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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

October 12, 2009 at 9:40 AM

Madness — and bad behavior — on “Mad Men”

OK, let us ponder what we know about all the women Don has had affairs with. They are all — Midge, Rachel, Bobbi, Joy, and now Suzanne — brunette. They are all (with the possible exception of Joy, who we didn’t know much about) career women with a strong sense of independence. They have all made it clear, in one way or another, that they don’t need Don. They are, in an nutshell, the opposite of Betty.
Last night’s was a terribly sad episode, and not just because we know that poor Miss Farrell is making a terrible mistake. (I’m still pondering her name — is she named for the ballerina Suzanne Farrell, who was just emerging as a star with New York City Ballet in 1963, and whose name might conjure up images of lightness and beauty? Or is it just a conicidence? Is anything on “Mad Men” a coincidence? Is there some deep profound meaning behind Sally wanting a pencil case? Is baby Gene one day going to look up from his bottle and say something bitter and disaffected? This show takes the mind in odd directions.)
No, we’ve lost Sal from Sterling Cooper, in a scene that showed Don at his nastiest (“you people” — oh, Don, how could you?) and a heartbreakingly good Bryan Batt, who closed the door to Don’s office looking utterly lost. First Joan, now Sal — am I alone in hoping that the two of them will go off and form their own agency, maybe scooping up Peggy for the ride? But, in those pre-Stonewall days, it was probably too much to hope that Don might sympathize and keep Sal’s secret, and that poor Sal’s attempt to do the right thing wouldn’t backfire. Don’s abrupt dismissal of Sal, with a handshake and a “You’ll do fine,” might have had something to do with his own secrets, and a refusal to contemplate a man whose career is threatened by the exposure of one.
What does Betty want? We don’t know, and it seems she doesn’t either. This episode brought us a strange epistolary affair with Henry, followed by a brief, petulant (hey, it’s Betty) encounter in his office; a kiss, but no more. Or will there be? Note how Betty thinks she’s fooled Carla, who’s nobody’s fool; and that Carla’s kind of the Joan of the Draper household — the person who knows everything and runs everything, yet has the least power.
And Don, so recently a golden boy, seems to be losing everything this season — his aura at work seems to be fading (particularly with Roger), he’s struggling to please impossible clients, and, after briefly trying to perk up his marriage, things seem as desultory as ever with him and Betty. A fling with a cute teacher isn’t going to help matters, but what will?
Favorite completely random moment of this episode: Pete, coughing as if auditioning for “Camille” as he tries desperately to smoke a Lucky Strike.
And what did you think?

This is what enemies look like — nicely dressed enemies, that is. (Photo by Frank Ockenfels, courtesy of AMC)

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