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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

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

October 26, 2009 at 9:42 AM

Monday morning “Mad Men”: Gypsies and hobos

So, yesterday I went to the “West Side Story” sing-along at Cinerama, went home and made a steak dinner, then watched “Mad Men.” Clearly all I needed to complete this retro-’60s day was a girdle and a martini.
And oh, what an episode, focusing on Joan, Roger, and Don/Betty. Joan first, because she’s such a welcome sight: How heartbreaking is it to watch her coaching her sad sack husband in interview techniques, and to try so desperately to keep encouraging him when things inevitably go badly? And did you cheer when she finally, in frustration (“have YOU ever wanted something and didn’t get it?”), whacked him with a vase? I did. This led to a wonderfully layered phone conversation with Roger, and the reminder that nothing those two say to each other is remotely what it seems on the surface. I think Roger, to the extent that he can, truly loves Joan, but more on that in a minute. Meanwhile, Joan’s useless hubby (whose name I keep forgetting, because I just want him to go away, but it’s Greg) has hit on a brilliant solution: He’ll join the Army, and be a military surgeon (because apparently the military doesn’t care if he’s all thumbs), and maybe have to go to Vietnam eventually “if anything’s still going on there.” Hmm. I hope Joan has a lovely black dress ready.
Roger, that scamp, was reunited with an old flame — Annabel, a dog-food-company heiress and former client — who long ago broke his heart. He’s never forgiven her, and because of that we saw him reject her advances; not, I think, because of Jane (who Annabel amusingly dismissed as “a teenager”), but because he’s still holding a grudge, rather than a torch. That torch, I think, is for Joan; notice how his voice and demeanor changes when he talks to her — he seems to be trying, in spite of himself, to behave a little better — and how this show’s laziest and most self-absorbed character is busy making phone calls on her behalf, speaking of her with real affection and respect. Joan has too much pride to ever leave her husband, but Vietnam just might settle that question; I think we haven’t seen the last of Joan and Roger.
And how right that it was Halloween when Don’s mask was finally, irrevocably dropped. Betty confronted him with his Pandora’s box of secrets, and we watched Don become Dick before our eyes; all smoothness melted away, and he was suddenly an insecure lost boy with fumbling fingers (Don Draper would never, ever drop a cigarette, but Dick Whitman would) and uncertain words. He tried to explain, a furious Betty tried to listen, and the two had a moment of genuine connection: when, clearly overcome with emotion, Don told her of his role in his stepbrother Adam’s death. Beautiful, beautiful work here by Jon Hamm and January Jones; I’ll be turning this scene over in my head for a long time. I love how we’re finally seeing Betty in a position of power (note how, at her father’s house, she sat at the desk, clearly in charge), and that she doesn’t know quite what to do with it. Their tentative exchange in a later scene — “Do you want something?” “Are you having anything?” — hinted at, perhaps, a tiny step toward a reconciliation, and their perfect-family Halloween outing was certainly lovely to look at. But what would Betty have done if she’d known that MIss Farrell was in the car for the entire time she was confronting Don? And have we really seen the last of Miss Farrell?
Best random moment of the episode: Peggy, being told to “turn off” the dog-food focus group: “I can’t stop it. It’s really happening.” (I think that’s what she said; did I remember the line right? It seemed, like so many other lines on this show, to describe so much more than what she meant.) And, bravo to director Jennifer Getzinger, who established a remarkable tone of tension mixed with poignance in this episode, particularly from the moment Sally surprised Don with a “Hi, Daddy!” in the dark entry hall.
And what did you think of this tale of gypsies and hobos, choices and consequences, lies and truth? Do tell.

Everyone’s favorite cad (including Joan’s?): John Slattery as Roger Sterling; photo by Frank Ockenfels, courtesy of AMC

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