Monday, October 26, 2009

Truth in Labeling (Mad Men 3.11)

Like many Mad Men episodes, The Gypsy and the Hobo derives its title from a minor plot point. In this case, it refers to the costumes Sally and Bobby wear for Halloween. However, in a broader context it’s arguably a metaphor for three relationships: Betty/Don, Annabelle/Roger, and Greg/Joan. In each case, the “gypsy” is a woman who selects a partner based on pragmatic considerations as much as or more than emotional ones. The male, like a “hobo,” wanders a seemingly aimless route seeking some undefined goal just around the next corner.

In Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency, Don compared his business philosophy to a snake that can only eat "one meal at a time." Similarly, from an emotional standpoint, Don's approach to relationships is like that of an hobo who moves from place to place (meal to meal) mostly without leaving any permanent roots. These last few episodes have depicted his struggle between the concept of freedom represented by Suzanne versus the satisfaction inherent in the more firmly grounded relationships Betty and the kids provide. The Gypsy and the Hobo further establishes a symbolic connection between eating and the search for personal fulfillment through countless references to eating.

Betty and the kids are preparing to leave town for a week. She asks Don for some additional cash. He tells her to swing by the bank. "You have no more money?" Betty asks. Don pecks her on the cheek without responding.

Betty, wearing a blue overcoat, is packing to leave Don. However, he thinks that she is going away for a week to settle some of her late father's affairs. In Mad Men, blue generally represents adherence by the characters to established institutions while green symbolizes breaking free of those institutions. The final scene of The Color Blue shows Betty (who has discovered Don’s secret identity) with an expression indicating that she has emotionally (if not actually) left Don. At that moment, her blue and green dress suggests that she’s in a state of flux. The blue overcoat, she wears, instead of her usual blue blouse, at the start of The Gypsy and the Hobo seems more of an affectation to maintain the illusion for Don that she’s still with him.

Betty opens a drawer, flashing back to the dramatic moment from The Color Blue when she found Don’s secret shoebox of paperwork. She will be shown opening drawers three times in this episode.

Don, who is still wearing his "disguise," discusses Halloween costumes with Sally and Bobby. Sally says that wants to dress up as Minnie Mouse while Bobby wants to be an astronaut. They will both be other things this year.

Roger, Don, and Cooper meet with Annabelle Mathis – an old flame of Roger’s. Annabel’s company, Caldecott Farms, is losing market share because consumers have learned its dog food contains horse meat. She's challenging the big ad agencies to reverse public opinion. The ground rules: She won't change the recipe, or the product's name.

Annabelle tells Roger, Don and Bert that she got the company according to her father's will (much like Gene's will that favors Betty over William). Mathis comments that her late husband died of lung cancer followed by a cut to Don lighting a cigarette.

The food motif present throughout the episode is introduced in this scene.

It’s because of the film The Misfits that the public becomes aware of Caldecott Farm’s main ingredient for their dog food. In that film, the male characters are cowboys (who round up horses for a dog food manufacturer) and lead aimless lives (hobos) and women seeking out husbands for practical reasons (gypsies).

Mathis is mystified at how consumers reacted because, as she points out, everyone eats something. People just call it by a different name. Cow becomes “beef,” chicken becomes “poultry.” She is interrupted after saying “pig.” This seems to be a reference to Don who, who, like the foods Mathis lists, has two names and has been established as having a dislike for pork. The former Dick Whitman will later be frustrated by Annabelle’s reluctance to change the name of her product.

"What are you doing here?" Roger later asks Annabelle, a recent widow. Her business needs help, she explains, and she wanted to see him. The two arrange to have dinner.

That Roger and Annabelle arrange to meet for dinner continues the food motif mentioned earlier.

At her apartment that night, Suzanne laments that she and Don can't dine in public, but then backpedals: "I swear, I'm not talking about our future," she says, though she adds that whether she pictures herself in Don’s life or not, she sees an unhappy man. "I’m happy now," he replies.

Suzanne’s planned dinner for Don is spaghetti, butter cream, and cheese. Note that it doesn’t include meat (horse or otherwise). This would be consistent with Suzanne’s more modern sensibilities.

Interestingly, unlike Betty, Annabelle, and Joan, Suzanne is the only female character who selects a partner based primarily on the emotional connection she has with that person rather than because of pragmatic considerations for the “future.”

Joan coaches Greg for a psychiatry residency interview. He reveals a family secret -- that his father underwent psychiatric treatment -- and she encourages him to be as open with the interviewer as he was with her.

Greg practices interview techniques with Joan. In a way, this is similar to a scene from Souvenir showing Don and Betty role-playing while in Rome. Also, just as Betty discovered Don’s secret in The Color Blue, Greg reveals his own family secret to Joan (his father's mental illness).

Joan calls Roger for help finding work. "I like that you thought of me," he says.

While trying to reclaim the past, Joan calls Roger on a blue phone.

At Gene's house with their father's lawyer, Milton, William and Betty discuss selling the property. "This is ugly," William declares when told that his proposal to purchase Betty's share at a discount violates the terms of Gene's will.

Betty, seeking Milton's advice in private, describes Don's secret past. Divorce could leave her broke, Milton explains, and she could lose custody of the children. "It's a lie so big," Betty argues. After getting her to agree that Don is a good provider and wouldn’t harm her, Milton counsels Betty to try to salvage her marriage.

Again, as with Annabelle’s father’s will, Gene has written a will which is favorable to Betty. Continuing the food motif, William announces that Judy has fixed lunch. Visible on the wall is a mounted fish.

Behind a desk, Betty opens a drawer for the second time. On the desks sits a lamp with a green shade that is consistent with Betty’s desire for change.

The lawyer’s clear advice to Betty is that she should try to make her marriage to Don work for practical, not emotional reasons.

Over dinner, Annabelle reminisces about being young and in Paris with Roger, who reminds her that she dumped him for someone her father found more suitable. Roger, she counters, was adrift, walking around "like you were hoping to be a character in somebody else's novel." The two drink heavily, but when Annabelle says that she knows Roger still wants her, he replies, "So what? I'm married," and sends her away.

During this scene, Annabelle and Roger refer to Casablanca. In that movie, Rick has lead a nomadic sort of life forming no permanent affiliations. Elsa, like Betty, chooses to a partner for reasons other than love. Annabelle's husband was selected as someone who could run her father's dog food business.

Roger comments that he is on drink “number three.” This could also be a reference to the fact that he has had three loves: Annabelle, Mona and Jane.

They discuss enjoying Paris and “eating at cemeteries” while people were “jumping out of windows.” Annabelle will later comment that she “missed the window” between Roger’s two marriages. Roger is described as having hobo-like qualities as he seemed to drift aimlessly while trying to find himself. He also pointedly remarks that he never wanted her affections to be based on pity. Don will later regain Betty's affection based mostly on her pity for him.

Before Roger rebukes Annabelle’s sexual overture, there is a quick exchange about peanut butter (food). Also note that by not succumbing to his client Annabelle, Roger is guilty of the same thing he fired Sal for (not succumbing to client Lee Garner Jr).

At their apartment, Greg sulks to Joan because his interview went poorly. Referring to his surgery career, he says that she doesn't know what it's like "to want something your whole life" and not get it. Joan bashes his head with a vase.

The idea of food is again presented in this scene. When Joan returns home after Greg has bombed his interview, their refrigerator is placed at the center of the shot. Also, the voice of famous chef Julia Child can be distinctly heard on the television set Greg is watching (moments before Joan smashes a vase on his head).

Also, as with the lawn mower in Guy Walks Into An Ad Agency, the Lee Garner Jr character in Wee Small Hours, and the car scene Paul stages in The Color Blue, what may arguably be this week’s JFK assassination reference occurs when Joan crashes the vase containing red roses on the back of Greg’s head. After which Greg ironically makes his first (and last) psychiatric diagnosis by proclaiming Joan to be "crazy."

Annabelle watches behind a two-way mirror as focus-group participants become incensed when told their pets are eating samples of Caldecott Farms dog food. "The name has been poisoned," Don says. She will find another agency to solve her problem, she declares.

Mathis arrives at the focus group wearing a coat that has a leopard skin collar.

Don and the others mention the fact that people in focus groups think they are describing something else (in this case their dogs) but are actually describing themselves. Thus, the costumes that Don and Betty later get their children to wear (a gypsy and a hobo) may similiarly be a reflection of how they see themselves.

Again, Don sees no trouble with changing the name of the dog food because it's “just a label on a can.” This can also be said of his name.

"Is this about last night?" Roger asks Annabelle later. He concedes that she broke his heart years ago. "Well it was a mistake," she says. "You were the one." "You weren't," he replies softly.

Annabelle and Roger have their tense conversation in the Sterling Cooper lunchroom. An open refrigerator can be seen in the background.

Suzanne remains in the car when Don stops at his house before their trip.

Note that the location Suzanne had selected for their ill-fated trip is Norwich. This is more serendipity than design, but it’s worth pointing out in an episode laden with food references that Norwich Pharmaceuticals is the company that introduced Pepto Bismol to the world in 1919.

Discovering that Betty and the kids have returned early, he says that he left his hat in the car. "Get it later," says Betty.

Don reaches into his pocket and, for a instant, his keys can be heard jingling. This may be a sublte way to show that he is still trying to guard his secrets.

Betty orders Don to open his desk drawer. He refuses. "You know I know what's in there," she says, opening the drawer.

This is the third time Betty opens a drawer.

Unsteady, Don says that he needs a drink. Regaining some of his composure, he asks quietly, "Where do you want me to start?"

Don explains how he assumed the real Donald Draper’s identity following an accident during the Korean War. "I found out it was easier to be him than to start over," he says.

Looking at photos, Don tells Betty about his prostitute mother; his father, Archibald Whitman; and Archibald's wife, Abigail, who raised him. Don sobs over his half-brother Adam’s suicide. "I turned him away," he says. "He just wanted to be part of my life and I couldn't risk all of this."

Don and Betty's dramatic final confrontation very much incorporates a food motif. Don initially tells Betty that he only came home to "feed the dog." He tries to leave by making up imaginary "dinner" plans with a client. More pointedly, the picture of Don's deceased half-brother shows Adam sitting on a horse. In effect, an emotional Don recoils at the realization that he sacrificed Adam to maintain a manufactured life in the same way that the protesters of Caldecott Farms recoil at their use of horse meat to manufacture dog food.

Don and Betty sit at the kitchen table next to a sewing machine. Visible beneath the sewing machine are pieces of blue and green fabric. In a sense, the couple is trying to reconcile (patch together) the past and the future nature of their relationship.

Baby Gene cries and Betty reports that he has kicked off blanket. Likewise, the secret Don was hiding has been kicked away presenting the couple with a fresh start (birth) for their marriage. As mentioned earlier, Betty buys into Don’s sincere sales pitch very much out of her sympathy (pity) for his story.

Over at Joan's apartment, Greg returns with flowers, an apology for "feeling sorry for myself," and a surprise announcement: He's joined the army. He'll be able to work as a surgeon, and Joan won't have to return to work.

When Greg announces that he’s enlisted in the service, Joan is setting the dinner table. Greg tells her that they won’t have to eat soup any longer. Joan seems genuinely happy at the news. Given their history (Greg once raped her), this would suggest that Joan’s commitment to the relationship is not based on love. It also invokes a third film: 1970's M*A*S*H. A dark comedy about wartime surgeons.

Outside Don's house, Suzanne exits the car and walks away.

Like Betty earlier, Suzanne is now leaving Don while carrying a suitcase.

Don brushes his teeth, lost in thought while in front of a mirror reminiscent of the two-way mirror used for the dog food focus group. His five o’clock shadow resembles the beard Bobby will color on for his hobo costume.

Don calls Suzanne from his office the next morning to say that he can't see her anymore. "Are you okay?" she asks. "Only you would ask about me right now," he says.

The next morning, Don is again shown looking in a mirror. Also, the headboard of the Draper bedroom looks less blue and more greenish. This perhaps reflects the change which has taken place in their relationship after Don’s confession.

When Don comes into the kitchen, Baby Gene is sitting on the same table where the Draper children eat breakfast. This again equates personal fulfillment (a child) with meals. Both Don and Betty wear outfits that are black with white highlights. For the first time in a while, they are both on the same page regarding the state of their marriage.

Don surprises his secretary Allison by showing up at Sterling Cooper the next day. She asks about scheduling a meeting with "United Fruit" just he calls Suzanne to break off their relationship. Notably absent from Don's desk as he puts a to halt his new life with Suzanne is the green colored paper weight that had been there for the last few episodes. Suzanne’s wall is adorned with a piece of art that shows a rooster looking up at the sun. This is consistent with Suzanne’s association with the sun from previous episodes. Likewise, the depiction of Don as a rooster is appropriate for his personality. Note that only when the relationship is over does Suzanne express concern for more practical matters like her teaching position. Again, this distinguishes her from the other women in the episode.

That evening Don and Betty take the kids trick-or-treating. "Look at this," says Carlton, Francine's husband, to Sally and Bobby. "We've got a gypsy and a hobo."

Glancing up at Don, he asks, "And who are you supposed to be?"

Betty offers Don something to eat and he takes it. Ultimately, it is Betty's offer of food, not Suzanne’s, which Don is shown accepting. This choice does not seem a completely satisfying one. While trick-or-treating with the kids, Don is jokingly asked by Carlton who he's "supposed to be." In a way, Betty and Don are themselves disguised as a happy couple.

Don’s reaction shows that the remark hit too close to home while the song "Where is Love" from Oliver!, a musical about another hungry orphan, plays in the background.

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