Monday, September 14, 2009

Doing Time (Mad Men 3.05)

While Mad Men’s universe has undergone the anticipated social paradigm shift symbolically precipitated by the death of Gene in "The Arrangements," Episode 3.05, "The Fog," suggests that many of the institutions that made up the infrastructure of that fallen empire are still very much in place. Schools, prisons, and hospitals are used as motifs in this episode. They serve to develop TF’s underlying theme that such institutions which may have once (arguably) served a useful purpose, have, in their decline, become symbols of repression that entrap many of the characters.

Don and Betty visit Sally's school for a conference about their daughter’s recent bad behavior. Learning of Gene's death, her teacher, Miss Farrell, suggests that Sally’s grief over the loss may be the problem. It also probably explains Sally's many questions about Medgar Evers, the recently murdered civil rights activist.

In the classroom, Betty is studying examples of “long division” on the blackboard. This certainly fits in with her and Don’s strained relationship. Also, the map on Miss Farrell’s wall shows the United States as green. The color green designates the new social construct now coming in play. The initial exchange with Miss Farrell concerns how Don and Betty find the child sized student desks confining. Sally has gotten into a fight at school with an overweight student. Miss Farrell comments that other students “poke” the heavy student with pencils because they don’t think she can feel it. This is echoed later with Betty’s experience at the hospital during the vividly depicted 1960’s birthing process. There she suffers at the hands of medical workers who “poke” her with hypodermic needles. This may also be a link to the chaos going on at Sterling-Cooper implied by Lane Pryce’s later complaints about the inordinately large number of pencils being "wasted" at the office?

The idea of Gene’s recent death is tied in with the killing of Medgar Evers as MM gradually shines light on many of the “movements” starting to arise from the changing social mores. Don, first invoking an idea that will be repeated throughout the episode, states that “it’s not a good time” for them.

After Betty has left the room, Miss Farrell and Don talk further. There’s palpable sexual tension exhibited between them. Miss Farrell was the teacher who Don, almost in a trance, watched doing the Maypole dance at the end of "Love Among the Ruins." It’s probably no coincidence that the name of the free spirited Farrell is a homonym for “feral.” This is contrasted with Betty who Gene, in a later dream sequence, refers to as a domestic “house cat.”

Betty and Don finish their meeting with Miss Farrell while standing in front of the blackboard. The shot is staged so that a long division example written on the board shows a number “zero” with an arrow clearly pointing at Betty. Thus, the later depiction of Betty’s horrid treatment in the hospital is more a symbolic exploration of the low esteem with which society holds her than an actual commentary on medical practices of the time.

Later that day at work, Don enters then abruptly exits a meeting at which Lane is complaining about company expenses, right down to staff consumption of pads and pencils.

Don and Lane compare the atmosphere at Sterling-Cooper to The Bridge on the River Kwai – a film about soldiers in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. This introduces the idea of imprisonment in the episode. Later Ken and Harry share a laugh at one of the secretaries who gets her scarf caught in a Xerox machine. For Don, Pete and Peggy, the work environment at S-C, like the desks at Sally’s school, feels more and more constricting.

There’s also a quick reference to London Fog retooling their facilities to offer a children's line. This would seem to be part of the solution to slumping sales first mentioned in the episode "Out of Town.” However, it also supports the theme of a changing social infrastructure running through Season 3.

Pete, reviewing his client Admiral's generally flat sales figures with Paul, concludes that the television set manufacturer is popular with African Americans.

Paul continues his poseur reputation by continuing to sing the praises of Karl Marx while talking with Pete about a market downturn. Pete is more concerned about slumping television sales for Admiral. This links Pete with Peggy, who has just recently bought her mother an Admiral television set, and demonstrates, as Pete will say later, how her decisions affect him.

The idea of “time” is again evoked by Ken’s bragging about the gift of a wristwatch from a happy client. Ken, a bachelor, chides the married Harry and Pete for not having free “time” to go out after work.

Pete takes a call from "Uncle Herman," who turns out to be Duck Phillips -- now at Grey, another advertising agency. Duck invites Pete to lunch.

Duck, whose office wall is adorned with statues of flying ducks. Duck certainly is trying to entice Pete (and later Peggy) to leave S-C (“flew the coup”). It’s worth pointing out that this is reminiscent of the duck motif frequently used in The Sopranos to represent fear and dread. Also, Duck, who was very critical of Don’s methods at S-C, now adopts one of them by assuming alternate identities in his dealings with Pete.

That evening, Sally's teacher calls the Draper home and apologizes to Don for the morning's conference. Her father died when she was eight; she might have overreacted on Sally's behalf. Don ends the call when Betty announces she’s going into labor.

Miss Farrell’s demeanor while talking to Don clearly makes her appear somewhat out of control (or, as stated above, “feral”). More sexual tension is apparent in the conversation. Farrell refers to Don as “Mr. Draper” and throughout the phone call is shown leaning against her drapes.

The call is cut off by Betty who, referring to the baby, declares to Don that “it’s time.”

"Your job's done," the intake nurse at the hospital tells Don as she pushes Betty away in a wheelchair. Betty thinks she sees Gene mopping the corridor floor and calls out to him.

The nurse’s blunt statement to Don not only refers to his low level of involvement with the actual delivery (by today’s standards) but may also be indicative of the fact that Don’s association with S-C is starting to sour.

The walls of the hospital are green. However, unlike the more vivid, bright greens used to evoke the theme of change elsewhere, the greens used in the hospital setting are more muted and sterile. It’s almost as if the institution is ensconced in but hasn’t fully embraced the spirit of the naturalistic new social paradigm that exists outside of its walls. In fact, the procedures Betty undergoes could hardly be described as “natural.”

While being admitted, Betty lists that her last meal included toast, cottage cheese, and notably, “lifesavers.” She also tells the nurse that she won't breast feed the baby. The mode is foreboding as Betty is wheeled down the hospital corridor. Betty catches a glimpse of a janitor who looks like Gene mopping. This image will come up again in Betty’s dream.

Quick note: that Gene is wearing grey coveralls could arguably link him to Duck’s reference of moving over to an ad agency called “Grey” (Duck is also shown wearing a grey turtleneck). Thus, the potential of the new situation Duck tries to sell Pete and Peggy may not be as great as he claims it to be.

In the waiting room, Don meets Dennis, a Sing Sing prison guard and first-time father. He's brought some Scotch. "I thought it'd be a party," he says.

The two men talk about fatherhood and prison life. Referring to the prisoners he encounters, Dennis reflects that "every single one of these animals" was a baby once. "Every one of them blame their mom and dad," he adds. "That's a bull-- excuse," Don replies. Dennis agrees.

That Don waits for the delivery with a prison guard underscores the feeling of entrapment his family and marriage have come to represent to him. Don certainly has bitter feelings towards his parents as do the prisoners that Dennis guards. Don notices that his watch has stopped. In effect, Don, like Ken pointed out to Harry and Pete earlier, has no “free” time.

Coverage on the Medgar Evers case can clearly be seen on the television in the waiting room. The prison guard’s bottle of scotch seems to be a pointed reference to Betty’s earlier statement about bottle feeding her child. Thumbing through a magazine, Don tears out an ad for a blue Cadillac. The car shown in the ad is the same as the one he drives. As noted in previous posts, the color blue represents the old, restrictive paradigm many of the main characters still live under. Don’s demeanor when tearing out the page and folding it up (as if to make it go away) suggests that, at some level, he trying to rid himself of his domesticated life.

Betty, agitated because her doctor hasn't arrived, argues with the nurse who gives her a sedative. Betty slips into a dream. Wearing a summer dress, she strolls a pristine suburban neighborhood. A caterpillar slides down its string of silk into her open hand. She smiles.

Betty's dream takes place amidst a green landscape. In context, the caterpillar Betty holds in her hand suggests the promise of something better.

Betty continues to resist her nurse. "Where's Don?" Betty screams. "Have you been with him?" she asks.

Betty acts betrayed by the doctors who poke her with hypodermic needles just as the students who poked pencils into the fat girl at Sally’s school. In Betty’s case, she seems to wonder why they’re treating her as they do. Betty is not fat (even her veins are thin). She pleadingly pointing out that she’s a “housewife” (i.e. follows the rules).

Much later, there’s a moment between Don, who is wearing a blue robe, and Sally in the Draper kitchen. Don cooks a late night snack for he and Sally. Betraying his old days on a farm, Don holds the egg up to the light for signs of any chick embryos. Then a close up of the egg being broken open into the pan suggests the idea of the new life he and Betty have created. The shot is also reminiscent of Don in "Out of Town," where the act of boiling milk causes him to reflect back on his own birth.

Dennis learns that his wife's delivery went fine. Pointing to the heavens, Dennis says that he doesn't know who's "up there," but he testifies to Don that his newborn son will make him a better man. "Tell me you heard me," he asks Don. "I heard you," Don assures him.

Don and the Dennis, with the help of a young female hospital employee, struggle to “deliver” a pack of cigarettes from the machine. The prison guard makes a passing remark about the girl not looking much older than sixteen years old. That Dennis is attracted to such a young girl suggests an unsavory side that probably ties into the marital troubles he hints at with Don. Before leaving, the prison guard looks at Don and proclaims him to be an “honest” man. Thus, the professional ad man’s ability to fool people is further demonstrated.

Betty slips into a dream again. Her father, still in the janitor's uniform, is at her house mopping blood. Her mother stands next to a seated black man. Holding a bloodstained cloth, her mother says, "You see what happens to people who speak up?" Betty should be happy with what she has. "You're a housecat," her father adds. "You're very important, and you have little to do."

Again, note that Gene compares Betty to a domesticated housecat in sharp contrast to the feral nature of Miss Farrell. The image of a bloody Medgar Evers suggests that participation in the new social order is not without its own pitfalls. This may certainly be the case with Farrell who is clearly a symbol of the new order and also seems troubled (not unlike many of Don's extramarital love interests).

Betty wakes, holding a baby boy. "His name is Eugene," she tells Don.

That Betty names her son Eugene suggests that on some level she understands that a new paradigm is in place. Also, as Betty looks down at Don and the kids outside from her hospital window, she wears a distinctly negative expression. The display below seems to represent for Betty the stereotypical “model family” that's part of a social construct she is railing against.

While walking down the hospital hallway with a bouquet of blue flowers for Peggy, Don sees Dennis. At first, the prison guard flashes a smile of recognition, only to quickly change demeanor and ignore Don. Ostensibly, this suggests that Dennis regrets opening up to Don during the previous night. On another level, however, it may mean that as a dispassionate guard watching over Don’s symbolic prison, Dennis cannot make friends with the inmates and must put up a front (something Dennis commented on earlier).

Pete arrives for lunch with Duck to find that Peggy is also invited. Duck offers both of them jobs, but Pete gets up to leave. "If you want to woo me, you'll have to buy me my own lunch," he says. "You're a freewheeling career gal with great ideas," Duck later tells Peggy. "This is your time."

Peggy comments favorably on the grey turtle neck Duck is wearing. This is similar to the one worn by the young man Peggy was attracted to in the previous season (a situation that did not work out). While attempting to woe Pete and Peggy, Duck uses terms to describe the new advertising agency as “the promised land” where creative people sit on "velvet pillows."

Back at Sterling Cooper, Pete quizzes Hollis, the building's black elevator operator, about his television. Hollis has an RCA. "A lot of Negroes prefer Admiral," Pete notes, but Hollis is reluctant to continue the conversation.

Hollis reacts with cynicism to Pete’s suggestion that television sets are part of the “American Dream” everyone strives for. Given the racial climate of the time, this dream would not seem to be a realistic option for Hollis. Yet Pete does get Hollis to admit that he watches baseball. This echoes a line from Dennis the prison guard who mentions that the inmates play baseball (the great American pastime).

The next day, Pete stuns two Admiral representatives by proposing commercials featuring white and black actors. One rep wonders if this is even legal. "Who's to say that Negroes aren't buying Admiral televisions because they think white people want them?" the other man asks.

Pete tries to develop a strategy for the Admiral account by doing his own geographic study of their sales history. Unlike the map in Miss Farrell’s classroom showing the U.S in green, Pete works off of a map where the country is colored blue. This indicates that Pete is still struggling to make sense of the world while operating under old, outdated assumptions.

Peggy tells Don she wants a raise in pay equal to the men. “It's not going to happen,” Don says. He's fighting for paper clips these days. "I look at you and I think, 'I want what he has,'" Peggy replies. "You have everything and so much of it." Her request denied, Peggy departs, asking, "What if this is my time?"

Roger first appearance shows in a childlike posture wearing a napkin for a bib and eating an ice cream sundae with a silver spoon. He chides Don by saying “da da.” The spoon suggests the silver spoon Roger was born with in his mouth.

A nod to the opening credits of a figure falling down the side of a skyscraper and onto a couch, Don is later shown lying down on the couch in his office (this is a common device used in Mad Men to depict a character who is undergoing emotional distress).

Don seems genuinely surprised when Peggy admits to being envious of his life. And once again, the idea of time (and time running out) is raised.

Roger and Cooper chew out Pete for upsetting Admiral, which, Cooper says, "has no interest in becoming a ‘colored’ television company." Lane observes that as a newcomer to the United States, he senses changing attitudes regarding race. Perhaps Sterling Cooper should capitalize on this, if with another client.

When Pete gets chewed out in Cooper’s office, a simple blue pillow is visible in the center of the shot. This is not the velvet one at Gray that Duck was bragging about.

Don drives Betty and the baby home. Betty describes the delivery to Francine as "all a fog." That night, the baby cries. Betty walks slowly in the direction of the sound. She pauses while he continues to wail, then proceeds into his room.

A medium shot shows the Drapers pulling up in the same automobile that Don ripped out of the magazine ad at the hospital. The model family is once again highlighted. The final scene shows Betty walking toward her crying baby in the dark. The same music plays in the background as during her outdoor dream sequence. However, unlike the dream, the darkened hallway Betty walks through represents a confined and less promising reality.


Melissa said...

I read a lot of Mad Men blogs but yours is by far my favorite. Thorough and interesting.

Matt Maul said...

So YOU'RE the one :). Thanks for the kind words.

Aran said...

Just fun trivia, Matt. But your comment on the green hospital walls made me think of an interesting interor design fact. Do you know why the walls of operating rooms are painted green? It's because when the OR staff is spending hours staring into a brightly lit red body cavity, when they look up a ghosting phenomenon occurs and they will see a green shadow (the complimentary color to red). The green walls help masque those shadows.

Amy said...

Aran, that is so interesting. I never knew that!

This blog is very, very interesting & fast becoming one of my favorites. I need these "study guides" to understand the show sometimes!


Matt Maul said...

Speaking of colors, does anyone know if the blue Caddie Don drives has always been their car this season. I mention this because I've been having a friendly discussion about this on "Basket of Kisses."

It was suggested that Don bought the blue car after seeing the ad for it in the magazine. My take was that the Drapers already owned the blue Caddie and, as I said in the post, to Don the car represented his subjugation to domesticity (blue representing the old social paradigm). This is why he tears out the ad and folds it up as if to hide it. Of course, IF he went out and bought a NEW blue car, that changes things a little (although the idea of Don being locked into the “old” way still holds).

Feinsodville said...

Good, thorough post. But I have to respectfully disagree with you on one point. I kind of had the impression that Peter, for his myriad of flaws, is perhaps the one Sterling Cooper employee - except maybe Peggy - who truly gets the changes in society and has no problems with them. While he takes a lordly attitude with Hollis at first, he does speak with him honestly. And he's willing to advertise to African-American consumers on their own terms, not as people envious of whites.

As I read somewhere else, the list of cities that Pete reads as being the places where Admiral TV sets still sell well are the same places where, later in the decade, race riots occurred.

Even if you think back to season 01, he's the only character to really embrace the idea of research, which was new to advertising at the time and viewed with suspicion, but which has since become the main way in which advertising companies get their knowledge.

Strangely, I think he's the most adaptable character. Can't have a baby with your pretty young wife? Learn to dance the Charleston with her instead.

Interesting themes about birth/rebirth and Medgar Evers were pretty fascinating too, but I think you hit those pretty well.

Matt Maul said...

I kind of had the impression that Peter, for his myriad of flaws, is perhaps the one Sterling Cooper employee - except maybe Peggy - who truly gets the changes in society and has no problems with them.

Actually, I think we're mostly on the same page here. As I said, I still think that Pete is struggling to make sense of the world because he's operating under old assumptions (as evidenced by the BLUE map). However, he does demonstate in the episode that he's starting to strongly question the vericity of those assumptions.

AbhilashS said...

Did anyone notice that Don used the same quote Sal used from Season 3 Episode 1 , ' our worst fear lies in anticipation ' ??