Monday, October 19, 2009

Blue is Blue, Honey

Mad Men: The Color Blue
Season 3, Episode 10

First off, apologies for not reviewing episode nine individually last week. I planned on doing a split review this week, but it turned out there was so much happening this week in what has been the best episode of the season (possibly excluding "Guy Walks in to an Advertising Agency") and one so full of such significant moments in the history of the show... I decided unilaterally it would be unfair to each to try and cram them together.

I always comment about how so much is going on in every episode of Mad Men that my reviews never cover everything I could talk about, but this week seems to crank that feeling up to 11.

In the biggest development of the night, thanks to Don being distracted by baby Gene, he got careless with the key to his office drawer. Betty leaps at the opportunity (with joyous zeal, no less) to find out what her ultra-secretive husband has hidden from the world. Uncovering the dogtags for Don Draper and Dick Whitman, in addition to Dick's childhood photographs, isn't that interesting for her. She isn't able to put things together on his identity and is only left with more questions from these discoveries. The epic discovery that sets her off is the copy of Don's divorce decree. While I should re-watch his west coast trip from season two, I seem to remember Don returned to ask the original Mrs. Draper for a divorce just before he married Betty. So not only did her husband never tell her that he was married before, but he was still married when he met and courted Betty.

In one of the biggest audience let downs in the history of the show, we never get the confrontation between Don and Betty because he never comes home that night. Poor Betty never gets to tear into him like she wants to so bad while waiting in the kitchen with that box of evidence. I'm not sure if after returning the box and going to the Sterling Cooper 40th anniversary dinner that she will use this as her excuse to sleep with Henry Francis or if she is accepting her utter defeat in her marriage and will return to being Don's doormat. I lean towards thinking it will be the former.

One of this week's main themes seems to be perception, the title derived from a question between Don and his latest paramour (and Sally's teacher), Suzanne Farrell. "How do I know that what you see as the color blue is the same thing that I see?" Between this and catching Don on the train (and possibly calling his house), Suzanne is probably more into Don than any woman he's been with. The way she looks at him with such utter devotion or how she wants Don to meet her brother, the character is definitely giving me flashes of Gloria Trillo from the third season of The Sopranos and I expect this will end as well. I'm looking forward to the carnage when Don tries to break it off with the woman who said she didn't care about his wife or job "as long as you're with me." That's the type of line that has me fearing she goes Fatal Attraction on Sally someday... this will not end well.

And of course Don and Suzanne think of their relationship differently. She practically considers him part of the family while the idea of meeting the family (or going anywhere in public together) was not part of his plan. But besides being a possible psycho, Suzanne's attitude with her brother serves as a completely opposite reflection of the relationship Don had with Adam back in season one. Both Don and Danny end up with different perceptions of each other. Danny thought Don was a bastard using his sister when really he just was nervous and caught off guard. Don looks at Danny and sees the kids that rolled him over the summer, the junkie friends of Midge and most of all, his loser brother, Adam, and everything about life he loathes. Danny really has a bit in common with Dick Whitman. Both hated their place in life and how others viewed them, but Danny's epilepsy isn't something he can fix by taking another man's dog tags. In the end, Don does his lover's brother a far better turn than he did his own. In addition to some cash, he gives Danny his business card and an offer to help if its needed. Instead of buying off an inconvenience that olive branch leaves Don looking much better to the audience, especially given the knowledge about how Adam turned out.

Going back to the phone call that Suzanne may or may not have made. I absolutely loved the scene where Don is worried Suzanne is cold calling him and Betty is just as worried its Henry calling for her. I'm hoping for an affair for Betty to put things on a little more equal footing and finding out about Don's divorce might turn into her excuse. And of course, the best moment is Sally's "Geez, Louise."

We have two substantive plots at Sterling Cooper this week. With Paul and Peggy competing more actively in creative, he burns the midnight oil coming up with a campaign for Western Union telegraph. After meeting a janitor named Achilles, he finds his inspiration, only to fail to jot it down and forget it the next day. While its great humor at the expense of the office blowhard, the writers perhaps laid it on a little thick with Peggy and Don both showing such a viceral reaction to the story for fear of when they forget their own ideas (hence why Don will turn any scrap of paper into a notepad). But they were being a bit cute with the overreactions, like they had this exchange when scripting the episode:

"Let's have everyone devastated over this lost idea. I f-cking hate it when that happens."

"Yeah, every writer and critic out there will identify with it."

Paul's perception that Peggy is succeeding because she is a woman or because she remains Don's favorite is blown out of the water, when after on the spur of the moment she turns some philosophical quote of Paul's into a great campaign. "Wow." He just gets it in that moment and its funny how he can't even contain his surprise at how wrong he was.

Lane Pryce was never really on my good side early on, especially when he brought in the news that PPC was going to kill the Madison Square Garden deal. He seemed to be a penny-pincher out to destroy the great American creative power. But without a word, two supremely well-performed moments made this character one I empathize with the most. The first came in "Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency" with the reaction to being relocated to Bombay and the realization his bosses don't think of his as anything more than an efficient stopgap. He was so destroyed in that moment. In this episode, he learns PPC plans to turn over Sterling Cooper, selling it to the highest bidder and that goal is their only operating strategy at this time.

Between how well he interacts with Cooper and his non-verbalized dissent to his wife's enthusiasm to returning to England, Jared Harris does a spectacular job as Lane this week. Without ever saying a word, he makes sure we all know that not only does he prefer New York and Sterling Cooper to exile in India, but he actually would rather stay in place than return home. I hope that he risks it all to align himself with Bert Cooper and the Americans and keep the company safely intact.

Lastly, a farewell for Sal Romano, who was fired for not having sex with a client. We might see him again (and I hope we do, a show without him OR Joan would be a far weaker experience), but Bryan Batt was given a character that should have been a joke and turned it into something very moving on more than one occasion. Watching the premiere, every member of the audience figured out the truth about Sal and figured it would be a running joke that nobody else notices what we considered obvious. But his ongoing tragedy was really moving. He had to never talk to anyone at work about his personal life. He had to enter into a sham marriage that nobody could be happy in (even putting the Drapers to shame) to stop people from asking questions. And now he can't tell his wife he was fired because he can't admit why. Also, his farewell reminded us what a vile person Don can be when he is struggling in one area of his life. Like when lashing out at Peggy earlier in season one, Don can't really compartmentalize his anger well when the shit hits the fan.

1 comment:

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