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Viewing Notebook: "Mad Men"

By admin Published: October 13, 2009

Thoughts after the jump.

The train to self-destruction is rolling a lot faster on "Mad Men," isn't it? Here he gives his best advertising presentation since the slide carousel, and the client's reaction is that he didn't get what he wanted. Indeed, the entire episode, "Wee Small Hours," is about not getting what you want -- and then about getting what you want, only you want the wrong thing. That's certainly true for Don, who wants Suzanne and gets her, when he is wrong in the wanting, the pursuing and the getting. But it's also true for the cigarette exec, who gets what he says he wants -- having Sal fired -- even though that does no one any good. And, when we last see Sal, in a phone booth, he thinks he's getting what he wants, some uncomplicated sex with a man, only it's a sordid scene, in a park, with rough trade the only visible option. It's as if he is taking what Betty has spurned -- the satisfaction of a physical and emotional urge, but under conditions Betty considers "tawdry."

Before then, though, we have Harry, who just wants an easy job, being pressured to fire Sal; Roger, who never likes headaches, getting a couple of big ones; Betty, wanting romance, and instead being offered a tryst on a couch or a desk; Connie, wanting Don to do his bidding and discovering that Don is just a tad too independent; the Lucky Strikes exec wanting Sal, and not getting him; Sal, wanting the exec right back but not wanting to risk his elaborately constructed mask.

Then there's Don, wanting to dazzle Connie because he has been moved by Connie's surrogate-son speech (and how marvelous is Chelcie Ross as Connie?) and by the way Connie has seen through Don's sophistication; he rightly recognizes Don as someone who wouldn't sneer at bootleg hooch. But then, when he presents his campaign to Connie, he is rejected and admonished. And it's the latest in a series of moments where Don feels like the hick from the sticks -- the vision in the motel room, the trip to Rome (where Betty was the more sophisticated one), and now being upbraided by someone who recognizes Don's upbringing and taste.

So there's Don, who has tried to be the good husband to Betty, and the good son to Connie; having been told he failed in one role, he sets out to fail in the other. And to do so in a so visible a way which would not only expose him but humiliate Betty -- because it's happening in their home, with a woman they both know, who is connected to their daughter. In that respect, Sal is on Don's mind; Don's going to Suzanne's home and risking disgrace is parallel to Sal, who has covered his true self as much as Don has his own, heading out to the rough trade, where he could easily be harmed (like Don in the motel) or arrested.

This is where Betty sets herself apart from Don and Sal. She doesn't just want an escape from the life she has led; she wants it to be romantic, she wants it to be right. She wants attention to be paid; had her suitor offered to carry her off to Rome for a weekend, she might have said yes. But she wouldn't say that to a locked door (paralleling Sal being locked in the editing room) or a local hotel (which was Don's game), or to someone who doesn't even show up when she's expecting him (which is also Don-like). But in the moral complexity of "Mad Men," Betty is actually better off for not getting what she wanted -- while Don and Sal are wrong in seeking their particular satisfaction.

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