Notes on the next to last episode of the third season of "Mad Men," after the jump.
After the marvelous episode a week ago, "The Grown-Ups" was a mild disappointment, trying so hard not only to use the JFK assassination but also to blend it thematically with the characters' lives. We begin, after all, with a little assassination -- the seeming end of Pete's rise through the ranks (although, with Sterling Cooper for sale, who knows what the future holds?). And near the end we have the dual death of Don's dream life and of the foundation of his marriage, when Betty declares that she does not love him. Granted that Don has set the stage with his secrecy and infidelity, he has nonetheless tried to keep the dream alive, as was clear in his getting up with the baby. It is also Don who believes that everything we will be all right eventually -- his explanation about the assassination, that we will be sad for awhile and then go on, is also an apt summation of his feelings about the impact of his confession on the marriage, and is the kind of thinking that Trudy brings to Pete's not getting promoted.
That's a lot to fit into one episode, and that's not even all of it, since there's the issue of the marriage of Roger's daughter, disastrously taking place the day after the assassination. And that event serves to remind us that Roger has realized he has made a dual mistake in his own marriage: that Mona, whom he honors at the wedding reception, was a good partner, and that Joan, whom he calls while sitting next to his passed-out bride, is the one woman who understands him in all his flaws, and who might have been the best match for him.
Everything is not going to be all right for Roger, then. Or for Don, who is both shattered at home and battered at work, where he can't even get a new art director while the penny-pinching Brits are making SC look as profitable as possible for potential buyers. Life can't look good for Betty, either. And Peggy? The most brilliant stroke of the episode was probably Duck's unplugging the TV, so as not to risk interruption of his Me Time with Peggy; that certainly gives us an idea of his priorities regarding her, which are not professional, not emotional, but based in the idea of an easy nooner.
Although, if he failed to deliver, he had the excuse of being distracted by the assassination news.
So there were good things in the episode, also including Don and Peggy as the only people coming to work on Monday, the brinksmanship about whether Roger's wife would be at the wedding, Don after Betty says she does not love him, the way Don's daughter watches everyone and everything and most likely understands more than the "grown-ups." But it still felt as if it did not quite measure up to its ambition, as enormous as that ambition was.
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