Monday, October 05, 2009

When in Roam (Mad Men 3.08)

Souvenir, Mad Men’s 8th episode of its third season, is named for the gold Colosseum bracelet charm Don gives to Betty as a remembrance of their trip to Rome. Given that at different points in the episode each of the main characters seem to be performing a role, it's appropriate that the Colosseum is itself a sort of theatre. At the end, Betty, after playing out a “scene” in her marriage and also taking on Don’s role for a while, will finally verbalize that she's grown weary of her limited options. Travel (by bike, horse, balloon, boat and plane) is one of the major motifs presented throughout the episode that leads up to Betty symbolically (if not literally) trying to escape from the confines of her relationship with Don.

On a hot August Friday, Hildy describes her weekend beach plans to Pete, who is staying in town while Trudy is away. "Why is it that a man on his own is an object of pity?" Pete asks Harry and Paul before waxing nostalgic about the summers of his youth.

The first shot pans across the Sterling Cooper office past a baby photo on an employee’s desk. The theme of trying to mix family and work (which challenges Don and something Betty will dabble in) is established.

Pete reads Ebony magazine. This harkens back to his attempts to get Admiral to adapt to a new set of realities (specifically, Pete’s recognition of African Americans as an emerging and profitable consumer class).

Pete tells Paul, Harry and Ken about the downside of being alone in New York in August. This is reminiscent of The Seven Year Itch where a married man is tempted to stray when his wife and kids go away on a camping trip. Ken references local “fat girls” putting their feet in fountains. A fountain will be seen behind Betty and Don in Rome and referenced in a conversation between Francine and Betty at the end. Pete comments on Trudy’s horseback riding (both a sexual reference and a mode of travel).

That night at home, Betty makes calls for the reservoir campaign. A call from Conrad Hilton's office interrupts her efforts: Don is to fly to Italy on Tuesday to inspect the Rome Hilton with Connie. When Betty bemoans this latest excursion, Don invites her along. “I guess our two month old isn’t an issue,” Betty replies.

Don feels that Betty should get paid for her campaign work. Just as in his first meeting with Connie, Don doesn't seem to have much interest in doing things for "free." Even though her “office” is cluttered with baby bottles and cooking utensils, Betty is taking on Don’s role as a “working” parent.

A standard Mad Men motif, couches play a role in this scene. Pete (childless and with no bosses in town) is shown in his empty apartment sitting on a couch that is much larger then he needs. By contrast, Don (with three kids and a heavy workload) is crammed onto a couch that is too small.

Betty makes calls off of a mailing list. While it’s not all that significant, two of the last names visible on the list are "Duck" and "Campbell." This may be a subtle reference to Duck’s efforts to recruit Pete. Don, while talking on the phone to Hilton’s office, clearly shows no respect for Betty’s efforts by jotting down notes on her mailing list. It’s also clear that Don is at the beck and call of Conrad Hilton’s whims. Betty suggests that Don should try to spend time with the children who are trying to “catch lightening bugs.” This could be a reference to Betty’s later realization that the “first kiss” is the best (lightening doesn’t strike twice).

Don and Sally’s going to Rome ties in to the late Gene’s fascination with the fall of the Roman empire. It also ties into the theme of traveling developed in Souvenir as Rome is a homonym for “roam.”

Pete idles his Saturday away watching TV and napping. Emptying his trash that evening, he happens upon Gudrun, the au pair of his neighbors, the Lawrences. Gudrun is in tears over a dress she borrowed from Mrs. Lawrence and stained. Pete offers to help obtain a replacement.

Pete looks childlike in his pajamas eating breakfast and watching animated kid shows on television. When Pete first sees Gudrun (certainly a theatrical sounding name), she’s stuffing a dress in a garbage chute. The dress looks like a wedding gown at first. This certainly relates to Betty’s feelings in this episode. The first of what are arguably three references to Shakespearean plays is the fact that Gudrun is trying to get a stain out of the dress (Lady MacBeth). This is in keeping with the theme of individuals playing roles. Betty is further linked to Gudrun in the next scene which shows her rising from bed with a stained nightgown (in the same spot ad Gudrun's stain). Furthermore, as an au pair, Gudrun is, in a certain sense, what Betty aspires to be: a working parent. Also, Gudrun is from Germany and there’s a bike visible behind Pete. This alludes to the idea of travel in Souvenir. Mirroring her emotions, a red emergency hose cabinet next to Gudrun. The distinct sounds of sirens during scenes with Don and Betty will indicate emergencies of a different nature.

On Monday evening, Sally watches Betty primp before leaving to attend a meeting of the Tarrytown Board of Trustees. Henry appears at the meeting just in time to request a suspension of the reservoir project pending additional water quality studies. The trustees acquiesce.

Don mentions to Betty a mix-up with his shirts at the laundry. Certainly, this reflects on Don’s secret alternate identity. But, given that Betty has a stain on her nightgown, it may be the first indication that they will be switching (“mixing up”) their roles. Furthermore, Betty will later be shown carrying in what looks like Don's laundry.

Sally watches Betty get made up for her “performance” at the board meeting. Just as Don and Betty will later play act in Rome, Sally will play act with Ernie in the Draper home.
At the board meeting (political theatre), one of the trustees makes reference to the community as a “hamlet” (which, like the stain, could be another reference to Shakespeare). Betty is wearing a blue scarf that indicates her confinement to marriage (not unlike the scarf Duck tries get to Peggy take in 723 as a way to form an alliance with him). At the end of the meeting, one of the trustees bring up “new business on the agenda” which is heard under a shot of Henry looking admiringly at Betty.

"When you have no power, delay," Henry tells the elated Betty and Francine outside. Alone with Betty, Henry says that it would make him happy to think he'd made her happy. She acknowledges that he did, and Henry leans through her open car door and kisses her.

In addition to the Roman adventure, Betty’s continued ties to her father are demonstrated by her driving his Lincoln (the same one Gene taught Sally to “travel” in). The flirtatious dance between Betty and Henry will be played out again by Don and Betty at the café in Rome. Henry tells Betty that she has made him “happy” and delivers a “first kiss.” Betty will later relate to Sally how the impact of the initial kiss is never duplicated. As she leaves, Henry tells Betty to “drive safely.” This would seem sound advice based on the respective driving records of Don and Betty (both have had car accidents while in emotionally charged states).

At home, Betty tells Don about the campaign's success. "That's real politics," he says. Agreeing, Betty repeats Henry's motto about delay tactics.

Don is looking for his cuff links from Conrad Hilton. This will tie in later with the bracelet charm that Hilton sends to Don for Betty. In a way, both are handcuffed by Hilton. Betty is excited at “closing” her campaign for the water tower. Shes experiencing the exhilaration she probably assumes Don feels when he signs a client. However, Don seems dismissive of Betty's efforts.

On Tuesday, Pete drops by the Bonwit Teller department store with Mrs. Lawrence's dress and discovers that Joan has taken a supervisor's job there. Joan approves an exchange and promises discretion should she run into Trudy – to whom, Pete tells her, the dress belongs.

That the dress is a “Bonwit Teller” foreshadows Pete “telling” Trudy about his infidelity with Gudrun (or Gudrun "telling" her employees what happened with Pete). In the store a Hermes sign (a nod to one of Duck’s clients at Gray) can be seen in the background. Also, a yellow outfit is clearly visible on a clothes rack behind Pete. When Ed Lawrence later confronts Pete about Gudrun, he’ll be wearing a yellow sports jacket. In an interesting play on words, Pete tells the saleswoman that he wants to get “out of ladies dresses” (he certainly wants to get Gudrun out of her dress).

In her new job status, Joan is wearing purple (a new color for her). Both put on performances for each other’s benefit. Pete pretends that the dress is Joan’s. Joan pretends not to realize that it's not Trudy’s dress. Joan also acts as though she is doing fine. Pete makes it clear that Trudy should not be told about the dress so as to avoid “drama” (more theatrics).

Betty and Don arrive in Rome, where Betty's fluent Italian comes in handy at the Hilton. While Don naps, Betty calls the concierge to arrange an appointment at the beauty salon.

Betty’s ability to speak Italian allows her to play another role. Her cigarette will be lit by a man for the first of three times (a harkening to an "old fashioned" approach to women). The room Hilton reserves for them has the same color scheme as Sterling Cooper (for instance, the doors are blue). This reinforces the notion that Don is there to work and not on vacation. A basket of fruit is visible in the first panning shot of the room. Fruit will be discussed later by Pete and Trudy (another couple whose marriage is in trouble).

At the Hilton's outdoor cafe, the meticulously coiffed Betty banters with two Italian men, not letting on that Don is her husband when he joins her. Don "wins" the contest for Betty's affections. After the glum Italians depart, the Drapers continue their flirtation until Connie arrives. "By golly, you are an indecently lucky man," Connie says to Don upon meeting Betty.

As mentioned before, Betty in black dress and Don put on a play in café. One of the Italian men lights Betty’s cigarette (the second time someone has lit a cigarette for her). He makes an overt pass by saying that he would be happy if he were a cigarette in Bettys’ mouth. Earlier, Henry Francis talked about Betty making him “happy.” When Don arrives, a fountain (not unlike the one Ken references in the first scene) can be seen in the background. Later, Hilton's attention to Betty borders on lecherous.

"He adores you," says Betty when she and Don return to their room. Kissing as they slowly undress, the Drapers fall to the bed.

As they lay down on the bed, a siren can be heard from outside. When they kiss again in the morning, a siren will also be heard in the background. Like Gudrun, Betty and Don would seem to be facing a personal emergency (even if they both don’t realize it yet).

Back in Ossining, Bobby spies on Sally and Ernie while they play grown-up. When Sally kisses Ernie, Bobby makes fun of her. Sally tackles Bobby, hitting him repeatedly until Carla separates the siblings.

Like Gudrun's dress and Betty's nightgown, Bobby’s shirt is stained. Sally and Ernie, in a bathtub surrounded by blue walls (Mad Men’s color for traditional institutions such as marriage) play act that they are a couple. Sally gives Ernie (who wears the "same shirt," as Miss Farrell pointed out to Don in 723, like the other fathers) their “first kiss.” After Sally’s incident with Bobby, Carla threatens to not let Ernie play at the Draper’s house anymore. Sally and Ernie glance at each other like the two star-crossed lovers from Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juilet.

Pete presents the new dress to a grateful Gudrun. He suggests they celebrate with a cocktail, but Gudrun declines, saying that she has a boyfriend. Pete returns to his apartment and pours a drink. Later, he awakens Gudrun and reminds her of the great pains he took to procure the dress. "I think I at least deserve to see it on you," he says. In her bedroom, Pete kisses her.

Pete is alone in his apartment. Many of the characters in Souvenir spend time looking reflectively out the window--the sound of traffic in the background. A siren can be heard briefly outside before Pete goes to Gudrun's apartment. It’s worth noting that Pete and Trudy live in Apartment 14G. Likewise, in Out of Town, Don and the stewardess were also on the fourteenth floor. Most buildings label the thirteenth floor "fourteen." So, in a sense, these characters are playing out their “dramas” in a fictional setting. Pete’s “first kiss” with Gudrun is a decidedly unpleasant looking experience.

Back in Rome, Connie invites the Drapers to breakfast, but they beg off to stay up in the room together.

That Don has reversed roles with Betty is shown by the fact that he’s sleeping on her side of the bed. As with Pete, there’s a shot of the open window. Don comments that he enjoyed the sounds of buses outside. This reinforces the notion of characters longing to escape their situation. Don tells Betty to order room service as a reminder that they are still working for Connie (evaluating the hotel from a guest’s viewpoint). As mentioned earlier, a siren goes off when Don and Betty kiss.

The same evening, Pete's neighbor, Ed Lawrence, confronts him about Gudrun. Ed doesn't care about Pete's escapades, he explains. He just doesn't want to lose the rare nanny his wife can get along with. Pete should leave Gudrun alone.

At the start of the scene, Pete is wearing grown-up clothes and eating a meal like an adult in the dining area of his apartment. The encounter seems to have bolstered his self-image (it's almost as if he's now playing the role of sophisticate). However, that facade will come crashing down after Pete's neighbor, Ed Lawrence (who is wearing a yellow jacket) confronts him about the incident with Gudrun.

At home, Betty confronts Sally about fighting with Bobby. She needs to control her temper, Betty warns.

Bobby is playing with toy airplane (another travel reference). Betty now seems bored when Don lights her cigarette (this, for the third and final time).

A jolly Trudy returns from her vacation. As she and Pete board their building's elevator, Gudrun enters with the two Lawrence children.

Tipping that trouble is coming, Trudy remarks on the trouble her father had with his boat. Gudrun is carrying a toy sailboat when she enters the elevator.

In the Campbell apartment, Pete grows sullen. Trudy assumes that seeing the Lawrence children triggered his guilt over their lack of offspring. "I don't care," she says. Pete shakes his head. "Did something happen?" she asks. Pete doesn't respond. Trudy walks to the bedroom and slams the door.

Though it's the same one from earlier, the couch Pete and Trudy are sitting on seems smaller than it looked in the first scene showing Pete sitting on it alone. A yellow pillow, perhaps a reminder of Ed Lawrence’s jacket, is prominently placed in the middle of the shot.

The same day Betty tells Sally, "You don't kiss boys. Boys kiss you." Sally's first kiss should be special. "It's where you go from being a stranger to knowing someone," Betty says.

In 723, Betty put the Wentworth there in a vain attempt to fill what her decorator had identified as the “soul” of their home (in Betty’s case, it’s empty). Now, before talking to Sally, Betty takes a deliberate glance at the Wentworth. While advising Sally about boys, Betty seems to be reflecting on the Draper’s now empty relationship (which the Henry Francis incident served to highlight for her).

Pete arrives home from work. Trudy chatters about inconsequential matters until he interrupts her. "I don't want you to go away anymore without me," he says. "Good," she replies. "I won't."

Trudy acts as though nothing has happened. Pete makes an overture that he doesn’t want to ever be left alone. Before this, Trudy has been taking about her inability to find fruit to serve. As noted before, the Drapers had a fruit basket (a gift from Hilton) in their hotel room. That Trudy couldn't find fruit would seem to hint that the Campbells will be more successful in dealing with their issues than the Drapers.

The last travel reference is when Pete, talking about his day, describes a ketchup filled water balloon that they played with at work. The result of such a contraption would surely cause a stain (like the stains that Gudrun and Betty had to deal with).

Francine, at Betty's house, says that the trustees may have reversed course on the reservoir, then quizzes a noncommittal Betty about Rome. Switching back to the reservoir, Francine suggests that their setback could give Betty "an excuse to get more help from high places." "I'm done with that," Betty says. "We made our stand."

Betty dusts off dress as if it were stained. She is still troubled by something.

Later Betty tells Don, "I hate this place. I hate our friends. I hate this town." The two will go away again, Don assures her, directing her attention to a gift he's brought: a gold Colosseum bracelet charm.

Betty, accepting the souvenir impassively, replies that now she’ll "have something to look at when I tell the story about the time we went to Rome." She walks slowly away.

Unlike Carmela in The Sopranos, who always seemed placated by Tony's gifts, Betty is nonplused by Don's present. Like Don’s cuff links, Betty’s bracelet charm came from Connie. Thus, both are symbolically handcuffed to Hilton. Perhaps Don has come to terms with this after his experience in 723. This time, it is Betty who more strongly feels trapped by her life and longs to escape.

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