Mad Men: What's Going On?

Stefanie said:

"Seeing this group of men and women react with such immaturity to such a grave event was jolting."

Richard, if I could re-title this episode, I think I'd call it “Babysitting.' And I'm not talking about hangin' out with Sally or Bobby or even Roger Sterling's now-wedded offspring and watching Disney movies and braiding their hair. Nope. I'm talking about the adults. This episode opened up another Pandora's Box 'the Kennedy assassination that you so astutely predicted would ruin Margaret Sterling's wedding ' and it made whatever lingering ambivalence we may have had about the characters abundantly clear. Betty is a baby. Pete is a baby. Peggy, Roger ' both babies.

I have a disclaimer: I did not experience the horror and shock of the Kennedy assassination. I'm too young ' and perhaps desensitized to it. My generation's equivalents are probably Princess Diana's death and, of course, 9/11. I remember where I was on both of those days. So seeing this group of men and women react with such immaturity to such a grave event was ... jolting, to say the least. Thankfully, each had his or her own 'Å“better half' to talk them down from the proverbial ledge ' Pete had the surprisingly stoic Trudy, Roger had Joan, Betty had her silver-haired fox, and Peggy had Duck. These better halves emerged, then, as the 'grown-ups' to which the title of the episode refers ' but where does that leave Don Draper and Jane Sterling? Perhaps ... their futures are unclear? No way! That would be silly.

Maturity levels aside, it was quite fascinating to see how the news spread and how people reacted. I know that Betty's reaction ' that she couldn't stop crying ' was not uncommon to the time. In fact, it was refreshing to see her let loose a little and display some of her better parenting skills, like letting the children actually watch the news. Once Don came in, switched off the TV, and covered every little corner of the problem in his signature salve, it was clear how much of a change had taken place in both of them ' and how vital next week's season finale will be to the story of the Draper marriage.

Joan's story was also rather delicious. It's obvious that she's unhappy, it's obvious that she enjoys reconnecting with Roger, and it's obvious that she's still the rock she always was. She is the definition of clutch — she can think of an ad campaign on the fly, MacGyver a tourniquet, and comfort a powerful man after another powerful man has been shot. Roger even says to her, “Nobody else is saying the right thing about this.� But to have Joan transition from ho-hum Greg to long-lost love Roger so quickly would be too smooth. Too easy. Too un-Mad Men. There have to be some rocky points in the future of this love triangle. What do you think, Richard?

I can’t decide if Pete’s going to go off the deep end right away, or if he’s going to move on to Duck’s hep-cat firm, kick ass and take names, find out about Duck and Peggy, and then go off the deep end. Trudy’s been more of a pillar presence in his life than ever before, which is refreshing, but can she handle Even More Emotionally Tormented Pete?

And, finally, Peggy. She’s got a savory little dilemma on her hands, sleepin’ with the competition and whatnot. I’m still not so sure what she sees in Duck — their relationship is frustratingly underdeveloped, as is the tension between Peggy and Pete this season. Also, I have a hard time believing Duck’s character. He’s one of those old guys who insists on regaining his youth with twentysomething women and a little too much jive talk. Regardless of Peggy’s taste in men, though, she’s definitely in a pickle that will prove difficult to get out of — and will make for good television.

Now, if we could just round up Sal in the season finale, all would be right in the world.

Richard said:

"I hope they go running and don't look back."

Stefanie, I think you're right about this episode and its somewhat mysterious title. Who were the grownups here? Where were they? Like you said, we did indeed find adults, or at least adult-like behavior, in Joan and in Betty's dashing-yet-sad-eyed paramour. That wasn't terribly surprising. Joan has always known more than everyone else--it's her loneliness being out there on the forefront and her desperate attempts to reach back and be part of the gang that have made her something of a tragic figure on this show. And Betty's older would-be lover swooped in just at the right time, when she was missing her father, when she needed some kind of stern-but-loving male attention that Don was incapable of giving her. So yeah, those two folks are implicitly two of the "grown-ups" being discussed in this episode, I think. But you know who else became grownups in the most surprising way? Pete and Trudy.

I absolutely adored the scene with sullen, bewildered Pete planted on the sofa, unwilling to go to Margaret Sterling's wedding--unwilling, really, to keep up the whole soul-gnawing rococo charade of his life when everything, the very fabric of the country, had suddenly and irrevocably changed. There was a true glimmer of awakening in those budding progressive words he spoke--about the coldness of corporate culture, about politics and money. And there was Trudy next to him--these sad little sailors in their said little boat bobbing sadly along alone together--having tiny epiphanies herself. Pete was right. This pretend life is stupid and hollow and provides no comfort or support when things bottom out beneath you. I certainly don't think they found the key to their happiness last night, but I think they both finally turned down the right road. Here I was thinking Peggy would be the only person to get out, but now here's Pete. I loved his sudden and budding maturity, the way he just sort of cracked and finally realized that none of the things he's been so upset about for the past few years really mean anything. It was a terrific little rescue of a sometimes irredeemable character. I hope it sticks.

Other than that, I have to say I was left a little unsatisfied by the rest of the episode. Or not unsatisfied maybe, but not as riveted as I thought I would be. I mean, we've been waiting for this event all season, the Kennedy assassination, and then here it was. Just sort of here. But you know what? Now that I type that and think about it, maybe that was the point. It wasn't some sensational, rabble-rousing episode, it was just another slice of life. Like Joan said, people were still sick, babies were still getting born. Time lurched on and that was that. There were brief moments that felt like sea-changes, like Carla unabashedly lighting up on the Drapers' couch or Betty whining and raging about a quickly-changing world that she just couldn't understand. (Will she step into this brave new world or let it march away without her? We'll have to wait and see.) But other than that it was just these still same people mired in their dying lives. This increasingly empty party, everyone moving up to closer tables, huddling around their dwindling primordial flame while bonfires began to flicker into life outside, without them, surrounded by younger (or at least younger-minded) people. This older generation, this particular set of people who are grown (up), is just there on its ice floe, floating away.

And maybe that's been Mad Men's chief thrust this season. Painting a picture of this option. To stay stubborn and conservative in the past or to grab a hold and participate. And I don't just mean big-picture socially. I mean in small ways too. Does Don listen to the progressive and wild-eyed Teacher and try to dig out the root of his sadness, to try to feel some hope for his life and the world at large? Does he stop trying to figure out what blue is for other people and enjoy his own color? Does Betty finally admit to herself that there are things, big important life-sized things, she's always wanted and hasn't gotten? Do Joan and Roger just cut the bullshit and tumble back into each other, where they belong, or do they stay unhappy but polished? Do Peggy and Pete realize their invaluable place in the world of Mad Men--that they're smart, young people who don't have to be left behind, who don't have to conform to some old institution they don't understand and don't like in equal measure? In the case of both of them, but especially Peggy, there's Duck. This older guy who became, like you said, a turtlenecked hep-cat, who saw some new thing on the horizon and said "Me want." Duck who is, yes, brash and silly and a bit dumb, but so are kids! So is the future of everything, all nascent and fumbling and Bambi-legged. Better to be wrapped up in that, to be on that rickety lifeboat, than put on your best furs and go down with the Titanic. Isn't it? I hope they leave Sterling Cooper, I hope they go running and don't look back.

I don't know. I'm curious about next week, for sure, but I'm also curious about the future of the show. Things are gonna be really different. And I'm just not sure our central guy, our wounded hero Don, is really going to be able to hack it anymore. He's so dark--literally, has spent a lot of time in the dark this season--and so retreated into himself that I just worry he might be a casualty. Sort of historical collateral damage. Eggs broken to make an American omelet. I don't know. I'm rambling.

In the words of Betty Draper, just what is going on?


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