[Note: Full Spoilers abound in this review/analysis of this week’s episode. Beware! It’s not Game of Thrones, but there’s still plenty of surprises to hold off for]
“Sally, I know what you think you saw,” Don says to Sally through a locked door, hours after she’s caught him having sex with Sylvia (Linda Cardellini).
“But I was just comforting Mrs. Rosen.”
“Uh huh,” she says, allowing her father the dignity of his lie.
This is only one of the many favors given, and, in some cases, not given, in this episode–an intense meditation on the unspoken relationships that exists between all of Weiner’s characters.
Perhaps the most obvious favor is Don’s gift to Mitchell Rosen, Sylvia and Arthur’s son. The kid is 1A. He’s going to Vietnam.
Sylvia, beside herself, cannot bring herself to leave the apartment. Arthur confides in Don. He’s desperate to help his son.
Don eventually pulls through a connection with Ted (another favor), which allows Don to work his way back into Sylvia’s apartment.
The problem is that Mitchell has piqued the interest of Sally and her friend, who spend a good deal of the episode talking about the bohemian college kid downstairs.
Paths cross, plot interferes, and Sally catches Don doing something that none of his wives have been able to prove.
This is the second time Matthew Weiner has had Sally (played by the increasingly talented Kiernan Shipka) walk in on a male role model in the throes of infidelity. Last season, Sally found Megan’s mother and Sterling in a precarious situation, but she didn’t bring attention to herself.
This time, the adults knew they’d been found out.
Over the last six years, we’ve seen Sally go from being a small girl innocently trying to understand the weird sexuality of Glenn to a young woman. Her interaction with Don following her discovery point to an adolescent trying to understand the vast landscape of emotions in a difficult situation. She’s angry with her father. She shouts at him. But then she understands his position. He’s just as uncomfortable and lost as she is. He’s not the villain she wants him to be. That would make it too easy.
I can’t help but watch Mad Men with the knowledge that Don’s kids will grow up to be, in a way, my parents. Sally is navigating a very alien world compared to my own, but she’s only one generation removed from mine.
Like Ang Lee’s brilliant The Ice Storm, Mad Men knows the sixties and seventies are an adolescence of the entire country. The fifties were a time of unparalleled prosperity in the country, and the middle class was invented and quickly labeled as the new normal. That meant the teenagers of the time had to become middle class fixtures as soon as possible. They had to reach that normal.
The sixties is an adolescence for the country because the promise of middle class bliss never existed outside of the media. Teenagers had children and bought houses and took jobs, but they never had a chance to reflect on any of it.
Like Pete Campbell, they merely arrived in a house, responsible for a family, and realized that they weren’t ready for any of it.
Sally is going through a biological adolescence at perhaps the worst possible time in the twentieth century. Her body is going through the same changes as America, through the same emotional confusion and dissonance as her parents, and nobody is mature enough to help her through the murkiness of it.
While Sally has to endure the immaturity of her parents, Pete is forced to come to terms with his mother’s. Her new nurse, recommended by Benson (a favor), may or may not have forged a sexual relationship with her.
Outraged, Pete accuses Benson of recommending a “pervert” to look after his mom.
Then something a little sloppy happens. It’s unusual for Mad Men to play social politics so overtly, but the scene where Benson essentially makes a move on Pete feels like a hammer in the forehead for a show so famously nuanced.
We’ve been getting subtle hints over the course of the season that Benson might be gay, and maybe he is, but I still feel that Benson is ultimately a symbol for all that is good. He is the embodiment of warmth and empathy. He was there for Joan in a time of need, and he’s trying to be there for Pete, but his efforts are weirdly misguided for a character so talented at disarming situations.
The episode does a good job of bridging the emotional arc of the last few episodes by returning to the plots involving Sylvia and Pete’s Mother, and it even goes as far as directly referencing the child Peggy had in season one. Earlier in the season, I wondered why we seemed to covering similar territory when it came to Don’s relationship with Sylvia, and I believe this episode is our answer.
Sally finding Don in bed with another woman might lead to his first real character arc of the series.
But, perhaps more enticingly, Don might not change at all.
Now that Peggy and Abe are done, I’m waiting for her to be a little more aggressive with Ted. But, having said that, I also want the Peggy/Ted storyline to either happen or not happen, and for it to stop acting like it’s going to go in either direction. Feels like Mulder and Scully sometimes.
Also, Peggy’s rat situation felt like a lazy attempt at bringing Peggy into the episode. It feels like Weiner doesn’t really know what to do with her, which is a shame. Though her phone call with Stan was pretty heartwarming.
We’ll see how long that pact between Ted and Don lasts.
What will become of Megan? Is there anything left for her in this show?