Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mad Men Season 2, Episode 8: A Night to Remember

Betty blows off some steam by racing her horse to the point of exhaustion.  She later beats up an innocent chair.  She's got issues -- she knows that what Jimmy Barrett told her about their spouses is probably right -- but she's not ready to deal with that head on.  She's not the only one avoiding things.  Peggy goes to church because she feels she has to, but the new priest in town can tell she rather be somewhere else.  At Sterling Cooper, Harry would rather just do the job he envisioned when he created a media department than the daily grunge work that is actually involved.  Finally, Duck once again ignores that he has no ideas to contribute and Don ignores that Pete would actually be a better head of accounts than Duck.  By the end of the episode, everyone will face reality, right?

The horse got off easy after we see what Betty did to that poor chair.  She's not nervous about the dinner party, and she's not mad at the chair for wobbling, but this is many years before Lorena Bobbitt and she has no idea how to deal with her issues with Don directly.  So she lashes out at inanimate objects.

Peggy may not know her place in the congregation, but she knows where she stands professionally and when Father Gill asks for her help promoting a dance, she gives it.  She will not be bullied or cowed to softening the message - she knows what young girls want to see.  But she still agrees to hear what the people in charge of the dance have to say.  Of course, the clucking hens do bully her and force her to change the flyers.  They were too risque, the couples too close, the theme "a night to remember" too scandalous.

She comes up with a new, tamer approach, but Father Gill isn't done with trying to exert pressure on Peggy.  He uses their time to pester her about taking communion and otherwise confess her sins and ask for forgiveness.  I'm trying to pretend I'm at all interested in this storyline but failing miserably.  The only redeeming moment was Peggy's baptism in the bath at the end of the episode when you see how troubled she is by what the priest had said to her.  I also like how at the end of his day he pulls out his guitar, not to sing a traditional hymnal, but an old blues song asking god to lead him to the promised land. It reminds us that priests are people too.

Harry finds a goldmine in his efforts to get some help with his TV accounts.  Joan volunteers to read scripts and look for problems/opportunities.  She thrives under this additional responsibility and her creative juices provide some great results. Joan has a knack for this and she's thriving at having so much responsibility and room for creativity.   So, of course, in 1962, the buxom redhead who is doing a great job ... is passed over and the job is ultimately taken from her and given to a man.  It is a heartbreaking scene.  Harry doesn't mean to be a sexist jerk, but it never occurs to him that the best man for the job would be a woman.

Duck and Don spar a bit on how best to sell the Heineken clients.  Don suggests a strategy to get them into stores and Pete backs him up, but Duck is dubious.  For the millionth time, Duck is trying to sell Don on the client's ideas/concerns rather than be open-minded to Don's approach.  And Pete once again proves that he would have been a better choice for account manager than Duck.

The dinner party goes well.  Duck is a late addition and his sobriety wagon-riding makes the drinkers a bit uncomfortable, but he's there and that's what Roger wanted.  The guest of honor is Crab Colson, a friend of Don's, who is now with the PR firm Rogers and Cowan.  Roger and Mona are there and the Draper kids are their perfect selves, with Sally entertaining and Bobby being cute, until it's grownup time.  It's typical snooty bourgeois crap, the upper crust who drink too much and complain about how expensive their yachts are.  Duck, still trying to appear the teetotaler, doesn't engage in any pregame imbibing, while Crab's wife Petra is tipsy enough to walk into a wall and later fall off a chair.

So, as I was saying the dinner party goes well...until Duck notices that Betty is serving Heineken with dinner.  He figures Don must have put her up to it, to prove that his approach to Heineken is the right one (rich suburban wives will think it exotic, like Burgundy wine, and will buy it for the home). Betty is not amused and feels manipulated, a pawn in some game her husband is playing with this strange fellow from work.  She does not like to be played with like that.  As soon as the guests have left and Carla goes home for the night, Betty lays into Don.  And we the viewers know this has nothing to do with a social experiment or beer and everything to do with her knowing that Don is back to his cheating ways.

Finally, Betty lets it rip.  "I know about you and that woman."  Don's "whats?" have little effect on Betty, she knows what she knows and she knows that he'll deny, deny, deny.  He looks disgusted by her accusations, how could she even suggest he would sleep with "that woman?"  How could she believe what Jimmy Barrett said?  It's sickening watching just how well Don can spin lies and act like he believes what he's saying.  But for once, Betty is not buying it, she's not going to bury her head in the sand any more. "You embarrassed me."  She says it twice, for effect.  She's using active words and putting the blame squarely on his shoulders; it's something of a turning point for Betty who typically acts more like Don's child than his wife.  She knows not to engage Don in a debate, that he'd probably win and deflect attention from the truth. 

The next day Betty, zombie-like, can barely get through the day.  You see an empty bottle of wine on the nightstand and an empty wine bottle on the floor. She rifles through all of Don's pockets, looking for some evidence and the lack of any evidence only manages to make things worse.  Not only is he cheating, he's going out of his way to make sure she never finds out.  He's meticulous about his cheating.  But now she knows, so she has to do something about it.  By the end of the next day, she tells Don not to come home.

Don, the consummate salesman, who can pitch anything to anyone, can't sell Betty on the idea that he's a loving, faithful husband.  She's starting to realize that everything about Don being part of an act, a sales pitch of one form or another, even if she doesn't realize the scope of this.  She sees all the scraps of notes he has in his desk drawer symbolizing that wherever he is, whatever he's doing, he's busy thinking of an angle.  She doesn't feel that Don has any genuine feelings for her, at least no loving ones.  She doesn't see how Don compartmentalizes his life and puts inconvenient truths out of his mind.  He probably really does love her, as much as he can love anyone or anything at this point.  But he does not see that lying to her and cheating on her obliterates the love .


Don says, of housewives as a potential market for Heineken, "They can buy this sophisticated beer and proudly walk it into the kitchen instead of hiding it in the garage."  That harkens back to Season One when Don was drinking beer that they kept in a fridge in the garage rather than in the kitchen.

It's so sad to see Joan as the pretty bird who should just fluff her feathers, or at least set the table and grab her husband his water.  Greg wants the barefoot and pregnant wife, lounging on the sofa eating bonbons.  He'll settle for the office manager who "walked around with people staring at you."  But someone who reads scripts and comes up with ideas, that's not for his Joanie.  It's not just Harry and Greg who don't consider Joan for the job.  When Roger hears she's been the one helping Harry, it never crosses his mind that she should have the new job either.

Don's face during the meeting with the Heineken execs is priceless.  As Duck goes on and on about Don's beautiful, educated, perfect wife, and as the exec mentions how well Don seems to know his wife, you see just a hint that things are in a very fragile state between Don and Betty.  Also, when Don asks the execs, "Why would I lie?" we know the answer.  It's what Don does.

Cute moments: Peggy pretending to be her secretary when Father Gill called; Roger standing at the closed door of his office waiting for Harry to get it, the secretary's double take upon seeing a priest at the copy machine.  I also like the subtle bit where Pete stands in Don's office after hearing about the dinner party that he wasn't invited to and looks at Don, perhaps waiting for an invitation. Instead, Don looks at him, shrugs as if to ask why Pete is still there, and then Pete forlornly leaves.

Literary references:

Peggy mentions Horatio Hornblower and Moby Dick.  HH tells the story of a naval officer who rises from poverty to the top of his profession.  MD deals with issues of class and social status, good and evil, and obsession, fate and freewill.


Father Gill: I see you at church, but you don't seem very comfortable.

Harry:  There are things to do that I didn't know were my job.
Ken:  How could that be? You made that job up.

Ken:  You need someone to lay down on the barbed wire so you can run over them.

Roger:  Crab, Duck. Duck, Crab.

CYO rep:  I don't like the way they're dancing.  They're too close together.  Maybe leave some room for the Holy Ghost.

Peggy:  You're supposed to tell them that they should trust me.  That's your job.

Greg: I thought you just walked around with people staring at you.

Betty:   You just do whatever you want, and I put up with it because nobody knows.

Don: I don't want to lose all this.

Father Gill: There is no sin too great to bring to God. You can reconcile yourself with him and have a whole new start.


Years later when we wonder why Joan dislikes Harry, and why Joan is generally so pissed off about the hurdles she has to climb to get anything at the office, we can remember back to this slight.  She obviously had a knack for the job and should have been considered for it.  Instead, she was relegated back to the secretarial world where Harry thought she belonged. But Joan will fight to take a place at the boardroom for many years to come.


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