Tuned In

Mad Men Watch: Dirty Laundry

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SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, spray on your Aqua Net and watch last night’s Mad Men.

I’ll kick things off with a question I don’t really have the answer to: what does Don Draper want from Suzanne Farrell?

As she pointed out to him herself earlier, this is an unusually reckless relationship for Don, with a far higher chance of his getting caught than some of his past affairs. (Which suggests that on some level that itself is a motivation.) Suzanne is a gorgeous woman, of course, but he meets no shortage of gorgeous women. She’s intelligent and soulful, but she has a kind of idealism that you might think would rub the ultimately conservative Don the wrong way, as suggested by their pillow talk. “Do you feel bad about what you do?” she asks him (which is a pretty sanctimonious thing to say even if it’s prompted by Don’s cynical description of his own job). “Nobody feels as good about what they do as you do,” he answers.

As I said, I have no answer, but there is something in Suzanne’s idealistic goodness that seems to appeal to Don differently from his earlier affairs that we’ve seen. Midge, the artist, was a kind of counterculture opposite to him, but she seemed much more arch and ironic a foil than the earnest Miss Farrell. Rachel was independent; Bobbie was powerful. Suzanne, like all those women did, pushes back against him in a way that he seems to enjoy, but here–as we see him get involved with her epileptic brother, Danny–he seems more willing to breach his usual boundaries.

It makes me wonder if–to use the requisite Sopranos comparison–this is Don’s Amour Fou: not a brutally destructive relationship like Tony’s with Gloria, but one where Don gets too involved and gets in too deep. And Suzanne’s pointedly, faintly threateningly seeking him out on the train and holding his hand in public (reminiscent of his old war buddy’s briefly spotting him as Dick Whitman on the train)–not to mention his service leaving messages for him at her apartment–reminds us that Don has not followed his own advice to Sal: he is not limiting his exposure. This woman is not willing to be ignored.

The irony, then, is that Don does get caught out in this episode–not for this new affair, though, but for an old deception he could have been found out at any episode since the first season. (When Betty found the keys in the laundry–that eternal fount of infidelity revelations–I thought at first it would somehow lead to her learning about Suzanne.) And yet after a devastated reaction, after sitting at home and stewing, while Don is on another certainly suspicious late night with “Connie”–nothing. She’s moved to call Henry after the hang-up call (she knows too well what hang-up calls mean), but doesn’t want to move things forward with him. She is still trapped between rage and passivity, between asserting herself and sulking, and after her anger briefly boils over with Don on the phone (“What’s wrong. What’s wrong?”), she simply says that she doesn’t feel well, then puts on her pretty dress and lets Don show her off.

The rest of the episode, while there were some important moving-the-pieces-forward moments at the office, seems better dealt with in the bullet points. But I’ll ask you: how long can Betty sit on what she knows? What do she and Don want now, and how do they aim to get it?

Now for that hail of bullets:

* The Paul-and-Peggy subplot seemed a bit disconnected from the rest of the action but it still played out nicely–and not just for the OMG moment of Paul pulling out the still from the Maidenform campaign (right?) and unbuckling. (Besides being creepy, the scene recalls the “Maidenform” episode, in which Paul trumped Peggy on a bra campaign–which, as his masturbatory moment underlines, was essentially a male fantasy–in which her mail co-workers largely disregarded her input.) There have often been hints that Kinsey, for all his creative affectations, simply is not the idea man he thinks he is, and the point is doubly underscored when he is shown up by Peggy on an account that he can’t write off to her being a woman. Or rather, maybe he is an idea man but unlike Peggy–who agilely seizes on his proverb “The faintest ink is better than the best memory”–he is unable to recognize an idea when he has one.

* By the way: who thinks he actually had a great idea that he failed to write down, and who thinks he was just drunk and thought his idea was great? (It reminds me of the old joke about the writer who has a dream in the middle of the night and, convinced he has come up with the story idea of a lifetime, scribbles it down before he falls back asleep. In the morning he wakes up and reads what he wrote: BOY MEETS GIRL.)

* Having said that, I was surprised that neither Peggy nor Don reacted to Paul’s story as if it were a “dog ate my homework” excuse, as he calls it, but sympathize as if they’d had the same misfortune before.

* Also: nice touch having Don snack on Suzanne’s date-nut bread during Kinsey’s Aqua Net presentation.

* So for the big office news: Sterling Cooper is on the block! If I knew more about business, I’d have more conjecture about how a sale might eventually affect the remaining workers at the company. In the meantime, the way the news came out simply made me feel sad for Pryce–used by his bosses and resented for it by his wife–and how he didn’t see that this was the point of his budget-cutting and margin-raising in the first place.

* The episode was titled “The Color Blue,” which came from Don and Suzanne’s philosophical pillow talk about perception and subjective reality. It’s a subject with strong overtones in this episode (and really, in almost any episode of any good drama, which is going to involve people’s different perceptions of the same reality), but I was surprised it was played so prominently at the top of the episode. This sort of placed a 500-watt arrow pointing at it as a prism through which to see the rest of the episode, which is unusual for a series that’s usually more subtle about its themes. On the other hand it is an interesting one, so what are your thoughts: whose divergent views of the same reality were most interesting in this outing?

* Early in the episode, we see Betty reading The Group, Mary McCarthy’s sardonic 1963 bestseller about a group of Vassar grads who struggle later in life to get their reality to match up to their aspirations. Sounds like certain people we know, although it also points up how, though we occasionally see Betty chatting with neighbors, she’s never seemed to have any close support group of female friends.

* Peggy’s burping into the microphone while recording her ideas was a great random moment, especially for her self-conscious, “Sorry about that, Olive.”

* Bert Cooper’s remark that 40 is “the average lifespan of a man in this business” brought me back to Don’s medical examination at the beginning of season 2, when his doctor warned him about his high blood pressure. Have we heard the last about that?

* When Betty opens Don’s drawer of secrets, the first thing we see are stacks of $50s—escape money, it looks like. Then those family photos. For somebody who has gone to such lengths to destroy his past, Don still feels a pull to hang on to them—the same pull, maybe, that moves him to press his help on Danny? In Suzanne’s brother, does he see his own?

* Finally, it’s good to see Lois can get a second chance. Just no driving on the job!