We get another very strong episode this week — maybe the best one ever. A strange man flirts with Betty, and Betty, um, flirts back. Sally gets her klepto on. Pete and Trudy get their jig on something serious. And nobody likes Jane. And that’s not even the really meaty stuff.
Back when I was guest-blogging at Feministe, I argued that part of Mad Men’s relative silence on the issue of race involved the trickiness of portraying people as racists and still likable, sympathetic characters at the same time. Last night’s episode saw Gene imply that Carla, the Drapers’ maid, was a thief, and gave us also Roger in blackface — the most direct references to personal racism on the show thus far. (Roger, especially, has been sliding deeper into the realm of the pathetic as of late.) But it’s still racism as dramatic shorthand: these people are assholes.
Did anyone peep Don’s reaction in that scene at the party? He excused himself, but that was probably more about distaste for Roger’s hammy fawning over his bride-to-be than the blackface. Don, as we know, has a deep-seated aversion to people who draw attention to themselves (“limit your exposure”) and leaves to go sneak a drink. But he ends up in a genial conversation with a guy at the bar, and seems to tell him some true-seeming details about his past. It made me wonder: just how much of Don’s past is Betty in on? She certainly doesn’t know that he’s not really, you know, Don, but does she think he went to college? How did she explain away his family’s absence at their wedding (which her brother alluded to last week)?
As viewers, it’s hard to see Joan and her husband interact and not remember the crushing scene from last season in which he rapes her on the floor of Roger’s office. Joan has clearly brushed it off — what other choice does she have? — but our knowledge of his crime gives their pretty mundane married-couple interactions an implicit sense of menace. Before their dinner party, she bosses him around in that way that Joan bosses everyone around, and it’s not clear how he’s going to react. After his testiness abates and he walks away, Joan calls him back— you’re not gonna leave without giving mama some sugar? It’s all deeply unsettling.
Also, Peggy gets off the line of the night (“My name is Peggy Olson, and I want to smoke marijuana”) as well as the best scene.
“I am not scared of any of this. But you’re scared. Oh my god! You’re scared. Don’t worry about me. I am going to do everything you want for me. I’m going to be fine, Olive.”
Good stuff. And let’s hope she’s right.
(Also, what the hell happened to Duck Phillips?)
Have at it.