Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Black and White (Mad Men 3.12)

The question of how Mad Men would depict the Kennedy assassination (if at all) this season was finally answered in the The Grown-ups. Echoing their own confusion, the characters watch the breaking news while suffering the poor reception of their black and white 1960’s era television sets. In Mad Men’s universe, the JFK assassination seems to be the point at which the old and new social paradigms established in the last eleven episodes finally and violently collide throwing characters into a state of flux that forces them (Betty and Pete in particular) to make major life decisions.

Appropriately, there are a number “tantrums” presented in The Grown-ups. Roger’s daughter Margaret, whose about to be married, has a few of them. One could argue that these tantrums are part of the “growing pains” the characters endure after the JFK assassination. Because, in a very real sense, that event did force a dramatically different, more mature perspective upon a blissfully complacent American society.

The Color Blue and The Gypsy and the Hobo depicted Betty as torn between choosing to remain in her established life of domestication (represented by blue) or moving into a new one without Don (represented by green). At the end of The Grown-ups, prompted by the events in Dallas, she seems to have opted for the latter. The last shot of Betty shows her shedding her blue scarf after telling Don that she no longer loves him. Likewise, Pete Campbell, who has shed his tie for a turtleneck, will finally decide to follow a path that radically deviates from the one he had been on.

Lane informs Pete that Ken has been appointed Senior Vice President in charge of Account Services. Although Pete makes his clients feel their needs are being met, "Mr. Cosgrove," Lane explains, "has the rare gift of making them feel as if they haven't any needs."

There seems to be a concerted effort in The Grown-ups to link Pete Campbell with that of Lee Harvey Oswald. Pete’s reaction to the coverage of Jack Ruby killing Oswald’s is quite interesting. By remarking to Trudy such things as “Why even have a trial?” or “Just throw him over to the mob,” Pete seems to empathize with Oswald.

When Pete is first shown, he’s sleeping on his office couch. Because the heat isn’t working, Pete (whose eyes are closed) is cold and clutches at the front of his overcoat. This initially creates the impression of a child. However, his posture also mimics Oswald’s from the famous still photo of the shooting. More significantly, his rifle (Meditations in an Emergency) is prominently placed in the background during the exchange with his secretary. Pete angrily points out to her that the hot cocoa she’s brought him is made with water rather than milk. This sort of distinction is echoed later when an anchorman from a real period news clip repeats Oswald’s vehement claims that a Marxist is totally different than a Communist.

Just before Pete has his fateful meeting with Pryce, there’s a shot of a man entering the office wearing a red plaid hunting cap. This man carries packages into the office. On the day of the assassination, Oswald entered the Texas School Book Depository carrying a package that he told co-workers contained “curtain rods.” The man with the red hat can clearly be seen behind Pete as he makes his way to Pryce’s office. Pete makes a passing, almost angry glance at Ken who, arguably has more of the "Kennedy charisma" which sets up the Pete as Oswald parallel.

Margaret, agitated by Jane's attempts to befriend her, calls Roger and demands that Jane not attend the wedding. Mona convinces Margaret it’s just pre-wedding jitters, and gets her daughter to accept Jane's presence.

This is one of the aforementioned “tantrums” Margaret displays in the episode. She is upset that the new earrings Roger’s wife Jane bought for the wedding are also blue (as in the wedding tradition of “something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue”). Having Margaret say, in effect, that something blue cannot be “new” is consistent with the color's use as a motif throughout all of Season 3.

Mona plays the role of “grown-up” by angrily telling Margaret “go to your room!”

Margaret also alludes to an Indian custom where women whose marriage plans fall through are set on fire. In The Arrangements, Peggy’s ad for a roommate elicits a crank call from a coworker posing as a prospect whose been disfigured in a fire. Later in the same episode, Sally watches a television news story about the Vietnamese monk who famously immolated himself in protest. So, it’s worth noting that that because Margaret’s marriage ceremony is subdued by it’s proximity to the JFK assassination, one could argue that, in a sense, she isn’t truly married and thus “burned” symbolically. This may also apply to Don, who has marriage problems of his own, and complains at one point how hot it's gotten in the Sterling Cooper offices.

Also note that Margaret is wearing a blue dress for this scene. She feels trapped by having to go to the wedding and only commits reluctantly after Roger’s threats. This is consistent with the idea of blue representing confining institutions, not new ones (the institution of marriage being the ultimate confining institution in Mad Men).

"You're screwing things up," Roger tells Jane, who insists that she is just trying to be nice to Margaret. Angry that Roger won't take her side, Jane locks herself in the bathroom.

Interestingly, Roger seems to have some sort of feline fetish. Jane is wearing an outfit with a leopard-skin collar as was Annabelle Mathis (an old flame of Roger’s) from The Gypsy and the Hobo. Roger will later refers to his ex-wife Mona as a “lioness.”

Trudy arrives home at midday to find Pete, who says that he got fired and is going to call Duck. "Wait, and see how it goes," Trudy counsels.

Just as with the first scene, Pete seems childlike. The manner in which Trudy takes his bowl away seems more like a mother and son than husband and wife.

Pete visits Harry. "There's no future for me here," Pete says.

Pete and Harry are so focused on their individual situations that they’re blinded to the assassination reports occurring right under their noses. It’s as if they suddenly have to confront the wave of change that has always been out there, but never really recognized.

Don, meanwhile, argues with Lane for rejecting a potential replacement for Sal because he is too expensive.

As noted earlier, Don complains about it being too hot. With his marriage in trouble, he may be symbolically feeling the heat of a male version of the Indian custom Margaret mentioned earlier.

Pete and Harry's conversation is interrupted when their coworkers burst in to watch news of the assassination attempt.

Again, much is made in The Grown-ups about the poor reception received in the black and white televisions watched by the characters. This is certainly the case in Harry’s office. Not only is the reception grainy, the verticle hold causes the picture to jump. This serves to underscore the confusion the characters are feeling by the events in Dallas.

Betty sits at home watching television. "They just said he died," she tells Carla. The two cry.

Sally acts like the "grown up" here and consoles Betty. The JFK assassination is an emotional event that serves as a catalyst for Betty's decision regarding her marriage.

Margaret's reaction, "It's ruined" (another tantrum), refers to how the assassination has destroyed her wedding plans. However, in a way, it also applies to loss of the of innocence percipitated in American society by the event.

"Did you give me a hickey?" Peggy asks Duck. "I don't think so," he replies before switching on the television. The two learn that Kennedy is dead.

When Peggy enters the room, she comments on the smoke. This may correspond to the complaints about it being too hot at Sterling Cooper or, like the Indian custom, foreshadow problems for the Peggy/Duck relationship. Peggy is wearing a green blouse. A picture hanging over the bed is of a green field of grass. This reinforces the idea of change being forced upon the characters.

Don arrives home and hugs Betty. He asks why Sally and Bobby are watching the coverage. "Am I supposed to keep it from them?" she says. "Take a pill and lie down," Don says. Everyone will be sad for a while, he tells the kids, but it will all be OK.

On the radio in the background can be heard part of a speech by Governor Rockefeller. This is a subtle reminder about Betty’s love interest Henry Francis who works for Rockefeller.

Pete and Trudy debate whether to attend the ceremony. "It's business," Trudy reasons, but Pete convinces her staying home would be best.

Trudy still wants Pete’s job to work out even though by Pete’s own admission to Harry it’s clear that he has no future with Sterling Cooper. Nonetheless, Trudy is still convinced that Pete should maintain his ties there. She is wearing a dark blue dress. This is consistent with Mad Men’s use of blue to symbolize individuals trying to fit into a traditional construct. Visible just over her shoulder is a green vase (Mad Men's color for change). The Grown-ups forces Trudy to confront that construct.

With many no-shows at Margaret's wedding reception, Roger encourages the guests to sit wherever they please. Henry Francis arrives late. Betty watches from across the room as he receives pecks on both cheeks from a young woman who addresses him as "Daddy."

In The Color Blue, Roger Sterling quotes his ex-wife Mona comparing Don and Betty to the figures on top of a traditional wedding cake. It’s perfectly consistent with Roger and Mona’s dry, cynical, and often spot-on sense of humor. But the observation also pointedly highlights the false premise upon which Don and Betty’s marriage has been built. From that standpoint, the lack of a wedding cake at Margaret’s reception in The Grown-ups is notable. In the context of the episode, this event is depicted as part of the turmoil resulting from the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination. However, that there is no cake for this wedding would seem consistent with how the last few episodes have significantly eroded the foundation of the Draper marriage. Because of Don’s lies coming to the surface and the strong emotions evoked in Betty over JFK’s death, the balustrade of their relationship no longer exists and they aren’t the same “couple” anymore.

Roger searches for Jane and finds her in the reception hall's kitchen watching the news. He wants her present for his toast, but she refuses to join him.

Although Pete and Trudy decide to skip the wedding, many of the other Sterling Cooper staff members attend. From the reception hall’s kitchen, they watch a news report of Oswald being led into the Dallas police station. If one accepts that Pete is a stand-in for Oswald, he certainly couldn’t be in both places at once. Oswald has clearly been smacked around by the police. This is not unlike Pete’s perception of his treatment at the hands of Sterling Cooper management. Among the chatter of wedding guests at their tables can distinctly be heard the comment “He wanted attention, he didn’t fit in.” This ostensibly refers to Oswald but could just as easily apply to Pete.

Betty whose playing at being Don's wife wears a light blue outfit. On her way out, she regards Don and Henry who happen to end up standing next to each other. Betty is clearly being given a choice between the two men. Don has a confident smirk on his face that indicates how clueless he is about Betty's internal struggle regarding her marriage.

Back at their apartment, Roger deposits a drunk Jane in bed and calls Joan. "I had to talk to you," he says. They discuss the assassination. "You're really upset," she says. "What's that about?" he asks. "Because there's nothing funny about this," she replies.

Joan, reminisces about "old" times with Roger on a blue phone.

At home the next morning, Betty screams when Kennedy’s alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, is shot on live television. Don tries to put his arm around her.
"Leave me alone," she says, pushing it away. "What happened?" asks Sally. "Nothing," says Don.

Don is in the kitchen making a drink (an old fashioned?) when Oswald is shot. Now it is Don and Oswald seem linked in that Don is wearing the same sweater and shirt combination that Oswald wore when killed. Betty's later revelation that she doesn't love him anymore will certainly come as a surprise blow to Don.

Later, Betty wakes a napping Don. She’s going for a drive "to clear my head," she says.

Henry and Betty meet in a parking lot. He enters her car. "Where does your husband think you are?" he asks. "I don't care," she replies. "You don't have to answer me now, but I want to marry you," Henry tells her. The two kiss.

Betty is driving her father's black Lincoln. The same type of car that Kennedy was killed in. It seems significant that Henry pulls up in a white vehicle. One could argue that the shot of the black and white cars side-by-side parallels the characters watching the history unfold on black and white TV sets. White is also the color of the car in the Aqua Net ad featuring passengers in a convertible similar to the Kennedy death car. Thus, both cars have a connnection to the assassination.

"Why even have a trial?" asks Pete as he and Trudy view a slow-motion replay of the Oswald shooting. "Just throw him over to the mob." Sterling Cooper's management doesn't care about Pete, Trudy says. His clients will follow him if he leaves the agency.

We last see Pete and Trudy in their apartment. Pete is wearing a turtle neck very similar to the one Duck wore during their brief lunch meeting from The Fog. This suggests that a bitter Pete has decided to join Duck. Also, after a news commentator has declared “Oswald dead,” Trudy suggests that Pete should gather his clients and take them to the new agency. Pete’s potential salvo against Sterling Cooper portends further disruptions in the Mad Men universe.

"I want to scream at you for ruining all this," Betty tells Don when she returns home. She's upset about the assassination, he responds. "I don't love you," she says. "I kissed you yesterday. I didn't feel a thing." She'll feel better tomorrow, Don says. "You can't even hear me right now," she says. "You're right," he replies, walking away.

Don, still wearing the same style of clothes as Oswald is further associated with the Kennedy assassination by Betty's remark blaming him for "ruining all this." Certainly, Oswald's actions contributed greatly to ruining America's innocence and forced it to "grow up." Note that Betty also uses the same word "ruin" that Margaret used to describe her wedding day plans.

As pointed out earlier, Betty very deliberately discards her blue scarf after her confrontation with Don as if to shed herself of a role she no longer desires to play.

The office is mostly dark when Don arrives. Only he and Peggy have come in. Peggy asks if Don wants to watch President Kennedy's funeral with her. He declines. Don walks into his office and pours a drink.

Don regards the photo of the white convertible in the Aqua Net ad. In the context of the scene, he and Peggy hope that the image of a moving convertible doesn't strike too familiar a cord with consumers when it airs. This is the same color as the car driven by Henry Francis. Thus, symbolically, Don is again being cast as Oswald while he regards the vehicle as did the shooter in the Texas School Book Depository. Pete is pitted against Ken and Don (though he doesn't know it yet) is being pitted against Henry Francis.

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