Monday, May 14, 2012

The Televangelist: 'Mad Men' Season 5, Ep 9

Posted By on Mon, May 14, 2012 at 10:37 AM

I believe you are ready, young padawan
  • I believe you are ready, young padawan

When Betty appears this season it's not as a supporting character, it's to steal the show. And I will devote the majority of this review to discussing Betty because I am - wait for it - yes, a fan. Some of it is my natural reaction to like a character that the writers seem so hell-bent on making everyone dislike, but I actually believe Betty has a nuance, depth and humanity that is too often overlooked. For those who will stand up and cry "but what about January Jones' wooden acting?!" I don't know if it's on purpose or because she really is that stiff (wait, maybe I do know the answer ...), but either way it works. It's perfect for Betty, who has so many swirling emotions trapped behind that once-perfect exterior. And even as a heavier woman, she's still attractive in the way she does her hair and makeup and chooses her clothes. Further, I'm sure there are more of you than are willing to admit that her Reddi Whip meltdown felt familiar (especially purging it back into the sink!)

But there were so many interesting elements to Betty's story in "Dark Shadows" (the episode's title describes the feel of the season as well as the soap opera that started in 1966, which I'm sure there was no intention of cross promotion for with the Tim Burton remake ...). Firstly, she's back in therapy. Well, sort of. And this time her husband isn't spying on her. For those who have conveniently forgotten, Don with Betty was a lying, cheating drunkard who was cold as ice towards her and obsessed with control. Betty is certainly not without her flaws, but the idea that many could have flourished in that kind of relationship is absurd. There were flashes of Old Don when he flipped out to Megan about Anna, but he's grown a little bit, and Megan knows how to handle him (it's one thing I will grant her character). Though Betty may not be especially happy with Henry (would she ever be happy anywhere?) the difference in the support that he gives her and the kindness that she shows in return is noteworthy. Betty actually seems to find some pleasure in paying attention to her kids again, even interacting with Bobby instead of just telling him to to bang his head against a wall (but not Gene, I mean, no one remembers about Gene. He's the Rickon of the family, as "Game of Thrones" fans may note). Heartwarming. She also shares and seems to believe in the maxims from her Weight Watchers classes - a warm and friendly environment where Betty is able to seemingly start de-programming. And then ...

The whale, harpooned thrice and still smiling. With a note from Don to Megan on the back. And the smog, after Megan's mention of Betty's 50 mile radius of poison. One of the biggest criticisms of "Mad Men" this season has been its heavy handed use of metaphor. There was a time where there was a feeling of accomplishment to work out all of the nuances and codes implanted in episodes, but this year Matthew Weiner seems to have decided we're too dumb to figure it out on our own. Back to the whale, is there any other person this is pointing to than Betty? That coupled with the shocking reminder of how thin and young Megan is sent Betty (just like its eventually effect on Don) back to her old ways. She emotionally manipulates Sally which creates a chain reaction of poison throughout the Draper household. But Sally, as she tells Don, is no longer a little girl. She is also, interestingly, completely aligned with Betty but also sees how her mother needs to be neutralized to keep the balance. After Sally is told the truth (or as close of an approximation as would be appropriate), she reports back to Betty with innocent eyes and a devoted smile. "Everything's fine." Betty, hoping to have caused more discord, is obviously annoyed.

It's hard to like Betty, but I still find her more interesting than Megan. I cannot help but feel that the focus on Megan's perfection will only lead to her walking out of that door never to return, to show how Don ruined things once again. Until that point though, I can't help but feel a little tired of the focus on her and her extended scenes that could be given to other characters. My prediction that she is soon headed for the door is because of this concentration of focus - even when Don and Betty were married, Betty didn't always appear in every episode (or even sometimes for several episodes).

But there's another wife, or ex-wife, who shouldn't be overlooked - Jane Siegel Sterling. Jane is a character who has quietly been fleshed out (not in the literal way Betty has, of course) from a scheming gold digger to a more interesting person. She was able to hold her own during conversation at the Leary LSD dinner, and seems to be well-read and more plugged into things than she once was. Further, emotionally, she wants an apartment now that is detached from Roger. Even though I disagree with her petulance over what happened with Roger - after all, she seemed to consent to his advances - I do understand her desire for a fresh start. And like Roger, she's shrewd and self-interested enough to know that nothing she does is for free. The fact that she's still a part of the "Mad Men" universe may mean there's still a place for her there in the future, and I hope that's true given her developments.

Having spent so much time on the ladies of "Dark Shadows" I haven't left much room for the men, but suffice it to say that Don is getting deeper and deeper into Walter White (from "Breaking Bad") territory for me - a totally unlikeable protagonist - because of what he did to Ginsberg. It was good to see Don getting back to doing actual work, but to shade Ginsberg's work and then, feeling insecure and jealous, leave it in the cab on the way in? It's his prerogative, he's the boss. But Ginsberg is incredibly talented (his idea for the Manischewitz campaign was brilliant), and as SCDP is already losing out to other ad agencies as far as recognition goes (because of Don and The Letter, too), he would do well to appease Ginsberg before he flies the Coop (see what I did there?) for another job. Or would he leave with Peggy and Ken? Remember that?

"Dark Shadows" didn't have a lot of, shall we say, Boom! Pow! but it was an atmospheric building block episode. There is a toxic smog swirling around Don's life right now ... will he go out on the balcony?

Musings and Miscellanea:

— Yes, on November 24, 1966 400 people died from that killer smog. Don avoids death again!

— Ginsberg: "I feel bad for you." Don: "I don't think about you at all." Zing! Except also a total lie.

— I like that some of the fan forums have started to refer to Megan as "Mary Zou"

— Interesting that Jane seems to know that "Joan won" with Roger. I wonder if there will be more lip service to that ...

— I still love Roger and Jane's interactions. Him telling her all of these things she allegedly said on LSD was hilarious.

— I loved Betty's Thanksgiving moment, "I have everything I want. Not one has more [MEGAN AND DON]."

— Don in casual wear. That is all.

— "How Jewish are they? Fiddler on the Rood, audience or cast?" - Roger

— And then there was Pete and Rory Gilmore's boobs Beth. Or his dream of Beth. And calling Howard out about it in a way Howard of course couldn't guess. I had a dream last night that Howard shot Pete. I'm just saying. In "Mad Men," dreams mean a lot!

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