Under the Bed

April 9, 2012 16:18:45 Posted at April 9, 2012 16:18:45
Duana Posted by Duana
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Courtesy AMC

Mad Men Season 5 Episode 4 recap

Not as many beds are made with space underneath anymore.  All the platform beds and Ikea frames and whatnot mean the bed's on the floor.  Apparently, it's to keep the secrets from piling up under there.

I can't breathe when this show is on. I know they specified that it was hot, just once, but every scene made me catch my breath a little more and I didn't realize until the end of the episode that I'd been holding it: a teeny, tiny incremental increase of tension in each scene that builds until you don't realize why your stomach hurts so much.  It's counterintuitive that this would be a feeling we crave.  And yet.

What made this episode so fantastic for me is that it confirmed things we knew about the characters and wondered if they knew about themselves.  Nobody did anything surprising based on what we know of them, but the realizations are so closely below the surface that when they realize them, it's not so much a shock as a slow dawning of realization.

I would like to see Joan's story remounted as a stage play.  All in that apartment with its strangely stifling terra-cotta colour.  Through a single day Joan goes through all the motions of being a woman who is playing the part she was meant to: a devoted wife whose mother's lessons over the years are finally coming into use.  She fusses and frets about how to make Greg's homecoming special, knowing with certainty that if she can just do everything right, timed exactly perfectly, they can fade seamlessly into the life they used to have.  The first knot in my stomach came from how much she both resents her mother and knows her to be right.  Mom makes her anxious, as she specified, but also knows just when to spirit the baby off so Greg and Joan can get down to business.  How can you resent someone like that?  How can you fault her analogy of how Greg will need to “stick his elbow into” their lives before joining it outright?   This, of course, is much more about Joan and her mother and their lives than it is about Greg, specifically; note that "Daddy's” cheating was referenced and then quickly tucked back into the cache of secrets.  These two women have been making the best out of what they've been dealt for years, so why should that stop now?  For the record, I find Joan's mother both irritating and comforting, which probably means she's doing an excellent job.

The fact that Greg's betrayal and departure, without so much as a look behind him for his son (and no, I don't think he suspected anything amiss in that department) happened in such a short time gave me pause, yes, but then I started wondering....if it hadn't been the fact that he was willingly returning to Vietnam, how quickly would it have been something else? How soon would Joan, who has been coping without him, have found another reason to be irritated with Greg, who would in turn says she was making little of him? Not allowing him to be a man?  This is one of those situations where truth was pushed up for television, and while I don't mind it because good riddance, irredeemable Greg (and thank God we know Joan still remembers and can reference being raped on an office floor), I do wonder if we were denied other fireworks that could have resulted.  Maybe Weiner & Co couldn't stomach seeing Joan go through that again.   But in the end, she's not that surprised, since this is the only way this situation could have played out, given the kind of person Joan knows herself to be on the inside.

It's like Peggy, who is moving ever closer to inhabiting the persona she's made for herself, my favourite thing to watch.  The meek girl of the first season or two has disappeared utterly, leaving behind a woman who knows fulfilling the modern urban hipster role means pushing herself every week (and I loved the return of Joyce to remind us who Peggy's model would be).   Modern Peggy doesn't immediately sit up in front of Mr. Sterling.  She extorts cash from him (the modern-day equivalent of $2600, by the way) to do a secret job.  And she knows that being “cool” with things means overriding her unconscious, preconceived, not-really-ever-articulated biases about what might happen if she left her purse on the coffee table.  And with Peggy's drunken admission that maybe she acts like a man, and maybe that's partly on purpose, we have the opening salvos of, if not a friendship, then an understanding.  It is perfectly clear to me that while Peggy sees similarities ("I was the only one like me, too") she's always been upwardly mobile, and she's never blessed a secretary with her friendship before; she saves her girliness for Mrs. Draper, as opposed to, say, giggling with any of the other secretaries (though I loved the casualness of "please tell Patricia she can go home").  I certainly hope Dawn and Peggy get to know each other further, but I don't think it's going to be an equal association - and I don't think that has anything to do with race.  Peggy has been riding so high on her newfound confidence - not even blinking at the “male copywriter” who proved so essential - that it will take a lot to make her falter. I think she knows that, too.  I do wonder, though, what it will be.

I love that Don knows what will take him down.  His fever-dream-murder of sometime romp-partner Andrea was fairly on-the-nose given the episode's theme of the Richard Speck massacre but he's terrified that it could happen to him.  That all it would take would be a fever or, who are we kidding, a couple of cocktails and a late-night elevator and he could lose the man he's pledged to become.  Megan seems to know just about all of Don's secrets, but that makes him vulnerable, doesn't it? There's nothing he can hide from her, no pattern he can vary slightly without her knowing.  The danger here is, of course, that while I'm pretty sure Megan loves Don - or thinks she does, and enjoys being with him, obviously - she's not unlike Joan in this scenario. I have this feeling she would, in fact, walk.  And he knows it and we know it.  I love that this keeps him up at night - the idea that he might hurt her if he can't change, or, depending on how you think about Don, the eventuality that he will.     

Coupled with Michael the almost-fired ballsy copywriter (whose reaction to the photos seems to give a nod to the internet rumour that maybe his family were victims of the holocaust), it's enough to make Don wonder if there's anything about who he used to be that he doesn't have to change.  The thing is, though, he doesn't seem all that reluctant to do so.  We've never investigated the idea that Don wants to be a good husband, and is worried he'll screw up his second chance.  Maybe it's so foreign because it's such an unknown concept; it's not like many others are concerned with same.  And on top of that he's trying to be a father to a pre-teen girl....

I love Sally Draper which is no surprise, but man, do I ever love that house they're in.  It's creepy and rambling and absolutely perfect for dark imaginings when you are 12 years old.  I mean, I angsted as much as the next pre-teen, but it's hard to let your imagination run wild when you open your eyes and look up at the yellow-and-blue hearts border marching around your room.  I just cannot thank the creators enough for continuing to follow Sally's story; all the choices her parents made have added up to this intensely curious, slightly suspicious girl who has an interest in adult things, arguably before her time.  When I said earlier that people on this show already know what their downfall will be, Sally's no exception.  She knows other kids, I'm sure, who are less curious about everything.  Who don't look forward to watching the news as a treat.  Who won't forever associate the “Mystery Date” commercial with a serial killer who might have known some of his victims.  Sally's brain is the architect of much of her misery ...but what's she supposed to do about it?  Not read the paper? This child has been precocious as long as we've known her (“the man pees inside the lady”, the smoking, the masturbating near a friend) and that was before she had the freedom to do herself any damage.  She's a child-proto-woman and so many things about the last scene with Henry's mother got me: "Do you know how to take a pill", like it was a skill, and Sally's solemn nod; the utter knockout that half a Seconal gives to a 12 year old girl; and the inclination of said girl to crawl under the settee to be safe while she sleeps. Probably not for the last time.    

Underneath.  It's where secrets are kept.  Just not hidden very well.

(And yes, Betty was slim again.  Sigh.)

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