Mad Men

Mad Men Roundtable: Season 3, “The Grown-Ups”

We knew this episode was coming, and yet I wasn’t ready.November 22, 1963 finally arrived, and it was devastating.Having not been alive then, I can’t directly relate to the events of that day, but there’s an older woman at work with whom I discuss Mad Men every Monday, and this episode hit her really hard.She had to get up and walk away from the TV, as these scenes brought back some painful childhood memories for her.

And even though this was before my time, it still struck a chord.People gathering around the one TV in the office, clinging to the news, sharing every little development in absurd detail – that’s what we did on 9/11.We sat in the office and watched the world change.We clutched at whoever was near in the hopes of finding stability, or we just sat at our desks and cried.It’s impossible to watch this episode and not feel a little of that pain all over again.

I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that Mad Men is the first effective attempt to deal with 9/11 in a fictional world.

Others have been sensationalistic or pandering, even with the best of intentions.The fact is, it’s still too fresh.There’s still too much emotional baggage, and just evoking that day is enough to bring back that flood of emotions.It’s almost impossible for anyone to use September 11 in a fictional world without coming off as exploitative and crass.But Mad Men tells a story about 9/11 by telling a story about 11/22.Rather than inundating us with images of the World Trade Center, they show us people talking about John Connally’s wounds.The connection is inescapable, but it’s still ours to make.

Metaphor aside, this was another excellent episode.I’d say we’ve had three episodes in a row that could make a solid case for being the best episode of the series, which is just an embarrassment of riches.

Pete Campbell is at his most childish this week.By the way, in the first scene of the episode, note that his rifle is plainly in view.I’m telling you, that gun is Chekhov’s Pistol – sooner or later, it’s going to go off.And I love how the way the building’s problems with heating have the whole cast clad in coats and mittens.It adds to the overall sense of unease, and gives us a visual indication that things just aren’t right.Anyway, Lane Pryce tells Pete that Ken Cosgrove’s getting the big promotion, which should not surprise anyone who’s been paying attention.As Lane put it “You are excellent at making the clients feel their needs are being met, but Mr. Cosgrove has the rare gift of making them feel they haven’t any needs.”Technically, Pete even gets an improved title out of the deal, but that’s not how he sees it.

Pete even tells Trudy that he was fired, which is not even sort of the truth.I love the way that Trudy calmly gathers the facts from Pete’s morass of self-pity.She’s familiar with Pete’s exaggeration by now.Her first task upon hearing he’s been fired is to find out whether he was actually fired.Pete has a hilarious spin on what Lane said, too.“He said I care too much about my clients, and they notice it.”Pete does not hear things the way normal people do.

Hey, we get to see Peggy’s roommate again.I don’t think we’ve seen her since they first met.(And how did I not notice that her roommate is Carla Gallo of Undeclared?) It seems like they’re getting along, and like all right-thinking people, she hates Duck Phillips.So, that wasn’t just a one-time hookup – Peggy and Duck have a regular thing. I know – gross.

Duck is classy as ever this week, calling Peggy up for a nooner and referring to her friends as “a couple of homos”.And in a jaw-dropping move, he unplugs the TV when Peggy arrives, so worries about the President won’t stop her from putting out.Wow.

Jane’s driving a wedge between Roger and his daughter.Once again, Mad Men doesn’t allow Jane any redeeming characteristics.Every time we see her, she’s awful.So strong is Margaret’s hatred of her that she’s letting it ruin her wedding.Seeing Roger and Jane at home, it’s not the portrait of bliss that I would have assumed.There’s a weariness to Roger as they fight that suggests this is not new.

It’s weird to see the change in Don and Betty’s relationship.Just their interaction in Baby Gene’s room is something we’ve never seen before – he’s treating her like an adult.He’s asking her opinion rather than giving her one.Don also butts heads with Lane about their lack of an Art Department.Huh, if only they knew somebody who was really good at that job.

It’s interesting to see how the main characters react to the news about Kennedy.Peggy finds out while in a post-coital glow.Pete talks over the initial news because he’s busy bemoaning his lack of career momentum.Don loses his power – when he demands to know what’s going on, nobody in the crowded office answers him.When he tells his kids to stop watching the news and wash up, they don’t even acknowledge him.That’s how you know the world has changed – people aren’t listening to Don Draper.Betty watches the news obsessively, not flinching from harsh reality.For her, that’s a new experience.And then there’s Margaret Sterling, who weeps openly, but for the pall this will cast over the wedding tomorrow.

Trudy tries her best to keep things going as normal, insisting that Pete get ready for the wedding.That seems cold, but not that long ago, many of us tried to find our old routine in the face of a new world.And then there’s Pete, who is sure that nobody’s as affected by the tragedy as he is.We all know that guy, right?Roger is self-absorbed and more irritated by the inconvenience that this causes for him than anything.And even the next day, Don hasn’t shown much of a reaction.That shouldn’t be surprising for a man who deals with grief by putting it out of his mind.Remember “It will shock you how much it never happened”?That’s how Don’s approaching this, too.

And it wouldn’t be Mad Men if they didn’t throw some more personal devastation into the mix, too.None other than Henry Francis shows up for the wedding reception, which must be comfortable for Betty.I love the shot where Betty comes out of the restroom, only to see Don and Henry standing about a foot away from one another.Later, Henry offers to leave the campaign and marry Betty.With all the attention on Miss Farrell, it never occurred to me that it would actually be Betty’s affair that would ratchet up to a dangerous level.

Roger and Joan get a nice scene together, where Roger is desperately reaching out for somebody.It’s the only time he seems affected by the death of the President.Whether that’s because he thinks that’s the appropriate way to feel when talking to Joan, or else it’s only when he’s with her that he can stop being Roger Sterling and stop to feel things, I can’t tell.Either way, the longing in this scene is just heartbreaking.

Finally, Betty tells Don “I don’t love you anymore”.This seems to be shattering for Don, though he doesn’t acknowledge that conversation in the morning.Instead, he goes to work on a national day of mourning.The office is completely dark, except for Peggy’s office.She’s typing furiously and noticing the creepy similarities between their Aquanet storyboards and the Zapruder film.The episode ends with a very different Don Draper, all alone.

The season finale is next week, and it really feels like anything could happen.It’s not helping that most of the clips in the ad are actually scenes from earlier in the season.I have to think we’re in for a dark ride.

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