Three Sundays

  • by August 18, 2008
Houses, fathers, old business, fresh starts.

Let's get the "Sopranos" link out of the way first. "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner obviously perfected his craft at the (perhaps broken) kneecap of Tony Soprano. This episode included a very "Sopranos"-like weaving of storylines; the mix of realism, satire, comedy, and fantastic details feels similar, as does the tone.(I must say, though, that in last night's episode, there was a lot to follow, and some of the characters seem to be low talkers. I had to back up the TiVo several times to get what they were saying.)

Mad Men Season 2 Episode 4 Weiner also seems to fixate on illicit relationships that ring a bell: Carmela Soprano had a love affair with her priest 00 and with the introduction of Colin Hanks as Father Gil, a young visiting pastor at the Church of the Holy Innocents who takes a liking to Peggy, it looks as though a similar scenario could be brewing. He seems to be ambitious, and wants to re-invent the Church and reach out to young people. The elder priest moralizes about ''evil desires'' and ''evil doings,' and the ''sins of the flesh'' in his sermon, whereas the younger guy tries to modernize grace (Peggy's mom won't allow it) and more significantly, as Bob Dylan was hitting the scene, plays the guitar.



It's a time of change in all the major "houses'' -- Kennedy is the White House, Sterling Cooper is trying to move into the future, and the Catholic Church is pushing toward modernity and Vatican II.. Father Gil gets the link. He's open to improving the sell -- the gospel through advertising-and asks Peggy to be his teacher. She gives him excellent advice; she, tells him to be "simple'' and "colloquial.''

At a dinner at Peggy's sister's house in Brooklyn, Father Gil is the only functioning man of the house -- Peggy's brother-in-law is racked out on the couch with his back out for the whole episode, a hilarious bit of physical comedy. (The women step on him and over him, and just plain block him out of the picture as they pose with the young Father.)

At dinner, the priest explains that he's already spent time at the Vatican. ''Did you meet the Holy Father?'' Peggy's mom asks. He makes the link with Kennedy (and we know that Don Draper has been called a Kennedy look-alike several times in the show.). "That's like being in Washington and being asked if you met the President,'' Father Gil says. ''I never did, but you know when he's in the building.''

Peggy's mom seems to subconsciously link Peggy with the power of the Pope: Father Gil says he's on his way to Rome, which makes the proud Mom respond, ''Peggy works in Manhattan.''

On this Easter show, the writers also resurrect Bobbie Barrett, comedian Jimmy Barrett's tough-guy manager and wife, who comes to visit Don, her sometime abuser, as if nothing has happened. Ostensibly, she's trying to sell a TV show for her husband ''(Grin and Barrett,'' which would be a meaner Candid Camera, which would in fact pave the way to all the horrible reality shows we started getting inundated with by the mid 1990s.) Amusingly, (even though people didn't talk this way in the 1960s) Don says it's "derivative with a twist. That's what they like.''

Mad Men Season 2 Episode 4

But the real business comes as Bobbie throws down her cape. Literally. On Don's carpeted office floor. Apparently to service him sexually. I don't want to be crude, but this topic surfaced three times during the course of the cablecast: first with Bobbie's overture; then in a mock-up ad done by the Sterling Cooper creative department to recruit American Airlines stewardesses that shows a woman kneeling at the feet of a male customer (it made Don angry.) Third, the incredibly bizarre spot from actual, real-live advertiser, that ran during an overpacked pod. It features a male hotel guest relaxing in a hot tub, as two hotel employees at his feet use straws to blow the water. Don't ask me, I just observe.

Meanwhile at the agency, new biz guy Duck seems on his way to having his goose cooked. He got American Airlines to move up the date for Sterling Cooper to pitch their business, which necessitated everyone coming in to work on Palm Sunday. The variety of casual wear is wonderfully comic: the unbearable account guy wears a tennis sweater with tiny white shorts, Cooper himself affects an argyle golf outfit out of the 1930s, but the secretaries don't change a rollered and/or lacquered hair on their heads, plus they're all girdled up.

Mad Men Season 2 Episode 4 Lest we forget that the world was unspeakably sexist at the time, the secretaries have to wait in line, drooling like Pavlov's dogs, as the executives (including the much-hated Peggy) get to eat from the buffet first.

The idea that Peggy's success (and nearly insane ability to compartmentalize) causes other women to hate her is also made clear in another scene: tired of all the attention Peggy gets from the priest, when she gets stuck doing all the work of raising the kid and making the dinners, the sister goes to confession with the young father to say how jealous she is that her little sister seems to get away with everything, including "seducing a married man'' and "having a child out of wedlock.''

But the biggest troubles are stirring in the House of Draper. Wife Betty seems to be as unstable as her ever-changing name. ( Her husband calls her "Betsy.") She's fixated on son Bobby's ''lying,'' which seems to be a case of projecting the sins of the father onto the son. Don always says she's the kind of mother he wishes he'd had, but she's increasingly cold and punishing to the kids. (The details are sometimes ridiculously heavy-handed. Sally, their daughter, seems to be on her way to becoming an alcoholic, as she pours her dad a screwdriver that's 90 per cent vodka, and later -- like Dad -- gets drunk at his office.)

Betty's becoming brutal towards the little boy, and on him for every infraction, demanding that Don beat him. "How is he going to learn the difference between right and wrong?'' she asks. "Do you think you'd be half the man you are today if your father didn't hit you?'

He lets that go. And the tender acting of the son at the end is spellbinding. He comes to apologize and comfort his father, asking him about his own dad. ''What did he look like? ... What food did he like to eat?'' Don says he liked candy that ''tasted like violets,'' and you can feel the memory floodgates open in his mind.

Later that night, Don tells his still-seething wife (who for some reason forgot to feed the kids dinner) that his father beat him, and it only made him "want to murder him.'' I didn't know that,'' Betty says.

There's a lot she doesn't know. Earlier, in preparation for the stillborn American Airlines pitch, Don tells the staff "there is no such thing as history."

Unfortunately, his life is proving the old axiom that those who don't learn from it just tend to repeat it.

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