Monday, September 07, 2009

Shifts Happen (Mad Men 3.04)

Note: I’m taking the opportunity of “The Arrangements,” and the dawning of a new era, to alter the manner in which I present these write-ups. Specifically, instead of outlining the action myself, I take advantage of the fine Mad Men episode summaries published on AMC’s web site (shown in bold italics) and interlace them with my own comments and observations (which is the REAL fun part for me anyway).

The garden of change lurking just on the edge of Mad Men’s universe, which Don Draper first seemed drawn to in “Love Among the Ruins,” finally and tangibly encroaches into everyone’s lives (ready or not) by the end of Episode 3.04, “The Arrangements.”

Fatherhood and war are two motifs explored in this episode. And MM continues to use the colors blue and green to represent the old and new social paradigms. In fact, an alternate title for this write-up could have been “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”

Gene, in the passenger seat of his Lincoln, lets Sally drive while he operates the pedals.

The Lincoln has been the one of the most identifiable symbols associated with Betty’s father Gene. It’s not clear how encouraging of a parent he was to Betty, but in TA Gene is clearly on a mission to make Sally more self-sufficient. He steps on the gas for Sally to get the Lincoln up to the speed limit of 25 mph. Perhaps since he knows that his time is short (and, at another level, that his worldview is on the wane like the dying Roman empire he and Sally read about) Gene feels the need to expedite the process of Sally’s growth. Gene doesn’t display the same level of concern for Bobby. Perhaps because he innately realizes that the world, through baptisms of fire such as war, already has mechanisms to prepare male children with the prerequisite self-sufficiency needed for survival.

Gene later makes a passing reference to Abraham Lincoln. Linking Gene (through his Lincoln) to a murdered president foreshadows impending doom. It’s also worth noting that JFK, whose assassination was hinted at in “Love Among the Ruins,” was shot while being driven in a Lincoln.

At her sister Anita's house, where her mother now lives, Peggy confides to Anita her plan to move to Manhattan. "You going to be one of those girls?" Anita asks. "I am one of those girls," Peggy replies.

The reference to the death of a different “father,” Pope John Paul XXIII, sets the date of this episode at or around June 3, 1963. Peggy and her Anita both wear blue. While Peggy represents a new type of emerging woman (in sharp contrast to Anita), she still tries to fit into the old model. Thus, she finds it difficult to find her footing as evidenced by her later efforts to get a roommate.

At Sterling Cooper, a college friend of Pete's named Horace touts jai alai as the sport of the future and proposes some extravagant promotions. Lane sets the agency's initial price tag at a million dollars. After the meeting, Pete refers to Horace as a "fatted calf," but Don points out that "this idiot's father" is tight with Cooper, who wouldn't be happy about them exploiting his friend’s son.

Horace Cook Jr. wants to use a three million dollar trust set up for him by Horace Cook Sr. to popularize the game of jai alai in the United States. “Ho Ho” (as Pete calls him) echoes the opening driving scene by remarking that jai alai balls can travel at up “175 MPH.” Horace Jr.’s vision is to build a jai alai franchise by heavily promoting its greatest player Patxi Churruca. As noted by Sal and verified by this contemporary account from Sports Illustrated, "JAI ALAI: FURY AT THE FRONTON," the handsome athlete apparently did bear a striking resemblance to Mel Ferrer:
Francisco Maria Churruca Iriondo Azpiazu Alcorta, known to his friends as Patxi, lives four months of the year in a second-floor apartment near the Miami airport and the rest of the year in a colorful home in Motrico, a Basque fishing village a few dozen miles from the Franco-Spanish border. He is a handsome man of 29, with sloping brown-green eyes, a slightly receding hairline and a vague resemblance to the actor Mel Ferrer.
Horace Jr., who wants to cash in Patxi’s good looks, remarks that he hopes the star doesn’t get hit with any “balls in the face.” Coming right on the heels of a flattering comment by Sal, one could argue that this may also be a subtle play on words expressing Ho Ho’s hopes that the dashing star won’t turn out to be a homosexual.

Meanwhile at the Draper home, Gene reviews his will and funeral arrangements with Betty. Betty accuses him of being morbid about his death. "I'm your little girl,” she says. “Can't you keep it to yourself?"

Betty, in blue, balks at her father’s attempts to prepare her for the future. As with Sally, Gene seems to want to toughen her up for a world and in which, as he described in the last episode, “all hell” is about to break loose. But the traditional Betty still adheres to the construct of the day relegating women to a childlike status.

That night, Gene takes the helmet of a Prussian soldier he shot during World War I and puts it on Bobby’s head. Don says that the helmet belonged to a person. "An enemy," Gene replies. Don removes the helmet from Bobby's head.

As noted before, Gene isn't as concerned about Bobby’s preparation for the approaching new worldview. Again, it seems that Gene views the established institutions such like war as being sufficient to “make a man” out of Bobby. Don is uncomfortable about Bobby wearing a “dead man’s hat” not only for it’s gruesomeness but also because it hits too close to home. The former Dick Whitman now symbolically wears a hat which belonged to the real “Don Draper” -- a victim of a different war.

At Sal's apartment, Kitty propositions her husband wearing a sheer negligee. Resisting her kisses, Sal says that he's "not himself" these days. "...Sal acts out the Bye Bye Birdie takeoff for Kitty, whose cheerful encouragement fades as her husband minces his way through the choreography.

That a green garden is MM’s motif for an impending new paradigm is reinforced by Kitty’s wearing of a green negligee and her admission to the fact that she “needs tending.” There’s a few things going on in this scene. Sal (who admits that he’s “not himself”) shows a complete lack of physical attraction to “Kitty.” This will be echoed somewhat by Peggy’s first ad for a roommate in which she admits to being “allergic to cats.” Sal also describes how his professional world is undergoing a dramatic shift. Kitty is encouraging and, continuing the military theme, predicts that Sal will be a “triumphant conquering hero.” Finally, Sal’s acting out of the Patio number, which he pointedly describes as taking place on a “blue background”, is reminiscent of Peggy’s similar attempt in “Love Among the Ruins.” The display seems to trigger a realization in Kitty as to Sal’s true nature.

The next day, Don and Lane meet with Cooper and Horace Cook about his son's jai alai scheme. Bertram offers to decline the account, but Horace Senior, who dismisses the sport as "Polish handball," says that his son will just turn to another agency if they do.

Horace Sr. (who made his fortune as a wartime supplier) attempts the same sort of “tough love” in letting his son fail as Gene demonstrates by letting Sally drive.

Paul, Harry, and Ken enlist Lois to prank-call Peggy in response to the roommate ad ("I'm a clean, responsible, considerate person…") she posted at work. As "Elaine," Lois says that she works around animal carcasses most of the day and has a face disfigured by burns. A few lurid details later, Peggy ends the call.

Peggy’s pins her first ad (on a blue card) for a roommate to the bulletin board after removing a posting for “Kittens.” Again, note the connection to “Kitty” from earlier and the line in Peggy’s ad about being “allergic to cats.” Interestingly, as will be revealed in a subsequent conversation with Joan, Peggy displays none of her talents when trying to market herself. Perhaps, this is because Peggy doesn't really know who she is. Also, during the prank call, “Elaine’s” description of having been burned foreshadows the television newscast of a monk immolating himself shown later in the episode.

While eating ice cream with Sally, Gene tells his granddaughter she’s more like her grandmother -- who did drafting work in the '20s -- than Betty. "You can really do something," he tells Sally. "Don't let your mother tell you otherwise."

Again, Gene further encourages Peggy to be more self-sufficient. Something Betty clearly isn’t. Also, Gene’s reference to the ice cream smelling “like oranges” would seem to foreshadow his upcoming death (presumably by a stroke). Also, note the device associating oranges with doom as established in The Godfather and subsequently used in The Sopranos.

Over lunch with Don and Pete, Horace Junior says that he wants to become the father of jai alai in America. Don suggests he reevaluate his obsession, but Horace laughs off Don's advice as a sales technique to entice him. If jai alai fails, he tells Don, it will be Sterling Cooper's fault.

The start of this scene is framed in such a way as to show an egg being broken by the waiter in the foreground of the shot. This could suggest that Horace Jr., with Horace Sr. and Don’s help, is being hatched into the real world. It could also suggest that with “tough love,” the old bromide: “to make an omelet, one has to break some eggs” applies. The occasion causes Don to reflect back on his own step-father through old photographs. Note that in the shot of the picture Don contemplates, only his step-father is in sharp focus.

At the office, Joan critiques Peggy's roommate ad for being too stodgy. "This is about two young girls in Manhattan. This is about an adventure," Joan says, suggesting a more carefree approach.

As stated above, Joan helps Peggy reword her roommate ad to be a more effective promotion. Note that Joan’s Ibsen reference displays a sophistication her character that doesn’t always get the chance to demonstrate. Unfortunately, Peggy’s new ad is geared for the type of female that Joan represents.

The next day at work, Pete waves Horace Junior's signed contract at Don. In Burt Petersen’s old office, several of their colleagues are fumbling around with the jai alai equipment Horace Junior sent over. Don joins in and accidentally busts Cooper's ant farm. "Bill it to the kid," Don says.

After giving Horace Jr. two chances to reconsider, Don’s patience has clearly worn thin as he glibly orders the account team to start tapping into the youngster’s trust fund. Furthermore, as the ant farm represented how Lane Pryce viewed the employees at Sterling-Cooper, one can presume that its destruction with jai alai equipment bodes more distressing news for the office.

Karen Ericson, a prospective roommate, visits Peggy in her office. Everyone at Karen's travel agency loved Peggy's "humorous" ad. Karen thinks they'll hit it off.

This "arrangement" doesn't promise to be a successful one. Karen represents the old female construct that Peggy clearly is not. Karen wears a yellow dress as does the Ann-Margret look-a-like (another symbol for the “traditional” female role model) in the final Patio ad. Furthermore, Karen expresses a dislike for “sailors.” However, Peggy will later buy an “Admiral” television set for her mother.

Back at Sterling Cooper, Sal's Patio Cola ad fails to click with the client. He agrees the spot is exactly what was ordered, but it's nevertheless a failure.

While the client cannot explicitly describe what’s wrong, on a subconscious level there’s a sense that the old female construct “just isn’t right” anymore. There’s also an interesting non-verbal moment between Don and Peggy when they both realize that her approach was ultimately the correct one.

A policeman arrives at the Draper home. Gene has died.

When Don is informed about Gene's death, his secretary is wearing a green dress. Likewise, leading up to the scene with the policeman, Sally and Bobby are shown waiting for Gene surrounded by green shrubbery.

The police car arriving at the Draper house is green. The manner in which the uniformed policeman informs Peggy that her father died “in line at the A&P” is reminiscent of the sort of stock scenes from war movies when the families of soldiers who died “in the line of duty” are similarly informed.

Peggy delights her mother with a new television, but Mrs. Olson tells her to return it after Peggy drops the news she's moving to Manhattan. "You'll get raped. You know that," Mrs. Olson warns. Peggy mentions Karen, but her mother is convinced a man is involved. As Peggy leaves, her mother clicks on the TV.

Peggy and her mother are shown in the reflection of the Admiral television set almost as if they are “on” TV. This is paired later with Sally viewing a network newscast showing the now famous photo of a Vietnamese monk immolating himself in protest. Thus, further signaling the arrival of a new social paradigm traceable to the death of Gene.

Later, a grieving Sally has an emotional outburst. Betty castigates Sally by telling her that she’s being “hysterical.” Note Betty’s use of a traditionally pejorative term for female irrationality. On the television can be heard a quick sound clip of JFK discussing how it's important for children to reach their full potential.

That night Sally falls asleep clutching her grandfather's copy of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

The viewer is given another reminder of Gene’s connection to the “officially” fallen old empire of MM’s 1960’s universe. In their bedroom, Don wraps the sleeping Betty with a green top cover.

One final demonstration that a paradigm shift has occurred is shown in the last shot. When Gene first came to live with the Drapers, his cot sat next to a disassembled baby crib. At the end of TA, Don packs away Gene’s bed while standing next to the now fully assembled crib. The irony is that the arrival of this new worldview (and the chance for Sally to reach her full potential) wouldn't, in a sense, be possible without the passing of Gene (whose sacrifice once again earns him his "Victory" medal). Or, to put it another way, to make an omelet, one has to break some eggs.


Amy said...

I just came across your blog. I loved this post on MM. Thank you and I look forward to reading more!

Matt Maul said...

Thanks Amy. I appreciate the kind feedback.