Monday, October 5, 2009

"Mad Men" recap: When in Rome...

This week on "Mad Men," we take a closer look at our two main married couples, the Campbells and the Drapers. We saw how Don and Betty responded to getting some time alone together (favorably)and how Pete responded to spending a weekend without wife Trudy (not so great).
We also learned a little bit about what's become of our beloved Joan since departing the Coop.
So let's get to it, shall we?
Spoilers below.
The episode opens with Pete preparing to spend a weekend alone, as Trudy goes out of town. He's clearly anxiety-ridden already about the prospect of spending time solo, and offers all the other office boobs out for a drink to delay his return to an empty apartment.
He returns home that night, too drunk to even undo the buttons on his shirt (gotta love that image of poor, lonely Pete pulling a button-down over his head). He spends much of his weekend alone as, I imagine, most married men do when relieved of their wives: sitting on the coach eating cereal and watching children's television (in this case "Davey and Goliath"). I guess there were no sports on TV that day. When he finally does leave the apartment, he runs into a damsel in distress. That would be Gudrun, who works as an au pair for Pete's neighbors. She seems to be shoving a pink tutu down the trash chute, and crying inconsolably. Pete, gallantly removes the tutu from the chute, revealing that it's actually a pink cocktail dress. Turns out, Gudrun was trying to shove the dress down the chute because she stained it with wine. See, the dress belongs to the lady of the house she works for, and it's ruined. Gudrun was trying to hide the evidence. Oh no, says Pete, master of weasally behavior. If you toss the dress, Boss Lady will think you stole it. What you want to do is stash it in the closet. When Boss Lady finds it, she'll think the kids did it. Gudrun is, understandably, appalled. I would never do that, she declares. So Pete decides to be a hero and heads off to Bonwit Teller to exchange the dress. He initially encounters a brick wall, as the saleslady refuses to acknowledge the dress is from the store and, even if it is, it's from last season and they won't have it. Pete is beside himself, and demands to speak to the manager. Of the whole store? asks dress lady. "Of the Republic of Dresses!" declares Pete (side note, I just love Vincent Kartheiser's clipped delivery on this line, don't you? His Pete is never better than when he's being indignant).
A chastened dress lady retreats and sends out the manager who is...Joan! Oh my God! It's Joan, now reinvented as a clothing store manager! Both she and Pete are flustered by the encounter. Joan explains to Pete that she's just "filling in" at the store. Of course, we know she had to go back to work because Worthless Greg got passed over for chief resident. Pete doesn't know what to say at first, but quickly goes back into conniving weasel mode, telling Joan that the dress is Trudy's, that he spilled wine on it, and he wants to replace the dress. No problem, says Joan, though that doesn't look like Trudy's size... Oh, it doesn't really fit, Pete explains, but she loves it. Joan, being a world-class problem solver, finds the dress and sends Pete on his way. However, I don't really think she believed it was Trudy's, do you?
He gets the dress home and Gudrun is thrilled. Pete invites her to his place for a drink. I have a boyfriend, she tells him. Pete retreats, then has several drinks on his own. Then comes the moment we knew would happen all episode. The Creepy Pete moment. Pete shows up at Gudrun's door and gently but firmly demands to be let in. I went through a lot of trouble for that dress, he tells her. I deserve to see it on you. She begrudgingly lets him in.
Before she can even grab the dress, however, Pete shuts her in her room and plants a kiss on her. She doesn't really resist, but I think that's more from a fear of authority than from any kind of attraction or interest.
The next day, Pete is at home when Gudrun's boss, Ed Lawrence stops by. He wants to talk about Gudrun. Pete, stupidly, pretends he never met her. Ed isn't fooled. He tells Pete the girl has been crying all day. Look, he tells Pete, it's fine if you want to play while your wife is away, but stay away from my au pair. Heck, try leaving the building, you lazy creep. Again, I'm paraphrasing that last part, but you get the idea.
Pete is finally cowed. In fact, for the first time, we see him having real remorse about his infidelity. That remorse continues when Trudy gets home. The couple sees Gudrun and the Lawrence children in the elevator. When the Campbells get back to their apartment, Trudy is frisky, but Pete holds back. She thinks it's because of the kids. You always look guilty when we see small children, she says. But that's not it. Did something happen? she asks. Pete says nothing and starts to cry. Trudy, horrified, pulls away. The next night, Trudy has poured herself into preparing a whole buffet of salads (for two people? She must be upset). She babbles on about a new fruit market and cherries and fruit salad, until Pete finally stops her. He doesn't tell her what happened, but says he doesn't want her going away without him again. She looks relieved. Maybe Pete has finally had a turning point of some sort? We've never seen him this embarrassed and sad about cheating on Trudy -- not with Peggy, and not with the young model he seduced last season. Maybe the difference this time is the circumstance of his infidelity -- that she wasn't really all that willing to be with him. Maybe it makes him feel like a brute, and he's retreating to the comfort of his marriage to make that guilt go away. Or maybe he's growing up. Maybe he realizes that throwing away his marriage would destroy him. Whatever the reason, there are, apparently, no more weekends of cereal and Goliath in Pete's future.
Meanwhile, on the Draper side of things, Don is jetting from Hilton hotel to Hilton hotel, testing out the quality of the establishments he'll now be representing. And Betty's career in politics progresses. She and the junior league ladies head to a town meeting, where they want for Henry Francis to show up and help them in their reservoir case. He makes it at the last minute, with a letter from the governor, saying further study is required before the reservoir can be drained. The town governor decides to delay the project, and the ladies are elated. In the parking lot, Henry works his line of patter on Betty, telling her he'd take her out for coffee if anything was open. He tells her, not so subtly, that he took on the reservoir project for her. He says, when he how happy she was in the meeting, he thought "Dear God, did I have anything to do with that? Because that would make me happy." She says he did, and then Henry leans in and kisses her. Betty seems headed for another infidelity but, that night, she tells Don she wants to go with him on an upcoming Hilton-related trip to Rome. She'd said no before, as the trip was only two days and she worried about leaving baby Gene. Now, she just wants to get away. Don agrees, and soon they're in Italy, where men randomly light your cigarette without even being asked. Especially if you look like Betty. Betty, apparently, speaks nearly fluent Italian, and is able to hook herself up with a beauty appointment. That night, preparing to meet Don for dinner, Betty is dressed to the nines, with her hair up and big dangling earrings. No doubt, she is catnip to the local men at the table next to her, who all but drool at her feet. She flirts with them and pushes them away at the same time, asking them questions, then sneeringly telling one of the men he isn't a gentleman when he makes an obscene remark about her cigarette.
Then Don shows up, pretending to be a stranger. The men tell Betty to shoo him away, telling her Don is old and ugly. She offers him a seat and they storm off. Don continues to play the interested stranger game, telling her he's only in Rome for one night. She tells Don what the men said about him and he asks if it upset her that they called him ugly. She asks if he thinks she's shallow. He says he's just hoping she's easy. Suddenly, Conrad Hilton happens by their table and sees this couple in what he doesn't know is an atypical moment of schmoopiness. He compliments Betty's beauty, calling Don an "indecently lucky" man. They all have dinner and, that night, Don and Betty have an idyllic romp in their lovely hotel room overlooking Rome. When they return, Don tries to keep the spark alive, by lighting Betty's cigarette without asking. At first, it seems like their marriage really is refreshed. When Francine drops by to tell Betty that it looks like the mayor and council will overturn the ruling on the reservoir, Betty says she doesn't want to go back to Henry Francis for help, meaning, maybe, the flirtation is over. But then, she goes back into cranky Betty mode, telling Don she hates everything about their lives and snapping at him when he gives her a charm shaped like the Coliseum. Oh well. It was nice while it lasted.
Here are some more thoughts on "Souvenir":
* While Don and Betty are away, Sally has another incident, punching the crap out of Bobby after he teases her for kissing the neighbor boy. Carla tells Betty when she returns from Rome, and Betty makes Sally apologize. Sally does and sweet little Bobby forgives her immediately. Show of hands: who else thinks Bobby will grow up to be a serial killer? Anyway, Betty isn't done with Sally. She tells her little girl, gently, that she shouldn't just go around kissing boys. Kisses are supposed to be special. It's a rare tender moment between the mother and daughter, and even though we know it's related to Betty's incident with Henry Francis, it's still sweet.
* Here's a thought, though: Does Betty plan to avoid Henry because she doesn't want to have an affair, or because she knows every kiss with him will be, as she tells Sally, a shadow of that first one? And maybe that's why she's so angry after the Rome trip, because she knows that, try as they might, she and Don will never truly recapture the magic of their early relationship.
* I love the whole scene with Pete and Joan in Bonwit Teller -- starting with the fact that he greets her with the stupidest of questions: "Joan? Is that you?"
No, nitwit, it's the other hyper-competent redheaded Amazon with big doll eyes. Later, as she wraps the dress, Joan tells Pete that Worthless Greg is thinking of switching his focus to psychiatry. Yikes! Can you imagine Worthless Greg responsible for any slice of America's mental health?
But the most heartbreaking moment was subtly mortified look on Joan's face when Pete leaves the store. Though Pete has told her not to tell anyone about the dress, it's clear that she plans to tell no one at the Coop about what she's been up. In fact, she seems pretty upset that anyone had to find out. Oh well. At least it was Pete, and not Roger. Or Peggy. Or, heaven forbid, Jane.
* I loved that scene with Betty fixing her makeup as Sally lingers in the corner of the mirror, the little girl clearly an afterthought in her mother's life. Betty doesn't even seem to notice the little girl beside her, only acknowledging her when she gets up from the vanity. Even then, all poor Sally gets is a pat on the head.
* Last week we learned Betty majored in anthropology at Bryn Mawr. This week, we learn she's fluent in Italian. So, then, why does she talk like an empty-headed Barbie doll?
* I don't know what Conrad Hilton was like in real life, but I like the version of him on the show, don't you? I don't know how much of that is the writing, or how much is due to the excellent work of Chelcie Ross in the part. The way he bites off the phrase "indecently lucky" just makes you smile.


Bill Scurry said...

I don't know why Betty went schizo on Don in that last beat -- it just didn't track after how well their roman holiday went.

And I could watch Pete viewing TV shows in an undershirt for the whole hour. Maybe some Honeymooners, some Dick Van Dyke...

Andrea said...

Re Pete, you wrote ". . . that she wasn't really all that willing to be with him. Maybe it makes him feel like a brute. . ." Are you serious? That was rape - and all the comments on the MM blog and Facebook called it as such. I think the incident woke him up, hence the scene with Trudy.