Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mad Men “The Arrangements”: Fractured Families

Sunday’s episode of Mad Men “The Arrangements” was centered on family issues. For Peggy, it was moving away from her family and into Manhattan. For Sal, it was continuing to keep his sexuality in the closet and away from his wife. For the Drapers, it meant a death in the family. For Don it also meant watching out for someone else’s family. It was a relatively benign episode on the surface, but I sense events here may have lasting effects on some of the main characters.

First, it’s Betty’s father Gene (Ryan Cutrona) who seems to be stirring the pot. He allows the underage Sally (Kiernan Shipka) to steer the car, while Gene keeps his foot on the gas. Sally seems to be enjoying the experience. He later bonds further with Sally over eating ice cream in the kitchen. With Betty (January Jones), Gene brings out his information on his final arrangements and wishes, much to Betty’s discomfort. She doesn’t really want to know about these things, calling his desire to push it on her as selfish and morbid. Gene later gets on Don’s (Jon Hamm) nerves as Gene is examining a box of his own keepsakes from the war, and hands Bobby (Jared S. Gilmore) a helmet from a Prussian soldier with a bullet hole in it that Gene claims to have made as he shot the soldier. It is somewhat sad to see that the helmet is very small and fits easily on Bobby’s small head, implying that Gene killed a soldier that was no more than a child. When Don tells Bobby to take it off and Gene tells him to leave it on, the conflicted Bobby seems frozen in what to do. Don solves the problem by taking the helmet off Bobby’s head and removing it from the room. It certainly seems that Gene senses that something is coming and he needs to be sure that he is not only remembered, but that Betty is prepared for his eventual death.

Meanwhile at work, Don seems to be having concerns that Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) has landed a big, gullible fish in Horace Cook Jr. (Aaron Stanford), who wants to go all out to promote Jai Alai. Pete knows that this guy is dumb enough to go for a costly campaign. Despite the fact that Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) seems happy with Pete, Don realizes that Horace’s father Horace Sr. (David Selby) has connections with Bert Cooper, and he suggests they confer with Horace Sr. before contracting with Horace for a sport and a cause that Don seems to (correctly) think that won’t amount to much. Horace Sr. isn’t happy with his son’s plans, saying they are “gibberish.” He indicated when they set aside the money for him for him when he was a child, they had no idea what kind of child he would be, but he basically gives them the go ahead to proceed to allow Horace Jr. to sign the contract. Don and Peter later have dinner with Horace Jr. who seems as pumped up as ever about his Jai Alai venture, saying that he has a dream if giving his father a gift of a Jai Alai team for his 75th birthday. Don reminds Horace Jr. that the fortune his father gave him was not just about money, it was about his future, and thinks Horace can do better. Pete blanches at this comment, but Horace Jr. thinks Don is just using a sales technique. Horace tells Don that if Jai Alai fails, it will be Sterling-Cooper’s fault.

The next day, with the contract signed, Don walks into the office that used to be Burt Peterson's and the guts are playing around with the Jai Alai equipment, and in doing so, Don breaks the glass in the ant farm. He quips that they should just bill the kid for it. Later, we see Joan spraying ant killer all over the area.

Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) is also looking to move to Manhattan and away from her mother and sister. She knows the news will not go over will with her mother. Peggy places an ad on the company bulletin board that only elicits a hoax call from one of the secretaries who was egged on by Kinsey (Michael Gladis ) and Ken (Aaron Staton ). Peggy feels humiliated and later removes the ad, and while doing so, Joan (Christina Hendricks) calls the ad “unfortunate” and adds it sounds like stage directions from an Ibsen play. Joan gives Peggy some tips on how to write and ad, and where to put it, in order to get a better response. I found it interesting that Peggy can write an ad for selling products, but can't seem to write an ad which is supposed to be selling herself. After an ad rewrite, Peggy quickly snags a roommate, Karen Erickson (Carla Gallo). I guess that there really wasn’t much to the vetting process in those days because Peggy seemed to take the first person that approached her. Peggy then sets the stage to tell her mother about her move, buying her mother a new console TV set to soften the blow. Peggy’s mother sees right through the attempt to buy her willingness to let Peggy go. Upset, she tells Peggy that she will get raped. When Peggy makes a move to kiss her mother, she turns away.

There is both good news and bad news for Sal (Bryan Batt). Don gives him the chance to direct the “Patio” commercial, based on the Ann-Margret “Bye Bye Birdie” theme. Sal is thrilled. But later that night, when Sal’s wife Kitty (Sarah Drew) comes into the bedroom with a new negligee and begins to make overtures to Sal, he rebuffs her. When she asks him what’s been wrong with him, he blames his preoccupation with his work and the “Patio” campaign. Sal proceeds to go through his own recreation of how the ad will look, and in doing so, paints a picture of a stereotypical gay man who seems all too comfortable performing a woman’s musical number. (I enjoyed it immensely.) Something in the look it Kitty’s eyes may indicate that she has come to the same conclusion about Sal.

Later, after the finished commercial is shown to the clients, Sal gets the bad news that the clients don’t like it. It’s exactly what they asked for, but they call it a failure. While Sal and Ken are dismayed, Peggy smirks with glee, seemingly trying to hold back saying “I told you so” to her colleagues. After the clients leave, it’s Roger (John Slattery) who states that the problem is that the woman in the commercial is not Ann-Margret.

While this is going on, Sally is outside the Draper home when a police car pulls up, and a police officer informs Betty that Gene is dead, having collapsed while standing in line at the A&P. Betty knees buckle, but she maintains her composure as the police officer enters the home to go over what they should do with Gene’s body. Sally, on the other hand, is rocked.

Back at the office, Sal comes in to see Don to accept whatever consequences Don will dish out for the failed Patio ad. But Don gets a call from Betty informing him about Gene, and Don tells her he will be right there. Before he leaves the office, he reassures Sal, telling him he is now a commercial director, and when Sal thinks Don is just saying this, Don says he’ll know when he hires him again. Sal is relieved.

Later, in the Draper’s kitchen, Don and Betty, Betty’s brother William (Eric Ladin) and his wife are at the kitchen table, with Sally listening as she sits under the dining room table. When the adults share a chuckle, Sally goes off the deep end and completely looses it, chastising the adults for laughing when Gene is dead and will never be coming back. Betty is intolerant of Sally’s feelings and dismisses her, telling her to go watch TV. Don looks at Sally with the “placate your mother” look, and Sally goes to watch the news. The news story she catches is the one of a Buddhist monk setting himself on fire in a protest, and Sally stares at it with a detached gaze. Later, Don gets out of bed, still fully clothed, covers Betty, and checks on Sally, before walking downstairs alone.

While this episode wasn’t one of their best, my opinion is that it will serve as a foundation for the development of much deeper stories. With Sally, she seems to be a child that is just waiting to boil over. With her stealing from her grandfather the week before and learning a hard lesson from it, now her beloved grandfather is dead, and she feels she is the only one who cares. We may be seeing a rebellious child being formed. Sal seems liberated, with his fears of being stuck as an animator being somewhat put to rest when he was given the chance to direct a commercial. He also may feel somewhat freed by the fact that although Don knows Sal is attracted to men, Don is still giving him a chance to grow in his job. Sal’s big problem now will be trying to keep his wife satisfied, if he even will want to. Peggy seems unwilling to be held hostage by her mother’s emotional blackmail, and seems to have her move to Manhattan rationalized. Peggy wants to be liberated from her family and grow as an individual, and seems even more intent on creating a new image for herself and break out of her uptight image. Is she just breaking out of one persona to jump into another one that she hasn’t completely thought through?

Along with her expanding girth from her pregnancy, Betty seems to be growing even colder and more distant. She wants to avoid any discussion of her father’s death, and now that it has happened, she seems to not be showing any outward emotion about the issue. Betty is the complete opposite of Sally, with Sally erupting like a geyser and with Betty becoming more like a glacier every week.

Don appears to be developing more of a conscience, which is not something that is welcome in his industry. Still, Don gets his point across about the agency suckering in Horace Jr. for an expensive campaign for an idea that they all seem to agree is folly. They still go ahead with it, but at least Don can say that he raised the red flags. Of course, Jai Alai never became a very hot sport in the United States, so we all know that Horace Jr. is in for a fall. The question is, how much will he be able to get away with by blaming Sterling Cooper? We can only stay tuned to find out.

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