Mad Men: The Foggy Episode
This week’s Mad Men was one of those “Wow, this was the sixties” episodes – between all the maternity ward stuff (it made me think of “More apparatus, please, nurse!” from The Meaning of Life), the “Integration is illegal” stuff, and the “Women have to be paid equally to men. They passed a law” stuff. Not to mention, you know, the usual stuff.
And wow, am I ever glad I did not have a baby in 1963. From the moment the nurse sent Don off with a brusque order about parking and the reprimand that “Your job here is done,” and then started scolding the laboring Betty for having, like, opinions, when the whole reason they drugged her up was to keep her quiet, I was catching a few flies of my own. It’s amazing that this used to be the norm in the U.S. Up until really recently, in fact. I mean, obviously there have been worse times and places to have babies than in a fancy New York hospital in 1963, and there are plenty of places in the world right now where I’m also glad I’m not having a baby. (And not to get all serious in the middle of my rambling about this stylized upper-crust concept show, but lest any of us start to feel too sorry for Betty, keep in mind that a 12-year-old girl and her baby just died in Yemen after three days of labor).
Anyway. So, Betty has the baby, and he’s a boy, and they both seem to be fine. She names him Eugene, after her dad – without Don’s consent, which seems fitting given how little involvement Don is allowed with the whole process. While in labor, Betty also has some cool-looking drug-induced dreams/visions that include her dead parents (and wow, her mom is just as bad as we’d thought), an unidentified African-American man, and some sort of worm that I guess is symbolic but I’m not smart enough yet to know how. (Or maybe I’m not old enough to be mentally capable of understanding.)
The bulk of the episode is spent with Betty, which is always nice, but given that much of what happened with her has yet to be explained, let’s check in with our friends at Sterling Cooper.
Duck, I’m delighted to see, has landed safe and sound at another ad agency. Although at this point I have to assume it’s a bottom-of-the-barrel company. I mean, it can’t have been a secret why Duck left SC, and he didn’t have the world’s best reputation before he went there, either. But nevertheless, it’s a good enough company that Peggy would consider working there. (Duck, being his usual awesome yet clueless self, has decided that Peggy and Pete were carrying on a secret relationship during season 2, and so he tries to recruit them, together, to ditch SC and join him at his new agency.) It’s possible, though, that Peggy simply doesn’t know the agency landscape well enough to judge Duck’s offer. I do wish she’d asked Don for his advice on the situation. It’s not like she can trust anyone else now that she’s alienated Pete.
Speaking of whom, let’s talk about Pete this week.
Pete’s long been my favorite character, and I’ll admit that that started out because I still have a strong affinity for Vincent Kartheiser’s performance on Angel as the angsty bastard half-demon son of two vampires who had terrible hair and a thing for older women. But starting with the early season one episode “New Amsterdam” – the one where the writers started humanizing Pete – I fell in love with the character on his own merits. He made $75 a week, but his parents wouldn’t give him a loan to buy an apartment. His wonderful wife and her wonderful parents were happy to help and didn’t care in the slightest that poor Pete’s dignity was at stake. He tried to pitch an advertising idea – he’s always desperately wanted to be on the Creative side, poor dear – but he only made Don hate him even more than he already did. And Don’s approval is the one thing Pete’s never stopped craving.
I hope we get to delve more into the current Peggy/Pete relationship over the rest of season three. Neither of them seems to be exactly brokenhearted about how things turned out – they’re both perfectly capable of being happy about, saying, weaseling $3 million out of old college friends, or proving the guys wrong about the appeal of Bye Bye Birdie – but surely there have been some lasting effects here for the two of them beyond being vaguely uncomfortable in each other’s company. I assume Trudy still doesn’t know what happened, or she wouldn’t have seemed so thrilled with herself and the world at the garden party, so perhaps Pete’s simply keeping it to himself and doing that whole repression thing that was so popular in the days before men were allowed to go to shrinks. And Peggy – well, Peggy did her coping back in the hiatus between seasons 1 and 2, and even though it does kind of look like she and Pete have each grown to the point where they could have an actual relationship as equals now, she seems perfectly content hooking up with college boys and rejecting cute, rich, eligible bachelors who show up stoned on her colleagues’ couches.
But back to Pete. I know it’s not shocking that he’s multifaceted – every character on this show is multifaceted, even Hollis, who’s had maybe 10 lines in three seasons – but I still get a little thrill every time we see him do something unexpected. This is the guy, remember, who in the pilot got rejected by a hooker for being too crass with his come-ons. And he still is that guy, even though we’ve now also seen him tenderly declare his love for Peggy, firmly assert the proper descending of his testicles, get berated by Trudy for trading a chip-and-dip for a rifle, go crying to Don on hearing about the death of his father, and perform a perfect, unabashed Charleston in front of his bosses, co-workers, and potential clients. He makes me laugh at least once in every episode (this time it was “It’s Peter! Dottie’s boy! You called me!”). But I think my favorite thing about Pete is the sense of entitlement he carries with him everywhere he goes, whether it’s into an office to get chewed out for having an idea that’s at most six months ahead of its time (can you imagine how much his grandchildren will respect him when they hear that he was once taunted with the label “Martin Luther King”?), or into Peggy’s crappy first Brooklyn apartment to get himself a little somethin’ somethin’. He knows he’s gotten where he is in large part because of his mother’s maiden name, and maybe that bothers him a little bit, but not that much, because hey, that’s how the world works. He’s not trying to prove himself because he wants to show that he’s better than that. He’s trying to prove himself because he actually thinks he’s awesome. (Well, and then there’s also that stuff with his father, and Trudy’s father, but I really do think most of it has to do with the self-perceived awesomeness.) And I think Pete’s awesome too, for all of the reasons mentioned. Although, were I ever to encounter Pete Campbell in the flesh, I think I’d just laugh and laugh. And then maybe slap him a couple of times on Trudy’s behalf.
But, proving yet again that Pete can still surprise us, this week he has a genuine creative idea – even if he didn’t exactly take a scientific approach to the research to back up his hypothesis – and pursued it to its logical conclusion: His client, Admiral Television, should put ad money into markets that reached a high number of African-American consumers. Seems simple enough to me, and it did to Pete too. So he charged right into that meeting with Admiral with only Harry to back him up – he didn’t bother even checking with Creative, unless you want to count his non-meeting with the increasingly worthless Paul – only to discover that the Admiral execs seemed to think it was illegal to show the same commercial in predominantly African-American markets that they show in predominantly white markets, or something. I’m not sure what that whole “integration” conversation was actually getting at; if you understood it, let me know. I watched this episode just itching to check Wikipedia to see if Admiral was a real company – I didn’t see how it could be, because this is probably the worst any client has ever come off on this heavily product-placed show – but apparently it was, and it’s still around at Home Depot in case you’re in the market for a racist washer/dryer. Pete gets yelled at for this transgression by Roger (who, sadly, didn’t enjoy the yelling as much as he wanted to – it’s hard to be Roger these days) and an especially appalled-looking Bertram, but Pryce, at least, thinks he’s on to something.
Meanwhile, Peggy, bolstered by Duck’s recruitment effort, goes to Don to ask for a raise. Don doesn’t even consider the idea. We all know that Don is, at his core, a good guy, and that he likes Peggy and wants her to do well, but it’s obvious that he would’ve taken her request seriously if she were a man. In which case she wouldn’t have had to make the request in the first place, of course. Peggy points out that there’s an equal pay law now, but Don doesn’t care, because he’s not bound by the law, he’s bound by Pryce. But while he’ll readily rail at Pryce not to cut the Creative team’s pencil budget, he’s not about to take Peggy’s request up the ladder, because whatever, it’s just Peggy.
Don is busy, though, like everyone else. He’s bonding with prison guards and psyching himself up to have an affair with Sally’s teacher (which seems like an even worse idea than Don’s affairs usually are). Sal is in trouble for turning in $82 in expense reports for their trip to Baltimore (which actually does seem kind of high given that cab fares cost $1.12 back then – but hey, he did have to tip that bellhop). Sally’s still traumatized about the death of Grandpa Gene and has taken to beating up the classroom’s overweight girl (Betty calls her a “bruiser,” whatever that means). Also, Francine is back, and her presence here is yet another reason not to watch House this season (assuming Francine sticks around – although, if I had a choice between watching Francine and watching Amber, I’d definitely pick Amber. Can’t Amber transition universes? She’d make a fantastic roommate for Peggy.). And Joan’s not in the episode at all, wah.
The promos for this show are generally meaningless, so I’m not going to stress about the fact that they seem to be hinting at Don getting fired next week, or something. Although, hey, he could always go work at Duck’s new agency. Maybe Peggy needs a secretary.
Season 3, Episode 5: The Fog (originally aired September 13, 2009)
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