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Plane Crashes, Church Masses, and Pink Elephants on "Mad Men"

I don't know what it is (perhaps age or post-weekend exhaustion?), but I am finding it increasingly difficult to stay awake on Sunday nights to make it through each episode of Mad Men and, for the second time this season, am already wishing that the series aired at 9 pm. (Am I the only one who feels this?)

In any event, I finally caught up with Mad Men's second episode ("Flight 1") last night, another superlative installment which actually trumped the season opener in terms of emotional complexity, characterization, and deft plotting. If only Don had actually sat down with Pete Campbell, the entire American Airlines campaign and booting of Mohawk Air could have been potentially avoided.

I have to give credit to Vincent Kartheiser for his brilliant turn this week as the grieving Pete Campbell; after learning that his estranged father was aboard the doomed American Airlines flight, he enters a fragile state of shock and turns, not to his peers, but to Don Draper for help... even after attempting to blackmail him in the season finale. (If his actions in this week's episode didn't prove Pete's desire to be Don Draper, I don't know what would.) There's no one better suited than Don to offer him some words of advice: "There's life and then there's work." It's perhaps Don's own personal motto, a promise of compartmentalization in which things don't spill over from one aspect of his life into another. It's how Don has managed to be a good husband to Betty (at least on the surface, anyway) and maintain affairs with other women: by boxing away those other areas.

For Pete, however, work and life seem to be one and the same. Every single move in his life, whether taking the right wife or blackmailing his intended mentor, is calculated to promote his career. But it was the painfully awkward scenes with his emotionally reserved family that revealed the most about Pete's situation as none of them could literally bring themselves to talk about the pink elephant in the room, whether that was the actual pink elephant that Pete's mother gives to Trudy or to his father's death (and his, er, fiduciary misconduct). The result was, as my wife and I discussed afterwards, akin to something from a David Lynch or David Mamet film: staccato bursts of dialogue, delivered in flat, almost monotone fashion and unconnected, it seems, to what comes before or after, whether that be the pink elephant exchange, the "salt and pepper" comment, or Pete's sister-in-law talking about the "bouquet of happiness" she wanted to share with the family. These are clearly people who can't talk about their emotions and here they appear icy, indifferent, almost reptilian.

Pete, sadly, does want to talk about his feelings with someone, namely Don... only to be shut out when Don lashes out at him after learning that he will have to dump client Mohawk Air so that they can "get a wink" from American. It's funny to me how quickly Duck turned against Don, despite being brought in by him and how he tries to lure Pete into the American pitch as soon as he learns that his father died in the crash, not because he has any cares for the younger man but because he sees him as a means to an end, to manipulate him into helping Duck manipulate American Airlines. And yet Pete does show up at the University Club to help Duck land the account, to cash in on his own suffering. As I said earlier, if only Don hadn't pushed Pete out of his office...

Peggy meanwhile is having to deal with the consequences of her actions. While we all (or I did, in any event) assumed that she gave her baby up for adoption in the season finale, we learned in this week's episode that not only is the baby still around, but Peggy's mother and sister are raising it for her... and she can't bring herself to even look upon the child. The scene with her in church was so beautifully understated that it brought a chill to my spine. Clearly, the fallout from Peggy's pregnancy and her subsequent choices will reverberate throughout this season and the next. (And did I say how much I loved it when she jilted that guy at Paul's party?)

I loved how Joan got her comeuppance this week after insulting Paul's African-American girlfriend Shiela, a supermarket checkout girl from Montclair, New Jersey. Was Paul trying to make a point about his counterculture leanings with his "rich boy" place in the sticks where he spent his money on vintage wine but not a couch? You betcha. But it wasn't right of Joan to call him on it, insult his girlfriend, or act all jealous and spurned when she treats Paul like a leper most of the time. That she got her payback from him via the photocopier was only even more perfect of a reveal, as Paul copies her driver's license (showing her birthdate in 1931), and displaying for all of Sterling Cooper to see that she is in her 30s. How shocking!

Next week on Mad Men ("The Benefactor"), Harry tries to help his career by landing a controversial sponsorship deal; Don skips out on work but trouble emerges on the set of a commercial because he's not around; Betty joins Don at Lutece for dinner with his clients.


Anonymous said…
I also liked this episode even better than the season opener. (I feel like the first episode set up a lot of things that paid off in this one.)

The tragedy of Pete's dad and the greater tragedy that Pete has no one to turn to in his time of need, was brilliantly played out. Especially the "pink elephant" scene!

And, of course, the reveal that Peggy's baby is still around was both shocking and sad.

As for the show being on at 10PM, I also think it would be better in a 9PM slot. I am a huge fan of the show but, unlike Lost or other action-packed shows, the subtle drama of Mad Men can be tough to stay awake for after a long weekend. I usually wait and watch it on Monday so I can be sure not to miss anything!
joy said…
My problem is that there are too many shows on at 10 on Sundays. How that happened, I've no idea.

But. This episode was absolutely terrific - I generally can't stand Vincent Kartheiser, but he *completely* rocked this episode from start to finish. Amazing.

And the final scene with Peggy in the church with the baby? Good gravy, that woman's cold. I fear for Peggy's soul. Especially working at Sterling Cooper and hanging with the boys.

As far as the plane accident - the NYTimes did a really good retrospective through Mad Men eyes article in their City section yesterday. Between that accident, and last week's Jackie O/White House tour, Mad Men continues to be a fabulous snapshot of the period.
Anonymous said…
This is why you should switch to directv - then you'd be able to watch at 7 (or 8).

That first scene between Don and Pete when Pete tells Don his father was on the plane (I love the way Pete talks, "It's the strangest thing..."), is a perfect scene. The acting, the writing, all that's said and unsaid - brilliant.

and you also mentioned another of my favorite lines/moment, "I like to offer a bouquet of thoughts" - love it!

I had to bite my tongue when I read your write-up last week about Peggy giving the baby up for adoption. ;)
Harleypeyton said…
ally said it first, but I'll concur. Get yourself some Directv and you'll be watching many shows three hours earlier (from Mad Men to Damages)...
Okay, everyone is talking about Peggys baby, _ BUT what about those two other slightly older kids in the bedroom calling her " Aunt Peggy" ???? It's common knowledge that in the sixties, the mother or aunt would raise the illegitimate child and the mother would be called " Aunty". So where did the other two kids come from?? Peggy was 22 in 1960 so she could have had those kids as a teenager. She told Joan before she even met Pete that " She wasn't a virgin". the other woman who I assume is Peggy's Aunt or much older sister probably is not the mother, so are those also Peggy's babies ?? this could be a big development.... what does everyone else think? Just the way the Aunt said " aren't you going to say Hello" made me think that she knew from experience that she was in denial about at least the latest baby if not the others. Am I crazy here?
Anonymous said…
'Just the way the Aunt said " aren't you going to say Hello" made me think that she knew from experience that she was in denial about at least the latest baby if not the others.'

No not crazy. I don't think the other children are Peggy's. However i do believe that the way Peggy's sister and mother treat her, reflects their feelings about her behaviour. She isn't a church goer - they are; she had a baby outside marriage - for them that (and premaritial sex) is the ultimate sin. She really wants nothing to do with her child. I see her cutting of ties with her family in the end.

I loved this ep. So much better than last weeks. I can't believe that i actually feel any sympathy towards Pete. But he really looked like he was going to break down. You could feel his pain. He really has no one to turn to.

Don vs Duck - so far Duck's winning. I see a big clash happening between these two.
Anonymous said…
Peggy's sister is pregnant in the scene where they visit her in the hospital just after she had the baby, so obviously the baby her sister is raising is not hers.

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