Establishing Shot: Last Week's Already Known
Yes, yes, I'm back from my one-week holiday, wherein we learned that: Don is old; Pete has a fever and the only prescription is more straaaange; Megan's dream isn't writing copy for beans (no matter how good she is at is); Peggy is jealous of Megan and pretty much every other creature inside SCDP this season; Roger happily doles out skis to his arch enemy for no particular reason outside of an acid flashback maybe?; and seriously, really, Don is so old he hates "Tomorrow Never Knows," marking the only time in recent TV history where a man taking a needle off of a record was seen as a major character flaw.
But after all of that eventfulness -- about three months, as the cast begins preparations for Thanksgiving -- last night's episode is so wonderfully interwoven that to give one character a spotlight in this here Establishing Shot section would be doing them all a disservice. We will once more have to change the structure of this review, ruining our consecutive streak of uniformity at one. Oh well, it's worth it.
Close-Up: Got To Get You Into My Life
The topically titled "Dark Shadows" gives a number of our regulars an opportunity to be kind and generous, selfish and boorish, and, in a bit of comeuppance, to be imposed upon. Like a vicious cycle connected by the whirligigs of television tubes, last night's episode was a thematic hot potato of bad feelings, passed on from one character to another while also showing that these people have the capacity for acts of kindness. Yes, even the loathe-able Betty Draper. Let us plunge into the depths of these characters, which are considerable.
- Let's start with Mrs. Francis, the Weight Watchers member who has (temporarily) missed out on an addiction to speed and is instead fixated on stuffing her face with her feelings. And boy does she have feelings that need to be stuffed. It's one thing to feel like a bloated, pants-popping second banana to Don's Hot New Thing, what with her flat stomach, high-end bra selection, and palatial apartment on 73rd and Park. It's another to take these feelings out of your gullet and push them onto your daughter, sending her in to enemy territory with an emotional bomb like Betty's heading an Iraqi resistance force.
Mrs. Francis presses just the right buttons on young Sally, making her feel lied to and distrusted while filling her with enough shrapnel to damage Don and Megan's relationship as well. And snooty, decidedly Betty-sounding Sally almost does just that, taking her hurt feelings out on Megan, making the ridiculous, hyperbolic statement that "everybody knows" about Anna Draper (a nice joke for us, eh?).
But Betty, in keeping with her lax, absent parenting model, doesn't seem to realize that her little girl is growing up, a point Sally herself makes to Don. Sally is smart enough to hear Don and Megan fighting and realizes that she is just a pawn in Betty's game. Betty deserved the glowing report Sally brings back, talking about photos and the laughs they all shared together, no doubt putting to practice some of Megan's acting lessons. All things, of course, that Don never shared with Betty, even when she found out about the secret, breaking the formerly unshakable man in half, before our very eyes.
Betty's heart isn't in the right place, but she does share a brief, kind moment with Henry in their kitchen. As the lighting evoked the old Draper house (home to many half-truths and flat-out lies), Henry comes clean with a bit of bad news. "I bet on the wrong horse, Betty," he shares over a meal Betty can't eat. "Jumped ship for nothing." But instead of getting quietly resentful while dangling a lit cigarette between her fingers (or diving on the steak to make up for the clearly-paralleled mistake of leaving Don for this perceived loser), she tells him that she'll be there for him and that they'll see this through together. It's an oddly touching moment, one of the most human bits of dialogue January Jones has ever recited on the show.
Betty picks at her plate, covered by little more than bits and pieces of the meal she wants. What's more torturous? That the smattering of good trying to offset the vacuous rest of the empty plate, or that it's like peering into her own life? No wonder she needs to top it off every now and then.
- Don has admittedly lost the taste for working, especially at work. He turned that office space into an adult club house: far removed from the workers below, but large and secret enough to share with his new bride. It's a fact not lost on his creative staff, who are used to pitching ideas...not the other way around. But with Megan now pursuing her true dream of acting -- and Bert Cooper on his balls (pun absolutely intended) -- Don's figured he'll leap back into the field he is truly gifted in. Or was truly gifted in. Now he's grasping for ideas just like Roger was searching for enough semi-relevant stories to fill up a memoir.
This comes at a time when Ginsberg, the new, hip writer, has done all of the hip and cool work which could be submitted for a piece on hip and cool agencies in the New York Times Magazine. Joan implores Don to toss in the "Why We're Quitting Smoking" ad from a year ago, the last piece of creative he's actually done. After taking a look at Ginsberg's work, he hands in something that's not as funny, as attested by a blind taste test from Pete in the conference room.
Knowing that he might not have it anymore, Don "forgets" Ginsberg's work in the cab, happily sells his pitch, and moves along with his day before later destroying Ginsberg in the elevator. As he walks to his big corner office, we get a bit of that old Don Draper look back. All it took for Don to get his swagger back was to look at his talented young charge's work, refuse to pitch the kid's work, and then shit all over him. Just like he drew it up.
However, he shows incredible emotional maturity by dealing with The Latest Betty Problem with both Megan and Sally. Before making another hot-headed, needless call to his ex-wife, Megan points out the master plan while Don tries to yell her out of the room. He not only does he take her words in, he quickly (and sincerely) apologizes to her. In an even bigger move, he treats Sally like an adult, sharing with her the identity of "first wife" Anna Draper, in a frank and honest way that Betty was never given. Finally, he reveals Betty's evil plot, and in doing so wins her daughter back to Team Highrise. Maybe he's not so out of touch after all.
- Megan had to do some nice improv while talking with her two friends: one of the same age and profession, one the daughter of her husband. First, she cruelly mocks her fellow footlighter, saying how crap the script is in the audition for the new character on "Dark Shadows." Megan doesn't realize how removed she is not only from the business she wants to enter, but from her friends who are meagerly scraping together a career below this castle in the clouds. When her friend gets the part, you wonder if Megan, the excellent cook, thinks her inspiration will come from the dime store Cranberry log that oozes out of the tin can.
Lord knows it wouldn't come from the support of Sally Draper, at least as evidenced halfway through the episode. In what can only be described as the most petulant teenage performance to date, Sally belittles Megan, insults her standing as pseudo-guardian and parental figure, and threatens her with the looming anger of Don Draper to keep the third wife's mouth shut.
Megan's set herself up in an interesting position, one where she cannot win. She's not a parent, she's a friend with (parental) benefits. But those benefits only go one way. And you'd have to think Sally would be hard pressed to take her authority as legitimate. Luckily for Megan, Sally's only just about to enter puberty in the most unstable times in recent history. No bigs.
- Pete tries his best to put the company over by getting them into the aforementioned NY Times Mag piece, which would, hopefully, put him over with Howard's lonely wife. When the editors decide to go with the Peter, Paul and Mary look-a-likes, his fantasies are dashed. Even telling Howard that he'll screw his wife is met with an impossible laugh, followed by a reminder that the grass is always greener. But the double stick tape is always nicer on Alexis Bledel (NSFW).
- Peggy is caught between a rock and every other male working at SCDP. Again. She's been relegated to third banana by an increasingly smug Ginsberg, overlooked to do more under-the-table secretive work for Roger, and has her high minded, New Yorker-style pitch casually tossed aside by Don. Peggy counting Roger's money and feeling sorry for Michael the Martian seem like distant memories. And no, the schadenfreude shown as it's revealed that Ginsberg's work never reached the company's eyes is a not a hit. She finished the episode 0-for-3 with a walk.
- Roger Sterling pulls off the impressive feat of subjugating everyone to his whim. After the donation of winter athletic goods to a man he hates last episode, he now decides his LSD trip makes him see the world as his oyster. Everyone else is merely a barnacle on a yacht he doesn't actually own. He talks his soon-to-be ex-wife into accompanying him to a dinner and buys an apartment in the deal, not to mention what ever fat wad of cash he casually forked over to Ginsberg. After a terribly anti-semitic pitch to Ginsberg, and a borderline offensive talk with his clients, the Rosenbergs, Roger gets imposed upon by the young son who swoops in to steal the woman he's leaving.
Sterling forces himself on her in the place that he paid for, again assuming that greenbacks will satiate the aggrieved. Guess all it takes to get Roger in the mood is some emasculation. In the morning light, Roger can actually see the new place and its "lot of potential," as well as the hurt he caused his former wife. She told him that she needed to start a new life without him; he reverted back to when he gave Joan the same thing. Same method, at least.
B-Roll: Here, There And Everywhere
- While Roger's post-emasculation sex scene was eerily similar to that of his baby makin' tryst with Joan (throwing Jane against the wall, the slight pause just at the beginning), we did get a close up of the unzipping. Thanks to director Scott Hornbacher for keeping it fresh.
- I'm not sure what's tastier in the scene of Betty hitting the whipped cream, hard: the product, or the effect of watching her acting like Barney the auteur. It's Betty Draper hate porn. And it's wonderful.
- Lane hasn't been seen in months. Joan is being used alternately as a therapist (just 5 cents -- the redhead is in) or as a booster of Draper self-esteem. Who's running this place?!
- Sterling's Gold: How Jewish? Fiddler on the Roof, we talking audience or cast? FUN FACT: I was in that show in High School as "Random Dancing Jew No. 3." Dominated the company numbers.
- Megan was a good, clever copywriter but cannot as of yet find a way into the television and film industry. And man did she tear into that awful dialogue in "Dark Shadows." Wonder if Weiner and Co will connect those dots, like the painting in Roger's office....
- Love the specificity of Pete's fantasy, when the flame is rekindled from the article, "in the New York Times Sunday Magazine." Even when getting sexy he has to be a complete doofus. It reminded me of a scene from "Louie," when he can't finish masturbating because of all the silly, inane stuff that fills his head. And yes, I just connected Louis CK to Pete Campbell in one degree because Pete Campbell is the best.
- Fun with editing! Loved the two match cuts. The first is from awful, tyrannical asshole-ish Sally to her mother in Weight Watchers. The other went from Don at the window, implored by Megan to keep the toxic smog outside of their apartment dissolving to Henry Francis taking Don's place at the gilded, gothic dining room of bad vibes as he cut the turkey for his doped-up mother and fattened-up wife.
- A more intricate man might connect the dots from Ginsberg's crude, unused mock-up of the Hitler SnoBall advert to the devil, to hell, and then back to a snowball's chance in hell. But I'm not that man. I'm Random Dancing Jew #3, remember?
- Three elevator rides, all unpleasant. Pete takes an hour-long interview and tells the rest of the actual partners that they weren't needed; Peggy corners Roger and confronts him about his failures to let her in on his dirty little secrets; Ginsberg goes to unload on his boss who then acts very much like his boss, shocking Ginsberg so he doesn't get off the elevator on their floor. Look on Draper's work, ye mighty, and despair.
- Didn't Megan's "She's insane, she needs a drink" line sound awfully a lot like a Peggy Olsen delivery? I guess some of the Pegster did rub off on Megan. Well, other than obscene jealousy.
- Couldn't grab a screenshot, but man was Sally's family tree ornate and wonderful looking. Very much beyond what was needed, as her mother reiterates, saying "they just want the names." Wonder which "Mommy" the budding artist is going to side with (as if Sally needed an extra push at this point).
- When Betty enters Don and Megan's apartment for the first time, she's so stupefied by the place that she accidentally knocks into a lamp. Whether written by Erin Levy, improvised on the spot, or a happy accident, it added a nice layer to the scene.
- I have an ongoing bet with my cousin Sue about the health of the Draper marriage. I win if Megan leaves him after the season ends. She's sure they won't make it through to season 6. Looked pretty hairy last week, but last night gave me a renewed confidence. Either way, she's definitely going to leave him. I'd prefer to win money out of it though, thank you very much. Four episodes to go!
Tune In Next Week For...
Roger wiping his ass with only two $100 bills, feels no ill effects; Peggy turns into a plane and gets her own spin-off, "Air Force Olsen"; Cooper gets another line that is actually meant to be a joke; Lane Price tries to pick up Dawn, has a cup of milk on hand as is his wont when dealing with "chocolate bunnies"; Jane absolutely hate-bangs the Rosenberg kid; Betty won't be on screen, to the delight of all.
Screen captures courtesy of AMC / Lion's Gate