I’m Not Stupid. I Speak Italian.
Mad Men Season 7 Episode 5 recap.
You had almost forgotten, hadn’t you? Don’t lie. Yes you had. Mad Men is most of the time a regular-smart straight ahead drama, but they really have a fondness for the weirdly macabre physical injury. Everything from Roger barfing up oysters to the John Deere incident with the severed foot to poor Kenny’s eye. They looove the gross-out in the most unexpected ways possible. I’m sure I’m forgetting a bunch. Lingering on how Lane Pryce looked …after…is just one more example.
I love it because it proves that these people are still flappable. Sometimes it seems like they’ve seen everything and done everything, and that’s even before Megan’s party. Hell, there are abandoned children and assumed identities and casually disposed-of mothers every day of the week. But when the really upsettingly macabre punches the residents of SC & Partners in the face, they’re not made of stone. They react.
I love that when Peggy tells this story, she’s not going to be all “oh, I wasn’t paying him enough attention.” She was – she let him come over, she mostly just thought he was acting like her weird and gross little brother Ginsberg. Her “time to go” was the exact right amount of detached, which is the way you speak with people that you take for granted. She just always assumed that, like her attitude problems sometimes or Stan’s pouty lovelorn-ness, Ginsberg’s squirrely neurotics would continue to annoy and amuse her in equal measure.
I just had to stop and go back and look at the nipple in a box again. I mean part of the brilliance is who in the hell knew what that was? Nipple. In a box. I went back and freeze-framed it, and then I was so sorry I did. There are hairs intact on it! Come on!
It couldn’t have been something Peggy would see coming but she’ll still think about it and obsess over what she could have done. The brilliance of this show, though, is that she’ll do it offscreen. She’s not the type to waste screen time worrying about things that can’t be helped.
Lou is, though. Man, was that sad cartoon ever on point. Scout’s Honor is one of the sadder-but-truer office things. Everyone kind of has something going on the side, whether that’s the real estate license they’re studying for or just more work, that they do after work, that’s better than the work they do for actual work. But the fact that Lou is so certain-sure Scout’s Honor could be a thing, because he is an ad guy who created it – his indignance that Stan and the others don’t see the logic is based on logic – is kind of perfectly true. It’s probably not awful, either. It’s probably perfectly competent, which is the worst thing you can say about anything, and probably not the first time it’s been said about Lou. You can tell he’s used to defending himself, too. He strikes out at anyone who might be laughing at him by hitting them where they live – other time, other lives. How dare they have something outside the walls of the office? Lou doesn’t – they all know he doesn’t. He’s going to make damn sure they don’t either…
Which is, marvelously, Betty Francis’ maneuvers too. I’m sorry, I can’t get enough of this woman. Her response to Sally’s carelessly broken nose is to threaten to break her arm. Why ruin a perfectly good face? At least she’s honest about seeing Sally as an extension of herself and her face. She’s just a walking talking external version of Betty. Oh my God, the sass with which Kiernan Shipka imbues a simple walk up the stairs! These two are my very favourite version of everything that ever happens, this is what I want out of Grey Gardens, out of Gilmore Girls, out of everything. Betty vs. Sally forever.
I’m not being ironic, either. I know it’s fashionable to hate Betty but I am never going to grow tired of the woman who did everything according to the rules and then watched the rules have the audacity to change behind her back over and over again. She didn’t KNOW that it was now a thing for Henry to decline to discuss his politics. She didn’t KNOW that his opinion had changed. And if she didn’t know that, and he’s changing the rules on her in public, socially, well then in private, she is sure as hell going to cling to what she has, and if what she has is a seat at her very own kitchen table that she loves, well, so be it. She’s not giving it up. Someone has to hold on tight to something, Lord knows. I will never stop being on Betty’s side, her indignance at the indignities of life never once softening. How dare her daughter mangle her face? How dare she? If Bobby managed to run away (and can we talk about the widening age gap between Bobby and Sally, BTW) it would be how dare he think he wasn’t being brought up in exactly the right manner? Nobody is announcing to her what the new plans are, and how things will be different now. How dare they? I could watch this every week.
You guys, we haven’t even gotten to Betty in menopause. Please let one of the episodes next year check in with her after The Change.
Meanwhile, Megan is turning into Betty and you saw it happen in the space of an episode. Even though she’s sharing her space with Annoying Amy, she’s still fixated on Don and his approval and his attention. She’s not ready to give up on the marriage, no matter what’s been hinted. So I kind of didn’t mind that she rapid cycled between being lovely to Stephanie, then turning her out into the cold, then trying desperately to keep Don on side with a well-placed threesome. I know nobody loves a party like an acting class, but you’d think he could have called her on the fact that she never cancelled the party in the first place.
But he’s probably too distracted by the fact that, in her disheveled morning hair and dressing-gown, lighting her cigarette on the stove, Megan has juuust about completed her transformation into Betty. She’s equally as frustrated at Don slipping through her fingers no matter what she throws at him. She’s more and more aware that her attempts to make him interested, jealous, something – they’re only serving to remind him that she’ll be there. There’s no danger of her going anywhere. The dancing and the seducing and the lying remind him of that.
Because this Don is the Don of years past. He cares about the work, enough to not blow Lou off altogether and to show up at the Algonquin, and he cares about people related to Anna, because she didn’t owe him anything but gave him everything anyway. These are the twin fires that make him altruistic and driven and able to withstand more than one cocktail with Harry Crane. Don is being reborn. If he can do it beneath all these constraints – no booze, no client freedom, wife in California (which, yes, is arguably an asset, but there’s no “little woman” to keep him in dry cleaning), then he can do anything. He is infinite. He is attracted to the idea of Stephanie pregnant because there’s a whole new person with no mistakes in them yet. He’s attracted to a new account or hell, a new agency if it comes to that, for the same reasons.
But his wife, well, it’s not that he doesn’t love her. Or that a threesome will make him feel any different. It’s just that you want most what you can’t have. And the things Don can’t have? Well, they’re the only things worth having.