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Five Things I Loved About Last Night's "Mad Men"

Each episode of Mad Men is like receiving a beautifully wrapped gift each week, whose contents are just as elegant and charming as the wrapping paper. This week's episode ("The Gold Violin") was no exception, offering some insight into some of the series' supporting characters and furthering the fracturing relationship between Don and Betty Draper... which reaches a bit of a breaking point this week.

I could wax poetic about the entire gorgeously crafted installment for several thousand words, but instead I've opted this grey morning to offer up the five things I loved best about "The Gold Violin."

One: Jane Segal. We've accepted for so long that Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks) is the queen bee of Sterling Cooper, so it was fantastic to see a young upstart attempt to steal her throne right out from beneath her. Jane Segal (Big Shots' Peyton List) is so manipulative that the atmosphere positively crackles with electricity every time one of the guys looks at her. Using her sexual power over them, she entices them to break into Cooper's office after hours to look at his new Rothko painting... and then tries to deflect the blame when Joan catches wind of their transgression. But rather than simply accept her defeat at the hands of the canny Joan, Jane quickly turns up her sex appeal and drops by Roger Sterling's office. The way she finally told Roger where she lives (Jane Street, how perfect) and hinted that she wanted to stay on at Sterling Cooper was a fantastic materialization of the way she has usurped Joan's position at the company. One can only hope that she manages to twist Roger around her little finger next...

Two: The conversation between Bertram Cooper and Harry Crane was absolutely brilliant in the way it revealed the complexity and depths of both of their characters. Thinking that the Rothko painting is a test, Harry tries to ask Cooper what he thinks of the painting and is told that it's clearly none of his business. Harry is up there to talk numbers, not aesthetics... and we learn that the duo have more in common than they think: the painting isn't so much an aesthetic test or a canvas equivalent of Proust's madeleine, but an investment. It's numbers that both Harry and Cooper know best, just as Don and Roger share that gift of moral ennui.

Three: There has yet to be in the universe of Mad Men a character as despicably oily as Jimmy Barrett (Patric Fischler) and this week's episode proved that point in no uncertain fashion. Calling Betty up in the guise of inviting her and Don to the Stork Club to celebrate the sale of his new television series, Grin and Barrett, to ABC, Jimmy sets the stage for a confrontation that will finally ignite the powder keg that's been building up, unspoken, between Don and Betty since the pilot episode. His speech to Don about him being "garbage" was one of the most emotionally true moments on the series to date and underlined just how far Don has sunk as a character, as he crossed the line from cheating on his own wife to cheating with someone else's. The look of shock and horror on Betty's face was so upsetting, so terrifying, that I was amazed that she made it through the rest of the evening in one piece. And yet no matter how cruel Jimmy might seem, one can't help but feel that he and Bobbi are meant for one another, no matter who might get in the way.

Four: How heartbreaking was Sal's one-sided flirtation with Ken? As an audience, we knew that only heartache and upset would come from Sal inviting Ken to have dinner with him and his wife Kitty (Sarah Drew). And as Sal keeps pushing Kitty into the background to focus his attentions on Ken, we begin to see some semblance of understanding dawning in Kitty's eyes, even as she plays the dutiful hostess, offering up a piece of her pinenut and pineapple pie. (Ick!) But nothing topped the sorrowful way that Sal held onto Kenneth's lighter... and used it to light his cigarette at the episode's end, sitting in the dark with Kitty, a widening chasm between them. It's subtle moments like these that remind me how much I adore this series.

Five: The ending. If you saw the episode, you of course realize that I am talking about the oh-no-they-didn't moment when poor Betty threw up all over Don's new Coup de Ville. Catharsis? Or just emotional vomiting? Either way, there's going to be hell to pay when Betty truly comes to terms with what Don's been doing. Don may have just gotten the keys to the kingdom (via his new Cadillac and placement on the board of an as-yet-uncreated museum) but he may just have been locked out of Paradise for his numerous sins. Just what the fallout from Betty's awareness of Don's proclivities will be remains to be seen but, if this episode was any indication, things are going to get much, much worse. The haunting image of Don and Betty obliviously clearing up their picnic--and leaving all of their trash outside--remains burned onto my mind's eye.

Both Don and Sal have tried to live double lives and the truth is that the past always comes back to haunt you... whether that might be in the simple act of lighting a cigarette or purchasing a new car. We can reinvent ourselves but we can never truly reinvent our pasts.

Next week on Mad Men ("A Night to Remember"), Father Gill (Colin Hanks) tries to convince Peggy to work on a church project, Duck and Don try to market a foreign beer brand to a new demographic, Harry can't cope with the workload in his new department and recruits some assistants from a rather unlikely source.

Comments

Last night's episode was fantastic.

I loved the scene where Don and Betty, after an idyllic picnic, leave their trash on the grass. Ah, the American Dream.

I'm not sure which was more disturbing, though. Was it the image of Don throwing his empty beer can? Betty throwing up all over Don's new car? Or Kitty's pineapple and pine nut pie?

I might have to go with the latter. Poor Kitty. No wonder no one wanted dessert!
Anonymous said…
I loved last night's ep - so much going on on both on and under the surface. But I think the most heartbreaking line came from Kitty, "A lot of people find me very interesting, you know."
Anonymous said…
Great comments, Televisionary! I agree -- and thought strewing the trash should have been a number six! Love how Weiner's developing all the "false selves," Don Draper being the central one. I'm hoping the opening credit (falling man) isn't a foreshadowing of the end. Anyone else worried about that?
The Corsair said…
How downright creepy is Roger Sterling getting? When he was offering Jane from Jane street a drink after she was "fired," he was in total predator mode. *shudders*

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