Posted by Kathy Lyford
I've watched a lot of television in my life but I do not believe I've ever seen a series so intricately complex and painstakingly crafted as "Mad Men." Not a detail is left to chance. It is therefore very difficult to recap. Forgive me for the length of this post.
This episode is all about the women and, with the help of outstanding performances from January Jones, Elisabeth Moss and Christina Hendricks, we see the ladies' facades start to crumble.
Let's start with Betty.
It's been an undetermined amount of time since Jimmy Barrett let Betty in on the secret that their respective spouses have been involved in more than just business. We open with her, clearly frustrated, taking an early morning ride on her horse. And it must have been very early because she returns home to find Don still in bed. He's in a playful mood, even calling her "Birdy" at one point, but she's having none of it. She's as cold as the ice in one of his cocktails.
Preparations are under way for the big dinner party the Drapers are throwing for Rogers and Cowan exec Crab Colson and his lush of a wife Petra, the Sterlings and Duck. Much as she will later confront her troubled marriage, Betty confronts a wobbly dining chair, deciding in the end that it's easier to dismantle it than fix it. It struck me during this scene how utterly accustomed to dysfunction Sally and Bobby have become as they watch with mild curiosity as their mother destroys the offending furniture before they just go back to watching TV.
When party time arrives, Betty looks every bit the perfect hostess in her perfect party dress (the dress is to die for) and her perfect "trip around the world" menu.
Duck Roger toasts Don and Betty, saying "To our hosts and their idyllic country home." Oh, appearances can be so deceiving can't they? The party seems to go off without a hitch except for what I will call the Heineken incident, where Betty feels she's being mocked by Don and Duck who had earlier in the day been discussing the appeal of Holland's beer to housewives.
After the guests leave, Betty finally erupts, starting by lambasting Don about the Heineken incident and then segueing deftly into confronting him about his affair with Bobbie, which he of course denies. The Drapers' night to remember ends with Betty climbing into bed with Sally.
Twenty-four hours later Betty's still in the perfect party dress, looking much less the perfect hostess. She's spent the day getting sauced and going through Don's pockets looking for evidence. Oh Bets, if you really knew Don the way we know Don you'd realize he's not careless enough to leave evidence lying around.
When Don returns home to find her in that state, Betty says to him "I would never do this to you. How could you do this to me?" (Jones just broke my heart with the delivery of that line.) When Don again denies the affair, Betty levels her gaze at him and he realizes, along with us, that she may not be able to forgive him this time.
As we close on Don sitting alone in the Sterling Cooper kitchen it becomes clear that his life is forever changed.
Peggy, meanwhile, is forced to confront her problems too, but her messenger is much kinder. That's right, Father Gill is back and Colin Hanks continues to do a really fine job in his guest arc.
Father Gill persuades Peggy to do some "pro bono" work designing fliers for the church dance. The job becomes more work than Peggy bargained for since the church ladies are being a bit prudish about the "Night to Remember" theme Peggy has come up with. I can't help but think that their reluctance is making Peggy feel they are calling her reputation into question as well.
Peggy takes her lingering frustration over her exclusion from the Maidenform account out on Father Gill, who seems to become Peggy's stand-in for Pete Campbell when she snipes at him "You're supposed to tell them to trust me. It's your job." Actually, Pegs, saving lost souls is really his job but I feel where you're coming from. And Father Gill is on to you too, hon.
Later in Peggy's office, Father Gill gently suggests to Peggy that unburdening her problems to him might help her stop "pushing everyone away." And just when we think Peggy might finally open up to him, she shuts down again. (Great, great work from Moss.) I'm hoping the priest's persistence may finally get Peggy to open up. She can't live the rest of her life burdened by the Pete Campbell mistake that haunts her.
That night we see Peggy -- who had been so business-like and confident with Father Gill ("Tell them that this is the way it works and I know better than them," "This is Madison Avenue,") -- soaking in the tub, attempting to wash away her sins.
And now Joan. Oh how I love Joan.
Harry needs help. "There are things to do that I didn't know were my job," he says, to which Ken hilariously responds "How can that be? You made that job up." (One of many fine moments of comic relief in an otherwise somber episode.*)
Roger denies Harry's request to expand his department of one but asks Joan to have one of the "girls" help him. Joan, intrigued by the task of reading scripts, decides to take on the task herself and finds she really loves it.
Her fiance (who's been recast and is much cuter!) manages to belittle her job with the comment "I thought you just walked around with people staring at you." And we begin to understand that Joan has trouble being appreciated for anything other than her looks, even at home.
Joan suitably impresses two sets of clients - Maytag and Sea & Ski - not only with her feminine wiles but also with her mad skills. She practically single-handedly sells the Sea & Ski guys on "As the World Turns" airtime.
I didn't believe Joan a couple of episodes back when she convincingly announced to Peggy "I've never had your job. I've never wanted it." Well, as saw this week, she really does have quite a bit of ambition, perhaps even more than she realized herself. She gets a little taste of what Peggy gets to experience - the inspiration that comes from being creative and the rush of playing with the boys and winning.
Joan does such a great job, in fact, that her performance prompts Roger to create a new position in the TV department - a position that will go, not to Joan, but to an unqualified man, naturally. Oh, Joanie, I've been there. In a spectacularly played scene from Hendricks, Joan can barely hide her fury at this news.
That night as Joan undresses and rubs where her bra straps have painfully dug into her shoulders, we realize her iconic figure is as much her curse at it is her blessing.
I loved the image of Father Gill stripping off his collar but thought the guitar playing tiptoed the line into hokeyness. However the
hymn Peter, Paul and Mary tune playing over the final scenes of Don in the kitchen, Peggy in the tub and Joan sitting alone in her bedroom dressed only in a slip was really quite lovely.
*More comic relief:
"Did we get Miracle Whip?" Pete asks upon seeing Father Gill in the office.
Peggy pretending she has a secretary.
Roger's introductions at the dinner party: "Duck, Crab. Crab, Duck."
Duck to Harry: "Get your department in line or I'll gut it." How do you gut a one-person department?
Harry's office-mate Warren regarding Joan: "She's so much woman."
Don: "Nobody will remember that. What they'll remember is Petra Colson missing her chair."
There was so much action in this episode, "A Night to Remember," that it seemed to go by in five minutes. Fantastic work from January Jones -- she probably clinched her spot in next year's Emmy competish with this episode, penned by Robin Veith and Matthew Weiner and helmed by Lesli Linka Glatter (whose distinctive name I've come to recognize as a trademark of helming quality).
But even with everything else going on, I found the Father Gill storyline absolutely stirring. Not just his interaction with Peggy, which is clearly hitting its target, but his apparent internal struggle with being a man of the cloth. I love that "Mad Men" stewards have Father Gill representing what was burst of liberal, even revisionist attitudes among some Catholics around this time about the church and the role it should/could play in influencing broader social issues and the lives of their parishioners (think civil rights, war on poverty, anti-Vietnam efforts, etc).
My cursory understanding of this history is that there was a liberal wing of the church that gained some activist prominence in the early-to-mid sixties, but their efforts also engendered a backlash that put the traditionalists firmly in control again by the dawn of the '70s.
They dropped some hints about this in the first Father Gill appearance, in "Three Sundays," but they amplified it in so many ways throughout "Night to Remember" that by the time we saw him strumming out the Peter, Paul and Mary tune on his acoustic, we didn't need any more evidence....but what a great scene. After taking off his priestly vestments, here he was just a regular Joe -- someone who "wasn't born a priest" -- sitting in a T-shirt noodling around with folk music. Colin Hanks is gonna go far in the family biz...
Apropos of Father Gill's final scene, it was eye-opening to see so many of our characters outside of their usual costumes: Joan in capris at home with her intended (Or is he? Me thinks Joan isn't sure if there are daytime soaps and bonbons in her future); Peggy down to her birthday suit in a bath giving the first indication that she's actually trying to come to grips with the reality that she has a son (credit to Elisabeth Moss); and of course Betty, who went through hell in this episode and isn't back yet, not by a long shot.
Loved the scene in the dark between Don on the couch and a freshly scrubbed, bathrobe clad Betty.
Loved the juxtaposition between Betty confronting Don, aching for the decency of a confession, or even some evidence, of his affair with Bobbie, and Father Gill's confession coaxing with Peggy. That Father Gill did it right in her sister Anita's house, and later right in Peggy's office, shows his activist approach, in my view.
Betty's confrontation of Don has put to rest the question in my mind about whether they had it out over his philandering in the time that passed between season 1 and season 2. I don't think they did -- but I think Betty is starting to open her eyes to the chimera of her marriage, and she probably instinctively realizes that Bobbie isn't the first. "You can't help yourself," she tells Don in their showdown scene. And Betty says plainly what I've been saying here for weeks -- what does Don possibly see in Bobbie? "She's so old," Betty says, which seems to really cut Don.
A tangent thought -- apropos of the wife of the Rogers and Cowan exec who was embarrassingly drunk at the Draper's party. I've been wondering if Betty is heading down the road to alcoholism, and wonder if the drunken wife isn't a bit of foreshadowing.
Ah, there's so much more to riff on but it's getting late. A few lines from this seg that will linger:
"She's so much woman."
"Leave some room for the Holy Ghost."
"God is more than what you and I grew up with."
Finally, all the mentions of Rogers and Cowan in this ep made me a little sad. Warren Cowan, we miss you.