Sunday, June 30, 2013

Rosemary's Baby

Mad Men, Season Six, Episode Twelve, "The Quality of Mercy"

Peggy ends this episode fabulously. With strength and insight into the character of Don--whom she knows so well--she confronts him after his betrayal of her and Ted in the meeting with the Johnson & Johnson exec. "You're a monster!" she lets him know, before walking out of his office. She doesn't buy his bullshit that he's "just looking out for the agency," and clearly Don doesn't either, since the last shot we see, he's curled up in a fetal position on the couch, about as miserable as we've ever seen him. All of this in an episode that centers around allusions to the popular film of that year, "Rosemary's Baby." So, is Don metaphorically Rosemary's baby--a monster conceived by the devil and a severely mistreated woman through hatred and deceit, born to serve the goals of--and be used by--others, hailed as something special, but living in a very dark place? Or is he Rosemary's husband--user and deceiver of a woman, participant in bizarre rituals? Or a bit of both?

The period in which this season takes place was prone to fears of chaos, violence, and loss of control--and not without reason. Mad Men has featured the Kennedy and King assassinations, the Democratic National Convention, and repeatedly alluded to the increased violence in the city. We see Don watching a Nixon campaign ad that plays to fears of urban violence and orders its viewers to "vote like your whole world depended on it." Ira Levin's 1967 novel and Roman Polanski's 1968 film use supernatural horror to play on and evoke readers'/viewers' fears of complete loss of conscious control over their lives and the terrifying and monstrous potential results. Megan deems it "really, really scary." Peggy and Ted use it as the basis for a children's aspirin commercial. The title character is unknowingly coerced into a sexual relationship with the devil and made to carry his baby to further the goals of a group of devil worshippers led by her next door neighbors. Along the way, she must face up to the fact that her husband is not who he seemed to be and has betrayed her--which is why I see its themes played out throughout the episode. Sally and Peggy have both figured out that Don is not to be trusted. And, with that, he loses two of the very important people in his life. You can see this as tragic; you can see this as just desserts for his horrendous behavior to those who love and admire him, but it does seem that Don is about as low as he's ever been--in the depths of the Inferno the season started out with. He's rejected by his daughter and his protege who understands him like no one else--save Anna Draper--ever has, because he is devoid of self-control, prone to just following his emotions and physical drives wherever they lead him: to a hurried and careless sexual encounter with Sylvia--that he couldn't have thought Sally would walk in on, but her son or husband easily could have--and to jealousy and bitterness over Peggy's and Ted's relationship that lead him to the typical abusive man idea that 'if I can't have her, no one can.' He's now a father whose child despises him; like his own father, whom he despised and didn't want to be like, he uses women, follows his most base instincts, and shows no regard for his children. He screws over his partner--the nice partner--and Peggy just out of spite and because he can. And he can because they trusted him. The self-righteous pedestal he puts himself on while talking to Ted after the meeting was truly despicable given who he is and what he's done: "Everybody sees it. Just ask your secretary. Your judgment is impaired. You're not thinking with your head." And--"we've all been there; well, not with Peggy..." Yet, it's Ted with Peggy that has brought out this monstrous behavior in Don. Is he really unable to recognize all that Peggy has done for and been to him? Does he deserve Peggy's charge of being a monster? I think so. What do you think?

Like in the last episode, Sally plays a prominent role here. She's smart, driven, and interested in worthy things like the Model UN, yet the poor kid is stuck with such shits for parents--stuck between Don, who's all id, and Betty, who's solely focused on the superficial aspects of what other affluent people think. She tells the woman at the prep school that it's so hard for a girl in that time period to navigate her way in the world. And that difficulty can only be exacerbated if Don Draper and Betty Francis are your parents. Those girls she meets at the school won't be any help to her either. I'd love to see a Mad Men sequel focused on Sally in the seventies, dealing with life as an adult having to cart around the baggage of her upbringing.

A few more quick thoughts:

--We finally got more info on Bob Benson. Pete is so slimy, but it will be interesting to see how this scenario plays out;

--Poor Ken Cosgrove. The last couple of episodes he's been featured in always start out with me thinking we have to be inside a nightmare of his, but it's just the crazy Chrysler guys. Jeez! "I hate cars. I hate guns." He gives up the account and is happy he's going to be a father. I love Ken Cosgrove.

--This episode didn't have a lot of humor in it, but watching Don act out the baby in Peggy's commercial was hysterical!

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