Monday, October 19, 2009

Memories and Ink

Mad Men, Season Three, Episode Ten, "The Color Blue"

Perhaps it's because I also saw "Cats" this weekend and "Memories--all alone in the moonlight" keeps flitting through my brain, but Paul's Chinese memories and faint ink proverb seems to me an even richer lens through which to view Episode 10 than "the color blue" of the title. Yes, the various characters' divergent perspectives on events was certainly important. And what a glimpse into the workings of Don's mind to hear his response to the wise ponderings of Miss Farrell's student. ("People may see things differently, but they don't want to"? Statistics on exactly what percentage of the population sees the same color when looking at the same object?) Of course we can never be sure that the blue we see is the same blue anyone else sees, just like Suzanne can never be sure that the affair she sees is the same one Don is having. The husband Betty thinks she has--with all the flaws she grants him--will never be the same husband stored away in that box in the newly unlocked drawer. The Peggy Paul views as he's yelling at her following their first meeting with Don is not the same Peggy he gazes wonderingly at after she's pulled a positively brilliant campaign idea out of the wreckage of his drunken memory lapse. (Go, Peggy! My girl is back!) Lane and his wife see different New Yorks when they look out the window of their traffic-bound car with blue neon lights reflected off the window and, while Roger looks at Jane in their car and sees his wife, his very funny mother sees a woman who must be his daughter. ("Does Mona know?" The episode didn't offer much in the way of laughs, but old Mrs. Sterling is a hoot!)

So, yes, the eight-year-old's question about perceiving blue points me into one set of observations. But, I really like Paul's conjuring up the proverb about the faintest ink being stronger than a memory. As snobby and pretentious as he is, he can be very insightful when he wants to be. While Paul may think that he's fragile memory's victim of the week, I have to give that prize to Betty. She's stored up ten years of memories of her marriage--good and bad: memories she's used to construct this relationship and the image of the husband around whom she's built her life for a decade. Now she finds out that those memories mean less than the ink on the papers and photographs she's found. The box's contents provide her with something more solid than memories. But, what will she do with this knowledge? How will she use it to reconstruct her life? Is this the opportunity she's been waiting for? (And I've been wanting for her.) What will she do with it? Until she figures that out, though, she's stuck with Don's construction of their marriage and with his construction of her as nothing more than a showpiece: "I want to show you off, Bets" and, to the kids, "Look how pretty Mommy is." Don, who thinks he can quantify the world and people's perceptions of it, but who is so trapped in his own set of illusions, he can't see the train wreck that seems to be looming in his future: an affair with a woman so close to home who does not know how to be a discreet mistress; a newly-forged alliance with Suzanne's unstable brother (I take it that Don's compensating for not helping his own brother when that brother so desperately reached out to him); another Sterling Cooper sale. Don keeps obsessively going back to his box--a tacit recognition that if we haven't captured something on paper that it's gone--whether that be our ideas or our identities?

Memories, perceptions, illusions: they were all captured so well in Roger's set of lies as he introduced Don at the anniversary dinner: "loyal, charming, quiet but not modest" indeed. Don accepted, smiling broadly, aiming for--but missing--modesty, Betty's eyes shooting darts at him from her end of the table . He might think that everyone wants to see things the same way he does--but he's wrong.

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