Mad Men: Blood, Sweat, And Tears

On last night's Mad Men, little Sally Draper - albeit briefly - got in touch with her inner Lord of the Flies.

There will be blood! In fact, the increasingly unhinged grammar-schooler, we quickly learn, has taken her acting out to another level: assaulting a fellow pupil, Becky Pearson - "Sally told me she's a bruiser," is how Betty describes this female version of Golding's "Piggy" character - and shoving her head into the faucet of a public water fountain during gym class. This scene, of course, sees the return of Sally's flower-childish schoolteacher, Miss Farrell - Suzanne Farrell, for those familiar with dance history - who has called Don and Betty into her classroom to inform them of the situation, and to make clear to audiences (as if we hadn't already noticed) that every adult in Sally's life besides her parents seems to actually pay attention to her. Betty for one, is too busy hiding from reality while simultaneously regressing to a childlike state: The soon-to-be mother who needs to be mothered? Sure, but I, for one, am beginning to tire of her mild hysterics.

Back at the office, the resident British bean counter, Layne Price is on an alliterative, cost-cutting tear, much to Don's chagrin. I loved how he arrived late... and left early.


Is it just me, or did this brief glimpse of Joan's eyes give the appearance of barefly-contained amusement?

After setting Price straight with an offer of spirits and a well-crafted sales pitch in defense of his creative team, Don returns home to a strangely-empty home and a ringing telephone. On the other line: Sally's apologetic teacher, Miss Farrell. Where she seemed appealingly adult and self-possessed (compared to the Drapers, that is) earlier that day, here - replete with cradled cocktail and fallen bra strap - she comes across as not only flirtatious but fragile, as if she is somehow mirroring the delicacy she spied in Betty that morning in order to gain Don's attentions. ("I don't even know why I"m calling," she says. Ha! We do!) However, I'm not sure that Miss Farrell's dancing - literally and figuratively - will lead to any sort of dalliance between her and Don: despite telling Betty that it was "no one" on the phone, he seems bemused, not besotted. Perhaps he's realizing that, to every woman but his own daughter, he's a sort of father figure.

The episode's labor and delivery scenes will no doubt be the most discussed. I've never given birth, so I can't speak for the realism - or lack thereof - of Betty's experience of the stages of childbirth, but I found her rapid descent into a helpless, mildly-psychotic, hallucinatory fugue state annoying at best, insulting at worst, if only because, as Peggy says later on in the episode, the Drapers are "old hat" at this. Are we to really believe that Betty would fall apart so profoundly at the very moment her mothering instincts are most needed? Perhaps, but it's such a far cry from the self-awareness and possession she displayed in previous seasons that it rings a bit false to me, even with the added trauma of her father's death.


To further underscore this helplessness, Mad Men producers inserted this brief scene of Betty - - stuffed into a desk, of sorts, that she can actually fit into - struggling with a pen and her hospital admission papers. (As for that "pineapple" line, the tropical fruit was apparently considered an abortifacient.)

Teacher knows best.


To be honest, I wasn't particularly intrigued by the scenes between Don and his new hospital waiting-room buddy, first-time dad and prison guard Dennis Hobart. After a few swigs of Johnny Walker Red (and a few puffs on a cigarette) Don pushes back at Dennis' insistence that the criminals in his charge at Sing Sing have only their parents to blame - "it's a bullshit excuse," Don says - but the parallels between the particulars of Don's birth and Dennis' own fears for his wife and baby ("If something happens to could I love that baby?" were interesting, as was the beginning of an assertion that would be repeated by Don throughout the episode (to Dennis, to Sally, to Peggy) that everything will be "fine". Oh, and did anyone notice Lisa Simpson made a cameo as the nurse?

As Don is engaging in his strange getting-to-know-you session with Dennis down the hallway, back in the delivery room, Betty's psychosis is stepped up a notch, either because or despite of the 25ml of Demerol that have been added to her IV cocktail. "I can't do it," she protests while writhing on the table, having abandoned all sense of personal agency. "I'm just a housewife. Why are you doing this to me."

Those 25 mg of Demerol, of course, lead us into another drug-induced fugue sequence, in which Betty goes in search of her father, finding him in the kitchen of her Ossining home, mopping up blood. "I left my lunch pail on the bus, and I'm having a baby," she informs him in her girly voice. Her mother, and, presumably, a mortally-wounded Medgar Evers - just one of many nods (Admiral televisions! Ebony; Jet; Hollis the elevator operator; Roger's snarling sarcasm with regards to Martin Luther King) to the racial tensions and realities of the period - also make an appearance. "You're a housecat," Gene tells her. "You're very important and you have little to do". Adds her mother, holding up a handkerchief soaked with Evers' blood: "You see what happens to people who speak up?"

Back in the real world, Duck Peterson has not only reappeared, but is actively courting both Pete Campbell and Peggy Olson to rival agency Grey. I saw this scene less about the Pete/Peggy relationship - although I love how quickly Pete pivoted from disavowing a "secret relationship" between himself and Peggy to accepting congratulations for the pair's supposed "focused ambition" - than about Peggy's idea of her own importance. The confidence seen in her pot-smoking session has quickly given way to insecurity. "I don't know," she answers when Duck asks her, "You're a freewheeling career gal with great ideas. Am I wrong?"

He's not wrong, of course, and, armed with the ammunition that is Duck's attention, Peggy drops in on Don to ask for a raise: Her secretary, she says, does not respect her because of her low pay; Paul Kinsey makes more, yet doesn't do as good work. And, then there's the little issue of the equal pay act. Don's rejection of Peggy's request- and, by extension, her - is swift, and her disappointment palpable, punctuated by the yearning for what he has and she does not. (Notice how she fondled those baby shoes?) And then this: "You're gonna be fine, Peggy." She doesn't even hear him - why should she? He's been saying it so often, it's hard to believe it anymore.


Back to the baby! Despite Don's veiled disapproval over the idea of naming his newborn boy Eugene, thanks to a quick glance at the birth certificate - someone alert World Net Daily! The longform birth certificate has been found! - we see that Betty not only gone ahead and named her new son, but that she is referring to herself by her full Christian name and maiden surname. Just as I worry about Betty, I worry about the baby: "Is he going to sleep in Grandpa Gene's room?" asks Sally, raising the specter of retaliatory violence. And another baby may have met an untimely end: For whatever reason, when Don passes Dennis and his wife in the hospital hallway, Dennis averts his eyes - and there is no newborn to be seen.


The significance - if any - of Eugene Scott Draper's birth date has yet to reveal itself. According to a quick perusal of Wikipedia, nothing particularly notable happened on the day and year of his birth (we ran his birth date though an astrology generator and came up with this - anyone want to analyze?) although, perhaps coincidentally, on that date, a year later, Americans saw the murder of civil rights activists Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner. I would like to explore the themes of race, civil rights and violence more in this episode - particularly the connection between Evers and the dearly-departed Gene Hofstadt - but that will have to wait for another day.

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