Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Group Therapy (Mad Men 3.10)

As has been mentioned in previous posts, a motif that has been used throughout Mad Mens third season is the juxtaposition of the colors blue and green. Blue has symbolized a worldview that, in varying degrees, has a confining affect on those characters conforming to it (the blue uniform on the stewardess in Out of Town, Don’s blue Cadillac, the blue background in the anachronistic film clip from Bye Bye Birdie). Meanwhile, the depiction of a new “anti-establishment” societal paradigm gradually taking hold in the Mad Men universe is represented by deliberate placement of the color green (the grass in the Maypole dance at the end of Love Among the Ruins, Miss Farrell’s sweater, the shirt on one of the anti-social grifters in 723).

In The Color Blue, this use of color is explicitly suggested by the title. While Betty’s storyline starts out slowly, when she discovers Don’s alternate identity, her character faces what is arguably the most dramatic conflict of the episode. At the end, she will literally be wearing both blue and green as she contemplates her next move.

Don arrives early for dinner one evening but informs Betty that he won't be spending the night. "Betts, I don't have a choice," he says. "I see how hard you're working," she replies.

In the first of many uses of the color blue, Carla and Betty both wear blue outfits. Betty and Don discuss an upcoming Halloween masquerade party. This foreshadows Betty’s later discovery of Don’s “disguise.”

At various points in The Color Blue, Betty is shown reading Mary McCarthy's 1963 novel, The Group. When Betty is initially shown reading the book, she is the tub surrounded by the blue tiles of her bathroom wall (a baptism perhaps?).

From Amazon.com:

Mary McCarthy's most celebrated novel portrays the lives, and aspirations of eight Vassar graduates. "The group" meet in New York following commencement to attend the wedding of one of their members and reconvene seven years later at her funeral. The woman are complicated, compelling, vivid, and, above all, determined not to become stuffy and frightened like "Mother and Dad" but to lead fulfilling, emancipated lives. "

This would seem to correlate with two threads developed in the episode.

The motif of school ties (particularly female), like those of the women in the novel, comes up a number of times in the episode. Don asks Sally about school but not Bobby. Lane Pryce comments that Americans never ask him where he went to school.

But much more significantly, Betty's reading of the novel parallels her discovery of Don's secret life. This will be a watershed moment in Betty's own quest (conscious or not) for personal emancipation.

Don drives to Miss Farrell's apartment. "I want you to spend the whole night," she whispers. In bed, she describes a student who asked if everyone sees the color blue the same way. "People may see things differently," Don says, "but they don't really want to."

When he greets Miss Farrell, Don notices that she has a star shaped sticker adhered to her cheek from grading school work. This continues the association developed in Wee Small Hours between Miss Farrell and the sun. Don has given Conrad Hilton’s people Farrell’s phone number. When Farrell informs Don that someone from Hilton’s office had called, she adds that Hilton was probably “in the air” at that moment. This ostensibly refers to the fact that Hilton’s airplane has taken off. But, as with Miss Farrell and the sun, it continues the use of a metaphor also established in Wee Small Hours comparing Hilton to the moon.

Don and Suzanne’s discussion about seeing the same color “differently” will literally be demonstrated later by the green and blue dress Betty wears to the Sterling Cooper party.

In his office the next day, Don objects that there's "too much story" in a television commercial Paul proposes. Peggy improvises a shorter narrative that Don approves.

The scene from Farrell’s bedroom cuts directly to an exterior of the Sterling Cooper office building which is dominated by a blue hue. Don enters eating what is presumably datenut bread given to him by Miss Farrell which he carries in a blue napkin.

The Aquanet commercial Paul demonstrates for Don shows two couples. One of the women is jealous of the how firmly the other woman’s hair is held by Aquanet. In a way, this applies to Betty’s attitude when she later discovers another “Mrs. Draper.” While talking about the ad, Peggy suggests a visual where a transparent kerchief is pulled across a can of Aquanet. This may be foreshadowing Betty pulling the veil of mystery away from Don’s carefully crafted façade.

Another campaign Peggy and Paul work on in The Color Blue is for Western Union. They are trying to sell the merits of an outdated product that is losing business to the modern and more personal telephone technology. This corresponds to the societal shift shown taking place from a controlled, formal worldview (telegram) to a more relaxed, less formal paradigm (telephone).

Peggy makes a point of describing the telephone as a “cheap” mode of communication.

Lane arrives with a check: Don's signing bonus. A rare smile from Don amuses Lane, who says that Don will be the final speaker at the upcoming Sterling Cooper anniversary party. He should be prepared for "prime time."

Interestingly, the signing bonus Don gets from Lane is five thousand dollars. In a first season episode aptly titled 5G, Don’s brother Adam Whitman, comes looking for Don. Adam stays in room 5G of a hotel. Also, Don brushes Adam off by giving him five thousand dollars. The rebuke from Don ultimately leads to Adam committing suicide. The guilt Don feels over this certainly ties in later to the kindness he shows toward Suzanne Farrell’s brother Danny.

In Lane's office, Rebecca weeps, ostensibly over a cabbie cheating her, but really because she remains homesick for London. "You like it here," she accuses. "The smells and the noise and the criminals at every level."

Mrs. Pryce is wearing a blue dress when she talks to her husband. She complains about “fat ladies in furs.” Roger will remind Bert Cooper in the next scene how he discovered Don selling fur coats.

That night, Don and Miss Farrell make love but are interrupted by the arrival of her brother, Danny. Don dresses to leave, but Miss Farrell wants the two to meet. Danny says he's lost his job because he has epileptic seizures. Don wishes Danny well, but Danny calls him arrogant after he departs.

When Miss Farrell first sees her brother Danny (who turns out to be an epileptic), she looks at a bandage on his head and asks “is it bad under there.” In a symbolic sense, Miss Farrell is asking for an update on Danny’s condition. Again, Danny reminds Don of his brother Adam Whitman (who Don did not treat particularly well.)

The next day, Roger and Cooper reminisce about their careers. Neither is looking forward to their company's fortieth-anniversary party. Roger loathes the thought of watching Don achieve an award "for his humanity." Likening the event to a funeral, Cooper says he won't attend.

Don and Roger, reminisce about the Sterling Cooper "class" of '33 (a subtle school reference) and point out a past female employee ("remember her?"). Continuing the phone motif used throughout The Color Blue, the woman in the photograph is holding an old fashioned telephone.

That night, the Drapers' phone rings. Sally answers, but no one responds.

While it’s never made clear who phoned, Don and Betty both think that the call came from the respective individuals with which they have an extramarital relationship. As characterized by Peggy in a different context, this would certainly represent a “cheap” use of a phone (or “tawdry” as Betty may say).

Paul and Peggy work late in their offices on a concept for Western Union: When is a telegram more appropriate than a phone call? Paul drinks steadily as he works.

The distinction between Paul and Peggy in terms of how they work is demonstrated clearly here. Peggy’s approach to creativity seems more focused and direct than Paul’s (who doodles, listens to jazz, drinks liquor and, at one point, even masturbates behind his desk). Peggy uses a Dictaphone to record her thoughts which, in a sense, is ironic as that is the sort of technology which Western Union is trying fighting against. The difference, however, is that Peggy's Dictaphone leaves a “permanent record.” This idea will play into the solution Peggy, Paul and Don arrive at for the Western Union campaign.

At home, Don locks some cash in his desk drawer. Hearing baby Gene cry, he puts the drawer's key in his bathrobe pocket.

Don is wearing a blue robe and pajamas when he goes through his drawer. The baby crying distracts him. In Mad Men, Baby Gene represents the new world which has replaced the old one symbolized by Betty’s deceased father Gene. So, it’s worth mentioning that Baby Gene’s distraction causes Don to leave the key in his robe pocket. This leads to Betty's discovery of Don’s secret (which leads to Betty’s final transformation).

Back at Sterling Cooper, Paul has a sudden brainstorm about Western Union while chatting with a custodian. Paul celebrates with another drink.

Note that Paul’s muse, the custodian, is carrying fluorescent light bulbs when Paul gets his brainstorm. The effect is much like the sterotype of a person with a cartoon lightbulb over their head when they get an "idea." Also, that the custodian’s name is “Achilles” may be related to Paul’s “Achilles’ Heel.” In this case, it would be his lack of focus which causes him to neglect recording his thoughts (unlike Peggy).

The next morning, Miss Farrell briefly boards Don's train. He asks if she called his house, and apologizes when she says no. "I don't care about your marriage, or your work, or any of that," she says. "As long as I know you're with me." She has found her bother a job at a VA hospital in Massachusetts, she adds. He'll be gone by evening.

Noteworthy in this scene is the view from the train window. With the arrival of autumn, the leaves on the trees whizzing past are turning yellow. Since green is Miss Farrell’s color, it may suggest that Don and Miss Farrell’s relationship is starting to reach its end (though they don’t realize it yet).

At the office, Lois wakes up Paul, who becomes frantic upon realizing that he neglected to write down his brainstorm.

As usual, another Mad Men character under emotional stress is found unconscious on a couch. As Paul panics looking for his "brainstorm," the sound of office telephones ringing can be distinctly heard in the background. This is a subtle reminder of Western Union's dilemma. It also supports the symbolic use of the telephone as the deliverer of bad news in The Color Blue.

Lane's London bosses call. They're flying over for the party -- and, by the way, Sterling Cooper is for sale. Cooper's attendance is crucial, Saint John Powell says, "to encourage interest."

Once again an unexpected phone call leads to tension. As PPL, Sterling Cooper’s parent company, represents an even older version of the “establishment,” the color scheme of their London office is dominated by a dark bluish color scheme.

Just before the call, Lane is practicing his speech for the party. His remarks continue the school motif with a reference to American’s “teaching” the world about business.

Betty, doing laundry, discovers Don's key. Opening his drawer, she sees his money stash, along with the cardboard box containing Whitman family photos, the army dog tags of Richard Whitman's and the real Don Draper, the deed to Anna Draper's house, and the divorce decree dissolving her marriage to Don.

When Henry Francis made his unexpected visit in Wee Small Hours, Betty was also carrying around a laundry basket. On that occasion, she was dealing with her own "dirty laundry." With the Don’s robe prominently shown on top of the pile, now she is dealing with Don’s. Every time Betty handles the robe, a distinct “ting” sound can be heard. Of course, this creates suspense as the audience wonders when Betty will actually find the key. But the sound also ties in nicely with the longer “tings” made by the various phones ringing throughout the episode.

That evening, Danny is still present when Don arrives at Miss Farrell's. She plans to drive Danny to Massachusetts, but Don, concerned about her returning alone late at night, says he will.

On their drive, Danny tells Don he has no intention of taking yet another menial job because just people don't understand epilepsy. Don pulls to the side of the road, offers Danny money and his business card, and lets him out of the car.

That the Mad Men universe has undergone a shift is demonstrated further in this scene. Don and Danny discuss how Julius Caesar, like Danny, also suffered from epilepsy. The fall of Rome has been used as an allegory for 1960's society in season three. Before his death, Betty’s father Gene was linked with the Roman Empire. However, Gene had money and a big car. The Roman Empire is now associated with Danny who is continually broke and has no means of transportation.

At two in the morning, Betty returns the box to the drawer, places the key in Don's bathrobe, and goes to bed.

While when she first discovers Don’s secret, Betty looks as though she may swoon (perhaps onto the Wentworth purchased in 723). However, as the episode unfolds, the shock has a cathartic effect on Betty who seems to going through the final stages of a transformation that begin earlier in the season.

Before meeting with Don about Western Union, Paul confesses to Peggy that he had "something incredible" but can't remember it. He recalls a Chinese proverb: "The faintest ink is better than the best memory."

Peggy's ideas don't impress Don, who turns to Paul. Peggy encourages Paul to admit that he lost his idea. Don commiserates. Peggy gets Paul to repeat the proverb. The key to their telegram pitch is in there somewhere, she says. Don agrees. "See, it all works out," he tells Paul.

The approach the three arrive at (inspired by Paul’s experience and Peggy's creativity) for Western Union is that a telegram provides a permanent record of an event that the more informal telephone cannot. It’s noteworthy that permanent records left in a box are the root cause of Don’s current trouble with Betty.

"Look how pretty mommy is," tux-clad Don tells Sally and Bobby as the Drapers leave for the party that evening.

Don calls Betty from while pulling a fresh shirt that the drycleaners wrapped with a blue ribbon. At home just before the party, Betty is alone and lost in thought while sitting on the outside edge of the bathtub (where she was first shown reading the novel). The patterns on her dress consist of both green and blue. At that moment, the shot is lit in such a manner as to make the color green (Mad Men's color for change) seem to dominate. However, when Betty enters the bedroom seconds later and seen from Don's point of view, her dress appears more blue. In effect, the audience and Don (who doesn't realize that a change has occurred within Betty) see the same color differently.

Lane, stuck in traffic with Rebecca, tells her Sterling Cooper is being sold. She's delighted.

A blue neon sign is reflected onto the limousine window that the Pryce’s ride in. Rebecca’s happiness at Sterling Cooper's potential sale may not be as great if she realized that Lane probably won't be transferred back to London. In Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency, his new assignment was going to be India.

At the party, Roger introduces Don, alluding to his heroism in Korea and calling him a friend and "the man who will stand alongside me for the next forty years." To extended applause, Don kisses Betty and steps to the podium. "I'm very honored," he says.

As Betty regards Don, her expression is not enthusiastic at all. The shot is framed to show Don’s empty chair next to Betty as she is perhaps contemplating a future without him.


Tom Drinane said...

Given the context, I read Pryce's comment about not being asked about school as a comment on how the US is less class conscious than the UK. Remember, it was his wife who was complaining about NYC, and Pryce basically implying that for him the time in NYC had worked out rather well.

Matt Maul said...

I'm lamenting my original reaction to Pryce's line. After being taken to task in another forum, I watched the exchange again. You sir, are correct! :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Matt. That was a nice recap, I enjoyed reading it. Dee