Betty -- I hate you.
By the end of this episode of "Mad Men," dubbed "The Arrangements," I wished it was Betty who had dropped dead. She's utterly inhuman. Unfeeling. Cruel. Narcissistic in the extreme. She's torturing her children with her psycho self-indulgence as surely as if she were beating them with whips.
It all ended for me and Betty in the scene in which she and Sally are informed by the police officer of the sudden death of her father, Gene, while he was out the A&P market. That Betty could leave a stunned Sally alone on the steps after such a blow was the last straw. Even after Sally cries out in shock and pain. Where is Betty's nurturing gene? How could the mama bear not instinctively move to comfort her cub? I've never wanted to claw through the TV screen and smack a character so badly.
Betty does not deserve to be a mother, no matter how well her reproductive system works. Gene calls her "Scarlett O'Hara" in their early scene when Betty gets so upset when he tries to go over his will and funeral arrangements. But that's an insult to Scarlett O'Hara. "I'm your little girl," she whines. Pathetic. She accused her father of being "selfish and morbid" -- two things she sure knows a lot about.
Don Draper has no excuse either, frankly. Sally is an open wound, raw and bleeding from the pain she's feeling of the loss of the only adult in her familial world who paid a bit of attention to her as a person, and gave a bit of positive reinforcement rather than treating her like a two-dimensional prop with no feelings. And even when Sally bleeds out right in front of his eyes, he does nothing. When Betty cruelly tells her distraught daughter to "go watch TV," he does nothing. I wanted to shake him by his skinny tie, and by this point I wanted to dismember Betty. It was painful to watch the scenes with Sally in this episode.
I found it so telling how this climax of the Sally-Grandpa storyline was handled. After the build-up in the past few episodes, there was all kind of speculation in the "Mad Men" blog-o-sphere about something horrible coming down the pike for them. But rather than go for a gratuitous violent or sexual act, they gave us a moment of truth for these characters -- Betty and Sally -- that is as jarring and gut-wrenching as could be. Incredible work all around in this seg, penned by Andrew Colville and Matt Weiner and helmed by Michael Uppendahl. (Couple of nice touches: Gene dies at the market while buying the peaches that Sally requested, and Sally is still in her ballet clothes waiting for Grandpa on the steps when the cop pulls up with his grim news.)
I'm so seriously upset by the Sally stuff that it's hard to analyze anything else in this episode. But here goes.
Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters. There's some fertile ground for drama, eh?
Might Don Draper be softening just a wee bit about the memory of his old man, Archie Whitman? I kind of picked up that vibe by the end of this episode, by the way he went to look at that old picture of "Archie and Abigail" when everyone else was sleeping -- and this was before Gene checked out. Interesting that the whole plot thread about the rich kid with the vision to make "Jai-Alai" a sport that will "eclipse baseball in seven years" was designed to enlighten us about Don and his state of mind. That's probably why I don't loathe Don like I do Betty. He shows some real compassion, some real heart in all the Horace Jr.-Horace Sr. business. Too bad he couldn't muster any of it up for HIS OWN FREAKIN' DAUGHTER (OK, now I'm getting furious with him too...).
At first Don is just being politic, knowing of Jr.'s ties to Bert Cooper by way of Horace Sr., in arranging the meeting with Horace Sr. And I think he's feeling a bit of professional responsibility, knowing that the sales weenies in the first meeting with Jr. told him anything and everything he wanted to hear just to get his business. (Why not Desi Arnaz? Time on all three networks -- sure!)
But then there were the looks that washed over Don's face (have I mentioned that Jon Hamm is pretty darn good in this role?) as Horace Sr. talks Bert, Don and Lane Pryce through his rationale for not stopping his son from squandering his $3 million trust fund on a hopeless boondoggle.
In my view, Don is getting a bit of a wake-up kick in the pants about parenting, and the kind of strength and patience that it takes to be a good father. Horace Sr. isn't being mean by letting Jr. fail spectacularly. He's trying to find a way to break through "the cloud of success" that has fogged in his son, in the hopes that "after his face is pressed against the reality of the sidewalk...maybe then he'll be of use to someone." Great, great lines. A little speechy here and there but when you've got thesps like Hamm, Robert Morse and guest star David Selby as Horace Sr. delivering them, you can get away with well-written speechifying, here and there.
So then Don tries to be Jr.'s big brother and tell him in a more macho way that he needs to get a grip about the prospects of Jai-Alai and "Patchi" and the rest when they're at dinner with Pete Campbell. ("You can do better," he says in his best Don Draper smooth voice. Pete looks like he wants to throw a glass at Don's head.)
But Jr. is so obnoxious, so hateful toward his father (for the very fact of his success, it would seem) and so sniveling as to have already decided where he's going to point the finger ("If it fails it's your fault," he informs Don, who by this time wants to throw a glass at Jr.'s head) that Don feels a little better about cashing the check.
Peggy's situation with her mother is quite complicated, isn't it? Very, very interesting to see that she and her sister Anita are getting along a whole lot better these days. Wonder what eased up there? It's never been made explicitly clear -- at least to my memory banks -- whether Anita took in Peggy's baby or not.
Remember, Anita was very pregnant at the same time Peggy was unknowingly in the family way. There's been one school of thought that Anita had a miscarriage and then took in Peggy's son as her own. With this show, it's best never to assume. But we did know for sure last season that Anita was angry with Pegs, so it was interesting to see them acting as friends and allies. Anita seems vicariously thrilled by Peggy's success. ("Are you going to become one of those girls? I am one of those girls.")
Mrs. Olson, of course, is another story. She was nasty to Peggy, for sure, when Peggy told her of her plan to move out of the family neighborhood in Brooklyn to Manhattan. But in a twisted way her angry reaction ("How stupid do you think I am?" "Why would I believe anything you say?") indicated the depth of love she has for Peggy -- not like stone-hearted Betty (my blood pressure just went up again...). She's afraid of losing her to the big wide world well beyond the borders that she grew up in.
It's like a nasty, more emotionally charged version of the exchange that Peggy had in the last episode with her overly protective secretary Olive. I love the actress who plays Mrs. Olson, Myra Turley. (Another nice touch: Mrs. Olson calls Peggy "Peaches.")
The other heart-breaking family scene, of course, was Sal and Kitty. "Something's wrong," Kitty insists, looking more sad than sexy in her green nightie. Sal blames work but Kitty knows better. You can see it on her face when Sal acts out the Patio commercial routine for her. He's not quite like other men, and it's clear that concerns her. Deeply.
** Sally behind the wheel. Wow. At first I thought Gene was having a moment and thinking that Sally was Betty as a teenager or something, but as it played I think it was just Gene being ornery and figuring it's never too early to teach a young lady how to pilot a Lincoln.
** Peggy and Joan. Those two oughta be roommates! I haven't had the time to transcribe Joan's brilliant copy for a "size 6" roommate pitch, but I will. It's clear that Peggy still really dislikes it when Joan is right but she's smart enough to know a good line when she hears one. Will Peggy be the one to wake up and realize Joan has untapped talents that can be put to good use for Sterling Cooper?
** Peggy's new roommate is hoping that she is Swedish as she is. When Peggy breaks the news to mom she makes her "roomie" Norwegian. Those Nordic roots run deep.
** Don at work: Putting out fires when the Patio commercial director up and quits. As Ken Cosgrove frets, Don immediately enlists Sal, which turns out to be a gift. Even after the commercial bombs with the geniuses that dreamed it up, Don later tells an apologetic Sal: "Don't ruin the only good thing to come of this. You are now a commercial director."
** One of Gene's last moments of sanity was criticizing Betty for her incessant smoking.
** Not that this is any excuse whatsoever, but we do get a glimpse into the parenting style of Betty's late mother when Gene recounts how she used to make her "fat" daughter walk home after they went out to run errands. We also see through his words and deeds how Gene put Betty on a princess pedestal and sets out to do the same with Sally.
** Don's very, very creeped out by death. He didn't want Bobby wearing the helmet of a long-dead German soldier, and he didn't want Betty eating the peaches that sat in Gene's car after he keeled over.
** Can't stop thinking about Sally and her mental trauma. She's reading about the fall of Rome, and in her depressed state sees a news report about the Vietnamese monk who set himself on fire as a protest against the anti-Buddhist policies of South Vietnamese government. Which pegs the date of this episode as on or shortly after June 11, 1963.
Upon further reflection:
** Can't believe I missed the big hint about Gene's death and his line to Sally about the chocolate ice cream smelling like oranges. And with all the salt he was devouring, he pretty much had a stroke bullseye painted his chest.
** Can't believe I forgot to mention the told-you-so smirk Peggy flashes Don as she leaves the Patio meeting.