Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mad Men at the Movies: 'Adieu, Adieu, To You and You and You-ooo'

Previously on MM@M: 4.1 Live From Times Square 4.2 Sixties Sweethearts 4.3 Catherine Deneuve & Gamera, 4.4 Jean Seberg, 4.5 Hayley Mills & David McCallum, 4.6 Chaplin the Sad Clown 4.7 "No Bad Seats" 4.8 Peyton Place 4.9 "The Beautiful Girls"

In Mad Men at the Movies we investigate the cinematic references in the Emmy winning drama Mad Men. Though we accidentally took a one month hiatus from this series (due to a paucity of movie references) we shouldn't have. The series is mainly an excuse to talk about the show.  It's the best on television. In fact, I haven't loved a show as much as Mad Men since the heyday of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (circa 1998/1999)... inbetween those two titans only Battlestar Galactica and Once & Again got to me in similarly seismic ways. Which is to say, I love it madly. If I were to coincidentally receive an old engagement ring right before watching an episode, I would undoubtedly impulsively propose to it.

 "Mad Men, you make me very happy. Will you marry me?"

4.13 "Tomorrowland"
Season 4 has seen Don Draper (Jon Hamm) survive a tumultuous year filled with career highs intermingled with scary career scares but emotionally he's been hovering at the edge of the abyss for the entirety of 1965. In the season capper, he takes his kids to Disneyland (hence the title... and a sly one, too). He's already slept with his secretary Megan (Jessica Paré) in a previous episode but he invites her along as replacement babysitter since the ex Mrs. Draper has impulsively fired the children's life long nanny Carla. Don can't be expected to change diapers!

Though Don's sudden marriage proposal to Megan played like a shock -- I watched the episode at a party thrown by the Lipp Sisters and the room went audibly gaspy -- it shouldn't have; the whole season has been leading here.

Don has been flailing without a wife all season and, as Michael C at Serious Film brilliantly notes, Sally (Keirnan Shipka) already made the choice for Don in an incisive bit of foreshadowing in a previous episode.

Dr. Faye Miller (Cara Buono) may be exactly what Don needed as a human being but his very opening up to her spelled her doom; she got way too close to the real Don a.ka. Dick Whitman. "Don Draper," using the original Don Draper's engagement ring, is trying to reboot just like Betty did. This is not personal growth. His parts were fusing but there's safety in starting the charade all over again, marrying another woman he barely knows and who barely knows him and stealing Don's identity all over again albeit in miniature circular form. It's the circle of his life.

Not that Megan is a terrible choice per se. He seems genuinely moved and surprised that she's so warm and relaxed around the kids (the anti-Betty?) and he clearly needs a wife/maid/babysitter. The Sound of Music reference, when Megan teaches the kids a French song to sing to their daddy is pure bliss.

You said you had no experience but you're like Maria Von Trapp!

A captain with seven children. What's so fe ♪ ♫ An admen with three children. What's so fearsome about that? I half expected Megan to bust out into song as she exited. "I Have Confidence" indeed. She's a sly one and I expect we'll get to know how sly when we return to her in 1966 or 1967... whenever Season 5 takes place.

The mammoth movie. The rich baron and his young bride.

The Sound of Music opened in 1965 (the year this season took place) and was an immediate sensation, becoming the highest grossing film of all time (at the time). What's extra fun about the reference is that it's a spoken reference to an actual movie scene so Don is being clever and self aware to a point. He knows he's the Captain Von Trapp of this mirror scene but he hasn't grasped that he's just hired this young girl to be his governess and he's fallen for her while ostensibly in a serious relationship with a older woman who isn't fond of children but who is unquestionably more of a social equal.

Sound familiar? We've got Captain Von Draper (a man who loves his children but has trouble being present with them), the singing Megan a la Maria (the children take to her and she, in turn, enjoys them and is in awe of their sophisticated rich important father) and Faye is... The Baroness. It might sound cruel to Faye -- and Don is -- but it's important to remember that The Baroness is not a villain even in The Sound of Music. She's just a little frosty and not naturally maternal. But in the end you have sympathy for The Baroness... or maybe for Eleanor Parker because she's a damn fine actress.

Season 4 ends not with the Von Trapp duet "Something Good" but with Sonny & Cher's "I Got You Babe" over the closing credits. Cher & Sonny were divorced by 1975.

Best Moment: Joanie & Peggy's sympatico giggle at their shared career-woman persona.
Second Best Moment: Betty Vs. Carla. Wow, was that intense. Deborah Lacey has been a huge quiet assett to the show as thoroughly observant maid/nanny Carla. So sad that we're now losing her but this series is not for people who need their favorite shows to regurgitate the same episode for years on end. Mad Men has never been content to stay the same or reboot to repeat itself. It just keeps barrelling forward. "There is no fresh start! Lives carry on." Henry Francis shouts. He's a smart man.
Third Best Moment: Megan realizing she still needs to answer Don's phone, post-engagement.
Fourth Best Moment: "I hope you have all the happiness that Peggy and I had signing this account." -Ken Cosgrove you delight me. I am so glad they brought Mr Cosgrove back. He's such a great "light" counterpoint to all of the crazy masculine angst in SCDP. He's the only man who understands work/life balance and not every character in a drama should be hopelessly f***ed up.
Low Key Pitch Perfect Moment: Don & Betty & the bottle.
Season 4 RIPs: Alison, Carla, Miss Blankenship.
Season 5 Question Marks: Faye? Cooper? Francine?
Sympathy For The Devil: I know I'm alone in this but Betty Draper continues to be one of the most fascinating characters and January Jones continues to be a fearless actress in exploring her, totally unconcerned with being loved (the great bane of so many actresses in sculpting complex characters). Betty really can't help herself. She's miserable but continually perplexed by her own misery, unable to see her own culpability in it.

 Goodbye Ossining.

How was Season 4 for you? Any favorite moments, developments, new characters or disappointments?


Murtada said...

Oh how I missed this series. And how I will miss Mad Men. I'm obsessed.

Season 4 was the best season. I loved how Don unravelled in slow burn all season. How Peggy continued to grow and learn about the world. I loved Joan's internal world-weary resignation and external determination to preserve her status and ensure she is respected. Faye was a fantastic addition to the series and was the perfect folly to Don in his short period of self-examination. I continue to not like but understand Betty, she clunged to her refusal to self examine and regressed to childhood. And of course who does not love Roger's bon mots. If only Sal had returned this season would've been perfect.

However the character that I liked the most this season was without doubt Sally Draper. Wow. Dealing with her crazy mother, missing her father, and mostly showing so much verve and as the season progressed maturity. What other 10 year old character is as vital and well written on any medium, not just TV?

Stella said...

So glad you included a send-off to Mad Men! Even if there haven't been many movie references in the past episodes.

And god, undoubtedly the one of the best seasons of TV this decade. The characters may still be floundering but the producers/writers have undoubtedly found their perfect touch this season.

Melanie said...

I just have to say, January Jones is A BAD ACTRESS. None of the characters on Mad Men are particularly likeable and that is fine, but her characterization of Betty is so false, so stilted, so mannered, so unnatural.

Ok, I had to get that out. But yes I agree that season 4 has been the best season thus far.

Michael Parsons said...

I disagree that January Jones is a bad actress. I think the way she tries to act like an adult during her childish tantrums is something to behold, however the best things about season 4 were Peggy and Sally. May Emmy's follow

Caroline said...

Also, remember when one of the characters said, "how long before she quits, gets fired, or dies?" in reference to Megan becoming Don's new secretary. Hmm...Megan technically quit for a good reason, but whether the ending of her relationship with Don is to be equally disastrous is yet to be determined.

Seriously, Allison could have easily ended up in Megan's spot, and for some reason, I like her a lot more than the latter. Oh, Don.

Chad said...

I was initially surprised by Don's proposal to Megan (poor jettisoned Faye). The whole thing was reminiscent of Betty's rushed marriage to Henry. But after thinking about it, I don't know why I was surprised that these flawed characters (Don & Betty) continue to make decisions which only briefly mitigate their problems. That's all they've done before. They need to stop looking for "fresh starts" and simply deal with things. Of course these flaws are why we love them, but as a viewer you still hope one day they will improve themselves.

Rob said...

I agree withNathaniel in terms of how fearless January Jones is in her portrayal of Betty. Soooo many people became unnecessarily hostile towards the character and the actress that I almost looked forward to her scenes more, in a kind of spiteful way lol.

Betty has always been one that many at least felt empathy for up until this season, when apparently everyone turned on her. But I still feel badly for her. Nor is she the worst character on this show, bar none. People seem to easily forget that. Betty is a fucked up and sad individual and I applaud Weiner and Jones for not shying away from that.

Bia said...

Betty is the most fascinating character on television right now. She is so sick on a number of levels and impossible not to watch with a hand over your eyes. Jones plays her with such unpredictability that you just never know what she's going to do. It's kind of thrilling to watch someone so beautiful be on the verge of Mary Jones.

Peter said...

Does this mean that Roger is uncle Max?

I go back and forth on January Jones but she blew the roof off last night. The scene in the end with Don was heartbreaking: "Do you remember this place?"

What the hell is going on with Harry Crane? I need more discussion of how Hollywood has been slowly corrupting him.

Ben said...

I'm so glad that there are other people out there who like Betty, and the weird overspill from not liking the character to thinking that January Jones is a bad actress baffles me.

We've not seen much of her this season, but what we have seen has been phenomenal. I think what stung the most was when Henry says to her "No-one's ever on your side," and you could see it was like a slap around the face. Miserable, angry and unable to understand why, Betty's only option has been to throw herself into the deep end (much like Don, in a way), and it's been fascinating to watch,

adelutza said...

For me Don and Betty are very much alike and the fact that people are all understanding about Don but have nothing for Betty baffles me. How is it Don better then Betty? He cheats on everybody ( wife and mistress ) he sees his kids so rare that it's easy to be the "good one" and all that matters to him is to cover for the past. Betty treats the kids poorly but at least she's there, she puts up with the husband(s) and when she makes a mistake everybody blames her, kids, husband and viewers. But , I guess , it's a good portrait of the 60s. I bet that by the end of the show things are going to change radically for Betty.

Henry said...

I love this show. Like Battlestar Galactica and Alias (during the first three seasons) and The West Wing and Lost, I mourn the fact that we have to wait so long for the next season to come along.

Loved a lot of moments in the season. Still one of my favorites of all time is when Lane screams, "Monster!" in the movie theater. The entirety of "The Suitcase," arguably the best episode of the series. When Sally shows up at SCDP. Miss Blankenship's sudden death. Loved all of it. The show only gets better all the time.

Ross said...

This may not be a movie reference, but the gang thought it humorous that the model's name was Carolyn Jones ... "like Morticia."

Richter Scale said...

I know it's really early for this, but I'm going to be pulling for John Slattery to finally win an Emmy for this season. He's always been a scene-stealer, but this season he was amazing. Roger Sterling is a spoiled rich kid who has had his life handed to him and has always thought it gave him the right to be irresponsible. Now he actually has a job to do, and the one major responsibility he has in the company, he blows it. That scene where Lee Garner Jr. tells him that Lucky Strike is leaving, that alone should give him an Emmy this year, but he has so much to choose from this season. I don't really like Roger all that much but it was fascinating to watch the character dealing with so much crisis this season.

I also agree that Sally is an MVP this season. Kiernan Shipka is a marvelous young actress. I've always loved Sally, and the reason I've always hated Betty (not January Jones, I think she's doing wonders with a character I often fill like throwing off a cliff) is because she's so mean to Sally and she doesn't even want her in her life. You can see it by the way she treats her. Betty may be sad but that does not excuse any of her behavior. And it also doesn't excuse Don for not paying more attention to the fact that Sally needs to get out of that house. Alas.

And, of course, Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss nail it every season and this was no different. They are both amazing as always.

Unknown said...

I don't watch Mad Men regularly (don't like coming into shows like this after they've already begun), but there was a Fathom event of The Sound of Music tonight. It was amazing seeing that movie on the big screen!

Anonymous said...

Loving reading this column and the comments. I've never seen so much Ken love and Sally love and Betty love written about so eloquently.

And that final scene with Betty was amazing. Not saying that Bitchy Betty isn't amazing to watch, but when she talks calmly and look at her surroundings and situation, it makes her sound so intelligent. That's the Betty I see, unlike what the haters say.

Anonymous said...

@Richter Scale ...Betty is sick as in mentally ill.

Alex Constantin said...

Best Moment: Joanie & Betty's sympatico giggle at their shared career-woman persona.

You mean Peggy :P

season 4 wasn't as good as season 3. No more Emmy wins for Best Drama, unfortunately.

but still highly enjoyable. I hope for more Betty next season.

i also won't be surprised if we'll have 3 Mad Men ladies fighting for Supporting Actress at next year's emmys. We all know what Miss Moss is submitting, the birthday episode.

Dawson said...

I didn't like that finale at all. Big surprise since I adored their other three. I'm still reeling from seeing it. Don marrying Megan? Ugh, I hoped that was all a dream. He's becoming the new Roger just as sure as day. But the season rocked though. The season 5 premiere can't come soon enough!

Unknown said...

@Alex: I whole-heartedly disagree that the quality of season four didn't match that of last or any previous season. There were several episodes that I thought were among the series' best. My only frustration with the 2010 year will come next August or September when the television academy finds yet another excuse to ignore this fine group of actors.

Speaking of which, if there is any justice in this world, the supporting actress category will see Moss, Hendricks, Jones, and Shipka all represented. I mean, let's face it -- despite the fact the show is called "Mad Men," the women have always been (at least, from my point of view) the most fascinating aspect of the show.

And I co-sign with Michael Parsons, Rob, and adelutza regarding Betty Draper and January Jones's portrayal of the character. Here it is 2010, and we still want to give cold, detached men a pass while their female counterparts receive our disdain. The fact that Betty regularly receives my sympathy and frustration speaks volumes about the potency of both character and actress.

Roberta Lipp said...

Nathaniel--wonderful post, and it was great (as always) that you were able to join us.

But I can't rest (see what I did there?) without mentioning that your In Memoriam section was incomplete.

DICK + ANNA '64.


oh good point. OOPS. sorry anna ! you were the only woman who ever knew Don/Dick.

Roberta Lipp said...

And we heart you.

annna said...

Good to see some Betty love. Have you read this?


Rob said...

anna, that link is a fantastic read. Thanks.

I especially love the the part about how Betty has always been this angry and everything has been leading up to this. It's why I don't get people who don't understand why she was the way she was this season.

SusanP said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SusanP said...

Great post, Nat! A couple of thoughts on the finale and the season as a whole.

First, regarding movie references, I can't take credit for noticing this factoid, but there's a less obvious movie shout-out in the final moments of the show: "I've Got You Babe" is the song that wakes Bill Murray's character up each repeated day in "Groundhog Day" -- I have no idea whether or not this reference is intentional, but it does fit. Is Don going to have to make the same mistakes over and over and re-live them until he finally gets it right?

Re: Betty -- I have had frustrations with the character that are less about the portrayal and more about how she's written. I feel like they aren't showing enough shades. The reason Don is awful but people forgive him is that we get to see Don's good side, while we rarely see Betty's. She comes off as more one-dimensional and less-human. I can think of only a couple of times this season where they let her open up - 1) her reaction to Don getting the Beatles tix when she smiled and laughed for a change and 2) that final scene with Don. I feel like they could do so much more with this character, but with the focus mostly on the work side of things, I think she's a bit underwritten. We get to see a lot of HOW Betty is to her kids, to Don, to Henry, but we don't get enough of WHY. I'm hoping that the show will begin to really explore that next season. I think young Glenn got it right when he said, "just because you're so sad, doesn't mean everyone else has to be." -- but actually, it does.

Finally, when I really think about it, I think Betty's more sympathetic than Don. Think about it-- he's actually self-aware, but still makes the choice to run from his demons (even if, in the case of Megan, he may be running to a more reasonable and caring person). But regardless of whether or not Megan is good for Don, it's doubtful that an unchanged and fearful Don will be good for Megan. She may be sweet and kind and open now, but how much will marriage to Don change that? Betty, on the other hand, is completely out of touch with who she is and her feelings. She isn't disregarding them like Don is, she's so cut off that she doesn't know they exist.

Definitely looking forward to seeing where both characters go...

Erich Kuersten said...

Great post Nathan and insightful comments as always... as far as key moments I'd add the slow fight against instinct in Don't eyes and demeanor after Sally asks "who is Dick?" when seeing the names on the wall. Don gradually changes his mind on just lying as usual, and tells her, gently, almost moved by his own willingness to treat Sally like an adult - "that's my old nickname" or whatever..

And of course the spilled milkshake and Megan's calm reaction.

As someone who is about to take a huge chance with a much younger girl named Meghan, I'm pretty thrilled that once again, it's all about me!!

Ted said...

January Jones is an excellent actress. At least on "Mad Men." Her potency with Betty shouldn't even be disputed.

lylee2 said...

Yes, the Sound of Music parallels are pretty striking...it made me recall that the last time I watched SoM (fairly recently), I found myself sympathizing with the Baroness, certainly much more than I did as a little girl. LOL. Similarly, here: I don't dislike Meghan and understand to some extent why Don fell so suddenly for her, but my heart bled for Faye.

I'm glad you continue to defend Betty, Nathaniel, if only because I no longer have the stomach to do so. Until this season, my sympathies were staunchly arrayed with her; I never really understood why so many viewers cut Don, who to my mind was much more culpable than she ever was, so much slack, and Betty so little. Too many fail to realize just how mentally trapped she is, or that she's as much warped by her upbringing as Don is by his.

However, she lost me this season, and for this I blame the writers. (Not January Jones - I may have doubts as to her range as an actress, but her portrayal of Betty is pitch-perfect.) A friend of mine who hates her e-mailed me after the finale asking me if I was finally able to see that Betty = evil incarnate. I still don't concede that, but there's no doubt she's been made into a monster, or at least some kind of horrible overgrown baby, this season. It's as if the writers have been listening to the legions of Betty-haters (or that awful psychologist of hers from season 1) and doing their best to demonize her. And the finale just capped that trend.
Would Betty from previous seasons have fired Carla without so much as a letter of reference? I think not.

More generally, the finale set my teeth on edge because it was frustrating seeing so many terrible decisions being made, one after the other, and not being able to prevent them...or their unintended consequences.

But I'm still in it for the long haul, and I'm glad there are still a few viewers left in Betty's corner!

Rob said...

In my opinion the cold firing of Carla was undoubtedly harsh, but right in line to the pathos of where Betty's character has been heading. Like in the article that anna posted said, Betty had nothing but pent up anger for the first three seasons of this show. And when she could finally let out that anger on Don because of his misgivings, she couldn't stop. She became a bully, pretty much. Once again, I'm quoting the article again, but when she no longer the one being abused (physically from her childhood and emotionally, pretty much, from her relationship with Don), she became the abuser to pretty much everyone around her. It's a sad, vicious cycle.

Whoever said that she's a beautiful version of Mary Jones really hit the nail on the head, I think.

JX said...

It's baffling to me how "fans" of the show are ready to stake Betty on a pike, while they continue to forgive Don's ever-growing transgressions season after season. The guy is certainly a talented "ideas man," but Don is also a huge con man and a serial adulterer. Don will stick his dick into any female that gives him the time of day. Betty's certainly not without her faults as a wife and mother, but there's good in her than can be eased out with the right storylines. What Betty did to Carla was low, but that last scene in the kitchen with Don showed me some signs of her humanity, something that I've tried to see in Don but rarely get. He's one of the vilest characters I've come across, and he's constantly being given pass after pass b/c of his looks and charisma. (And this is all surely not a diss against Jon Hamm. Guy's brilliant and should have multiple Emmys on his mantle by now.)

P-C said...

Do we know that Betty was abused as a child though? Many have hinted at an idolized mother and Gene possibly abusing her as a child, but none of that's really come out yet has it?

I can accept her having pent-up anger toward Don and lashing out that anger on those around her (Carla, Sally, Henry, Don, etc.), but it's a big leap that she's stuck in these childhood regressions b/c she was abused as a child.

She just has unrealistic expectations about being a wife and mother in a time where those were the ideals for women over having a career. See the struggles that Joan and Peggy (her peers) are facing as they sacrifice family for careers (more or less).

I hope that Betty gets a job next season and really start to embrace the budding feminism that's surely to wash over the show as it enters the late 60s. She needs a place to channel her energies again. Be a temp somewhere. Model again. Anything.

And I'm on Team January Jones always!


JX -- agreed. i don't get how quick people are to forgive all the other characters but not Betty. I actually think one of the most interesting things about the show is actually that nobody is really that likeable even if we all like them. If you really examine the way Peggy & Joan behave and speak to people and such, well, they aren't exactly "warm" or altruistic characters -- in fact some times they're bullies themselves like Betty -- and yet everyone loves them.

P-C -- Team January. thank you. But i don't think it's a leap that childhood abuse traps people in patterns of childish paradigms. From the very first season it was clear that Betty idolized two parents who were not exactly the best partents.

P-C said...

Oh, I agree Nathaniel. I'm just not ready to make the leap that Betty was abused as a child by Gene yet (or what was suggested last season that Gene abused Sally). Betty's major issues might stem from elsewhere. Maybe the next season will clarify this.

The Rush Blog said...

Betty was warm with her kids in Season 1 . . . until, she discovered that Don was cheating on her with Bobbie Barrett, he left her high and dry while in California, she had to deal with an unexpected and unwanted pregnancy, her father died, she became secretly attracted to Henry Francis but didn't want to get into a messy affair, discovered that her husband had been lying to her for the entire decade of their marriage and filed for divorce.

I'd like to see how long Megan will remain a "warm mother" until the shit (known as Don Draper) starts to hit her fan.

And screw Matt Weiner for giving in to the Betty haters and turning her into a one-note villainess.

The Rush Blog said...

Betty really can't help herself. She's miserable but continually perplexed by her own misery, unable to see her own culpability in it.

You've described just about every major character on this show. Even Peggy is perplexed by her own misery, despite her so-called growth. Why is Betty the only character being described this way? Because she had an emotional breakdown this season and took it out on her husband, ex-husband and kids? Gee. As I recall, Sally took out her own anger on Betty, Don and brother Bobby. No one is calling her out on her bullshit. Why? Because she's a kid.

I wish someone would wake up and realize that all of the characters are screwed up in different ways.