Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Mad Men Season 3, Episode 9: Wee Small Hours

Betty may have told Francine that she was done with politics and we may have taken that to mean she was done with the man who was her political savior, but her dreams reveal something else. While in the arms of Morpheus, Betty imagines herself in a romantic seduction with Henry Francis.  Then the phone rings and snaps her back into the reality of domestic life, with clients who call at all hours and wake up the baby.

It's Conrad Hilton on the phone, of course, expecting Don to be awake and ready to work for him no matter the hour.  He talks about God and God's plan and that somehow dovetails into how to properly market the Hilton hotels in New York and beyond.  Because of course God speaks to Conrad Hilton and cares about his properties.  Connie tells Don his plans and offers him a chance at his international business.  He wants to spread Hiltons everywhere, like missions.  "I want a Hilton on the moon," he tells Don.  There was nothing concrete to come out of the call, but Don decided he couldn't go back to sleep so he decided to go into work - in the wee small hours - and start brainstorming for Connie.

As Don drives through the neighborhood, however, he sees Suzanne Farrell, Sally's teacher and the object of some extramarital interest.  She's out for a morning run, but agrees to get in Don's car for part of the trip.   They talk about Dr. King's recent speech, about school starting back, and about why she runs.  At her drop off, Don invites her to coffee but she politely declines.

At the office, Allison is startled to find Don on the couch of his office where he's already dictated a letter to Connie who he thinks was heading off to Europe, but Connie is a restless soul who changes his plans like Don changes nicely pressed white shirt.  Back at home, Betty is writing a letter of her own.  Henry Francis is still on Betty's mind.  She writes to him, first to find out if their conversation would be private.  And then, as the letters continue, to talk about her feelings.

Don is particularly tense as he and his copywriters brainstorm pitches for Hilton. He's snippy with them and it's clear the stress of putting together something great to present to Connie is getting to him.  He hates everything they show him, including a tag line that he had come up with, and he tells them to get back to work and be more creative and more productive.

A different group is working on shooting a commercial for Lucky Strike.  Poor Pete Campbell has to pretend to be a smoker while the client is at the office and his hacking cough punctuates the scene.  Salvatore Romano has been given the job of directing the commercial and has to deal with Lee Garner, Jr., a spoiled rich kid living in his father's shadow who believes he's smarter and more talented than he is.  His ideas are pretty bad and Sal has to walk a fine line between coddling the client and letting him ruin the commercial.  But that's not the biggest problem with Lee.  Lee makes a pass at Sal when they're alone and Sal immediately recoils.   Sal tries to brush it off - Lee has the wrong idea, he's a married man. Lee quips, so is he.  Sal does his best to let Lee down easily, we're at work, you have me wrong.  But Lee won't let this go as a simple misunderstanding or polite rejection.

While Sal is trying to remain faithful to his marital vows, Betty is breaking hers - in her heart if not her body.  She's writing and receiving (almost) daily letters to Henry and exposing herself to him as she doesn't to anyone else.  It's so much easier for her to handle the monotonous life as a suburban housewife of a distracted husband with this mystery man in whom she can confide.

Lee Garner goes from the editing room to his hotel room, with a stop to get hammered, before calling up Harry Crane.  He tells Harry to pull Sal off his account - "get rid of him."  Harry tries to back out, saying he doesn't have that power, he can't fire Sal.  He even butters up Lee as best he can, but poor Harry has no idea that he's in the middle of a losing proposition.  Lee wants Sal gone and doesn't want to or feel the need to explain himself to anyone.

At the Draper household the phone is ringing and it's Conrad Hilton and when he says jump, Don jumps as high as humanly  possible.  They meet for drinks a little past midnight.  Connie says he called Don because he's "in a bit of a crisis."  His idea of crisis is not the same as the rest of us.  His is an all-consuming fear that his business, his hotels, will not be the most successful and world-changing hotels ever.  He is desperate for a level of success that makes Hilton the number one brand not just in the world, but beyond this world.  "It's my purpose in life to bring America to the world, whether they like it or not," he tells Don.  This is a similar pitch to the one he made earlier, that America is what's good in the world and it's his god-given duty to spread that goodness everywhere.

The most important thing to come out of their talk is Connie confiding in Don about how important Don is to him.  He calls him his angel.  He says Don is more than a son to him, because he didn't have the opportunities his real children have had and he understands what it's like to come from nothing.  Don, who had a terrible relationship with his own father, must have felt his heart swell hearing these words.  He leaves wanting, needing, to do a good job to live up to all of Connie's faith in him.

A couple days after Lee Garner called Harry and told him to fire Sal, Lee comes into the Sterling Draper offices only to find Sal sitting at the conference table.  He takes one look at Sal and storms out, leaving Roger confused.  Harry tells him about his phone call from Lee and how he had hoped the whole thing would blow over.  If anything, Harry managed to make things worse and now Lee is pissed, Sal is nervous and Roger's about to have a stroke.  Roger needs to fix this but passes the buck to Don.  The two are not speaking, not since Roger called Betty about the contract, and Roger decides to put this on Don's plate to fix.

Don berates Harry for potentially killing off their biggest client and sends him off to update his resume and then Don asks Sal what happened to cause Lee to want to fire him.  Sal tells Don how a drunk Lee propositioned him and rather than getting an understanding ear - a response more consitent with Don's reaction to discovering Sal was gay in episode one - Sal is humiliated.  Don basically tells him he should have taken one for the team and later dismisses Sal with an insulting "you people."  Don pretended that their little secret was forgotten, but it tainted his view of Sal as a promiscuous homosexual who wouldn't possibly find the advances of a man unwelcome.  It must have been devastating for Sal to be seen that way by someone he thought understood him.

We see Sal putting together his portfolio as he prepares to leave Sterling Cooper.  His assistant says goodnight, boss, and Sal looks at all the great work he's done and starts to cry.  Later in the episode, we see him, apparently in New York's gay district, calling his wife to say he'll be working late.

Don comes home after a long day of trying to make Conrad Hilton happy while not losing the firm's biggest client to Betty wanting to talk about hosting a campaign fundraiser at their house.  Don is all, sure, whatever, but Carla can't help but notice how Betty makes a point to connect her visit earlier in the day from Henry Francis with the dinner party.  She knows how it looked for her to be hosting a single man in the middle of the day, so she tells Don about the visit in front of Carla.  And if Carla read any Shakespeare, she's thinking the lady doth protest too much.  She goes on with the ruse by calling up Henry and "confirming" the date for the fundraiser, all within earshot of Don.

It's time for the presentation to Conrad Hilton.  How to lure the American traveler abroad - and to Hilton properties specifically.  His pitch - one word that promises the thrill of international travel with the comfort of home: Hilton.  It's a good pitch, that wherever you go, you can find a Hilton to make you feel at home.  Connie seems to like it. He says it's good, friendly, draws you in.  Then he looks at Don and says, as serious as a heart attack, but what about the moon.  Remember that off-handed idea Connie pitched him earlier in the episode, "I want a Hilton on the moon?"  Turns out, he wasn't kidding.

Just that quickly, Connie goes from praising Don to scolding him.  "I couldn't have been more clear about it."  The love and pride he shows at the immediate end of the pitch turns on a dime to deep disappointment.  It's a typical abusive relationship set up - build someone up, bring them close, then knock them down.  And it completely deflated Don.  As he fights for his campaign, and his dignity, he gets nothing in return from Connie other than the clear message that he failed.  And that the love that he has extended to Don as a lure - you're my angel, you're like a son to me - was an illusion.

Betty storms into Henry Francis' office after he was a no show at the fundraiser.  He explains that he wanted her to come to him since she's the married one and they kiss and then Betty puts on the brakes.  She's obviously very attracted to and interested in Henry but she doesn't want a tawdry affair.  He asks what she does want, but Betty doesn't know.

Don has had a crappy day.  He was built up and then knocked down by his brand new father figure, he was indirectly blamed for and directly ordered to fix the firm's recently client problems.  And Don does not deal well with things going poorly.  So he leaves his wife in the middle of the night under the ruse of having to go in for Hilton and he heads over to the school teacher with whom he's been flirting for weeks.

Despite the fact that he's married, that she used to be his daughter's teacher, and she lives just two miles from his home, he wants her and that's all that matters.  She knows he's done this before and she knows it won't end well but she wants it too.


Betty isn't the only one who wants what she wants when she wants it.  The only difference between her and Lee Garner, Conrad Hilton and her own husband is she doesn't know what she wants.  She's clearly in love with Henry Francis, yet unwilling to let it go beyond surreptitious phone calls and letters.  She's still caught up in how things look and in 1963 married women don't just run off and have affairs.   But more than that, what she wants has nothing to do with power and everything to do with love.  But in the other examples, the men are guided by the need to control someone else (or help them cope with feelings of powerlessness).

In the car, we hear the news playing excerpts of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream Speech" that he made on August 28, 1963.  Later in the episode we see Carla listening to his eulogy for the children who were killed in a bombing at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church which was delivered on September 18th.

There is some discussion on race relations and the struggle for equality in this episode, with some at the political fundraiser talking about segregation in the south and its fundamental unfairness.  Betty tells Carla, in light of the recent murders, that maybe now isn't the time to fight.  It's a stark reminder that someone educated and well-meaning could be so out of touch.  But more telling is the dichotomy between the words of support for integration down south and the sight of de facto segregation - at the office, at the home, everywhere.  "Carla works for me, not you," Bobby is told, and we're all reminded - as Carla helps Betty with her alibi or takes the coats of the women at the fundraiser - that Carla is just the help.

In the scene where Don gives the Hilton pitch, Conrad Hilton is wearing a purple suit.  Purple is often associated with royalty and Connie had referred to himself earlier in a conversation with Don as King Midas.  At that moment, he is the king talking down to one of his subjects.

Connie says he doesn't like the sound of Hamburger and Hilton.  Maybe he was prescient, because Hamburger Hill became the name of a bloody battle of the Vietnam War.

The song playing as Suzanne and Don sleep was not "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" as one might have imagined from the episode's title.   Instead, it was a 2001 cover of Duke Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss."


Betty: 'I want what I want when I want it.' And you don't care what it does to the rest of us - like someone else I know.

Connie: America is wherever we look, wherever we're going to be.
Don: That's very good, Connie. 
Connie:  You're the one who said that to me.
Don:  Well, I guess it's not that memorable.

Don: Now that I can finally understand you, I'm even less impressed with what you have to say.

Harry: I'm not going to panic and do something stupid like I usually do.

Connie: After all the things we threw at Khrushchev, You know what made him fall apart? He couldn't get into Disneyland.

Connie: You did not give me what I wanted.  I'm deeply disappointed, Don.  
Don: This is a great campaign.  
Connie: Fine. What do you want from me? Love? Your work is good. But when I say I want the moon, I expect the moon.

Don: I want you... Doesn't that mean anything to someone like you?

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

Here, Don tells Sal that he shouldn't have rejected Lee's advances. The client was too big, too important, so he should have just agreed to whatever Lee wanted.  In the future, when the Jaguar executive wants Joan and the boys at the firm want her to take one for the team, it is Don who tells her not to do it.  Did he have a change of heart or learn something from Sal's situation, or was this a sign that his reaction to Sal was based on homophobia (that he didn't respect Sal's sexuality the way he respected Joan's)?  When Sal asked him what if it were a girl, Don said, it depended on the girl and what he knew about her.  But he knew Joan was no saint, yet he still protected her.

Lee Garner was a bully and losing Lucky Strikes almost did "shut off their lights."  We see escalations of his boorish behavior culminating in his dismissal of Roger and all along the way we see how the were so desperate not to lose him as a client they would put up with anything.

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