Mad Men–Season 2, Episode 2: Flight 1

“Joan! I want you to meet someone–my baby, Sheila.”
“Sheila White.”

Ah-hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Meaning no disrespect to Miss White or the actress, of course, but that’s a little gem that got by me the first time.

But let’s cut right to the chase of the opening party scene:

1. Is Paul not the most perfect pompous ass you have ever seen? I mean, ever?

2. Kudos to Peggy for clarifying that she works “with those guys,” not for them. And to Joan, for insisting on the title of “Office Manager” instead of “Senior Secretary.” These are important differences, and if the men seem to blow them off, well–the women are aware now. I don’t want to get into any speculations about proto-feminist demands because, frankly, I know jack about the timeline and I can’t use the political and philosophical vocabulary. But hell–The Feminine Mystique is only one year away.

3. Kudos also to Peggy for not letting that guy take advantage of his position standing right next to her by explaining that he is a friend that she just met five minutes ago.

4. Poor, poor Joan is looking tired. The big reveal at the end about her age explains it in part, I suppose, but this party has to be a drag. At least Peter and Peggy have something to gain by appearing, like putting on a good show for coworkers in a professional networking, looking ahead kind of way. But Joan has maxed herself out and I think she is depressed. In her mind, at this moment, is the realization that the most she can hope for is the same job at a bigger company, if they would ever hire someone from the outside who didn’t know all the little tricks to soothe and satisfy their executives.

5. Poor, poor Joan has to be nice at work when men waste her time by flirting and overexplaining, and here she is at a party and Paul won’t just say what the wine is without some long story about a shipwreck. At least she doesn’t have to smile about it.

6. Salvatore is married. He seems like he’s having fun inside his living a lie. I doubt their story arc will include exploring how much about Sal the wife knew before marrying him, but they are having a good time together. At least at this stupid party.

I think I know why Joan is being such an outrageous, well, bitch to Sheila, and I don’t think it’s because of racism (except in the more generalized way that allowed white people to patronize black people about the future). If you will indulge me in another numbered list:

1. Joan is mad that her doctor boyfriend couldn’t come to the party with her.

2. Joan is mad that her ex-boyfriend Paul isn’t going to fawn all over her as consolation, because he has a cute…

3. young thing on his arm.

4. This cute young thing is working at a company that just sells stuff that people need, instead of selling space and persuasion.

5. This girl has her whole career ahead of her still. And most if not all of her twenties to catch a man.

6. This untried, bright-eyed little girl matches Joan for grace, tact, and pride, even when basically directly insulted.

Back at the office, the plane crash is only moderately interesting to me as a plot device. Sure, it exposes Sterling Cooper as a cutthroat, glory-bound agency rather than an old reliable, but ditching Mohawk for a shot at American Airlines isn’t that surprising. Pete’s father dying in the plane crash, however… what an amazing chain of events that kicks off! First of all is his discombobulation after receiving the news, and then going straight to Don. Peter sees Don simultaneously as his equal but also is overtly patterning himself after Don. He has a human need to say something to someone he respects, but he also wants to make sure that he behaves properly. I do think Don was horrified and sympathetic, and really did want to help Pete. His advice was non-judgmental and sound, and it wasn’t until Pete asked him point-blank if going home to his family was what Don would do that Pete did it. Of course, it’s not what Don did–when Don found out his brother died he did not turn to his family for affection and support. And the scene cuts before we really learn what Pete decides to do. We see him leave Don’s office, but go straight to a meeting with Cooper and Duck and Sterling. We next see Pete with his family, but there’s no guarantee he went home immediately.

And what a family! One ALMOST wishes that the mother had been on that plane, but what was up with Bud’s wife? Defending him against her mother-in-law: applause! “I like to offer a nice bouquet of thoughts”: smite! Way to ensure that no one will interpret your remark as sincere! I get the idea that Bud is sort of considered dull, and maybe his wife is evidence of that; she’s sort of dim. (We may despise Trudy for her Daddy’s Girl ways, but she isn’t stupid or graceless.) Although Bud seems pretty competent despite his mother’s misgivings, maybe he chose a dim wife to make himself look better. Or else maybe his wife is a perfectly normal person who is trying to impress the family, in a marrying up sort of way. Remarks as formal and stilted as hers are obviously straight from an etiquette or manners book. Besides, Pete doesn’t seem to be looking down on his brother (and it’s very interesting that he had nothing to inherit). Let’s blame the mother for all the problems! The father is dead and therefore untouchable.

As is Peggy’s father. And Peggy’s mother is a playing-favorites manipulator, too. I was pretty relieved that the vacuum Peggy had brought to the office was in fact for someone’s actual house; I was getting nervous that no one was tidying her office at work and she had to do it, even though I couldn’t imagine a pretense even Joan could contrive for why that would be. It’s sad to hear that she was institutionalized after being pregnant. It is pretty shocking that she could have denied being pregnant and maybe she denied having the child in the first place, but this hinted-at episode hints at the unpleasant fact that women were not in charge of their own mental health. I can’t believe that ignorance of a pregnancy–even your own–was enough grounds to be considered incompetent, so I wonder if she was considered crazy for not wanting to keep the child. It’s obvious she isn’t happy that the baby is being raised by her sister, not one bit. I can go with that. It’s why she deliberately shows up late for dinner–she doesn’t want to see the baby awake or interact with it at all.

You get the impression that she was declared unfit to make decisions, and her mother got to decide what to do. It’s going to turn out badly, I’m afraid. Not for the baby–I am sure it will grow up happy and healthy and loved, if perhaps tending towards asthma–but for Peggy. If a bad situation has been alluded to in previews or promos I am unaware because I don’t like to watch those, but a dangling baby is not a good thing to be connected to. And if it breathes, and with her showing up at church reminding people she’s around, and her mother talking up her work that appears to mass audiences, someone is going to make the connection. I hope that she really, truly, deep down inside isn’t denying that she was pregnant or that the baby is hers. Crazy isn’t an appealing turn for her character.

An online friend, mtt, said a few days ago that he thought Betty was quite remote, but I don’t quite view her that way. I think she’s downright hostile. In the first five minutes of this season she compares her children to horse manure; she evokes the image of a dead child to cow her daughter, and she calls her son a liar without bothering to investigate further–even when an inconsistency in her version of events is pointed out to her. Her children are the quietest peeps you ever heard, and if you want to get annoyed at a boy sneaking candy past bedtime, fine, but to maintain that they’re loud is just silly. Her remark about knowing what little boys are like struck me as some kind of crack about Don, and if her son is seeing ghosts in the house she’s it.

Random Thoughts
If Carlton (Mr. Francine) can become any more disgusting I’ll be surprised. At first you get the impression that Don doesn’t want to play cards because he is generally remote and uninterested in his family, but it’s really because Betty and Francine disappear together and he has to entertain the most offensive lout of all the louts. And what game exactly are they playing? Pinochle? There are two queens of clubs and some bidding, but I thought bridge was played with one deck. Yeah, yeah, I’m a Google search away from finding out.

When Peter decides after all to accept the opportunity presented to him by Duck to head the American Airlines pursuit, he does take part of Don’s advice: Work is work and life is life. I can’t decide if it is despicable or pathetic for Peter accept the role but I’m pretty sure it’s horrendously mercenary and exploitative on the part of the company to ask him to participate. But life is life and business is business. It’s a shame, though, that Don wasn’t in the mood for confidences when Peter stood at this crossroads.

I am very glad to see Joan confiding in Peggy at the end of the Driver’s License Debacle, even if Joan would never agree that’s what she’s doing. I’m thinking that Joan is relieved there is another woman to talk to who is not near her on the org chart. I am a little dismayed that this driver’s license gave her weight as 140. Really? Don’t get me wrong–she’s gorgeous and I want to look exactly like her, but that seems quite low. I have a friend who is 5’8″ and we were just talking a few hours ago about weight and weight loss and trying to guess what Christina Hendricks weight! Did they get this number from some Hollywood scale or am I clearly unable to visualize what 140 actually looks like?

Technically, the song playing at the restaurant where Don sat after Mohawk Airlines stuck it to him ten ways from Sunday–Sukiyaki, by Kyo Sakamoto–wasn’t released in the United States until 1963. It was already recorded, though. Does that make it an anachronism? The lyrics are available at Wikipedia (hence the link) but I can’t find anything strikingly relevant to the scene or the episode. And am I stupid, or does everything in that restaurant scream Chinese? Are the references to Pearl Harbor and this Japanese song just representing an indifference to the cultural distinctions?

Have Duck and Peter formed an unholy alliance to take on Don Draper, who clearly doesn’t equal Sterling Cooper anymore even though he used to say so?

In conclusion: Kids? Need a popular culture thesis topic? Examine the significance of the fact that the last conversation Peter and his father had was an argument about what specific type of highly inbred fancy show dog their family associate was breeding.

I have said too much.

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