Sunday, November 1, 2009

The World a Mirror

Mad Men, Season Three, Episode Twelve, "The Grown Ups"

Another wow this week! I was only two-and-a-half when President Kennedy was shot, so have no memory of it. But this episode really threw me right into the middle of what it must have felt like to need to sit in front of the television for hours--for days. It was a way to connect with others in the country. A way to process what was going on. I've never liked Pete and Trudy, but as he refused to go to the Sterling wedding ("It's one thing to go there and pretend I don't hate them. It's another to go there and pretend the president hasn't been murdered." Great line.) and we see them curled together on the couch two days in a row talking things over with each other, I liked them. They seemed--at least for a short time--to be maturing into "the grown ups" of the title.

And the assassination seemed to make equals of Betty and Carla--for at least a short period of time. When the two sat on the couch together, crying, and Carla lit up a cigarette (we've never seen her smoke) as Betty had, they were united. Just two women together, watching a tragic event reported.

But it's the way the show pulled off the merging of personal and national tragedies so effortlessly that was stunning. When Betty jumps up in shock after viewing Lee Harvey Oswald's murder live on TV and cries out, "What is going on?!" she's railing at the chaos and disintegration not only of the country's life, but of her own life and marriage. As my husband noted, a national illusion was shattered when "Camelot" was destroyed and the illusion of Betty's marriage was shattered with the discovery of the box. She tells Don, when he comes home on the 22nd, that she "can't stop crying." Perhaps the assassination was an event on just such a scale that allowed Betty--who's often so cold--to access a depth of emotion usually unavailable to her. As she sat captive to the television set, no make up, dressed only in a bathrobe well into the middle of the day, she seemed to feel things for the dead President that then morphed into feelings about Don's betrayals that she'd not been able to express before. The question is: has she finally become a grown up too, using this event to acquire insight into the reality of her feelings for Don and her marriage and what she must do with her life? Or is she making the mistake of crafting a huge decision at such a traumatic and emotional time? (Please don't jump into a marriage with Henry Francis! In past episodes, he's seemed more grown up about his and Betty's relationship--such as it is--but tonight not so much, declaring his desire to marry a woman he barely knows. Come on!)

Neither Betty nor Don has been happy in their marriage. So, being honest about that and telling Don, "I don't love you" is a huge step for this woman who for so long kept her head buried in the sand. Part of me applauded her--though her timing was lousy. Yet Don looked so stricken as he walked into their bedroom that my heart ached for him. We've seen a lot of genuine emotion from Don in the past few weeks. His first scene tonight: holding baby Gene in the rocker in the dark, looking down at him tenderly was such a vulnerable moment. He's the better parent. What would a divorce do to him and his affection for his children? What what it do to the children? But, Don needs something to pull his head out of the sand. It was classic Don to tell Betty, "Everything's going to be fine." It wasn't classic Betty to challenge him: "How do you know that?" Indeed. He wanted the children not to be watching coverage of the assassination and when Betty seemed upset, suggested she "take a pill and lie down." But Betty seems unwilling to "take these pills" anymore. What will Don do with Betty's new clarity and unwillingness to hide? And what is the nature of his caring? Last year, while he was living in the hotel after Betty found out about the affair with Bobbie, Don told Roger that he wasn't unhappy about it--and seemed to mean it. But, then he begged Betty to take him back in that beautifully written letter. Does Don, after years of uncomfortably being both Dick Whitman and Don Draper, have a "split personality": Dick, who needs the security and love of home and family that he never got as a child, so clings to Betty for that; and Don, who must constantly re-create himself and not put down roots, who needs to roam from woman to woman so his identity will never be discovered? What does he feel for his marriage? Can he really believe--as the ending song conveys--that "it's the end of the world" that Betty no longer loves him? Will this confrontation finally force him to become a grown up?

Other observations: Roger seems to be growing up as well. He and Mona can be civil to each other and his phone call to Joan was adult-to-adult not lecherous older man to sexy young woman. They're truly friends. For him to need to talk to her at this time was touching. "No one else is saying the right thing about this." I wonder what he would think was the right thing. It was interesting, too, that Joan offered the explicit reflection on how the rest of the world did go on--and the tragedy in Dallas was just one of many that day. That hospital in Dallas, she knows, wasn't the only one to which people were brought in emergencies, in which people died, in which relatives mourned. It was a large-scale reflection of what goes on all over. And, sadly, just a precursor of more assassinations and deaths in war and chaos to come as the decade grinds on. And this show is such a truly wonderful way to have it all reinterpreted for us.


  1. I was almost 4 yrs. old when JFK was shot and I vaguely remember it. But I do remember 'grown ups' being locked on to the television set for days, a strong shift in daily focus, and a heaviness in the air. While watching this episode, it reminded me of the reaction to the events on Sept. 11. People then too were locked on to the TV, felt a need to connect with important people in our lives (especially the suddenly re-important), and were unable to go through normal daily events. For many, such a jarring event seems to bring repressed emotions to the surface. It was clear in last night's episode that this national event may have changed the lives of individuals as much as it did our country.
    Drama seems to get cranked up toward the end of a season. I wonder if Don and Betty may be at a point of no return. His reaction was to trench up in family, she refused his comfort. They just can't seem to get in sync--wanting to stay married at the same time.
    Did anyone find Rodger's comment to Jane odd--after she got mad and locked her self in a room--when he asked about 'killing herself'? Why did he react that way? Were they trying to show that she wasn't acting like a grown up? Or was is foreshawdowing?
    Lastly, I started to warm to Pete and Trudy too. But I can't help think that the writers are going to 'do something' to Trudy--kill her, write her off for a while--because she's part of the ensemble cast of Community, and that show is very popular (check it out, it's funny, especially for 2 year college instructors). Plus there's a lot to revisit with Pete and Peggy.
    2 more left! What will I do?!

  2. Only one more left, Tricia! What are we to do? The thirteen episode season is so short--too short. But, one thing it seems to do--at least on the good shows with high quality writing--is force the writers to capture so much in the way of plot and character development, emotional impact, and story arc in a short time. It forces them to be even better than they are--and in the case of this team, that's damn good!

    The whole thing with Roger and Jane was weird, I thought. Last week, he seemed to have realized that she was THE ONE--even turning down the advances of another woman. This week, yes, I think part of the point was to drive home that he is married to someone who's not a grown up. Perhaps the only humor in an otherwise highly wraught episode was him walking into their bedroom after the wedding with her slung over his shoulder and his line about Kennedy being so good looking and now she'll never be able to vote for him. He married someone below voting age (which was 21 at the time)! But, he then had to phone a former lover to talk with someone who might understand whatever his feelings were about the assassination. So, yes, I think part of the scene with her locking herself in the other room was to show her childishness, but it was an odd comment about suicide. Has she threatened to kill herself before? She stormed out of the room like a petulant teenager--"I get to do whatever I want!" Her advice on marriage to her stepdaughter was revealing too: I don't have my notes with me now, but something about doing whatever he wants and dressing sexy. How 1950s! Or Marabel Morgan--advising women to wrap themselves in saran wrap.

  3. Sorry, I didn't proofread my former comment well enough. I know Jane made the comment about not ever being able to vote for JFK.

  4. I think when Roger spoke of THE ONE he was speaking of Joan. I know he turned down the advances of his long-time-ago girlfriend, and someone who broke his heart, by saying he couldn't do that, "not this girl." And for awhile I thought that those two moments together meant that Jane was the one. But I think it's Joan and that there's going to be more on that story line. Too bad we have to wait til next season.

  5. Interesting, Tricia. We have seen him have phone conversations with Joan recently. That could be how they keep her in--though I hope it's through more than just a relationship with Roger. Roger does seem like he's learned something about her--and their relationship since they broke up. He might deserve her more now. I'd wish better for her, but almost anybody's better than the husband she has now. I certainly like her a lot more than Jane--which isn't hard since I don't like Jane at all.

  6. So...last night was hard for me. I was a bit older than Sally - sixth grade - when Kennedy was assasinated. The memories of people gathered around the television set - my mother, too, saw Oswald killed on live television - were disturbing.
    Equally disturbing was the death of the Draper marriage. Last week, after Don's confession, I thought - hmm, maybe? Betty's tears during the Kennedy murder were jarring, given the fact she did not shed a single tear for her own father's death. Don's face when she told him she didn't love him anymore was tragic. Was he thinking - of course you don't love me now that you know I'm Dick Whitman?
    I'm a little worried about Don next week.
    Pete and Trudy were a pleasant surprise - and does anyone give a better toast than Roger? "Mona, you're a lioness - thanks for not eating your cub?".
    Tricia, like you I thought Roger's comment about "killing yourself" to Jane was jarring.
    But I thought his phone call with Joan was lovely ----like last week. Could Roger be growing up after all?

  7. I was surprised, Mary, at how disturbing I found what seems to be the death of the Draper marriage. I was thinking this afternoon about how last season I was hoping she would divorce him and now that it looks like it really might happen, I feel so bad for him. A tribute, I think, to how much more of Don's always complex personality and character has played out this season. While I've found him intriguing since the beginning, hateful at times, sexy and interesting and despicable and all that, now I really care about him too. It took three seasons, but I finally really care about the main character of this show. And, while earlier this season, I hated Betty, I now have a lot more empathy for her too. I'd like for her to grow up and figure her life out and learn to be a good mother as well as a person in her own right. It's sad that what might be best for each is not what the other wants.

  8. Last week I would have said, "best M/M ever," but this week topped it. Last week, for me, was all about hope--the hope that each of these bleak marriages/relationships could turn around. Don finally being authentic and vulnerable with Betty (his calling her Bets kills me because before I became Elizabeth at 40, I was Betty and frequently Bets--a name you rarely hear, but out of that gorgeous mouth mmmm--but I digress)

    I hoped she would see the wounded man behind the polished exterior and learn to love him. Joanie stood up to creepy MD. Suzanne (anyone remember that Leonard Cohen song?) showed good judgment and stayed out of the house. We saw through Roger's cynicism to the hurt young man and actually began to like him. Everything--like 1963 before the assassination, looked hopeful.

    And then last night, everything fell apart. All illusions shattered. No, Betty can't love Don because he's a real man, flawed, hurting, and deceitful, not an illusory prince like Henry (please!) How in the world a woman could have resisted that look in his eye when they were dancing? But then Betty's not a woman (grown-up) A grownup would comfort her children rather than ignore them or scold them which are her only two MOs. Remember how she adored her husband in Rome just a few weeks ago? But now, not so much. Yes, she's grieving the death of her father (finally) and her marriage, but instead of dealing with it, she's off to another "prince."

    The happy marriage of Roger? No way--he married his daughter. Of course, his "one" is Joanie, and nothing will ever happen between them.

    I don't share your new view of Trudy and Pete. Their condescending judgement of everyone else's response to the assassination and his usual self-pity bonded them. And there's no doubt that he'd have gone to the wedding if he hadn't just gotten demoted. Can't stand those two.

    On a more personal note, unlike you young 'uns, I vividly remember those days. I was sitting on the couch reading the Sunday paper, looked up and saw Oswald shot to death, and just like Betty, this Betty screamed. And everyone in my house screamed, "What the hell is going on?!" It felt like the world we knew had ended. And it did.

    In the next few years, we would see every hero we had be assassinated.

    At the same time, there was something comforting about having the TV on all weekend long (we never did that) and all sitting around together. It's what happened on 9/11 too. It seems to be our modern campfire when the evil outside threatens.

    A year or two later, (funny, that I don't remember) my father, devoted Catholic, left us for one of the many girl friends I never knew about. My mother who had never worked, (and was as beautiful as Betty, but not accustomed to wealth) had to drive a school bus. We lost our house, our family, and everything we thought we knew. SoI can see divorce in the Draper future. But it's going to be ugly, and the kids will suffer the most.

    This show just kills me.

  9. Thanks for your response, Elizabeth. Tricia and I were just talking this afternoon about the whole divorce angle and wondering how they'll deal with it. It was still fairly uncommon then and even more stigma was attached to it then than now. Was it two seasons ago that the divorced woman moved into the neighborhood with her son and Betty and her friends were so judgmental? As the lawyer told her in last week's episode, she'll have to prove adultery in a court. I don't remember when no-fault divorces became more prevalent; it was a state-by-state law change. Don certainly has done his share of sleeping around, but legal proof would require a lot more than she might be up for. He could get the house and kids--though as the better parent, if the kids had to be with just one of them, he'd probably be the better choice. But, how would she feel about that? How would he? It would put a definite crimp in his lifestyle. She has no real marketable skills beyond modeling and speaking French. And as someone who's accustomed to living well and having grown up with even more than Don has, will she want to live with the reduced circumstances being a divorcee would bring. So, she might feel compelled to jump into a second marriage. Yes, she's idealizing Henry now, but how well would that really work? I wonder what she'll end up doing. I wonder if it will be a cliff-hanger season finale or if something will be resolved. We'll see....