Holy heck, this was a great episode of "Mad Men," packed with equal amounts of arresting visuals and razor-sharp lines of dialogue that will rattle around in our heads all week.
Seg "Three Sundays," superbly penned by Andre and Maria Jacquemetton and directed by Tim Hunter, is framed by three trips on successive Sundays to the parish church with Peggy's family. By the end of this episode, we're all fidgety little boys squirming in the pew and tugging at our starchy collars.There is enough repressed anger and nervous tension in this episode (actually in the Draper household, the anger is boiling over) to light up Broadway, if there were electrical sockets built in to the backsides of Don Draper, Betty Draper, Father Gill (in a fantastic guest shot by Colin Hanks), Peggy Olson and her mother, Katherine, and sister, Anita.
Was it my imagination or in the opening scene in Peggy's church was there an extra volume put on the Monsignor's admonition for his flock to "live worthily" and "bear the cross." These themes seemed to be significant in the episode.
(More after the jump.)
STUART LEVINE WEIGHS IN
If Matt Weiner and his team were concerned about a sophomore slump, they needn't worry any more.
Sunday's fourth episode of the season, "Three Sundays," was fabulous.
For me, the episode was all about children, and how parents treat a child affects those all around on the periphery. Let's start with Bobby. This adorable rascal keeps getting into trouble: breaking the record player, jumping on and breaking the bed, spilling his drink while playing with his robot. He looks to be about 6 or 7, and he's testing boundaries. A kid being a kid.
That's a concept Betty's completely oblivious to, and her reaction is to have Don smack Bobby around, thinking that will teach him right from wrong.
Don won't do it, however, still reeling from when his father beat him, and telling Betty that he wanted to murder his father when he grew older. It might not be a shocking revelation, as it was hinted about in a few prior episodes, but it does reinforce that Betty has no idea about the relationship between Don and his father, or much of anything about Don's past.
Betty and Don just cannot get themselves dancing to the same tune -- that disconnect was demonstrated early on when the kids bust in on them while they're trying to have sex, and a little later when Betty tries to engage him in a dance to her favorite
Bing Crosby Perry Como tune, "The Blue Room." (It sure sounded like Der Bingle to me, esp. after Don's remark about the singer makes everything "sound like Christmas," but "Mad Men" music supervisor Alex Patsavas says it's Como. Funny, though, even AMC.com's official recap of this seg has it as Crosby.)
Don most surely is an iceberg most of the time, but Betty's turning into a shrill nag. And as fellow "Mad Men" blogger Kathy Lyford pointed out a few episodes ago, Betty is developing a strange love-hate relationship with her young son Bobby. (Meanwhile, the continuing tutorial of the older daughter Sally in how to mix drinks for mommy and daddy is increasingly creepy.)
This development was much more spelled out this time. But just when you think you've got this show figured out, Matt Weiner throws you a curve ball. When Bobby burns his chin on the griddle, it's Betty who shows concern for him. Don can only think about the summons to come to the office he's just gotten from Duck Phillips on a Sunday morning because the American Airlines pitch meeting was moved up a week. And then Betty surprises by ordering Don to take Sally into the office with him if he really has to go. These touches are the kind of things that make Betty and Don living, breathing, hugely flawed real people to us.
"You think you'd be the man you are today if your father didn't hit you?" she hectors. Here's another example of the show taking expert advantage of the period-ness, and demonstrating just how far the nation's general sensibility about child-rearing has come. (The comic relief line of this seg comes from Sally Olson, to Joan: "You have big ones. My mommy has big ones. I'm going to have big ones.")
In hindsight, Betty's line sets us up for the building tension and shoving match to come between the Drapers. Virtually every scene between Don and Betty is fraught with tension -- you're just waiting for one or both to explode. But for sheer dramatic effect, nothing tops the scene toward the end between Don and his son, who picks a strange time (as little kids always do) to ask his father about his background, and his own father. Don sounds like he's channeling William Faulkner in telling his son about his father's favorite candy, one that came in a beautiful purple and silver package and "tasted like
violence violets." (Whoops, I guess my ears were clogged.)
(This scene also invokes the exchange between Don and his son toward the end of season one when a distraught Don wakes Bobby up to tell him that he can "ask him anything" and that he'll "never lie to him.")
As for the visuals, the most delightful to my eye was the choreography of the scene when the Sterling Cooper crew is working on Sunday. The way the camera glided around that office to show the hum of people scrambling, and then would stop periodically to give us the kid's eye view from Sally Draper trying to drink it all in (literally) and understand what her Daddy does all day.
**Peggy is so uncomfortable around the strict dogma of her Catholic heritage -- it suits her nonconformist nature. Her advice to Father Gill on delivering his Palm Sunday sermon is genius. "Be simpler. Give us a chance of understanding." There was clearly some chemistry going on between Peggy and the man of the cloth. Not overtly sexual, but something.
**I noticed there doesn't seem to be any religious affiliation or inclination toward getting to church on Sunday in the Draper household -- or am I forgetting a past reference?
**Interesting to see Roger Sterling's daughter seems to be in a better place, out of her depression, fun and engaged to a seemingly decent young guy. Roger, of course, isn't satisfied, has to push on the wedding plans.
**Pete Campbell in his tennis duds was priceless. It made up for another episode with a very low overall Pete-quotient.
**Bobbie Barrett, wife of potty-mouth comic Jimmy Barrett, slithers back into this episode to once again throw herself at (on) Don. Her white sheath dress with matching white cape makes her look like an evil villainess from a Stan Lee comic! "Grin and Barrett" indeed. This woman is bad, bad news.
**In the closing scene, Peggy in that easter-egg pink dress at the church Easter egg hunt, trying to basically ignore her own son toddling around her feet. Father Gill's response of handing her the egg was in-tense.
(Once again, New Jersey Star-Ledger's Alan Sepinwall blows us out of the water with his analysis of this seg, click here to read. Even the comments on his posts are smart, for the most part.)
Granted, it's not something he would openly talk about with her but one would've thought the conversation would've come up sometime during their courtship or marriage. But that's Don Draper for you. Man of mystery, and Betty continues to be somewhat willfully oblivious.
And how sweet was Bobby in saying "I'm sorry" and then asking about his grandfather. What did he look like? Did he get mad? What did he like to eat? When he told his father, "You need a new Daddy," even Don turned misty.
The other child at the center of the episode — although we only caught a glimpse of him — was Peggy's offspring, who is being cared for by Peggy's mom, Katherine.
When Father Gill gets to know Peggy a bit after a quick conversation with her while she's trying to duck out of church, and then driving her to the subway station, he becomes more intrigued with who she is — though I don't think it was in a sexual way — and how she's much more of an independent spirit than the rest of her family.
The bombshell occurs, of course, when Peggy's sister, Anita, tells Father Gill in confession that Peggy has had a baby and there's been no recourse for her actions, and that their mother, Katherine, is burdened with raising the child.The resentment she has against Peggy is thick and full of venom, so much so that she knew going into the confessional that her story would make it's way back to Peggy.
In the final scene, when Father Gill hands Peggy a blue egg and says "for the little one" — with all the children dressed in their Sunday best for the Easter egg hunt — the look on Peggy's face is dumbstruck. She's too surprised to respond. She's feeling both shocked in that her secret got out, and not just to anyone but to a priest, and that, maybe, she'll be damned to hell for all eternity for her actions, depending on how religious she is.
It'll be fascinating to see how Peggy's combustible guilt reacts to having this "family matter" outside their inner circle now. Anita's trickery in telling the priest anonymously, through confession, was a dastardly way to get back at her sister through a third party ... and not just any third party but a man of the cloth. It's doubtful Peggy will learn of Anita's underhanded way in which she spilled her guts, but you never know.
-- One minute Roger Sterling is having dinner with wife, Mona, his daughter and soon to be son-in-law, trying to do what Mona wants in terms of planning a wedding, and the next minute he's sleeping with a hooker. How this guy keeps focused on any one thing is beyond me.
-- Speaking of extramarital shenanigans, Don doesn't exactly fight off the aggressive Mrs. Barrett with too much effort. His "I'm busy at work" line didn't slow down her advances, nor did it seem he wanted it to.
-- Though their heart-to-heart would come later, I thought Don hit the spot with his succinct but to the point chat with Bobby: "Mommy said you broke the hi-fi. I believe her. Don't do it again." What else needs to be said?
-- Didn't Marguerite Moreau looks gorgeous as Vicky? I couldn't help but think I've seen her before and then realized, thanks to IMDB.com, that she was a teacher on the underrated ABC drama of a few years back, "Life as We Know It." Really enjoyed that show and wish the Alphabet could've kept it on the air longer.
-- What a great group shot of the fellas and Peggy awaiting the entrance of the American Airlines clients. Faces turn glum quickly, however, when Duck spills that his friend at the company, Shel, has been fired and their presentation, as Don quickly surmises, is "stillborn."
-- Don has never been a fan of Duck's, and he's even less so now. Not only did Sterling Cooper not get the American account, but it lost Mohawk Airlines. "He was brought in to bring in new business, not lose old business." Ouch. But he's right.
-- For a man who rightfully refuses to hit his child, Don has no qualms about taking his hand against Betty. She pushes him in an argument and, without hesitation, he pushes right back. And last week he used his hand to not-so-gently persuade Mrs. Barrett in having Jimmy offer up an apology.