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"Mad Men"

By admin Published: October 4, 2009

As I said in my last post, I neglected to post about "Mad Men" a week ago, so I am doubling up tonight. Which, after seeing tonight's episode, does not seem like a bad idea ...

For an array of reasons, several major characters in "Mad Men" are suffocating: Don, Peggy, Pete and Betty. Don feared the bond of a contract, Peggy feels she has no value (professionally or personally), Pete hates his marriage, Betty hates hers.

Indeed, the Rome scenes tonight were most telling because they reminded us of how sophisticated Betty was in her modeling days; she speaks Italian and knows what a Roman bellhop makes. If, as we saw the week before, one of Don's greatest fears is that he's still a rube at heart, then Betty this week made him look like one, especially in that crack about Don's tip. And the episode was shot in all sorts of little ways to demonstrate that Betty is exotic -- not only when she was in her '60s Italian getup, but when she arose from the bed in her white slip, a blonde variation on a lush image that the time would have more readily used for Sophia Loren or Anna Magnani. She was earthy in a way that she never is at home.

Don, for his part, responded to that. An essential part of his re-wooing of Betty is his dressing more colorfully, freeing himself from the dark suits that are his standard issue in New York in favor of an ensemble that is a bit comical because it's Don but which also fits with Betty's garb, and which makes him outshine the gigolos pursuing his wife. Like Betty, he has fallen for the idea of "la dolce vita."

Of course, it's an illusion. There's Connie, representing both America and endless work, and even if Betty can delay Don for a morning, she knows that Connie will win more of his time and energy. We know that, too, because Don has willingly put on the chains of a contract, and there is no cool refusal in Don's actions now; he has a job, and a boss, and no escape.

But Betty also seems poised for self-destruction. She was smart to get out of town after the kiss, and to remind herself (and us) how hot she and Don can be for each other. But at the end of the episode, she's back in the 'burbs, hating not only what it is, but what she has to be in it.

And if she does proceed down a self-destructive path, it will be along the same way that Don has already taken (with his drive, his drink and his being robbed), with dire results. We haven't seen where Peggy's sleeping with Duck will lead yet, but it can't be good -- even if it leads to professional success for her, it's one more personal nightmare.

As for Pete, shabby little Pete, he just can't be what he wants to be -- the seductive, powerful Don Draper. His scam to ingratiate himself with the au pair runs him right into Joan, who of course sees through all his little lies; his expectation of gratitude from the au pair is dashed, but he blunders ahead anyway and in the process is not a seducer but a rapist; he gets caught, and in the end, he cannot hide his guilt from Trudy. This being Pete, we can't be sure if his guilt stems from what he did or from his shame because it was all so humiliating or simply that too many people know for him to trust that it will stay secret. But the danger for Pete, as it is for the others, is that one self-destructive act may lead to more -- and the result could be even worse.

The show is so dark, and sad, and yet exhilarating because it is so well made.

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