Commentary

Episode 703: Ugly Betty And The Dead Man's Office

madblog-s7e3Last week, when Sally mentioned that she’d stay at her prep school “till 1975 if that would put Betty in the ground,” I thought she was being cruel. After this week, I wanted to hand her a wire hanger with which to strangle her Mommie Dearest. I could make the whole post about changing Betty, but let me stay on track.

 “Field Trip” is one of those uber-Weinerian episodes: a few terrific scenes, an oddly stilted moment or two, and a payoff in the form of a last-minute shocker that leaves you wanting to scream at the screen, “What the hell, Don?”

Again, it was all about appetites, choices, control, and the master theme: identity. Can you ever really change your essential self -- or your destiny?

These are the “Mad Men” memes that try our souls, but also result in the fertile symbols that lie just below the surface of every episode, like ripening potatoes waiting to be plucked from the earth. (After all, Farmer Cyrus told the kids that “not a lot happens above ground.")

And speaking of soles, please take your shoes off in Bert’s office -- all except Joan, who is allowed to keep her high black leather boots, all the better to administer Don’s punishment in lashes at the end, like a she-wolf.

Meanwhile, Bobby tells his mom on the way to the potato farm that his favorite movie monster is the Wolf Man, because he “changes into it.”

Whereas Betty responds with that literary monster, “Dracula.”

madblog-s7e3Of course, Dracula sucks blood, which kills his victims. And the scene at the farm, what with all that talk of udder pulling, was about life, and the  life-sustaining, sheer sweetness of mother’s milk. For some reason, that suckle that Mother Betty allowed herself (straight from the teat and the bucket!) set off a transformation to full green monster Betty, a petty, jealous, soul-killer of non-nurture and irrational neediness.

Of course, it’s always about her, so she showed up for a trip to the farm in high heels, sunglasses, elaborately teased and sprayed hair, and a rather dressy designer coat/suit, a perfect look for what she’d like to be: a First Lady at a Presidential inauguration.

She has smoked and starved herself down to perfect Hitchcockian blonde status -- and feeling shown up by Francine’s travel agent job, she is milking the only thing she knows to value: her looks, which allow her to manipulate men. Even if the man in question is her poor little son, who adores her.

Indeed, she seems to view this school trip as some form of date, and Bobby really tries his hardest to be the proper gentleman caller. He has a “conversation” with her, and takes the trouble to clear and save a nice seat for his mom.

That's in contrast to the glaring non-welcome that Don receives at the agency, where he has to sit around all day, with nowhere to put his coat, reading Time magazine, like an alien visitor (The clip on the TV screen at the end of the show was “My Favorite Martian.”)  Or like he was a patient in a dentist’s office. (“Take me to your dentist!” was the line Ray Walston used in that clip.)

madblog-s7e3But back to Don’s son: by giving away his mom’s sandwich (which she probably would have picked at while smoking, anyway), Bobby had paid attention to another girl. Betty saw this as a fatal betrayal that “ruined” their date. (You remember that she had that weird, crazy thing as the adult “girlfriend” of the pubescent Glenn.)

The farm trip allowed us to see the parallel with the last-minute field trip that Don experienced last week with Sally. He told the truth to her, and apologized, and it ended with an unexpected “I love you.” Throughout, though, Sally was the wise one -- if not quite the adult -- and Don was the child.

The parent/child turnarounds also show that most of the relationships on the show are morphing: Father/son, wife/husband, mother/son all beg for compare-and-contrast  status. (Like the carousel that Ken brings up, going round and round.)

To introduce a non-family person, let me just say that I dislike Megan’s agent. I know he’s supposed to be smarmy, but I hate the accent, the flamboyant gay stereotype, and the fact that he reports to Don on “their girl,” in the same patronizing, sexist way that Betty’s shrink reported to Don that he was dealing with a child.

This sets Don into action. He takes the same trip, essentially, that he did with Sally, except this time to make things right with madblog-s7e3Megan. He comes clean about his lying (although she still doesn’t know about Sylvia). But his handling of her fears of rejection was obviously insensitive. (Most actors in Hollywood become suicidal messes at times.)

This time, Megan comes across as the clear-headed adult who didn’t need Don’s patronizing paternalism. “Thanks for the advice, Daddy,” she says in a slapdown.  She responds to his sudden honesty by telling him to go home. “This is the end,” she says, in a scene that resonates with the complicated truths of real relationships and comes off as pitch-perfect.

Listening to Megan’s orders, Don heads “home.” But what is his home? Deep within, he is a motherless, homeless child, a hobo “riding the rails,” to use Stan’s joke. His only pride comes from the agency that he built. So he goes back there.

After the meeting with WRG (which of course was the job he should have taken if this were not a soap opera), he chooses not to knock on the door of temptation (the hooker) but instead goes to the door of reinvention: Roger.

“I thought you were a BLT,” Roger tells Don, like the Roger of old. And strangely, he is attired in a smoking jacket to greet his hippie girlfriend.

madblog-s7e3gAs we all know, reinvention is rough. Throughout the episode, Don keeps looking at his Omega watch. This time, he is clearly no longer the alpha/omega of the office. Instead, he’s in The Twilight Zone (Rod Serling was mentioned in the conversation with the agent), where Don's former protégé Peggy tells him he was not missed, and his replacement, Lou, in his tacky sweater and even worse jokes, is the anti-Don.

Still, he has no idea how much his former colleagues at Sterling, Cooper will turn on him. But he seems to be willing to take all the humiliation, as long as he gets a chance to rebuild.

The last few minutes, at the board meeting, were bravura. Joan reads the Draconian demands required of him for coming back: no drinking, follow the script in presentations, no private meetings with clients, report to Lou. Recipe for disaster, much?

But the final one is the real killer: he is to sit in Lane’s old office. Lane is the dead man who, in a Christ-like image, was found hanging on his door. Don cut him down.

These are crippling punishments, obviously meant to send him away. To everyone’s shock -- especially the viewer’s -- Don says, “Okay.”

This is where his childhood grit comes in. He thinks he can outwit (he is a Whitman, after all) the hideous, soulless, Lou -- which he probably can. He can make some strides in creative, although Jim, now Joan’s best friend, doesn’t value that, and wants a computer.

He is the Cheval Blanc.

So he will either be reborn from the ashes of the dead man's office -- his new digs -- or go up in flames (like the previous references to Dante’s Inferno).

Only Don sees clearly how true the lyrics in the Jimi Hendrix song, “If 6 was 9,” that was brilliantly used to close the episode, are:

“If the mountains fell in the sea

Let it be, it ain't me

Alright, 'cos I got my own world to look through

And I ain't gonna copy you.”

He won’t be the only working parent in the family. My prediction: Betty gets a job.

Tags: cable tv, mad men, tv
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35 comments about "Episode 703: Ugly Betty And The Dead Man's Office".
  1. AC Winters from ACWintersEsq , April 29, 2014 at 6:35 p.m.
    Good pickup on the mother's milk angle. I also missed the Who's your favorite superhero conversation (I was probably too busy looking at Betty's perfect outfit. Not perfect for the farm, of course). I love that Don accepted truly unacceptable conditions from his so-called partners. Even they know that those conditions will never hold; I just don't think they thought Don would accept them. Now the fun begins. But seriously AMC, only 4 more episodes then we have to wait till 2015? Come on!!
  2. Tom Scharre from The Hunch Fund , April 29, 2014 at 6:40 p.m.
    Do you what movie Don was watching in the theater at the opening? Vaguely rang a bell, but I can't recall it.
  3. Tom Scharre from The Hunch Fund , April 29, 2014 at 6:41 p.m.
    Do you *know* - oops.
  4. Larry steven Londre from Londre Marketing Consultants, LLC and USC , April 29, 2014 at 6:55 p.m.
    If it's reborn/reinvention...then Don needs SC&P. He was already supplying creative copy ideas in the first episode this season. Peggy needs Don and not Lou. Peggy also needs a good boyfriend. But does Joan need Roger, father of her son? Not so sure of that one. But Roger needs Don more than Lou. Roger surely doesn't need more girlfriends.Someone should count how many he has had. By the way Mary Wells keeps coming up without a lot of praise. I had heard or read she was brilliant with clients, in new and old business.
  5. Jo Duran from BOM , April 29, 2014 at 7:01 p.m.
    I often wondered what it would be like to go back to a previous ad agency where I was one of the originals. I know that I would say, "Okay" too. This was udderly delicious.
  6. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , April 29, 2014 at 8:10 p.m.
    Tom: On the screen the 1969 movie Model Shop. Here is the IMDB plot summary: "George Matthews is a young man who is having a bittersweet affair with a French divorcée in Los Angeles. Waiting to be drafted, he is unable to commit himself to anything or anybody, including his girlfriend Gloria. " Basically an unemployed guy who has an affair with a "model" that allows him to go back to his girlfriend.
  7. Claudia Reilly from none , April 29, 2014 at 8:25 p.m.
    I love your analysis. Betty's childishness is fascinating. Her explosion over the sandwich took my breath away. But on some level her coldness and childish personality grips me in a way that Megan never grips me. I loved your comment that Betty would like to be First Lady. On some level, she reminds me of Jackie O. Loved your comment about Roger's peculiar smoking jacket. And your way of commenting that Don is either going to be reborn from the ashes in Lane's office or go up in flames. Your insights are so great! I was very happy when Don said "Okay." Peggy has been so strange this season. Her heartless, childish comment that he was not missed surprised me. Coupled with her flower tantrum last week, I thought, "WHAT is Weiner doing with Peggy? And WHY?" Note to an earlier poster: I think Don's watching a French film called "Model Shop" about a guy who is having an affair with an older woman. Whenever I am sad an episode is over, I console myself by saying, "But soon I'll get to read Barbara's fabulous blog!" As ever, your analysis is truly wonderful.
  8. Martin Kleinman from Communications Strategies , April 29, 2014 at 8:39 p.m.
    personally i think that don figured out the if/then sequence in the 10 hrs. he had in the office, cooling his heels. we saw how the creative people came right back to him, hungry for someone with their lights on to help refine their ideas. if i was writing it, i'd have don figure that he is a trojan horse of sorts. once he is back in the fold, he can hit a quick succession of home runs, get the agency's mojo back on the street and force the partners' hand re: lou who is, after all, only a hired hand. as for betty, it was remarkable how this ice maiden looked so soft and actually cuddly in bed, with the young son sleeping on her. Peggy? Wow. That was gratuitous. Ditto Joan, given that Don was the only one to defend her re: Jaguar, as you pointed out. And Lou? Oh man, that guy needs to be punched hard.
  9. Arthur Greenwald from Greenwald Media , April 29, 2014 at 8:40 p.m.
    Good analysis as always but I sometimes think you put more thought into the symbolism than ever occurred to Weiner & Co. One small quibble: Wolfman was no super hero, he like Dracula and Frankenstein are movie monsters -- specifically the Universal Studios monsters that were heavily marketed to kids in the 60's and 70's in syndicated reruns, toys and famously Aurora model kits: http://www.professorplastik.com/monster_site/proscenium/kits/auroramonsterkithistory.htm
  10. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , April 29, 2014 at 9:34 p.m.
    To me, it seemed that the reason why Don came back to Sterling Cooper was because of the blond that propositioned him during the WRG dinner. That blond represented what he was after, Sterling Cooper. That agency will always lure him back, no matter what offer anyone else gives him. I sometimes equate Don and SCP to James T. Kirk and the Enterprise. Those are the true mistresses. Don's treatment there surprised me more than his accepting the offer. Joan's line, that he was offered a leave to give him the "dignity" to gracefully exit the firm was outrageous. This coming from someone who slept her way to a partnership?? And Peggy is still projecting her anger at Teddy onto Joan. The lot of them, except for Roger, have grown far too comfortable in their mediocrity. Status quo is a dangerous thing in advertising, and SCP is in the middle of it. Don will run circles around Lou, and it will be plainly evident that the key to growth is going to be Don. Only Jim Cutler's political machinations can get in the way, but the money they can make from Don will win.
  11. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , April 29, 2014 at 9:34 p.m.
    A FRIEND of mine thought that the way it was edited, it looks like Don imagined the entire office sequence. Anyone think that may be right. They did do a dream sequence before.
  12. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , April 29, 2014 at 9:38 p.m.
    Peggy is projecting her anger at Teddy onto Don, not Joan. I blame Peggy for that error.
  13. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , April 29, 2014 at 9:39 p.m.
    Tom, I would believe it's a dream only if Don murdered Lou.
  14. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , April 29, 2014 at 9:40 p.m.
    Thanks, Arthur. It was a conversation about movie monsters.
  15. Dorothea Marcus from Weichert Realtors , April 29, 2014 at 9:45 p.m.
    Barbara, great recap. I love your reminding us about Glenn and Betty's weird thing with him. My heart broke for Bobby, at the farm and then again that night at home. I was astonished that so many online commenters at NYM felt empathy/sympathy with Betty feeling she was a bad mother. Someone there pointed up the parallel of Betty divorcing Don when he finally tells her the truth about Dick Whitman, and Megan ending things when Don tells her the truth about not working. In both cases, it's not the truth but the fact they had been hoodwinked which motivates the wives to split.
  16. Tom Scharre from The Hunch Fund , April 29, 2014 at 10:16 p.m.
    'Model Shop' - ok, got it; thank you. Also, a word or two in defense of Peggy. Remember, Don tried to passive-aggressively sabotage her & Ted's "Rosemary's Baby" spot last season? And, in this episode, Lou made a passing derogatory reference to it, as well. I think she feels - with justification - she is professionally/creatively & yes, romantically - surrounded by adversaries. She's behaving badly; but she has also been treated badly. As for the 'dream-like edit sequence', I initially thought it might be a dream, too. But there's a noticeable audio shift at one point; to me, it seemed like he was imagining what the moment of his return might be like -- and then, bam, he was experiencing the actual return.
  17. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , April 29, 2014 at 10:34 p.m.
    Jonathan Hutter----nice line. Barbara, I have to admit that I was bored with Betty's sequence except the conversation with the woman and her whole appearance was relieved only by her drinking the unpasteurized milk. Tom Scharre, makes sense what you say.
  18. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost , April 29, 2014 at 10:51 p.m.
    I thought you were going to tell us what movie he was watching at the beginning of the episode and what that meant... lol And, I could not help but notice that Megan told him it was over and to go home... then walked into her bedroom and soundly closed the door. Continuing the door metaphors. That's all I got to add. I'd still like to know what he was watching in the first moments, I felt Weiner was trying to say something since he lingered on the scene for a bit. But other than that I think you have another great write up here. I always feel like we've been taken to school every week. Looking forward to next week!
  19. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost , April 29, 2014 at 10:53 p.m.
    Oops. Never mind. I just realized you addressed the movie in the comments. I knew it would be something significant. ;-) Brilliant.
  20. Janet Winter from none , April 29, 2014 at 11:46 p.m.
    I also felt like Don never left his apartment, and it was unclear whether he actually went to the office,. And once he got to the office I found the reactions to him so unexpected and hard to believe.
  21. Dyann Espinosa from IntraStasis , April 30, 2014 at 6:57 a.m.
    It feels to me like we are all looking at the show on a granular level. That implies, to me, the "relationship" is floundering and the process of examination is part of an effort to revive it. If the show was exciting, engaging, surprising and fulfilling we would simply be swept along on the tide of a truly absorbing experience. Once you start dissecting it, you might as well admit, the thrill is gone.
  22. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , April 30, 2014 at 7:14 a.m.
    Interesting idea about the dream sequence and the office:the other thing that struck me is that it was a parallel to Sally's arriving at the office last week, expecting to find her father, and finding Lou instead. He asks her,"Do you know how to get an outside line?" There was a hallucinatory moment when he first arrived, when it was all white and blank and floaty, then all the looking at the Omega watch, and less subtlety, reading Time Magazine. The reactions were self- protection: Joan is on Jim's side now, and she doesn't want to lose her office, Peggy already can't get any work produced or submitted to shows, so Don is an added threat, not a comfort. Plus she's really angry at him for sending Ted to California. The only one who is not furious with him is Roger, the fellow reprobate. And he has less and less power there, and can't even remember to schedule a meeting.
  23. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , April 30, 2014 at 7:36 a.m.
    I think Don will be reborn from the ashes. Here's how: To come completely clean and truly be reborn, he'll return to being Dick Whitman, and focus his time on good causes like childhood adoption. Roger and Pete will see this as an example to emulate, such that Roger decides to adopt Pete, making him Peter Sterling. Pete, trying to emulate what he thought was success, will take on Don's first name. As Donald, he'll leave the agency business, go into California real estate and make lots of money. So much that, in 1981, he buys the San Diego Clippers. Which brings us to present day.
  24. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , April 30, 2014 at 8:37 a.m.
    Another vote for the office visit never happened. If this is true, the show is dead and might as well not come back for the final episodes.
  25. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , April 30, 2014 at 8:44 a.m.
    perhaps Don was in the shower? ;-) I think the office happened. It ended with "okay," but maybe he had more to say?
  26. Sally Edelstein from Sally Edelstein Design , April 30, 2014 at 9:24 a.m.
    The mid-century housewife knew in her heart - because all the magazines confirmed it to be so- that love, marriage and children was The career for women. Betty Francis like my own mother Betty would follow in the footsteps of another Betty, Betty Crocker, seemingly satisfied in her role as housewife and mother. But in the fall of 1960 another magazine article appeared in Good Housekeeping questioning the role of women. It wouldn't be until 1963 when the article's author Betty Friedan's book the Feminine Mystique appeared.The problem that had no name was so unfathomable to many homemakers at the time no one even thought they had a problem. It was buried as deeply as our missiles underground and would cause the same explosion when they were released. For a look at the real housewives of the Cold War http://envisioningtheamericandream.com/2013/03/07/the-real-housewives-of-the-cold-war/
  27. Bob Shiffrar from Lehman Millet , April 30, 2014 at 12:47 p.m.
    //Waiting to be drafted, he is unable to commit himself to anything or anybody, including his girlfriend...// Doesn't that describe the first 3 episodes of this year's Mad Men episode as well as the film "Model Shop"? Here's the NYTimes review, from February, 1969: http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9B04E0DB133BE73ABC4A52DFB4668382679EDE
  28. Anne Dodd from self , April 30, 2014 at 2:36 p.m.
    MM Goddess! I so enjoy reliving the show through your expert eyes. I thought it was chilling that Don was given Lane's office. Will this be the window he leaps from? Betty and her Ice Queen persona, the perpetual child who wants to be "the girl with the most cake", even if she chooses not to eat it. And poor Bobby, desperately seeking his mother's affections and attentions. He will grow up to be his father. I was shocked at the ending. Don will never obey those commandments.
  29. Ruth Ayres from Harte-Hanks , April 30, 2014 at 5:10 p.m.
    I, too, continue to be fascinated by Betty, even when the haters are piling on. She's the most of-the-time character in the show I think. It's really like visiting a Museum of Mid-Century Womanhood. She would have been my idol too, with her just-so clothes and makeup. Luckily Betty wasn't my mom in those days--but at Bobby's age I was envious of kids whose moms were like Betty--or Jackie.
  30. Ann Scholhamer from Brenda Borri Company , May 1, 2014 at 3:36 p.m.
    Did anyone notice over the last few episodes the color and styles in Don's NY apartment? I feel like in the first two episodes it was drab - the colors seemed dark, dingy, it felt like art was missing and there were no decorator's touches (and the sliding glass door was broken) This episode it seemed brighter and back a bit to it's original level of glamor.
  31. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , May 1, 2014 at 4:35 p.m.
    I did notice that, Ann. It seemed to get crisper along with Don's outfit. (From bathrobe to his conservative 60s suit.) About Betty's outfit, which was so Jackie. Obviously, she knows how to dress appropriately for various occasions. Remember wihen she visited Bobby at camp, and got there ahead of her husband, and was wearing shorts and a sleeveless, button down blouse? That's when she hooked up with Don again. Not sure what she was doing in this outfit at the farm, except to show extreme alienation. And then in turn, Don was the alienated men inside his old office.
  32. Jim English from FJC , May 3, 2014 at 3:31 p.m.
    "Can you ever really change your essential self?" A question for the ages. In the case of Betty, I think you have to at least try. (Poor Bobby, he still adores his mom.)
  33. Ruth Ayres from Harte-Hanks , May 4, 2014 at 7:30 p.m.
    What also occurs to me is that Don's contract with the firm is in the false name of Don Draper. Bert Cooper knows the truth. He can call the game any time he wants. But will he?
  34. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , May 5, 2014 at 8:13 p.m.
    No, but since they say he reports to lou....there is reason for don to complain that he is being asked to report to peggy........actually a real life employment contract issue...
  35. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , May 9, 2014 at 8:07 a.m.
    Afterthought: Betty, the Mother, was holding her sleeping child close to her breast with no fancy make-up or fancy clothes as a Madonna figure in contrast.