But Many Things Do Change
Mad Men Season 5 Episode 7 recap
The thing about the saying “unhappy families are unhappy in their own way” is that there's no end to the permutations therein. Which, if you're into this kind of thing, and I am, means they're endlessly fascinating. This episode had so many small, perfect moments of people being good to each other that it's almost shocking to see how depressed everyone was by episode's end.
I was fascinated by watching Don be thrown for a loop by Megan's family. He thought he knew everything, I think, about the foibles of marriages and families and what they could look like. Betty's family, and Gene, Sr., was a prime example. Blowhard father, mother canonized as a saint, dutiful daughter with issues. Even in his own shambles of a family life, he knew what the common problems were. And then wash and repeat with Roger - the exercises are new, with the young wife, but the man who does what he does and expects nobody to question him holds fast. Witness Don lecturing Pete a few weeks ago - he thinks the same mistakes are there to be made.
And then bring in Megan's family, who are not the people I expected, but who, again, tell us a lot of what we needed to know about the new Mrs. Draper - and Don is just...on his back foot all the time. I loved it. He can't exactly pin down his reasoning for why Megan's father dislikes him. He knows it's not as simple as Roger's solution “You're sleeping with his daughter” and even the idea that he's a Communist doesn't exactly cover it. Don can't totally comprehend someone who can sneeze at his self-made success and (until this year) his relentless hard work. How is that not enough for the man? He looks and sees - on some level - two people who are existing in full awareness of the other's shortcomings and only periodically letting it bother them. Is that marriage? Is that what he can look forward to if he “does it right” this time?
I'm a big fan of Don, this is no surprise, and I give him a lot of credit for often putting his money where his mouth is. Despite him being awful 35% of the time, he really is trying to do the right thing. His pride at Sally's quick thinking where her step-grandmother was concerned was so palpable and rare, and while he's stiff at best with Megan's parents, he's truly become a better father after his divorce; carving out uninterrupted time with his children has had the surprising effect of letting him know them again.
So when everyone winds up in the therapist’s office in a year or three or ten, it won't be simple to figure out why.
Megan and Don's working relationship has developed a symbiosis that was really a joy to see. Not only that she might actually be cut out for being an ideas woman, but that Don didn't take everything off her plate. As much as possible while keeping the account afloat, he gave credit where credit is due and was legitimately happy about it. His ideas about what constitutes a marriage partnership have evolved, and he's better for it. The dinner scene, where Megan and Don tag-team the Geigers, was so beautiful in its light steps (and the utter irrelevance of Ken and his wife, which was great in itself) that I really felt we'd scored a win that everyone involved needed.
But of course, Megan's successes are mitigated by being partly Don's. That is, everything she has now is partly Don's - largely Don's. And what can she do about it but move forward? Who would really look kindly on the girl who, in this situation, wouldn't take his name and remained as a secretary and wouldn't take the leg up? Sure, it would be noble but it wouldn't be particularly bright. I love the pragmatism here, and the fact that Peggy is able to look beyond the obvious - that Megan is in the process of leapfrogging right over her - and be proud and happy for her.
This episode was full of female kindnesses, though, and my heart (and my actual self, who am I kidding) did squee at the heart-to-hearts between Joan and Peggy. They have always understood each other - known that they, more than any of the others, are cut from the same cloth; it's just that they took different paths. And while Joan has so much cause to be bitter about it, she instead is blithe and appreciative of the newer world not-that-much-younger Peggy lives in, even if there's a note of melancholy there for herself.
The pre-proposal conversation was brilliant because Joan has always been able to put into words, without flinching, Peggy's worst fears and problems. She can't help her with an idea or a pitch - Peggy's stuck with the boys (whose company, you'll notice, she doesn't mind at all - being “one of them” is a new and heady pleasure) but when she needs Joan, she's there. This works the morning after too when Peggy fights her own expectations to see if she needs to be disappointed in Abe's “proposal” or not. Once again, Joan's simple honesty - how happy I was that Peggy was the first one Joan “came out” to! - makes the best of any given situation. She doesn't need to be disappointed. Of course if there were a ring on her finger, well, that would maybe be a separate conversation, but it is what it is, and Mrs. Harris is always able to find the reason to be calmly happy about it.
It won't last, of course. Peggy's systematic defiance of her family and what they expect of her has largely been done, as her mother points out, in secret. And how could they really have complained? She's advanced and gotten promoted, she's had successes... even if her mother can't understand them. But this - to say out loud that she is flaunting the rules she grew up with, and indeed “living in sin” - well, she wouldn't have told her mother if she didn't want her approval, and the lack of it will, on the surface, not matter to her, but will gnaw away at her.
Isn't that the way of things, though? Sally Draper's being taught that every day.
Our girl, our vision of youth coming of age in (according to my calculations) around 1972 or so, has a system in place already. Suppress everything that upsets you. Try to grow up fast so you can understand the damn grownups and why they do what they do to make your life miserable. Dissect as needed on the phone with Glenn (Glenn!) away at boarding school. Every day Sally gets a new piece of information about what makes adults tick, and she's sure as hell not going to figure anything out by remaining a kid. This is the true reason why kids grow up “too fast”, by the way. It's not simply that they wear makeup because they want to be older, or appealing to the opposite sex; it's because they want desperately to understand, to get a window inside what's going on. I never understand when people beg children to “be children a little longer”. Yes, of course there are many things they don't need to worry about yet, but once their eyes are opened, how are you going to shove those questions back down? Once a girl walks in on something she's not supposed to in a hotel ballroom, well, she's not going to tell, of course, she's not stupid, but let's look at her thought patterns.
Both people involved in said ballroom act are people she knows, who are nice to her. Both embody part of the sophisticated life she craves, not just because it's interesting, but because it's a world where she gets to be with her father and her (sure, hell, let's say it - beloved) stepmother, and the older she gets, the more entree she has. She knows it's not okay, because one of those people is married, but then, maybe it is. Maybe it's fine, right? Can you see where the curiosity comes from? Where the world starts to telescope open and the only way to get answers is to try things as fast and quickly as possible so you can finally know?
It's enough to make a girl eat fish.
Photos courtesy AMC