Monday, September 29, 2008

Mad Men “Six Month Leave” Full Of Contradictions

The episode of Mad Men “Six Month Leave” opens with Don Draper (Jon Hamm), banished from his home and staying in a hotel, reading the newspaper headline about Marilyn Monroe’s questionable death. Meanwhile, Betty (January Jones) is at home, seemingly falling deeper into what seems like depression. But the episode is really an excellent study of double standards and conflicting messages.

It seems that the women in the office are rattled by Monroe’s death, but the men seem indifferent, almost as if she deserved to die for the life she lived. Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) however, seems on the fence. She's partly sympathetic but also takes a businesslike approach to the matter, telling Don it’s a good thing that they didn’t go ahead with the Jackie/Marilyn Playtex ad campaign.

Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), Peggy, and Sal (Bryan Batt) are in Freddy’s (Joel Murray) office doing prep for an ad pitch. Freddy, however, urinated down his pant leg and doesn’t even seem to realize it. When it’s brought to his attention, he sits down and passes out, clearly from too much alcohol. The team goes ahead with the presentation without him, Peggt taking his place.

Betty is going through her routine day, defrosting the refrigerator and putting lining in her kitchen drawers. She seems rumpled and careless about how she looks. When a friend comes to Betty’s house to borrow a dress, Betty just says that she’s not feeling well. At the office, Jane (Peyton List) tips Don off that she’s aware that something is wrong at home, and Don snips at her that it’s personal and confidential. He’s clearly not pleased at the prospect of having his proverbial dirty laundry aired to the rest of the office.

Don is also unhappy when he’s called in to Roger Sterling’s (John Slattery) office and is ambushed by Pete and Duck (Mark Moses), who want Freddy fired. Don resists at first, but then relents after Roger tells Don that Freddy will be given a 6 months paid leave to dry out and possibly return. When the staff jokes about Freddy’s “accident” at the company blood drive, Don chastises them for their behavior. The next day, when all is done with Freddy, Don calls Peggy into his office and promotes her to take over Freddy’s accounts, but not after he expresses his disappointment that she let him get ambushed over the issue. Peggy, who seems conflicted about the promotion, expresses her displeasure with Pete, who seems unconcerned because after all, Peggy got a promotion out of it.

Betty decides to go out to the stables, runs into Arthur (Gabiel Mann). She asks about her friend, Sarah Beth (Missy Yager) and Arthur said he saw her. She suggested the go to lunch together to lift Sarah Beth spirits, and he agrees. As he leave, the smile on her face goes blank, then her face turns cold. Betty never shows up for the lunch, staying at home with the kids and taking the phone off the hook.

Don, spending some time with the kids, returns home and when the kids are put to bed, they argue about what to tell the kids. When Don suggests that he could just come home, she nixes that idea. She’s clearly still miffed at him.

Over dinner and lots of drinks, Don and Roger give Freddy the news about his job, then take him out gambling to an illegal casino set up, and they all continue to drink. Of course, so does Freddy, who earlier proclaimed he could turn if off when he wanted. But while Freddy is off on his own at the casino, Don and Roger sit at the bar, and Roger tells Don he knows what’s going on with Don’s marriage. But when Don spies Jimmy Barrett (Patrick Fischler) in the casino, he goes over to him and clocks him, and the Don, Roger, and Freddy make a quick exit.

After they send Freddy home in a cab, Don and Roger mull over their marriages at another bar. Don tells Roger that “it's your life” and that he might as well move forward. Later, Roger’s wife Mona (Talia Balsam) storms into Don’s office, saying that based on Don’s advice, Roger asked for a divorce. When he denies telling Roger to get a divorce, Mona asks that didn’t Don say, "It's your life, you have to move forward?" Don is stunned, and as Roger tries to calm Mona, Jane is at her desk, crying. When she also steps away, Don gives Roger a cold glare and tells Roger he wants Jane off his desk.

There are a lot of mixed signals going on here. First, everyone at Sterling Cooper drinks like fishes. But even when Freddy is clearly having trouble, some laugh about it, some use it against him, some want to help him. That’s fairly typical. But what is pathetic is that while Freddy is being fired for his drinking, they take him out for a night of drinking.

The clear division between how most of the women reacted to Marilyn Monroe’s death was also obvious. Many of the women in the office seemed to have become tearful or despondent over it, as if Marilyn’s death was not remotely her fault. The men, on the other had, seemed to think for the most part that it was expected, considering who she was and the life she led. In fact, this is very telling of the way men think of women in those days, even those to which they are married.

Betty’s problems are becoming more obvious, but I find myself wondering, is her problem a deepening depression over which she has no control, or is she allowing herself to wallow in her unhappiness with her life, or both? She seems to be going through the motions, as if she is trapped by her role as wife, rather than trying to pick herself up out of it. Maybe I have an advantage of growing up during the era when women were literally burning their bras; my expectations for what I could make out of my life were much higher. For someone like Betty, who already had two children and who lived in the culture where women had their place, maybe she felt that there was no place for her to go with her own life. Yet, we have someone like Peggy, who seems to be trying to keep high ethical standards, is continuing to move forward in a career in a company where a woman’s value isn’t respected.

Don. a man with deep secrets of his own, seems most vunerable with his own secretaries, who are more observant than he likes. But in the case of Jane, her apparent potential for leaking information to Roger is just too great, so she has to go. So he must remain as distant as possible, even seemingly to his own wife.

It goes without saying that everyone’s life on this show is a bit of a house of cards, which seems to be falling in a slow, deliberate collapse. The only question is, who’s going to be the first one to fall that will bring down everyone else tumbling down?

Check out my blog home page for the latest information, here.

No comments: