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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira:

April 2, 2012 at 8:42 AM

Mad Men Monday: The generation gap

The phrase “generation gap” emerged from the ’60s, didn’t it? (Wikipedia says it did, for what it’s worth.) Last night’s low-key but thoughtful “Mad Men” episode was all about the generation gap: about how Don, Roger, Betty and (though we didn’t see her) Joan are becoming increasingly isolated from their not-so-much younger peers. “When are things going to get back to normal around here?”asked Roger, near the end of the episode; meaning, presumably, when is it going to be all right again to utter racial epithets around the office and not do any work. Not any time soon, Roger; the times they are a-changing.
Change is in the air at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, and not just in the presence of Don’s new African-American secretary, Dawn (ha! Don and Dawn!). (For those keeping score at home, I believe this is Don’s eighth secretary, following Peggy, Jane, Lois, Alison, MIss Blankenship, Megan and Caroline. Have I missed anyone? Let’s see: one got promoted, one married up, one got fired, one quit in a huff after sleeping with Don, one died, one married Don, and one went back down the hall to Roger’s desk.) Even the Heinz people are sensing the youthquake, wondering innocently if the Rolling Stones might want to record a song for them. Don, mindful of keeping their business, heads off on a wild goose chase with Harry as they hang backstage at a Stones concert, chat with teenage groupies (you can see Don’s eyes as he does the math: these girls aren’t much older than Sally and he’s, as he says, afraid for them), and end up getting hilariously punked by some people who are not the Stones, but are excited to record the commercial. Harry, in his hipster turtleneck, demonstrated his usual level of cluelessness; Don, looking so square he had corners (according to Megan) simply stood by and smoked, knowing that he didn’t belong. (Loved their exchange at work on Monday: Harry: “That was fun Saturday night!” Don: “OK.”)
But where does he belong? On Fire Island, with Megan’s friends? In his self-consciously hip apartment? At work, where he spends a fair bit of time alone in his office with his young wife? (Mystery of Megan’s age solved: Though Betty, rather bitterly, said she was 20, Don says she is 26.) Or does part of him still belong with Betty? January Jones returned the show tonight, and while the possibility that Betty has cancer was dangled over the episode — and, surprisingly, affected Don far more than he expected, and more than Megan was comfortable with — it turns out that she’s just, in Betty’s own words, fat. (Jones — who’s making the rounds of talk shows these days looking slender — returned to shooting “Mad Men” just weeks after having a baby. Plus it looked like prosthetics were added to her neck and jaw.) Hmm. Not a very interesting plot development, and a fairly unsubtle (and, to my mind, unnecessary) way of showing us that Betty, even though she’s only in her mid-30s, isn’t considered young and beautiful any more — the youthquake has left her behind, and she knows it. She’s lost the only power she had. Interesting that, in her fear that it might be cancer, she turned to Don — and that Henry had no idea she’d done so — and that Don’s bitterness toward her seemed to instantly disappear with the news. Part of that was fear that his kids would be motherless — but part of it was remembering that there were, long ago in a different world, some happy days.
Meanwhile, Peggy reluctantly hired a chatty, plaid-jacketed copywriter (she thinks he’s “crazy”; I think he’s just lively) to handle the new airline account. He is, I believe, SCDP’s first high-level Jewish hire — remember, back in season 1, how they had to borrow a guy from the mailroom for the Menken’s account? Peggy was miffed, because he thought she was a secretary, because he’s a fast-talking young upstart and because she doesn’t feel appreciated — and note how Peggy, in her starchy blouses, is suddenly looking matronly compared to Megan. (They’re probably around the same age, no?) And the ever-weaselly Pete called an all-company meeting to take credit for the new account, for the hire, and to hint that he’s Roger’s boss now. This went over about as well as you might expect. Which is to say, not.
A quiet episode, to be sure (I missed Joan, and Lane), but “Mad Men” typically takes a few episodes to ramp up. I’m guessing Don’s issue this season won’t be his secret identity — is that finally being put to rest, now that Anna’s gone and Megan knows his past? — but his real identity, as a middle-aged man in a world gone mad for youth. How’s this theme working for you, fellow viewers? I’m thinking things are about to get very interesting, very soon. As we “Mad Men” fans say, bring on the lawnmower!



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