's help in preparing his sermon.  Why should she get all these good things when she'd done something so bad?  Where is the praise for Anita, the good sister who is a dutiful, married mom?  So she intentionally sabotage's Peggy's relationship with Father Gill, "confessing" to him her anger at her sinful sister.  By Easter, Peggy now knows that the priest knows her secret and that her Draperian efforts to put it away in the past will not be helped by her sister.

Our first view inside the Draper household is consistent with how we last saw Betty and Don.  They wake up late Sunday morning with Don being amorous and Betty playful, only to be interrupted by their two adorable cherubs.  We assume that once they dispatched the children, they were able to continue where they left off.  Then we see budding bartender Sally mixing the world's strongest Bloody Mary (and pointedly saying to her dad, here's number two) as the family lounges around on a lazy day.  The idyllic moment is interrupted by Bobby playing around with the stereo, much to Betty's consternation. The look she gives Don when Bobby blatantly lies about what he did - with Don intently ignoring her and staying out of the matter - conveys volumes.

Over the episode, Betty becomes increasingly irritated with Bobby's behavior and what looks to us like little blips build up to much more in her mind. And she goes from the relaxed, loving spouse to the angry, bitter mother who feels like she's all alone, out-numbered, with no support from her husband.  She wants Don at her side, backing her; instead he's disengaged.  He plays the husband/father role only to the extent of doing the easy part, but he wants no part in disciplining, scolding, correcting and certainly not spanking.

Roger Sterling is having his own problems as a father.  The expression "generation gap" hasn't been coined yet and still you can feel the chasm developing between Roger and his daughter Margaret.  She does not hide her disapproval of her father - of his drinking, of his need to spend money, of him.  She's now Brook's fiancee, Roger has lost whatever connect he had with his little girl.

So rather than repair their relationship, he goes elsewhere to seek validation.  He finds the one person who will respond appropriately to his money - a prostitute that Ken and Pete had hired for one of their clients.  Roger had spotted her and wanted her and he could have her - all they had to do was settle on the price. He exerted power over her, getting her to bend her rules, and help shore up any damage to his self-esteem occasioned by Margaret's strong disapproval.

At Sterling Cooper, the troops are mobilized to put together a winning pitch for American Airlines.  Don, a master at reinvention, comes up with the idea that American should not try and explain the past nor run away from it (the recent plane crash), but instead act as if it never happened. "There is no such thing as American history, only a frontier.  That crash happened to somebody else.  It's not about apologies for what happened." Their focus, he maintains, should be only on the future, only on moving forward.  Not at all an unexpected direction from someone whose very being is premised on acting as if the past never happened.

While we see the time and effort that goes into preparing the pitch, and trying to land such an important client, we also sense the underlying excitement.  Even though everyone is working hard and giving up their weekend, there is electricity in the air at Sterling Cooper.  There's something exciting about everyone pulling together to land that big client.

Sally Draper is particularly excited to spend the day at her Dad's office and watching her interact with the Sterling Cooper crew is priceless.  Being just a child, she lacks a filter and so she has no trouble talking to Joan about her breasts or to Stan about what he does with his girlfriend.

After working through the weekend everyone is ready, freshened up and dressed to impress, the conference room filled with anticipation and hope.  They've put in the work, it's time to see if it pays off.   Only, they discover that their "in" at American was just canned and they are no longer in the running to get the account.  Don sums it up aptly, telling the team that they have to deliver a stillborn baby.

Speaking of babies, as they are about to embark on the doomed meeting we cut to Father Gill in the confessional.  There, Anita decides to tell him about Peggy's out-of-wedlock baby.  There's no question she's not doing this because she wants god's forgiveness or needs to unburden herself.  She's doing this to spite Peggy.  She's the good Catholic girl who's done everything by the book, why is Peggy the one getting all the attention?

After the perfunctory meeting, Don is angry - Duck Phillips lost them an existing client (Mohawk) and failed to land a new client.  But, while Sterling Cooper didn't land the American Airlines account, and while they actually lost an account in the process, Roger has no regrets: 
Don't you love the chase? Sometimes it doesn't work out. Those are the stakes.
But when it does work out it's like having that first cigarette. Head gets all dizzy.
Your heart pounds, knees go weak. Remember that? Old business is just old business.
The place was alive, electric, as everyone bore down with one goal. It was exhilarating.  And the chase was fun, even if they failed to catch their prey this time.  And it echoes what Don said about advertising, which is also what can be said of relationships as well.  New is what's exciting.

It's unclear how much of this pep talk worked with Don and when he comes home from work, he looks spent.  He doesn't want to talk about it, he doesn't want to deal with anything.  Bobby acts up at dinner, ignoring Betty and accidentally spilling Sally's drink, and Betty again asks Don to do something about his son.  What happens when pressure builds and builds?  Eventually it explodes.  And that's what Don does, unleashing the anger that had been building at work.  Is that what Betty wants, he asks.  For him to bring the rage he keeps buried and throw it and everyone and everything around the house.  Betty wants him to co-parent with her, to be present in the house and take his role seriously.  But, Don can't fathom a middle point - where he doesn't disengage and where he doesn't explode.  This is another part of Don's past that he steers clear of.  He's so fearful of turning into his father, that he rather be emotionally unavailable - basically checked out - than risk being abusive.

Don has a heart-to-heart with Bobby about his own father and it's sweet and tender and the most open and vulnerable we've seen Don with anyone in the family.   It's certainly not an excuse for leaving disciplining up to Betty, nor making her feel like he's disconnected from his parental role, but it does help explain why Don wants to be the good dad who comes in, tousles hair, and jokes around.  It also lets both Betty, and the viewers, realize that there's a lot percolating just below the surface with Don - and that it can be dangerous taking the lid off.

The episode ends on the third Sunday, Easter, with Peggy and her family at the church where the children are enjoying an Easter Egg hunt.  Father Gill comes and talks to Peggy and she applauds him for his sermon and he thanks her for her help.  And just as she's feeling good about what she did, how she was able to help him, he hands her an egg and says it's for "the little one."  And Peggy realizes that she can't escape her past.


Betty is reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story Babylon Revisited an interesting choice for a number of reasons.  First, it could be asking you the viewer to revisit the Season 1 episode Babylon where Peggy first's comes to the attention of Freddy Rumsen as a girl with ideas, where Betty tries unsuccessfully to express her sadness over her mother's death, and where Don reconnects with Rachel Menken while drifting farther from Midge.  Second, it could be because of the story itself where after the Stock Market crash, the formerly affluent revisit their wastrel ways. Is this a warning that the good times will not last?

Don channels John Kennedy, who included the famous "ask not" phrase in his 1961 inaugural address, when he says "Ask not about Cuba, ask not about the bomb."  This was the acme of the country's hopefulness and optimism and Don was trying to connect with the country's focus on its future, rather than fear of the past.  It is of course a major theme in his life, to forget the past and always move forward.

There are interesting little touches - how the secretaries have to wait in line for their food, how they eye their former sister Peggy as she enjoys the benefit of her new position, and how formally people dressed even on the weekends.  There's also a nod to salary discrepancy with Joan noting that Sally makes more than the rest of them.  Sally's question to Stan, whether the black lady in the picture is his maid, also highlights the era and how interracial couples in the pre-Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) era were highly unusual.

We see Bert as the patriarch of the office and he's a bit of an oddball, so it's easy to think of him as innocuous.  But he shows a nasty side as he's willing to get a secretary fired when he mistakenly believes that she's dropped gum on the floor which has stuck to his argyle socks.  Duck shows how little bite he thinks there is backing Bert's bark as he tells the girl not to worry, that Bert won't remember firing her.

Sally spends a lot of time around alcohol, whether acting as bartender at home or sneaking some of the office staff's drinks at the office. 

Easy time stamp for the episode with Joan turning the calendar page to April 20, 1962.


Margaret: Brooks has other interests besides drinking.
Roger: That'll change.

Peggy: I can only speak for myself, but the sermon is the only part of Mass that's in English, and it's very hard to tell sometimes.

Bobbie Barrett: I was thinking how I could avoid getting bored with you.

Betty:  That's it? I said to him "Wait till your father gets home" and that's what he gets "Go to sleep?"

Betty:  You think you'd be the man you are today if your father didn't hit you?

Sally: You have big ones. My mommy has big ones, too, and I'm going to have big ones when I grow up.

Don:  I like to see us blowing up bridges behind us.

Don:  We got a lot of bricks, but I don't know what the building looks like.

Roger:  But I want everything I want.
Vicky: Isn't that the perfect thing to say.

Sally: Let's have a conversation.

Don:  There is no such thing as American history, only a frontier.

Duck:  Our job is to bend down the branch.  Let him pick the fruit.

Roger:  You wouldn't think dinner would be pushing it on the extras.

Anita:  It's a terrible sin, and she acts like it didn't even happen.

Don (on Duck): We hired him to bring in new business, not lose old business.

Don: You want me to bring home what I got at the office today? I'll put you through that window.

Bobby: We have to get you a new daddy.

Don:  He's a little kid.  My father beat the hell out of me.  All it did was make me fantasize about the day I could murder him.
Betty:  I didn't know that.
Don:  And I wasn't half as good as Bobby.

Spoilery observations.  (Don't read until you're caught up!):

This is not the last time the agency will be delivering a stillborn baby.  When Roger insults the Honda Execs. in Ep. 4.06 The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, they have to go into a pitch knowing that the client will not hire them.

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