Episode 9: Or, The Thin Wet Line

This is one tough episode, about blood, sweat, and piss -- or death, stupors, and naps. It also raises the usual tiny questions about identity and loss.

Open on Don, waking up alone and coughing in his hotel room, (we might have forgotten to add "phlegm" to the list of bodily emissions up top) when he picks up the newspaper at the door with the headline "MM: Accident or Suicide?"

How clever of the writers to make Marilyn's tragic life the prevailing theme here. (After all, the show and the actress share a set of initials.) And although Don seems to scoff at all the female tears in the office over Monroe's death, and says "suicide is disturbing," he and Marilyn are in fact very much alike. As Peggy says, "you don't ever think of her being alone." He is now alone. And the elevator man adds: "Hiding in plain sight," which is exactly what Don is doing.

Don is a man's man, yes, and Marilyn was a cartoon woman, but let's just consider the ways that MM and DD are separated at birth:



1) Each of them grew up during the Depression as illegitimate orphans, a trauma that would inform all of their decisions (conscious or not) for life.

2) In young adulthood, each took on a dramatic new name and identity. In Marilyn's case, she dyed her hair blonde, fixed her nose and teeth, and with her revealing photos and wardrobe, become the embodiment of exaggerated ideals of sex and femininity in the 1950s, a decade in which women were supposed to be devoted to home, baby-making, and husbands. (Obviously, in reality Marilyn was an ambitious working actress with no children and several failed marriages.)

Similarly ironic, although not as dramatic, Don used his picture- perfect family life as the blueprint for the new American dream he sells to the country; the reality, of course, is that he destroys that perfect domesticity with his lies and betrayals.

3) Each parlayed abundant natural talent and good looks to get ahead, and once successful, attempted to carefully control the resulting personae. In the end, though, their traumatic childhoods put each of them in an impossible bind -- the fatherless Monroe , with her unending neediness for men, was always in search of something; "whore child" Don seems to constantly seek some outside stimulus, equilibrium (or agitation) with women, and nothing is ever enough.

Mad Men Season 2/Episode 9 Don's wife Betty, although she's shown drinking wine and lying around in her housecoat (a la Marilyn, or Miss Havisham) for the first half of the episode, proves to be neither a Marilyn nor a Jackie -- she stays firm on not letting Don back into her life.

At the same time, the wife is not without sin. After many months of being a ghost in her own house, sleeping through daylight with the curtains drawn (another recurring theme of this episode), she gets up and defrosts the refrigerator (a bit of an obvious metaphor for her heart) and cuts shelf paper (building her nest?) We're led to believe she might even try to reunite the family. But the only thing that seems to get her to get over her depression, and baking a cake in the kitchen with her kids, is the idea of cooking up a sex scandal for her friend Sara Beth with the callow engaged guy at the stables.

As she tells Sara, attraction "is a switch you can flip off and on, you know.... you don't even have to think about it," proving that she's perhaps a better partner for Don than either of them knows.

Speaking of complicated characters, while Don seems to be able to cheat on his wife without blinking, at the same time he shows unwavering loyalty to the drunk in the office who plays Mozart on his zipper.

Indeed, the peeing scenario plays out brilliantly in the midst of the blood drive, allowing all the characters' contradictions and flaws to be illuminated. When it happens, at 9 in the morning, and Freddy manages to sit down and then pass out, his colleagues wonder if he's dead. Indeed, for longtime copywriter Rumsen (what a great name for a tippler!), was peeing an accident or job suicide?

Duck, who doesn't even care about his loyal dog, was in a similar position, lost his job, and dried out. (He's a Dry Duck now.) Perhaps that's why he says the agency is "doing [Freddy] no favors" by "keeping him around."

And Pete Campbell gets all sanctimonious about Freddy being "disgusting," when of course we know that he's a phony and a jerk and holier than no one.

Peggy loves Freddy, because he gave her her first copywriting opportunity. Just as when Don had his car accident, she gets into hypervigilant-girl-scout mode, doing a super job of covering up and being loyal.

The Rumsen situation also allows us to see a new side of agency partner Roger Sterling: for one thing, he didn't get to the top only on his rakish good looks and supercharged womanizing. He inherited the business from his father, who apparently was a worse drunk than Freddy -- and who actually hired and promoted Freddy.

Mad Men Season 2/Episode9 The writers make clear the contradiction and conundrum that drinking was to corporate life at the time: in the process of telling Freddy he's fired, Roger and Don get him all snockered up. After they visit some underground gambling den, (which played to me like an inside joke on "The Sopranos,") and after Don punches out annoying little comedian Jimmy, there's a final scene in which Don gets Freddy a cab. ("Take him to McCann!" Roger jokes.) Don knows they're all lying to Freddy, that there will be no more chances, but he goes along with Roger's party line, that it's "not an ending, but a fresh start."

As drunk as he is, Freddy is smart, and he knows that the jig is up. "What am I gonna tell Violet?" he asks. "If I don't go into that office every day, who am I?"

Don doesn't have an answer, and is no doubt wondering the same thing.

He goes yet another round with Roger, who wants to talk about Don's personal life. He acknowledges that he's alone at a hotel, but that he's "relieved." Roger asks if he's in love. Don says that would be easier, because at least he'd know what to do.

"It's your life," Don says to Roger. "You gotta move forward," Don adds, talking about himself.

Mad Men Season 2/Episode 9 Little does he know that Roger will use that drunken line to justify leaving his wife, and, even worse, taking up with Jane, Don's secretary, who is younger than Roger's daughter. (And seems to have taken a great interest in Don's personal life at the Roosevelt Hotel.)

In the final scene, even Don is disgusted. "I want her off my desk,'' he says to Roger, who, after surviving two heart attacks, has caused a new wave of death and destruction at the office.

In the beginning of the show, Peggy alludes to the fact that the agency came up with a Jackie/Marilyn campaign for Playtex. "It's a good thing it never ran," she says. "We'd have to pull it."

The campaign maintained that every woman was either a Jackie or a Marilyn -- a horrendously oversimplified view of American womanhood. In real life, women are far more complicated than bras -- although at this particular time, they have reason to be unhinged.

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