Monday, August 18, 2008

Mad Men “Three Sundays”:The Tension Builds

Last night’s episode of AMC’s Mad Men, ‘Three Sundays,” is an interesting snapshot of Don Draper’s (Jon Hamm) family life and work life, showing the ups and downs of both. His day starts out fine, well, with the exception of getting caught in the early stages of foreplay with his wife, Betty (January Jones). The day seems to progress well, with the Drapers enjoying drinks and some music on the hi-fi. But later when Bobby starts acting up, like typical little boys do, Betty is all in a lather about his behavior and expects more support from Don to address it. But Don is reluctant to use forceful methods to make his point, and Betty just doesn’t get it. At work, and after much hard work on the American Airlines campaign, they find that the person from American that the thought gave them an edge to getting the account was just fired right before they were to make their pitch, essentially killing any prospects at landing the account. Since they dropped the Mohawk account to go after American, now they’re out one solid client and one potential client.

Meanwhile, Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss) finds herself getting ill while attending church with her family. She gets little sympathy from her sister, who says she knows Peggy was drinking too much the night before and can smell it on her. Peggy still excuses herself and walks into the church vestibule, where she meets the new church priest, Father Gill, who seems to take an interest in Peggy. Later at her mother’s home, Father Gill has arrived for dinner with the family and learns more about Peggy. He also offers her a ride home and asks for advise about next weeks’ sermon for Palm Sunday. She gives him some tips but makes it brief and excuses herself. But Peggy’s sister makes a pointed confession to Father Gill, spilling the beans about Peggy’s illegitimate child

Crunch time with the American Airlines proposal comes, but at a bad time for Don. He’s stuck taking Sally to work because Betty had to take Bobby to the emergency room for a burn on his hand. While Sally is at Don’s office, she announces to Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks) that she will have “big ones” like Joan and like her mother. But while Sally tries to keep herself occupied, everyone else at Sterling Cooper is too preoccupied in the pitch to American Airlines that Sally had picked up an alcoholic drink that was left on a desk.

Of course, there is plenty of cheating going on, with Don getting a visit from Bobbi Barrett (Melinda McGraw) and she locks the door so no one can interrupt. Roger Sterling (John Slattery) is paying a call girl for his entertainment. I hope he had fun, because by dropping Mohawk and the sinking of the American Airlines deal, they’re now behind the eight ball.

In between these core stories, we see that Betty Draper feels overwhelmed about taking care of simple family issues. Bobby seems to relay his need for this father by voicing to Don that they need to find HIM a new dad since Don’s had died long ago. And Don also confesses to Betty that he doesn’t want to strike Bobby because that what his dad did to him, and all it did was make Don wish he could murder him.

But what makes the episode is not what happens on the surface. While everything seems fine taken at face value, there are undercurrents of unhappiness, dissent, and sexual tension with almost every action that take. Betty looks like the perfect wife, but it seems to be getting rattled at not being able to handle simple discipline with Bobby, almost as if she is intimated by her own son. Don looks sharp and on top of things, but he is also feeling the pressure of her expectations. Not only must he do all the work to earn all the money that pays for her nice things, she expects him to be there to fix all the children’s issues. The children both are showing signs that their parents aren’t really paying attention to them. Peggy’s sister carries some animosity towards her, enough to “tattle” about Peggy to a priest during her own confession. Father Gill seems to feel something for Peggy, we don’t know what, but Peggy seems to be aware of something too. And Roger is playing with fire, not just with a call girl, but his risky management of the business, almost as if he thinks he’s indestructible.

And that’s what makes this show so different. It’s all those feelings and behaviors seething underneath everyone that creates the drama. And while the show is not action packed, it is still one of the best hours of drama that you’ll find on television. It’s just a matter of time before someone crashes and burns – and it wouldn’t surprise me that when it happens, it will be more than one person involved. It’s like watching dominoes fall in slow motion, except with people’s lives at stake.

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