Season 4, Episode 9: The Birds, The Astronaut, And The Space Race
Sorry, Mad Blogsters. Ms. Dorothy was caught temporarily without an office in which to ruminate. Now she can't tell if she's angry or lovesick, soup or the pot, a sadist or a masochist.
I like the fact that "Mad Men" is increasingly about the shifting identities of women. But at first, "The Beautiful Girls" seemed kind of choppy, and less graceful and dazzling, than previous installments. Then I took a look at Bert Cooper's role in this particular show, and the genius become more apparent. All of the episodes can't be about fluidity and rebirth: this one is about being tied-down and stuck. And being stuck feels bad. And then you die.
At one point while Ida Blankenship was still among the living, Bert asked for her help with his crossword puzzle: three letters meaning "flightless bird." "Emu," she responds. "It starts with an L," he says. "The hell it does," she tells him.
Whether as part of door-slamming farce or weird, slowed-down melodrama, many of the females in this episode were exposed as flightless birds. (And we also get Petula Clark, the ultimate "bird" of the then-London pop scene, singing "Downtown.")
It's the summer of 1965, but for Joan, it's more like the summer of '42: she's acting like a wounded war widow, in need of comfort from any quarter. And indeed, having uptown street sex with Roger in a moment after the mugging was pretty shocking. I did like the imagery of the old-fashioned deli: send a salami to your boy in the Ahmy and all that. (Meat hanging on hooks: talk about forceful foreshadowing of a sexual hook-up!) Even then, though, that style deli was mostly on the Lower East Side. Joan and Roger were more in the (dying) Upper West Side neighborhood of the Viennese tea and pastry shops.
And while the city was indeed crime-ridden and getting worse in that pre-Lindsay era, something about being mugged by a black man (in a story all about the emergence of the civil rights movement) seemed suspect. At this point, is Roger low enough to have actually set up the mugging as an aftermath to the massage? It has its bit of heavy-handed symbolism in requiring Joan to give up her wedding ring. And by dint of her devotion to her husband (Dr. Not-So Rapey seems to have become a new man), having sex with Roger again seems to strip her of her born-again virginity.
Equally a source of head-scratching for me was this whole supposed amour between Bert Cooper and Ms. Blankenship. The reason the character was so delightful and humorous is that she had a heavy Brooklyn accent and, in a place dedicated to high-falutin images, was the salt of the earth, often asking Don whether he was going to the toilet. (Whether that makes her Jewish or not remains unsaid.) But I would imagine the WASPy Cooper, like Sterling, is vaguely anti-Semitic, and probably was even more so in his youth. So when young, was our Ida B such a sexual "queen of perversions" that being a hot Jewess trumped classism and anti-Semitism?
In death, she got wings. "Born in 1898 in a barn, she died on the 37th floor of a skyscraper. She's an astronaut," says Cooper, in a weirdly haunting, if wonderfully imaginative, line. (Is there a Jesus reference? Did people get born in barns in Brooklyn then? Were her parents stowaways or farmers? They surely weren't Norwegian farmers. But is saucy Ida B. still circling the building? Her name always seemed like a cross between Miss Havisham and a space ship.)
And the saddest bit of linkage, in terms of flightless birds, are the connections in this episode between the oldest chick, Miss Blankenship, and the youngest, Sally Draper. She arrives like some hobo from Don's youth, riding the rails, avoiding the conductor because she didn't have enough money. And in the end, after her desperate plea to stay fell on deaf ears, Don screams, "Am I going to have to carry you out?" Shades of Ida dying with her head on her blotter (last week one of the guys had cracked about Joan's "boobs on the blotter") and being rolled out, covered Cleopatra-like, in an afghan.
"We need a man and a blanket" was another great line from Joan.
And here's another theme from the show: getting covered up, and clueless men removed from nature. That's the male demographic that the auto parts guys need to go after. And these days, Abe, Peggy's would-be lover, would be trying to use his talents by getting a job on "The Daily Show." Then, though, he'd probably go on to become a member of the SDS and blow something up for social change, while expecting the chicks to provide coffee and sex. That's the way it was.
And I thought it was genius that Peggy, who seems so clueless out of the office, rejected Abe immediately. She sees no problem with corporations, and she comes from enough of a working-class background to not even consider the luxury of being a revolutionary. Perhaps she'll turn into a Peggy Noonan type and write for Ronald Reagan.
Back to Sally, though. Given her cold and appearance-obsessed, white-glove-wearing mother (Megan also wears gloves to remove Ida's blotter), Sally really needs a touchy-feely dad, the kind who started showing up in the 1980s, who took Lamaze classes, spoke about "our pregnancy" knew all about breast-feeding, and wore the kid to the office in a Snuggli.
But Don is a distant, 1950s-style dad. He doesn't believe in psychiatry for the poor kid, and wouldn't have a clue about how to fight for custody, nor does he want to. He has a business to run. He did give poor Sally very mixed messages for her trouble, ending up with a good-night kiss and a day at the zoo. (She wants to make herself indispensable in his home, a mix of daughter/wife/girlfriend/housekeeper, fixing rum-soaked French toast, and turning on the "Today" show. She keeps offering to be "good" -- which is heartbreaking -- and even says she'd watch her brothers.)
It's too bad that Faye walked in just as Sally was telling her dad that she hated it at home. He never got to ask her about it. He thinks that putting her in the care of any woman, even a stranger like Faye, is better than what he could do on his own. (Although he did draw the line at putting her in the care of a cadaver.)
And I've got to say that I was disappointed that it was Dr. Miller who was having the lamp-crushing sex with Don in the opener. She talks about a "Chinese Wall," but isn't having sex with your boss a bigger conflict of interest? It did come as a shock that Faye, with her Ph.D. in psychology, who was previously was able to give Don such good advice, is so bad with kids. And even worse, she saw the whole situation narcissistically, as a test, which she usually aces, when it is Sally who is sick and suffering.
And we got the message over and over how tuned in to Don's every need the dewy beauty Megan is. When Sally took a run for freedom and fell, Megan was the only one who knew intuitively what she needed: a hug.
The women formed a thin pink line around Sally for the parental switch. Betty was on her best public behavior (or perhaps even consulted with Dr. Edna) and feigned worry for Sally. And they were dressed alike, with their blonde bobs and flowered dresses. She's always been great, but the actress Kiernan Shipka showed incredible chops in this episode. (The lisp has disappeared.) And Ms. Blankenship got it right: Sally had looked so "chubby in the pikchas." Now she's reed-thin and hollow-cheeked and sunken-eyed, with a haunted look.
"Everything can be replaced. You're fine," Roger, who himself seems pretty vulnerable these days, told Joan after the mugging. Is that the case even for a child's spirit?