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Mad Men Recap Season 2, Episode 4, “Three Sundays”

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Mad Men Recap: Season 2, Episode 4, “Three Sundays”


A more accurate title for “Three Sundays” might be “Seven Sundays”: The episode spans three consecutive Sundays, true, but with two of them we see how the day unfolds from Don and Roger’s perspectives as well as Peggy’s, and their stories are compelling enough (and sufficiently disconnected from Peggy’s) that they don’t necessarily deserve to be lumped together by the title. This week’s episode is longer on housekeeping than any in season two, and it assumes a fair amount of background knowledge of the show, but in the grand Mad Men tradition it’s nonetheless remarkably self-contained.

I realized this on my second viewing of the episode, when I saw it with my mother (who recently devoured season one in less than a week and became obsessed with the show but had only seen the first episode of S2 yet) and my stepfather (who had never seen the show before at all but who’s planning to watch S1 when my mom gets it from Netflix so she can watch it a second time). I was afraid that my stepfather would come away spoiled for all of S1 and that my mom would learn far too much about what had happened in “Flight One” and “The Benefactor”. As an alternative, I suggested we watch a couple more episodes of Spaced instead, but she realllly wanted to watch Mad Men (and I really needed to see it again for this recap), so the die was cast.

To my great surprise, the episode spoiled very little for either of them: While Don’s rough childhood plays a big role in things, no reference is made to his transformation from Dick Whitman into Don Draper or to anything else (Adam Whitman, for example) that would require serious explanation on that front. And while he was of course spoiled as to both Peggy’s pregnancy and the fate of her baby (my mom was spoiled viz. the latter, unavoidably), Pete’s status as the father is never mentioned (ditto the death of Pete’s father, despite the large role the American Airlines plot plays this week). In short, while I thought this would be an awkward episode to use as an introduction to the series, it turned out to be a fine jumping-on point.

Since Sunday is the Lord’s day, it’s only appropriate that church-related scenes and Peggy’s friendship with the young Jesuit, Father Gill (Colin Hanks, in a performance I hope brings him a lot more work), gets more screen time than any other story. The smokin’and drinkin’ Jesuit has become something of a movie/TV cliché by now—I guess filmmakers feel that showing Padres indulging in the few vices allowed them (and which are often denied to Protestant clergymen) is convenient shorthand for the hypocrisy of the church. In this case, it didn’t feel like a cliché, both because of Father Gill’s age and because of the time period. I started to groan when Hanks offered Peggy a lift to the subway, but was relieved and intrigued when it became apparent there wasn’t going to be a forbidden love angle and that he was interested in Peggy’s professional abilities above all.

The version of the episode that AMC sent to the press contains a massive screw-up that makes a mess of the timeline for Roger’s story, but it’s something that could easily be fixed digitially—if the fix wasn’t applied before the episode aired, I sure hope they do it for the DVDs and Blu-Ray discs: At the seafood restaurant where Ken and Pete take the client from Gorton’s Seafood (and where Roger meets the escort), the scene begins with a close-up of a chalk board listing the day’s specials—and, in giant letters, the date “Monday, April 16”. This makes no sense, as his tryst with the escort (played by Marguerite Moreau, who I’ve had a massive crush on since I grudgingly saw the otherwise-unwatchable Queen of the Damned and who I’ve followed through a zillion canceled series and guest appearances since) takes place on Palm Sunday, April 15, when everyone else at SC is crunching on the American Airlines presentation (am I the only one who wondered why none of the folks working on Sunday—including Bert Cooper—ever stopped to say “Where the hell is Roger, anyway?”). A digital scrub to turn the “16” into a “9” seems like it would be pretty easy; here’s deciding Lions Gate and AMC decide to spring for it.

Bobbie Barrett’s return (which required remarkably little explanation to my mom—“she’s the wife of this celebrity spokesman from last week” covered everything) makes it pretty clear that she’s a fairly voracious sexual predator, and her line to Don about “I’ve been trying to figure out how to not get bored with you” is, by my lights, enough to get Don off the hook for his behavior last week, which some have equated with rape. As I see it, Don sized up Bobbie last week and too steps that he knew would please her but also catch her completely off guard, thus making her readily susceptible to Don’s demand that she withdraw the $25,000 price tag she put on Jimmy’s apology. What he did was a classic, highly polished (if admittedly ethically questionable) piece of expectation management, which is of course his great specialty. If Bobbie had felt in any way taken advantage of, either financially or sexually, I highly doubt she would visit Don at SC so soon after “The Benefactor”. One thing about their encounter seemed odd to me, and it’d be great if someone who knew more about the TV biz and the advertising world in that era could clear it up: Why would Jimmy need to get out of his Utz endorsement contract to do a TV show? Bill Cosby didn’t have to stop shilling for Coca-Cola and Jell-O Pudding Pops in order to land The Cosby Show two decades hence, and there are plenty of other semirecent examples of actors who’ve held onto endorsement contracts when moving from one TV show to another. How strong was the primary-sponsor paradigm by 1962? As far as I can tell, the practice of working the sponsor’s name into the title of the show had pretty much dried up by then.

The meatiest drama in the episode comes from the contrast between Betty’s anger at what she perceives as Don indulging Bobby and Peggy’s sister Anita’s envy of how (from her POV) their mom indulges Peggy, allowing her to do whatever she pleases with no consequences (as she says in confession). In Don’s case, his motives are pretty simple: He wants Bobby to grow up without experiencing the abuse he endured as a child (I love the moment when Betty asks “Would you be the man you are if your dad didn’t spank you?” and Don keeps quiet). In the case of Anita, it’s a little more complicated—I think she’s envious of Peggy’s working-girl life because she’s in denial about being the architect of her own misery. She’s stuck in what appears to be a loveless marriage to a boor, and while we haven’t seen enough of her kids to judge their behavior, I wouldn’t be surprised if she saw them as tiny terrors. All of that unhappiness is the result of choices she made, which put her in a situation where whatever talent she has is never going to be recognized (clearly, it’s the help Peggy provided Father Gill which got her more steamed than anything else). She may have the potential to be a great writer or artist, but she’s never gonna be recognized as more than a housewife. If, as appears to be the case, Peggy’s child is being passed off to the world as her sister’s third offspring, it would prove that the family sees her as nothing more than a child-rearing machine, thereby rubbing more salt in the wound.

Her confession of her envy of Peggy is entirely understandable; what’s uncertain is whether she entered the booth intending to rat out Peggy as an unwed mother or if that was something she just blurted out in the heat of the moment. Either way, it drives an immediate stake through the heart of any potential friendship between Peggy and Father Gill, who—disappointingly to me—seems content to accept Anita’s story (complete with the BS line about how she “seduced a married man”) at face value.

This week’s Don/Bobbie scene seems designed to balance out Don’s rough treatment of Bobbie last week and shift viewer sympathy back toward Don. But shoving match with Betty could very well start the whole debate about whether Don committed a form of sexual assault (or had at the very least become difficult to sympathize with) all over again—or reinforce the convictions of those who didn’t forgive Don after Bobbie’s visit to SC. As I see it, the scene makes Don more sympathetic than ever: The last thing he wants is to behave like his father and perpetuate a cycle of abuse that could fuck up Bobby as much as it did Don himself. When Don shoves Betty, he’s out of control, no two ways abut it, but he’s also giving Betty a glimpse of his father’s behavior, without which he couldn’t make his point (another wrinkle here is my mother’s theory that Betty fundamentally doesn’t like Bobby, which makes each of his Dennis the Menace antics sting all the worse). Fundamentally, however, where both Bobby and Sally are concerned, Don proves himself a more doting father than usual this week, albeit in his own way and to the best of his ability.

The outcome of the American Airlines situation would seem to insulate Don from any short-term threats posed by Duck, as it’s hard to argue with the logic of “we hired him to bring new business, not drive away old business.” But argue is just what Roger does with his comment that “old business is old business.” The scene illustrates some of the key differences between Roger and Don’s approach to advertising: for Roger, it’s all about the chase, and it gives him the same charge he gets from seducing women (indeed, with his sexual capacity diminished—his run-in with the hooker this week notwithstanding—it’s easy to imagine him transferring a lot of that energy into work, further vexing Don in the process). The whole situation also illuminates the fundamental differences between how Duck and Don approach advertising: Duck’s intent to let AA choose from amongst three fully designed campaigns suggests a “the customer is always right” mentality, while Don’s insistence on bringing a single, unified vision to the table is consistent with what we’ve seen of his approach to advertising since day one (to a lesser extent, it’s an approach Bert Cooper shares). As Cooper said when preparing a team to work on spec for the Nixon campaign, SC knows (or ideally should know) what the client wants better than the client himself does. If Don’s strategy is about taking a feeling he feels in response to a product and making the consumer share that feeling, the first step is making damn well sure the client feels it, too.

Duck’s moment of menschiness when he reassures the secretary that Bert Cooper won’t fire her (which is proven when we see her escort the AA executives into the SC office) is interesting. I have to say I can’t see Don acting the same way in that situation (unless maybe he was to share my belief that the gum Cooper stepped in was dropped by Sally). A lot of the time, he’s just too impatient, and too prone to getting lost in his head while hashing out ideas, to be considerate of other peoples’ feelings in such situations. The big question is, did Duck keep her around out of the goodness of his heart, or is he being a manipulative bastard and slowly assembling a clique of employees that owe him their absolute loyalty?

Miscellaneous Notes: I wouldn’t yet rule out the possibility that Don’s creative vision and raw charisma won over the AA brass despite the termination of Duck’s buddy. To be sure, AA didn’t sign on with SC in real life because, well, Mad Men is fiction. However, while most of SC’s accounts in the first season were products that are now “ghost brands”—products that were formerly household names and still have name recognition yet are no longer sold (Lucky Strike and Bethlehem Steel both qualify, and Kodak hasn’t made slide projectors in years), this season the show has featured more and more real-life brands that are still in use. I’d chalk it up to product placement were it not for the fact that the brands have generally been shown in a light that their parent companies surely wouldn’t approve of if they’d struck a placement deal. The folks at Gorton’s Seafood can’t be too pleased with one of their executives being shown gleefully patronizing a hooker, and last week’s Jimmy Barrett story didn’t exactly make Utz look like the world’s greatest potato chips. As for AA, they surely can’t be thrilled that Mad Men has reminded the world of their 1962 crash, but it’s not like they can do much since it’s part of the historical record. Point being, it seems that corporate/brand history is one area where Weiner doesn’t mind bending the facts a bit (indeed, it may be a necessity) so anything could happen.

Most ultrafancy restaurants in New York are open six days a week and take either Sunday or Monday as a day off, but in the past two episodes MM characters have patronized Lutèce on both Sunday and Monday. Can any reader more knowledgeable about New York in the ’60s than I tell me if the restaurant was open 7 days after all, or if they took the day off at a more random point in the week (say, Monday or Tuesday)? Of course, it could just be a mistake…

The visual device of using the church programs to establish the passage of time is one that could, of course, be employed by a film; but movies being what they are, most screenwriters would insist on having the last program deliver additional impact—making it a funeral mass for a character who didn’t make it to the end, for example. Here, the device just was what it was; although it had a very Sopranos feel to it, for me, it couldn’t help seeming like something from a graphic novel. My next thought, bizarrely, was that in a parallel universe where Matthew Weiner was turned down by AMC and decided to do Mad Men as a comic book rather than a TV show, the ideal artist would be Tim Sale. The program device is not unlike some of the time-passage indicators in his collaborations with Jeph Loeb, and he’s one of the few contemporary comics artists with a clean yet detailed style that lends itself equally well to expressive characters and panoramic cityscapes (for both, the best example may be Batman: The Long Halloween). I found myself trying to visualize Jon Hamm, Vincent Kartheiser, John Slattery and Elisabeth Moss as characters drawn by Sale; such images seemed surprisingly natural. Of course, for Sale to draw the actors would require scuttling the alternate-universe scenario and contemplating a comic book adaptation of Mad Men, which seems like something that could backfire with a vengeance; but if such a crazy idea is ever brought to fruition, Sale would definitely be the illustrator for the job.

Having Betty read a collection of stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald was a nice, subtle follow-up on her flirtation with the guy who name-checked “The Diamond As Big As the Ritz” last week. (The book is on the money: the Fitzgerald anthology Babylon Revisited and Other Stories was published in 1960, and it includes “Diamond”). Of all the strands in the episode, the Drapers cancelling their Sunday plans to spend the day with the kids, only to have the bonding count for naught when they so drunk, they forget to make dinner, is probably the scenario that would work best as a standalone short story.

Finally, because of the abundance of “juniors” on The Sopranos (though there were never really any in Tony’s crew, unless Uncle Jun counts), I couldn’t help chuckling over the end-credits reveal that one of Peggy’s nephews is named Gerry Respola Jr. I used to attribute the phenomenon to Italian-American culture (or the specific North Jersey subset thereof), until I read an interview with Terence Winter (or was it one of his Slate TV club entries? I forget) in which he talked about how beyond a certain point in the series, it became frustratingly difficult to keep coming up with a stream of new, real-sounding character names. If I recall correctly, Winter copped to plucking random names from the phone book and borrowing the monikers of high-school classmates out of sheer desperation. Instantly, I began to suspect that The Sopranos’ parade of Juniors was a crutch. I could be completely wrong about that, but I nonetheless took the name of Peggy’s nephew as a tip of the hat to The Sopranos’ Juniorpalooza tendencies. If anyone on the Mad Men writing staff is reading this and wants to set me straight about my assumption (or—yeah, right—confirm that I’m on the money), feel free to do so.

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