'The Whole Country's Been Drinking': Mad Men Recapped
The Mad Men moment we've been waiting for all season finally arrived Sunday night -- or make that "moments," plural, one big black cascade of gruesome American dramas. Which, with one week to go before the season finale, raises the question: Can things possibly get any worse for the inhabitants of television's bleakest series? Count on Matthew Weiner and crew to try their hardest. But first things first: Week 12! Bring a tissue.
Simply seeing Barbet Schroeder announced as the episode's director triggered a sort of Gravity Alarm. As the bard of disaffection behind some of the late '80s/early '90s most enduring tales of doomed coupledom (Barfly, Reversal of Fortune, Single White Female), Schroeder seemed a fitting interpreter of the dissolution of Don and Betty Draper. But he could handle their panic and pathos in his sleep; better to get AMC's money's worth by piling on Jane and Roger Sterling, Pete and Trudy Campbell, Pete Campbell and Sterling Cooper, Don Draper and Lane Pryce, Peggy Olson and Duck Phillips, Margaret Sterling and, well, everyone, and most viciously of all, America's farewell to John F. Kennedy, slain on a chilly Friday in November, just as things were maybe looking up.
At least that was Pete's sense of things before Pryce demoted him and Lyndon Johnson was inaugurated, a one-two punch that sent him reeling into resentment on the weekend of his boss's daughter's wedding. "More of the same," he mutters, but he could be lamenting Kennedy just as easily as he's pouting his way out of attending Margaret's nuptials. "It's one thing to go to this wedding and act like I don't hate them. It's another thing to go and act like the president hasn't been murdered." Trudy, the enabler extraordinaire, slips off her heels, curls up beside him and watches the news coverage. "They don't appreciate you," she'll tell him later. Even in a national period of mourning, it's all about Pete.
But it's like Pryce said: Pete makes clients feel like their needs are being met, but Cosgrove makes them feel like they have no needs at all. It's the difference between Pete curling up with hot cocoa in his office when the building's heat is out, or Cosgrove fixing a secretary's floor heater. And anyway, Pryce has ducks to put in a row before offloading the company. Don is one of them. "I can't run my department without an art director!" he bellows at the cheapskate Pryce -- the episode's second pettiest concern to overlap with the Kennedy assassination, just ahead of Pete whining to Harry Crane and just behind Peggy asking Duck, "Did you give me a hickey?" after one of their famous nooner go-arounds. One can only imagine the story Peggy has since made up to answer the question, "Where were you when JFK was shot?"
Betty won't need to come up with cover, meanwhile. She was at home, right where she always is, cigarette dangling in one hand and her gaping jaw held up by the other. Carla races in. The news compels even her to light up. The women sob. Sally, in a measure of cold calculation or otherworldly tenderness, puts her arm around her mother. It's a perfect postmodern tableau -- Norman Rockwell by way of Weiner by way of Schroeder, wherein class, gender and ethnicity bond over smokes and death. Affecting as hell. I cried. So did Margaret, who had a chance just a day before to call her wedding off but went ahead with it anyway. Now, slumping in her wedding dress with her own mother/maid combo looking on in horror, she may as well be staring into the eye of God, railing at His caprice when He knows she has to take vows before Him the next day. Seriously, God, what gives?
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