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Mad Men Watch: Communion

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Making the sale, losing the market. / AMC

SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, crack open a beer from Holland and watch last night’s Mad Men.


On a show in which much gets implied, talked around or communicated indirectly, this time Mad Men‘s three chief female characters confronted, head on, the truth of their lives.

Most dramatically, there was Betty, who has changed since last season, when she could only bring herself to send messages about Don’s philandering by way of her shrink. (Speaking of which, what happened to him? Was there a reference this season I missed?)

It was surprising enough that Betty—to whom, as Duck said by way of talking about her Heineken purchase, the appearance of perfection is so important—would accuse Don of cheating to his face. (And yet her sense of self-value is not entirely different: “How could you? She’s so old.”) She was prompted by Don’s use of her as a marketing guinea pig, to the amusement of his dinner guests, a betrayal every bit as much intimate as sleeping with Bobbie; he used the fact that he knew her mind well, and exposed her to his associates like just another consumer to be manipulated.

More surprising, though, was that just as it seemed as if Don’s stonewalling might work—physically, even, he has a way of turning rigid when lying to Betty’s face—she decided to kick Don out, prompted, of all things, by seeing Jimmy’s Utz commercial. At first, I thought that seeing the comic make himself ridiculous in that commercial might allow Betty to tell herself that he was imagining Don and Bobbie’s affair. Instead it steeled her resolve. I’m curious to see why you think that was; to me, seeing Jimmy as a buffoon, a crude clown, made her feel all the more humiliated that Don would put her in a situation of being bonded with him by betrayal. (And it seems that the humiliation, more than the betrayal, is finally what Betty cannot ignore.) But if anyone read it differently, let me know.

Joan, meanwhile, was confronted by the difficulty—if not the impossibility—of changing her station and the way she’s perceived by the men she knows. Drafted to help Harry by reading scripts (scripts he clearly doesn’t have the work ethic or intelligence to deal with himself, saddling Maytag with the association of making a communist washing machine), she finds herself good, very good, at something besides managing the secretarial pool and turning men on. That it would work out that way (with Joan being thrown over for a clueless man at $150 a week) isn’t surprising; what was different was that we, for the first time, got the sense from Joan that she wants something beyond the queen bee perch and a big rock on her finger.

And last, there’s Peggy. There’s no need to go again into how well Elisabeth Moss plays her—venturing out of then retreating into the defensive shell she’s constructed—but the final scene between her and Father Gill laid out in a new way just what and how that’s cost her. (By the way, I’m also hugely impressed with Colin Hanks in this role.)

Peggy, whom Father Gill knows to be in a state of mortal sin, probably unconfessed, from what her sister told her in confession, notes that she hasn’t been taking communion. (To fall back on my elementary knowledge of Catholicism: this means that she probably has never confessed her adultery with Pete, and that she at least takes her religion seriously enough to obey the stricture denying communion to those in an unconfessed state of mortal sin. Let me know if I got that wrong.)

Father Gill—showing, I assume, his comparatively hip, post pre* Vatican II leanings—tells Peggy that communion is about more than simply literally uniting with God through the body of Christ. It’s about joining with the community of the church. Now, I don’t know how important Peggy’s religion actually is to her and how much she recognizes simply because she has to for her family. But the loss of small-c communion—keeping alone and distant from other people—has been the price for her of having her baby and keeping it secret to keep her career. This is not to blame her, but it’s a loss nonetheless, and it’s not clear how long she can handle her strategic isolation, or what it eventually will do to her.

That she is willing to become an island in order to take her one chance and forge her own identity is the thing she has in common with Don Draper. That she recognizes it, and might even regret it, is what makes her different.

Speaking of which, it looks like a long cold night for Don, who’s backed himself into a corner with Betty and his deny-deny-deny strategy. But he also doesn’t do himself any favors with the way he tries to win Betty over again, expressing his love for her in terms of what’s she’s given him, not her own value: “I love you, Bets. And I love the children. I don’t want to lose all this.”

A remarkably stupid thing to say, for someone who evidently knows his wife so well. With his Heineken-humiliated wife, Don Draper may have made the one-time sale, but lost the market.

* Thanks, Chris Kw.!

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