Episode 501: A Little Kiss -- Or, A New Bobby, And 'There's My Baby!'
Have you been hummin’ it all night and day? I refer, of course, to “Zou Bisou Bisou,” the innocent-but-dirty little French ditty made famous by Sophia Loren in the early 1960s. That the latest Mrs. Draper naughtily performed an x-rated version of the song at a surprise party for Don was just one of the surprises of the two-hour opener that, while filled with funny lines and visual gags, lagged at times (and presented some wildly unlikable characters.)
“Mad Men” creator Matt Weiner was right in fighting with AMC over the number of commercial interruptions. The never-ending ad pods got numbing after a while, although it was amusing to see both Jon Hamm (Mercedes-Benz) and John Slattery (Lincoln) represented in dueling car spots. On the plus side, the coming racial unrest was presented front and center, (“a lobby full of Negroes”) and the episode also laid miles of groundwork for the coming season.
Only about eight months have passed since we last left Don and the gang. The opener takes place in late May, 1966, not 1967, as I mistakenly suggested in the last column (But I was dead-on with another guess: Yes, we have a new Bobby! The Bobby parade is becoming a joke, like Murphy Brown’s secretaries.)
But back to the connubial bliss of Don and the missus. The newlyweds have moved into a vast, modern, white-carpeted apartment in a 1960s white-brick building; it’s a showplace exuberantly furnished in lots of color, as opposed to the sad and dark little warren of rooms in Don’s bachelor apartment.
The decorator-enabled mod style suggests the impossibly glamorous New York apartments of early 1960s Doris Day movies mixed with a bit of Rob and Laura Petrie’s house (from the “Dick Van Dyke” show) in New Rochelle. I half expected Don to trip over an ottoman.
Indeed, at the party, as a hypersexualized, French-Canadian version of Laura P. (a young Mary Tyler Moore, tinged with a bit of Claudine Longet), Megan (the excellent Jessica Pare) has a microphone, a back-up band (sadly, though, no bongos) and an electrifyingly erotic presence as she dances around the living room. In a novel birthday gift for her husband, she has devised an act that ends with planting herself in Don’s lap, giving him “A Little Kiss,” the translation of the song.
Weiner, who wrote the opener, seems to love these wacky musical interludes. In a previous season, if you recall, Joan surprised us at her own little gathering with a charming little song (also in French) while accompanying herself on the accordion.
In its blatant sexiness, however, Megan’s tease was a bit of a social shocker -- more in the realm of Sal’s unexpected bedroom rendition of “Bye Bye Birdie,” or even Roger’s embarrassing bombshell of an act in blackface at a country club gala -- than any sweet chanson from Joan. The times, they are a changin’.
Of course, the free-lovin’ 25-year-old Megan’s 40- year-old hubby is a man who hates birthdays, parties, and especially surprises, habits he developed in order to protect his secrets. (Except that Megan already knows about Dick Whitman and doesn’t seem to think it’s a big deal.) He berates her later. (He has a history of ruining parties, by the way. There was his kid’s birthday, when he disappeared; and later, Betty went to all kinds of trouble to make a dinner party with foods of the world that ended badly.)
But Meagan stands her ground (especially if you consider getting down on your hands and knees to clean a carpet while wearing only a black-lace bra and panties -- and taunting your husband that he can’t have any-- is a form of liberation). It’s certainly a form of S&M, for which Don seems to have a bit of a penchant. He takes her there (too bad it’s not shag) and they reconnect in the only way they know how.
“Who are you?” was a favorite question for Don to ask his various mistresses once upon a time. The same could be asked of him in this episode. I didn’t really get the new lovesick robo-Don who is checked out at work and priapic only toward his own wife; the only time he seemed like old self was when he made breakfast for his kids and dropped them off at Betty & Henry’s new (but old) Addams Family-ish Victorian pile in deepest darkest Westchester. That’s what made his line “Say hello to Morticia and Lurch” so funny.
But there’s another layer to consider: with all that talk of death in the car (from Bobby number 4 or 5), Don knows he’s lurching toward mortality. Luckily he’s able to raise the electric window in his car (windows played a theme throughout the show) and attempt to block out the old.
Weiner usually likes to fetishize limbs. But in this episode, we get butt cracks a-plenty. What’s that about? Previously, Sally, sleeping over at her Dad’s new place for Memorial Day Weekend, gets up at what seems to be the crack of dawn, and patrols an empty hallway until she gets to double doors. Don cracks open the door of his bedroom, allowing his fair lady, who is naked in bed, to be seen by his daughter, butt crack and all. Odd. Later, Joan is shown diapering her baby, Kevin, with a serious but strange close-up coming from under the newborn’s tush.
For now, let’s sweep it under the rug.
Meanwhile, Pete’s slipping into Dondom: Whether shown riding the train to and from work, or coming home via the kitchen door late at night standing in front of the stove, eating cold cereal alone, he’s eerily following in the Draper footsteps.
Moreover, Pete’s hissyfit over his office rang true to me. Despite the museum-quality Italian furnishings, the agency is a conservative place. In a hierarchical business based on image, the size of the office has great meaning. That scene where he calls the partners into his office to squish them together on the couch was a deft move, cleverly shot to look hilarious. Whereas the moment showing him running his nose into his office column seemed overly slapsticky to me. Also, I didn’t get all the phones ringing and the shouting at the secretaries. That seemed like theatrical business for a stage show.
Another of the partners seemed to have a Don-like moment: Poor old Lane Pryce turns into an altered self looking at illicit pichas in his office and getting transported. (Admittedly, the black-and-white photo was not of his young self and former family, but rather the mysterious gun moll Delores.) Now Lane is a man of many secrets, just as Don once was.
While the increasingly defanged and ineffectual Roger uses his own money to pay people off, trying to seem important, Lane seems to be in a real financial bind. What’s going on with his cash flow that he can’t manage to pony up his son’s tuition, after Rebecca was nice enough to return to the dreaded colonies? She seems to be becoming a more winning character. She was lovely at the Draper party -- and I liked her dress! One thing that didn’t ring true at all: that she would ask Lane to get the name of Megan’s decorator. It seems to me that Brits at that time found all modern furnishings vulga -- and would never pay for a decorator. (Those Americans and their lack of taste!) They were all about the chintz and the proudly tattered historical pieces.
Was the wallet guy some kind of in-joke about Matt Weiner’s time spent as a writer on “The Sopranos”? How else could this sloppy guy support Delores in the underthings and bed-lolling life she has become accustomed to, while also leaving cash in a cab?
Still, the increasingly mysterious Lane rallied when a very threatened and hormonal Joan came in for a visit. (Her mother is an undermining bitch, but Joan sniped right back.) The scene on the couch in his office between him and the teary-eyed, despairing new mom, to whom he offered his hanky, was pitch-perfect. Lane revealed that he desperately needs Joan, that “it’s just a matter of time before they find out I’m a sham.”
In terms of great direction and acting chops, it reminded me of a similar moment on an office couch, when Peggy told Pete about their baby and that she no longer cares for him at all.
And just as Joan predicted, Don made his new wife and former secretary an instant copywriter, which makes things tough for Peggy. It’s not fair that Megan is part of a team, yet can come and go with the big boss as she pleases. It’s going to make for more and more rifts. (Plus, Megan feels that “you people are so cynical.”)
Then there was the Heinz pitch with the jumping beans. (The art of supper or the last supper?) Peggy’s proud of using the latest state-of-the-art microphotography and high-speed camera to produce her bean ballet. (Fart joke goes here.) It kind of reminded me of the Busby Berkeley production number for the Great American Soup, with a dancing Anne Miller, which was to come in 1970. And of course the campaign using Carly Simon’s “Anticipation” was to be anticipated. But the client is not buying it, (literally) and he has a point -- although talking about making beans part of a political protest shows an incredible tin ear, and Weiner’s clever insight into character.
Indeed, Mr. Beans has lots of company in the ad industry. The idea of racial inequality, and the brewing race riots, form the backdrop for the whole episode. Interestingly, Pete, the entitled patrician, is the only one who reacts with any sensitivity and insight.
The water balloon incident was taken verbatim from an actual protest at the time, but the pickets were “poor people, priests, and anti-poverty workers protesting the Office of Economic Opportunity,” according to the New York Times piece from the next day. Y & R employees did throw water balloons, two young boys were hit, and their mothers stormed up to the office -- where they were greeted by a secretary who said, “That’s ridiculous. This is an executive floor." One of the mothers said, “And they call us savages.” It’s a relief to know that Weiner did not write that line.
SCDP’s “closed window,” equal opportunity response to Y&R was adding fuel to the fire of frat-boy childishness. Weiner managed to bring the issue of race relations right into the living rooms -- or at least the reception areas -- of clueless ad agencies.
Peggy’s progressive boyfriend Abe mentioned “four riots in three cities in two months.” But for now the only memorable numbers SCDP folks are hearing are “Un, deux, troix, quatre.”