Episode 4: The Arrangements: Again With The Father Issues?

by , Sep 8, 2009, 4:15 PM
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R.I.P., Pope John XXIII and Eugene Hofstadt No. 2.

Plus, blood and helmets. Skins and carcasses. A salt tooth. Peaches and curbs. And, "Not tonight, dear! I have a Patio commercial to direct!"

So many disappointing and disappointed fathers, so little time. But if you thought Roger in black-face was a shocker last week, we got an opener that was equally surprising: It's morning again in America, and in a beautifully shot scene bathed in reds and oranges, Grandpa Gene takes the kids to school in the Big Lincoln (and is this Bobby replacement No. 2 sitting silently in the back?) He natters on about neighborhood roofing when slowly, the camera pulls back to reveal that Sally (who is what, 8 or 9?) is at the wheel. (Like Hertz, Sally is No. 1. Let Gene put you in the driver's seat!)

The move suggests that he's already handed over the family business to his granddaughter. (While keeping his foot on the accelerator.) In those seat-belt-free days, dads and granddads often let kids drive (and sit on their laps to do so), but mostly on vacation in out-of-the-way places, or in empty parking lots. This is not a dream or nightmare, though, Sally at the wheel. She's steady as she goes, and beams. Indeed, she expresses a lot with her eyes in this episode.

But speaking of high beams, Gene's Lincoln was an award-winning design, with side door handles that famously faced each other. Still, the iconography gets more traumatizing: customized as a convertible parade limousine, this was the same model that JFK would be assassinated in on Nov. 22, 1963 in Dallas -- a scant five months from Sally's drive. Gulp.

Yup, the death of the father, holy, and otherwise, hung over the episode, along with the ideas of the passing of the torch, intergenerational disappointment, and the legacy of the lousy mother.

We'll get to Ho Ho and Margaret, but first, let's talk about Betty and the Drapers. We were set up to think that Gene might be some sort of sexual menace to Sally, when in the end he was her ray of hope.

"You can truly do something. Don't let your mother tell you otherwise," he said to Sally during the ice cream scene, which was brilliantly written, acted, and directed. With its two-spoons-in-the-carton, malt-shop-style euphoria, it also mirrored last season's sweet, satisfying, junk-food-eating scene between Betty and Glenn, the little boy who unconditionally loved her.

Sally says that her mom won't allow ice cream before dinner. Gene tells her, "She's afraid you're going to be fat like she was... Her mother used to take her to town and then make her walk home. I put a stop to that." And it becomes clear that much of Betty's brand of cold non-nurture was learned at the knee of her own undermining, competitive, and appearance-obsessed mother, Ruth.

Perhaps Gene was getting glimmerings all week of a coming stroke or heart attack, (blood loss to the brain messes with one's senses), for he said the chocolate smelled like oranges.

Gene also sits his daughter, "Elizabeth," down to show her that he's put his affairs in order. Nervous, distracted, and unable not to smoke, she pouts and says she doesn't want to hear it. He's being "morbid and selfish," she says, and despite being huge with child, or the amount of attention he lavishes on Sally, she's his "little girl." He says that he shielded her too much. (Or, in reality, not enough from her mother.) He called her Scarlett O'Hara, and indeed, fiddle-dee-dee, just like Scarlett, Betty views tomorrow as another day to drink, smoke, and mope.

But even by those standards, when the policeman came to the house to say that Gene had collapsed and died in line at the A&P, where he was picking up peaches for Sally, it was shocking for Betty to respond, "I'm fine," and then literally slam the door in her own wailing daughter's face.

Sally takes up residence under the dining room table, where she listens to adult conversation, and thinks the grownups are laughing, which spurs her "attention must be paid"-like outburst (as in the speech at Willy Loman's funeral): "He was here and now he's not here. He's dead and he's never coming back and nobody cares that he's really, really, gone."

Any of them could have so easily comforted her with a look or a touch or a smile, or a word or two. Instead, her mother dismisses her cruelly and tells her to go watch TV; she pleads with her eyes for her Dad to intercede, and he's afraid to upset Betty.

So she sets herself up in the den, creating her own little pyre with the coverlet, as she watches a terrifying and no doubt traumatizing image of a a Buddhist monk setting himself ablaze to protest South Vietnam's policies. So much for comfort.

On a comparatively lighter note, we also saw Grandpa taking a moment with Bobby to show him his World War 1 prize: a Prussian helmet with a spike on top, which still bears the blood of the dead solider who wore it. Don, who is again being an absentee father reading the paper, is moved to take the gift away from the kid -- war is bad, and "there was a person in that hat." It's especially disrespectful to wear a dead guy's helmet when you yourself have stolen an entire identity from a bloody corpse, don't you know.

The idea of identity comes up again when Peggy, calling herself "Margaret" to seem more sophisticated, decides to look for a roommate to share an apartment in Manhattan (although no one from Brooklyn ever calls it that -- it's always referred to as "the city." Speaking of language, I was waiting for someone to call the TV a "set.")

Though she's becoming a hard-ass and a pro at the office, Peggy has no clue how to be a young woman in her private life. She shut her brain and body down for the pregnancy, and at this point she's relearning how to be a sexual woman as if recovering from a stroke. This is made clear by the stiff, dour ad she writes, in which she describes herself as "clean, responsible, considerate." (Perhaps, here's where the Norwegian background kicks in. But Olson is spelled the Swedish way.)

Joan, who knows all things public and private, tells her exactly how to rewrite it, and copywriter Peggy slavishly copies every clever word, trying on the mantle of a "fun" girl the way a transvestite puts on a bra and heels. Just as Peggy's previous ad attracted only a humiliating inside joke, played on her by the boys and a willing phone operator, the new, lighthearted ad immediately gets results, garnering an eager, swinging single candidate. We'll no doubt see that the fun of being one of "those girls" out in the city, ready for anything, is just beginning.

That's the thing about "Mad Men": none of the characters can be easily classified. There's so much gray area. Still, what's happening when Don is pretty much the center of the moral universe both at home and at Sterling Cooper?

Indeed, Don knows how to play office Daddy when he has to, and the situation with Dodo, I mean Ho Ho, the ascot-wearing rich kid who wants to be the father of American jai alai, proved so poignant that even his ethical sense kicked in. But Horace Jr. really wants to prove something to his own disapproving daddy, so in the end, Don accepts his million-dollar account.

The writers got this right. I do remember my own overly tan and gold-chain-wearing relatives going to Miami in the late '70s to bet on jai alai. Anyway, there were some funny lines attached to the whole balls-in-the-face, Polish handball concept -- including Bert Cooper saying "Perhaps I don't understand because I'm childless."

Speaking of the childless, Sal provided my favorite scene, in which he acts out the Ann-Margret role in his "Bye Bye Birdie" adaptation so well in his bedroom, in his buttoned-up pajamas, that his wife finally sees the light. (Previously, she might have had some doubts, which she denied, along with Sal denying his own bodily cravings to himself. Now she's putting two and two together.) Her attempt at exciting him -- the pistachio-colored nightie from A&S -- was hysterical. It looked like a sleeve from something Ricky Ricardo would wear to bellow "Babaloo!"

The Patio commercial for Pepsi was a disaster, but no one could figure out why. (By the way, what was with the client's Southern accent? Wouldn't that be more appropriate for Coke? Also, what was with the can? It looked like it was made for baked beans.)

Roger said the spot needed Ann-Margret. That, and the fact that it's a fake commercial for an artificially sweetened soda featuring a zaftig, off-key singer crooning terrible lyrics about "when the cake is on the plate," and doing all those embarrassing little Birdie-like moves.

In the end, it allows Peggy and Don to come together and exchange a look, knowing that the client isn't always right.

The final scene shows Don folding up the dead man's cot, to the strain of "Over There" while Sally sleeps with Gene's book clutched tight. They are back to the perfect nuclear family. Make room for more Decline and Fall for Daddy.

0 comments on "Episode 4: The Arrangements: Again With The Father Issues?".

  1. Beth Braxton from UNC-Chapel Hill
    commented on: September 8, 2009 at 4:29 p.m.

    Pepsi was invented in New Bern, NC, I think, so that's where the accent would come from. Coca-Cola was Atlanta.

  2. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY
    commented on: September 8, 2009 at 4:50 p.m.

    Yes, Pepsi originated in the tiny North Carolina town of New Bern (we Southerners, both resident and ex-pat, revere our soft drinks), which might account for the Southern accent. But there were and are plenty of Southerners who've been successful in business -- regionally, nationally and globally -- so I didn't find it surprising that a Southern accent should find its way into the Sterling Cooper conference room.

    BTW, Ms. Parker, loved "drink, smoke and mope." Betty desperately needs to make some changes.

  3. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY
    commented on: September 8, 2009 at 4:57 p.m.

    P.S. to Tommy Hollis (referencing last season's Cuban missile crisis episode) -- midway through Graham Greene's A Burnt-out Case, I suddenly felt something pulling at my memory in connection with the book. Turns out it was your post, detailing where you'd been and what you were doing during the "crisis." Odd that I was reading the same words you read more than four decades ago. A great book.

  4. Joe Bobblog from DBI, Inc.
    commented on: September 8, 2009 at 5:24 p.m.

    I have to say it. Season 3 is becoming a big letdown. The story arch is depressing, verging on boring. Kids being neglected/abused. Grandpa dying. Don becoming the conscious of SC and the Drapper household.

    Worse MM seems to have lost its central theme - the exploration of the ad biz's impact on business/politics/media/art at a pivotal time in world history through the character of Don Drapper. In any event the show was much more fun when Don was out of control.

    As a minor point, I thought the Swedish/Norwegian bit was an unusual slip by the writers. Neither actress (or Peggy's family) looks Scandinavian and there are almost no Catholic Norwegians. Not sure what they were trying to establish by that interchange.

  5. Henry Harteveldt from Forrester Research
    commented on: September 8, 2009 at 6:25 p.m.

    When this blog post is more engaging than the show, I think MM is in trouble.

    I agree with Joe's opinion that MM has lost its focus on advertising and its influence/role on business, politics, and culture. I'd like to see more of the "ad biz" content in the story line.

  6. Dean Fox from ScreenAngels Networks LLC
    commented on: September 8, 2009 at 6:45 p.m.

    Don's reaction to Horace Jr.'s crazy $1 million vanity campaign, (like seeing a loaf of bread thrown to starving people in the Depression) really hit home with me. I was assigned a similarly irrational although extremely wealthy client. He was a very famous Wall Street tycoon on a personal mission to lobby the FDA by promoting his medical experiences in a book he had written and pushed hard to get published.

    He came to us after a falling out with George Lois over the results of their campaign supporting the hard cover edition, and asked us to develop a newspaper and radio campaign to support the soft cover edition's introduction.

    Fearing a similar outcome - despite his famous name, this wasn't a fun read and unlikely to sell more than a few thousand copies - I attempted to talk to him about developing some form of rational measurement for the campaign. He immediately called my boss and had me replaced. As you might have guessed, the agency took his money - several million dollars, the book didn't sell and he never got any satisfaction from the FDA.

    I appreciated the demonstration of conscience by Don, and his clear admonition that "we'll take your money, all of it." Once you've advised a client to reconsider and been refused, ethics be damned. I just couldn't personally participate in the fleecing.

  7. Tommy Hollis from GAM.TV
    commented on: September 8, 2009 at 7:19 p.m.

    Why was the commercial produced in color? Very rare at that time. Noteworthy since they told the jai alai entrepreneur that color was near impossible since only one network had it. If someone from the agency suggests betting on the outcome and parimutuel betting, that would be interesting since that's what happened. But instead of buying his father a team, he can just let him know which players would win the quinella that night and make a big multiple.
    The show is flagging because the clients are approaching satire. Last year they had the great Bonwit woman as model; this year they have graduates of Ding Dong School. But Draper is moving from competent to moral, as someone pointed out, and that's interesting. To me, anyway.
    New York Magazine had a remark that Betty's needed better work from the prop department.

  8. Randall Hoffner from ABC, Inc.
    commented on: September 8, 2009 at 8:08 p.m.

    I thought the show picked up with this episode. Although we have heard that Pepsi was invented in North Carolina, Dorothy's point is good, in that its headquarters are in Westchester County (although there are a few southerners around there, of course). And about color commercials, we first got a color TV in 1965, two years later than this is supposed to have happened, but at that time there were many color commercials, but few color shows. And to set the record straight, it was pointed out to Ho Ho that CBS didn't have color. The other two nets did.

  9. Frances Foley
    commented on: September 8, 2009 at 10:20 p.m.

    The Patio can was -- pardon the expression -- the real thing.

  10. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY
    commented on: September 8, 2009 at 10:30 p.m.

    I'm not as clear as Joe and Henry on chickens and eggs. I think business, politics, media and culture have influenced advertising as much as advertising has influenced them.

    The Charlie campaign is a classic case, marking the first time a woman's fragrance was marketed to women as something you buy for yourself for your own gratification. (Those gorgeous perfume ads from earlier years were mostly geared to men as luxury gift purchases -- "Promise her anything, but give her Arpege," "Every woman alive wants Chanel No. 5").

    The Charlie campaign was considered groundbreaking, although by the time the first ad appeared feminism was fairly mainstream and everyone was wearing pants to work. The sassy, confident working woman influenced the campaign more than it influenced her. I actually remember being slightly offended by the Charlie ads, like George in "A Hard Day's Night" when a TV producer tells him all young males idolize a teen model named Susan ("She's a drag. A well-known drag. We turn the sound down on her and say rude things.")

    Closer to home, the tune to Pepsi's 1961 "For those who think young" song was taken straight from the 1920s hit "Making Whoopee," which was still being sung in the 50s and 60s by crooners like Sinatra and Crosby. Borrowed song and borrowed interest.

    Would be great to see more "Carousel of life" moments and learn how some of advertising's most memorable campaigns came into being. I'd also like to hear more music. And see Don become anti-hero protagonist again (he almost seems like an incidental player this season).

  11. Tommy Hollis from GAM.TV
    commented on: September 8, 2009 at 11:08 p.m.

    RANDALL, interesting.
    It's hard to remember commercials from that era that weren't black and white, but that's probably because I don't remember even seeing a color TV until much later in the 60s.
    All of the classic commercials from that time seem to have been in B&W. VW, Hertz, Polaroid, Salada Tea.
    Perhaps, though, Sterling Cooper was being rewarded for working for Nixon so Kendall gave them a shot at Patio.

  12. Tommy Hollis from GAM.TV
    commented on: September 9, 2009 at 8:08 a.m.

    Cynthia, many times over the years, I've referred (not to kindly) to some people as "burnt out cases." They have made many films of Greene's stuff. Wonder why this has escaped Hollywood.

  13. iceman halsey
    commented on: September 9, 2009 at 9:54 p.m.

    hate that you waited for all of this to be posted on the official AMC mad men site blog discussion, but you are still a great writer and have summarized as well as anyone could

  14. iceman halsey
    commented on: September 9, 2009 at 9:55 p.m.

    also the policeman shuts the door , not betty

  15. iceman halsey
    commented on: September 9, 2009 at 10:02 p.m.

    here is actually a piece of analysis for you that you missed, Sal unknowingly apologizing to Don for his sexuality, he could relate to the Patio ad and none of the other men in the room could

  16. iceman halsey
    commented on: September 9, 2009 at 10:05 p.m.

    sorry to quadruple post, but for me "my old kentucky home" is clearly the most engaging and well thought out episode of them all so far.

    I was VERY VERY sad to see so much complaining about that episode on the official AMC board and was even more sad to see everyone say that this episode was the best out of season 3 so far. I would prob regard it as the worst

  17. iceman halsey
    commented on: September 9, 2009 at 10:41 p.m.

    Everyone on here watches this closer than me, has Don called betty "Birdie" this season ?

  18. iceman halsey
    commented on: September 9, 2009 at 10:48 p.m.

    rewatching the ep

    how about how don threw magnanimous back in that guys face ?

    I love it , and even more peggys sly smirk to don (he knows that she never agreed with Patio's campaign)

    so great

  19. Patrick Scullin from Ames Scullin O'Haire, inc.
    commented on: September 10, 2009 at 8:33 a.m.

    Brilliant. You are the best, always illuminating the dark corners and sub-texture of this incredible series. A terrific performance by Sarah Drew playing Kitty (Sal's wife) as she watches her husband act out the Patio spot and give a peek inside the closet where he resides. Thanks, Dorothy, for the always wonderful reviews.
    http://www.thelintscreen.com

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