Monday, October 12, 2009

Lunacy (Mad Men 3.09)

The idea of unfulfilled desires is a strong theme in Wee Small Hours, Mad Men's ninth episode for Season 3. It takes its name from song about a would-be lover who can't sleep while waiting for the girl of his dreams to call. Before it is over, each of the main characters in the episode will either fail to meet the demands of others or succumb to their own needs (or both). For instance, Conrad Hilton will literally ask Don Draper for the moon. Failing that request, Draper will be be driven to Miss Farrell who has been on the fringe of his life since he first encountered her in Love Among the Ruins.

In the "Wee Small Hours of the Morning:" (Mann/Hilliard)
In the wee small hours of the morning
While the whole wide world is fast asleep
You lie awake and think about the girl
And never ever think of counting sheep

When your lonely heart has learned its lesson
You'd be hers if only she would call
In the wee small hours of the morning
That's the time you miss her most of all

In the middle of the night, Betty dreams that a man is caressing her. As he leans in to kiss her, she’s awakened by the telephone. It's Connie, calling to offer Don the chance to "earn" Hilton's international business. Connie envisions having his hotels everywhere -- even on the moon.

Betty is presumably dreaming about Henry Francis caressing her in the Wentworth she bought after their meeting in 723. This ties in with Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech referenced throughout the episode. Betty’s fantasy is interrupted by a baby crying. This will happen again later. Betty compares Hilton’s nightly phone calls to baby Gene’s 4 AM feedings. Both Hilton and the responsibilities of a newborn seem to be taking a toll on the Draper marriage.

Hilton has a dream too. Hilton asks to include the moon in his ad campaign. As stated, this is one of many requests that will be refused in Wee Small Hours. Others include Lee Garner Jr’s pass at Sal and, likewise, a sexual overture by Henry Francis to Betty.

Unable to sleep, Don drives to work and comes across Sally’s teacher, Suzanne Farrell, on her early morning jog. Accepting his offer of a lift home, she becomes reflective when she hears Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the radio. "Who are you?" asks a charmed Don. "Are you dumb or pure…"

A song about "feeling blue" is playing on Don's car radio. Miss Farrell is prominently wearing a Bowdoin shirt. Bowdoin's official college seal features a sun. The image of the sun has been a recurring motif in Mad Men.

From the Bowdoin college website:

The origin of the sun on the Bowdoin seal has been widely debated. Some believe the sun was chosen due to Bowdoin’s location: the easternmost college in the country at the time of its founding. More likely is that the sun was selected as a symbol of truth and enlightenment, and to represent the rising sun of knowledge and the light of learning
When he was first transfixed by Miss Farrell's Maypole dance and now during their "chance" encounter on the road, Don seems to have attached supernatural significance to her. This attraction to Farrell seems motivated by a longing for something Don's current life isn't providing. Of course, Miss Farrell is a little nutty. But so is Conrad Hilton, whose obsession with the moon would seem in place in him direct contrast with Miss Farrell. Coinciding with the solar eclipse from 723, as Don’s relationship with Hilton was beginning, he didn’t seem as interested in Farrell. In effect, the moon that was Hilton blocked out Farrell’s sun. However, with the eclipse over, Don now has two clear paths. He could stay with his established (and safer life) as Don Draper of Sterling-Cooper or he could take a risk and venture into the uncharted wilderness (of growth) Miss Farrell symbolizes. Of course, Don’s “welcome” into that world, as represented by Doug and Sandy in 723, ended badly.

As they drive, Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I have a dream” speech can be heard on the radio. As one would expect, Farrell is captivated by King's vision and shares that with Don. Interestingly, just after the King speech, a news broadcast about two women being “murdered in the Upper East Side” is heard. This foreshadows the killings of four black girls by segregationists in Alabama that is referenced later in the episode. It also seems to hint at bad outcomes for the dreams of the characters in Wee Small Hours.

Don makes a clumsy pass at Farrell by suggesting they get coffee. This is the same approach Henry Francis took with Betty.

Before dropping her off, Don asks “left or right?” While Mad Men isn’t overtly political, in the context of the scene, it may be a symbolic political reference. It also could reflect Don having to choose between the two paths mentioned earlier (his current life, or a new one in Farrell’s world).

Later that morning, Betty mails Henry a note: "Does anyone else read this? B."

When we first see Betty she’s wearing blue. While writing letters to Henry, she is wearing a green outfit. This is consistent with Mad Men’s use of green to denote change. Note also that Sally mentions a few times her need for a pencil case and how she’s shown doing her own school writing assignments. This comparison suggests that Betty’s efforts at writing are still at an immature stage. Betty is new at this. She is used to the “boy” making the first move.

At the office, Peggy, Smitty and Kurt pitch Hilton concepts to Don. He rejects them all -- even those based on his own ideas.

Like Betty’s dream, Don is shown at Sterling-Cooper lying on his office couch (a common Mad Men motif). His demeanor is stressed and unhappy. At that moment, the couch, like the identity of Don Draper, resembles a coffin which is confining the former Dick Whitman.

Don rejects the first ad that features the remnants of a fallen empire. Perhaps he’s starting to realize that social change is upon him. However, by also rejecting the newer, arguably more modern ad, Don demonstrates that he’s not clear where he should go next.

On the set of a Lucky Strike commercial, Lee Garner Jr., the son of the cigarette magnate, addresses Sal as "Sally" and meddles with his direction.

The Lee Garner Jr. character would seem to be more foreshadowing of the JFK assassination. For instance, the name “Lee Garner Junior” has exactly the same number of letters (15) in the exactly the same places as “Lee Harvey Oswald.” Also, during the television shoot, Lee Garner, Jr. looks through the camera lens in a posture that mimics taking aim with a sniper’s scope. Garner’s actions will have dramatic results in this episode.

At home, Betty receives a note from Henry that includes an address where she can safely send letters.

As with her dream of Henry caressing her on the Wentworth, Betty’s opening of the letter is interrupted by the sound of a baby in the background.

Late at night, Sal shows Lee an early cut of the Lucky Strike commercial. A besotted Lee puts his arms around Sal, who protests that he's married. "I know what I know," Lee responds.

The Lee Harvey Oswald connection is maintained when one the technicians in the editing room with Sal and Lee announces that he’s going to “the booth.” This could certainly be a subtle reference to another assassin of presidents with three names: John Wilkes Booth.

Lee locks the door to the editing room as Henry Francis will later lock his office door when Betty visits him. Just as Don will not fulfill Connie’s request to include the moon in Hilton ads, Sal will reject Lee’s come on. Afterward, an angry Sal throws film canisters across the editing room. Likewise, an angry Betty will throw a cash box at Francis when he fails to show up at her fundraiser.

Harry gets a late night call from Lee demanding that he fire Sal. Harry says that he doesn’t have the authority, but Garner insists and warns him not to tell Roger and Pete, who handle the account.

Just as the bell hop who Sal encounters in Out of Town was wearing a red uniform, Lee’s hotel room is dominated by red tones.

In a conversation with Paul, Harry mentions how his mother thinks he looks like Perry Mason. However, Harry will do a poor job of defending Sal later on.

That night, Connie calls Don to invite him for a drink. "It's my purpose in life to bring America to the world," Connie says when they meet. "We are a force of good, Don. Because we have God." Don's international campaign shouldn't explicitly include politics, Connie advises. "But there should be goodness, and confidence."

Their business discussion over, Connie calls Don "my angel" and says that sometimes Don feels like "more than a son" to him because he didn't have the advantages Connie's own boys had. "Thank you," Don replies. "I mean it."

Connie and Don drink Prohibition era “moonshine” from a bottle labeled “hair tonic.” Don, his real name Dick Whitman, also masquerades as something he is not. Hilton expresses his need to have someone to talk to. Their connection will be short lived. After Don's relationship with Hilton sours, he will later tell Farrell about his own need for someone to talk to.

The next day, Henry appears at Betty's door unannounced. "I wanted to see you," he says. "I wasn't thinking." When Carla arrives moments later, Henry blurts out that Betty's house would be an excellent venue for a fundraiser. Betty says that she'll check with her husband.

As Betty comes down the stairs to answer the door, she is carrying a laundry basket. Carla, seeing Francis and Betty acting suspicious in front of her, pretends not to notice before carrying Betty’s “dirty laundry” away. Betty refers to Carla as her “girl.” This supports the theme of African American’s playing subservient roles to white employers developed in Wee Small Hours. In addition to housekeeper, Carla plays nanny to the Draper children. During the subsequent fundraiser in Betty’s home, the women discuss the poor conditions for African Americans in the South. Meanwhile, Carla is clearly visible in the background wearing a maid's uniform doing servant's work.

Lee arrives at Sterling Cooper to review the finished Lucky Strike ad. When he sees Sal in the conference room, he storms out. Harry comes clean to Roger about Lee's phone call. "Sal, you're fired," says Roger.

At the start of the ill-fated meeting Sal is having difficulty threading the projector. This may relate to the difficulty Lee will cause for him by “projecting” his own self-loathing as a repressed homosexual onto Sal. Also, Don's later anger at Sal may be partially motivated by a projection anger over his own past actions (such as having Don himself having sexual relationships with clients). In this regard, it's noteworthy that when Don yelled at Peggy in 723, he was accusing her of the same thing that Bert and Roger were chastising him for (ingratitude).

Later at home, Betty tells Don about Henry's visit while Carla is in the room. Later, within earshot of Don, Betty calls Henry to say that her husband has approved a fundraiser. "I guess you're going through with this," Henry says. "I had to," she whispers.

It’s significant that during Betty’s conversation with Henry, Don can be seen in the background sitting on a couch out of focus. This demonstrates the deteriorating state of the Draper relationship.

Don presents his team's campaign to Connie: How do you say "Ice Water" in Italian? Or "Hamburger" in Japanese? Hilton. Connie concedes that the concept is good, but scolds Don for ignoring his instructions about showing Hilton on the moon. "When I say I want the moon," Connie says, "I expect the moon."

Hilton, feeling let down, basically retracts his earlier statements about being a “father” to Don. As stated above, with his emotional attachment to Connie broken, it’s as if the moon represented by Hilton is no longer blocking Farrell’s sun.

At the fundraiser, Betty becomes piqued when Henry sends a female representative in his place to promote Governor Rockefeller’s presidential bid.

Like Lee, Hilton and Betty are both furious when their requests (dreams) go unanswered.
Before the scene at Betty’s house to Henry’s office, the female representative refers to the fundraiser as a “taking of a pulse.” When the representative says this, the camera is on Betty. As is shown in the next scene, by deliberately not going to the fundraiser, Henry is actually taking measure of Betty’s feelings for him.

Betty drives to Henry's office the next day and hurls the fundraiser cashbox at him. "I watched the door all night like a sap," she says. "You had to come to me," Henry contends. "You're married." Henry and Betty kiss, but when he locks his office door she changes her mind. "It's tawdry," she says.

As mentioned earlier, there are a number of parallels between Betty’s encounter with Francis and Sal’s encounter with Lee. Both take place in a work environment. Both Henry and Lee lock the door. Both Betty and Sal, throw an object in anger. Like the lyrics in the song for which the episode is named, Henry has been waiting for Betty to call him. Henry suggests that they get a hotel room. This would certainly tie in with the ad campaign that Don is working on for Hilton.

Roger visits Don’s office to chastise him for letting two clients -- Hilton and Garner – leave angry within a week. "You've got your face so deep in Hilton's lap, you're ignoring everything else," Roger says. "You are in over your head."

When he fired him, Don suggested to Sal that he should have agreed to Lee’s sexual suggestions. When Roger tells Don that his head is "deep in Hilton’s lap," he is metaphorically accusing Don of doing for Hilton what Don had literally suggested that Sal should do for Lee.

Prominent in this scene is a green paperweight on Don’s desk. That Don’s performance at Sterling Cooper is coming under closer scrutiny motivates him to be more proactive with Farrell later. The green paperweight underscores those feelings inside of Don.

Sal calls Kitty from a phone booth to say that he's working late. "I love you too," he says as he hangs up.

Before leaving Stering Cooper, Sal goes through his portfolio of past campaigns. There are two quick cuts to the Popsicle ad (phallic imagery) and a sketch of a barechested man under the words "relax." This may represent Sal's continued struggle with his true nature. When he calls Kitty, Sal is in what Betty would describe as a “tawdry” section of town where men meet for homosexual liaisons. Sal’s exit from the phone booth to presumably engage in such liaisons could be characterized as his “coming out” of the closet.

Later that night, Don tells Betty he needs to meet with Connie again but instead visits Suzanne. "I can't stop thinking about you," he says, challenging her to admit the same. She allows that she’s been thinking about him too, but says that she also knows how things would end with Don. "So what?" he replies.

"I want you," Don continues, adding that he doesn't care about the consequences. "Doesn't that mean anything to someone like you?" The two kiss and end the night asleep in bed together.

Don replaces Hilton with Suzanne as his late-night destination. Note that the color scheme of her entrance is green. While this situation would seem doomed to have a negative outcome, Don is finally able to sleep.


gina said...

I love your thoughts on this show. They are deeper in many ways than others...different and thought provoking. If the sun and moon relate to MW's use of Tarot symbols is astrology also used by the many dates that are used throughout this show? Saturn returns should be happening for those in their late 20's. I am not an astrologer,but maybe one of your readers is.

Also, after the horrific scene between Sal and Don and Sal has left Don's office Don asks Alison to get ahold of Lee it possible he will threaten him and reinstate Sal...feels unlikely, but... Hard as this scene was to watch, sometimes it is this kind of upsetting of your world that is needed to become authentic and I think that is what this will be for Sal.

Mark said...

I agree, I thought the scene between Don and Sal was one of the more unsettling in the history of the show. It reminded me of the Sopranos in two ways, also.

Whenever viewers would begin to feel too much sympathy towards Tony, he would do something so unnerving to remind the audience members of his more awful side.

And I wonder if Weiner is doing a Sopranos-like housecleaning in terms of major characters. Are Joan and Sal gone for good? It would be too sitcom-ish to bring them back. Kind of like how Pussy and, later, Christopher both died.

Matt Maul said...

gina...thanks for the nice feedback. I'm not really familiar with astrology but (if you haven't already seen it) there's a neat discussion of tarot card reading on here on the Lipp Sisters Mad Men site.


Because I LOVE to play devil's advocate....

Maybe Don isn't the complete homophobe his "you people" remark suggests. When Don saw Sal with the bell hop, he didn't end their association. Don's reaction (in addition to surprise) was to give Sal thinly veiled advice on how to function as a gay man in the real world of the 1960s. Don later even got him TV director gigs.

From Don's viewpoint, Sal, AFTER being cautioned to limit his "exposure," let Don down by getting himself into a compromising situation (with the son of a major client no less). Sure, Sal has an excuse, but Don's reaction to that may be what my daddy used to tell me when I got home after curfew: "don't bullshit a bullshitter."

Also, Don may be doing a bit of projecting here - the whole thing did start in a "projection" room ;). One of the many "tawdry" relationships Don has had was with Rachel Menken -- a major Sterling Cooper client. So, maybe in his heart of hearts, Don sees in Sal's incident, all the things he hates about his own past actions.

Or, maybe he's just a hypocritical asshole. ;)

gina said...

Matt...I like your thoughts on projection and, of course, this wouldn't just be Don, but everyone on the show which is mind boggling to consider. I find that after I read these comments and others they are fascinating, but when I watch the show again I try to just feel the characters and not try to analyse too much because then I miss the bigger picture. There is so much in what is unsaid. And, the previews for next week are talking about an humanitarian award for Don...that should be interesting. I still feel he has a connection to his kids that is real and however flawed he may be this can lead him home.

Matt Maul said...

but when I watch the show again I try to just feel the characters and not try to analyse too

I'm probably guilty of that (and sometimes reading too much into things). They leave so many clues that after a few minutes I can't help myself and look for them.

I still feel he has a connection to his kids that is real and however flawed he may be this can lead him home.

I agree. In fact, the last scene in the very first Mad Men episode touchingly showed Don coming home to kiss his kids goodnight.

melissa said...

Thought you might be interested in this recent interview with Mad Men's prop master, Scott Buckwald: