Monday, September 7, 2009

"Mad Men" recap: All you wanna do is ride around, Sally

This week on "Mad Men," we saw a bunch of children defying, and disappointing, their parents. Pete's new client is a spoiled rich boy (the son of a friend of Bert Cooper) who thinks Jai Alai will eclipse baseball as the world's most prominent sport. We saw Peggy trying to move away from the old neighborhood and get a place in New York. And, we saw Sally Draper finally call her parents on their cold, emotionless behavior.
Spoilers ahead.
This week's episode started with what I've decided is my favorite "Mad Men" scene to date: that image of Grandpa Gene and Sally in the family car, with Sally driving. She's got the wheel and Gene is pushing the pedals. It's a questionable move, especially considering Gene's somewhat fragile state. But he seems to be in control and Sally is, indeed, having the time of her life. We actually see the little girl smile -- and it's a genuine smile, not a polite formality or an attempt to garner Mom and Dad's approval. Sally's enjoying herself, and it's nice to see.
In fact, would you agree with me that, despite his somewhat age-inappropriate driving lessons (and the gift of the German helmet to Bobby), Gene is actually a much better parent to Bobby and Sally than either Don or Betty? I mean, he talks to the kids. He spends time with them. He encourages them (his talk with Sally, when he told her she was smart and could be whoever she wanted, was really sweet). He treats them like people, not little appendages.
I must say, I'm really surprised at the way the Gene storyline has gone. I was really expecting his unstable state to result in a lot more tension in the Draper house. And there is tension. Betty doesn't like hearing her dad talk about his impending death. Don REALLY doesn't like Gene talking to Bobby about the horrors of war (I kind of agree with him, but at least Gene is TALKING to Bobby, Don).
Yet Gene is really good to Bobby and Sally. And Sally, at least, is old enough to notice the difference between a parental figure who is attentive and one who is not. She's grown fond of her grandpa -- and, I'm sure, secretly loves hearing him talk about a time when her perfect mother was fat.
So, Sally is hit particularly hard when Gene doesn't pick her up from school to take her to ballet. When a frazzled Betty shows up instead, we see a return to the old, sullen, frightened Sally -- not the joyous little girl she was around Gene.
We soon learn why Gene wasn't there: he passed out and died in the supermarket while buying peaches for Sally. Betty is sad but Sally is downright devastated. Later, when Sally hears the grown-ups reminiscing about Gene, she's horrified when they start laughing. And our brave little girl steps up and totally calls them out. Grandpa is dead, she shouts. He isn't coming back. And you're acting like nothing happened. It's totally not in keeping with the Betty Draper, hold-it-all-in model of womanhood and Don and Betty are baffled.
But good for Sally. Maybe she has a shot at growing up to be a normal, emotionally healthy adult after all. Yes, Gene died, but he was around long enough for the little girl to know what affection and love feel like. She knows that the brusque way her parents treat her isn't how all grownups behave. She has a somewhat clearer idea of what normal is now, I think. So, maybe -- just maybe -- she'll be all right.
Elsewhere, on the Sterling Cooper side of things, we saw Pete take on a new client, the aforementioned rich kid with the fairly undignified nickname of Ho Ho. Ho Ho wants to make Jai Alai the national sport. He wants to film a TV show with a Jai Alai superstar named Patchy and broadcast it on every network. He wants magazine spreads, newspaper ads -- the works. Everyone knows the campaign is destined to be a failure, but Ho Ho has money and is willing to spend it like crazy. Don, once again showing something resembling a conscience, is uncomfortable with this. He feels like they're taking advantage of Ho Ho, so he tries to run interference. He talks to Bert Cooper, who is also alarmed, and calls in the boy's father. But Daddy is pretty resigned to his son's foolishness by now. There's nothing he can do. Don takes one last stab at reasoning with Ho Ho, over dinner with him and Pete (by the way -- how great was Pete's terrified expression when he realized that Don was trying to talk Ho Ho out of spending all that money?). But Ho Ho is resolute. And, we learn, this is actually an attempt to impress his dad. Ho Ho has a dream of giving his dad a Jai Alai team for his 75th birthday. It's sad because we know this will never work. And, even if it did, I imagine Ho Ho's pops wouldn't really appreciate his new Jai Alai team.
Meanwhile, Peggy is trying to move out of Brooklyn and get a place in Manhattan. She, a bit foolishly, places an ad for a roommate in the Sterling Cooper lunchroom, and Kinsey and company enlist a secretary to use it as fodder for some prank phone calls. Then Joan, of all people, offers help. Don't advertise here, she says. And don't be so formal. An apartment in Manhattan is supposed to be an adventure! Peggy takes her advice and ends up with Karen, a sweet, exuberant girl who I predict will be a terrible fit with Peggy as a roommate (the look on Peggy's face when Karen explains that she'll date anyone but a sailor was priceless). Eventually, it comes time for Peggy to tell her mom that she's leaving Brooklyn and Mom is PISSED. "You'll get raped, you know," is her supportive reply.
Here are some more thoughts on "Arrangements."
* I didn't mention this week's fourth subplot, in which Sal was enlisted to direct the Patio commercial. The most notable thing about this story was how it led to the scene between Sal and his poor wife in their bedroom. Kitty goes from trying to seduce Sal to comforting him when she sees his anxiety about his new project. Then, there's her reaction when Sal acts out his commercial concept for her. Sal's performance is quite something, complete with seductive twists and turns and racing toward the camera. Kitty, finally, realizes that this is NOT most husbands' idea of "performing in the bedroom," and is kind of shaken by this realization. Will she repress this epiphany and just go on with their lives, pretending that she doesn't know her husband is gay? Or will she cut and run? I'm thinking the former, as this is "Mad Men," where almost no one is capable of saving themselves.
* By the way, the Patio people don't like the commercial, even though it's exactly what they asked for. And Peggy, who objected to the concept right from the start, is silently smug. Check out her "I told you so" glance at Don as she leaves the room following the presentation. Oh, Peggy -- no one like a know-it-all.
* Holy Hell -- they broke Bert Cooper's ant farm! Well, mom always said, don't play Jai Alai in the Sterling Cooper visitor's office.
* A nice, sad touch at the episode's end: Sally goes to sleep clutching "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," the book she and grandpa were reading together. Sigh. Poor Gene.


Lee Steele said...

Remember how grandpappy commented on the chocolate ice cream's scent in that scene? I read somewhere that smelling oranges is a symptom of an imminent stroke. Nice touch from the writers, if that's true. And Ann-Margaret is suddenly the rage on YouTube.

TV Writer said...

Nice catch, Lee. Also remember that Gene already had a few strokes (at least two, if I remember correctly). And strokes can alter your sense of taste, which might also explain him sprinkling salt on the ice cream.