Tuesday, September 8, 2009

In Which a Famous TV Writer Sees Things My Way

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this in my season-four Mad Men predictions:

I can't explain why, but I find Don's position the least interesting of all those set up for us last night. So, he arranged to have Betty's senile father move in with them. So, he prevented Betty's nasty brother from glomming onto Daddy's house and all its contents. So what?

This week, in only the fourth episode of the season, Betty's senile father fell down dead while buying peaches in the A&P. It's not too surprising, really. There wasn't enough meat on those story bones to sustain an entire season. Don is not engaged enough in his home environment for this to have made much difference to him. It was a flat conflict, and now it's done.

This was a mostly unremarkable episode (that is, entertaining and well-written, but without as many surprises or aha insights as we've come to expect). There were two powerful moments in terms of emotion and storytelling. First came when Betsy closed the door on little Sally Draper after learning of Grandpa Gene's death. Betsy is a lousy mother (except to that neighbor boy, Glenn, who alone of all the children can capture her attention). And poor little Sally Draper -- Don had better start setting aside a nice chunk of each paycheck for her future therapy needs. I don't know whether she'll end up in a drug-soaked commune or in a hospital on permanent suicide watch, but her parents clearly are grooming her for a tragic end.

The second powerful moment came when Sal danced the Anne Margaret commercial knockoff for his wife. Sal won't be able to keep that closet door locked much longer. He's losing the battle of Sal v. Sal by inches. He's one of the most interesting characters this season, a true tragic hero, and I can't wait to see what happens next with him.

We're being set up for more conflict between Don and Betsy over their mutual withdrawal from the home and family life, and Peggy is going to continue to surprise us as she emerges from her cocoon, and Joan's husband, if he continues on his current path, will not be long for this world. He'll disappear one day, and she'll serve a tasty "venison" stew buffet-style in that lovely chafing dish that was a wedding gift from the chief surgeon. Bye-bye, Dr. Rapist! Joanie, you simply must give us your recipe! (Okay, maybe not, but Joan is holding on to her job at Sterling Cooper for a reason. That's her safety net when her sham of a marriage fails.)



Edittorrent said...

Joan is too tough to put up with that guy.

Poor Sally. At least Grandpa understood her.

Leona said...

Wow. I've seen many a person in the publishing world going gaga over this show. I have yet to see an episode. However, after previous comments, I'm afraid to start from mid-point. Maybe I'll see a re-run:)

Adrian said...

I was disappointed with the first three episodes this season. It felt like nothing was happening. Just little moments--vingettes--with these characters. It was a very different vibe than the first two seasons. And I was beginning to worry that the show was going to jump the shark. (And I'm wondering what happened to some of the storylines, like Peggy's young priest and the revelation to Pete that he has a child out there while his wife is refusing to adpot.)

Thankfully, things seem to be back on track with this episode. I didn't expect grandpa to last long. That storyline is not about Don and Betsy and Grandpa, it's about Sally, and that was just the set-up. Season one was about the men. Season two was about the women. Season three is about the youth: Sally, Peggy, maybe Don's childhood--even the smoke-out in the office harkened to college experiences.

Edittorrent said...

I like that idea that it's about the youth....

Leona said...

It's probably the most intriguing description I've read about this show. I don't know why, but it made the storylines seem less soap opera-ish.

Edittorrent said...

Adrian, they closed the secret baby story line at the end of the last season. The priest was the voice of Peggy's conscience, and after she finally 'fessed to Pete, the priest's role was over. She got her absolution. This is why she's free now to pick up one-night-stands in bars and move to Manhattan and smoke pot with the guys. Out with the old guilt, in with the new.

I see Sally's role as largely symbolic, too, much the same way the Colin Hanks role was symbolic. She doesn't function like a traditional character. She's emblematic of Don and Betsy's simultaneous presence in and absence from the home.

Leona, rent the first two seasons and watch them in sequence. The series is so nuanced that you'll miss half of what's going on if you watch them out of order. :)


Adrian said...

Theresa, yes, they finished Peggy's side of the secret baby story. The timing of the revelation, with Pete's wife (Trudy?) wanting a kid and Pete resisting adoption because they wanted one of their own, felt more like an opening than a closing. His reaction ("Why would you tell me something like that?") seemed to hint at more to come.

Both my wife and I felt there was more the relationship with the priest.

Edittorrent said...

I agree, Aiden, insofar as Pete might end up telling Trudy about Peggy's baby. That's where the secret lies now. But I don't know -- do you think it will happen this season? If it does, I think it would have to be late in the season. Right now, the focus with Pete is on the Pete/Ken conflict. His home life is not in issue at the moment. Even the subplot with his wife's relationship with her parents has dropped back for now. If Pete starts losing the battle with Ken, and if Trudy's parents reappear, that would be when Pete would whip out the ugly secret and lay it on his wife. (Assuming they want to play that for maximum dramatic effect, that is. If they want to downplay it, who knows?)

I never saw the Colin Hanks priest character as having a larger role. If he comes back -- and I don't think he will -- I expect Peggy's mother would be the one to sic him on Peggy, and Peggy will send him packing. It would be another step toward her liberation, but I don't see the writers heading in this direction. It would just repeat the last episode of season two, and I think they've moved on.

Unless -- OH! How cool would this be! -- if Peggy ends up being a corrupting influence on the priest. Ooh, baby, sign me up for a double helping of that! But Peggy will have to be much further along the freedom curve before this is even possible.


Linda Cassidy Lewis said...

I felt there was more to Sally's story. I felt a creep factor with the relationship between her and her grandfather. And I felt they made a point to make Sally resemble her mother more, even to styling their hair in a similar way. In any case, I think this is just the beginning of Sally's storyline.