Mad Men, Season 3, Episode 9: Wee Small Hours

Awwwww, Sal. We knew Sal was probably a goner as soon as we saw Don peak in on Sal and the bellhop, but it still seems more than cruel for Sal to get an unexpected hit on from a handsome direction and then have it turn on him. Still, that’s probably the way it would have happened. And when Don suggested Sal should have handled it the way “you people” handle it, it betrayed the secret relationship he thought he and Don had. Sal thought he knew Don because of what Don didn’t do, and that betrayal of a secret understanding really gets to the heart of the episode.

Through a weird, Ken Burns-esque letter-reading voice-over, we see the start of Betty’s affair with Henry Francis take real shape, and then fizzle and die when her juvenile chaise fantasies give way to the hard realty of a desk in an office. It’s nice to see Betty’s childishness kind of serve her well. She throws a box at Henry, but when that doesn’t end with him carrying her off into the sunset on a white horse she wants none of it. All for the best. Hard to see how that was going to turn out well.

But Betty’s relationship with Henry provides a new chance for a secret understanding with Carla, which, through awkward references to contemporaneous events sheds a little light on the superior relationship Betty’s cohort thought they had with African Americans vis-a-vis the South. When Betty’s guests discuss the barbarism of segregation as Carla hangs out in the back, the irony is a little too heavy. And poor Carla, I wish we could see more from her than the sideways glance.

The biggest betrayal, of course, is that of Conrad Hilton, who is one minute calling Don in the middle of the night to tell him he’s like a son and the next demanding some ridiculous ad like any other spoiled client. And it serves Roger the opportunity to give Don the smack down he’s been waiting to give him all season.

I’m just not sure what the episode tells us about Don. In his disappointment, Don does exactly what he’s always done. At the end he’s cuddled up with a hipster brunette which, incidentally, is just the way he started.

Wherever this show is taking us, it’s without my two favorite characters — Sal and Joan — at Sterling Cooper. This season has offered us some of the best episodes from the show yet, but this one seemed ready-made for the criticisms people often throw at it, that it’s a very stylized version of not very much that’s new. I could be wrong about the episode in the first impression. I’d love to see what you guys think.

18 thoughts on “Mad Men, Season 3, Episode 9: Wee Small Hours

  1. slb79 October 12, 2009 at 9:54 am Reply

    i *really* enjoyed this episode. it seems like i’m in the minority, based on the preliminary feedback i’ve culled online, but it really felt like a *ton* of developments were afoot tonight. i’ll try to return a bit later to comment further, but i just wanted to put that out there.

  2. Leigh October 12, 2009 at 10:55 am Reply

    Am I the only one who thinks Betty’s tryst is far from over?

    • quadmoniker October 12, 2009 at 11:30 am Reply

      Yeah, I think she and Henry are still going to be going at it in one way or another.

  3. keke October 12, 2009 at 12:30 pm Reply

    I do think that Henry will be back. Betty is really into this guy, but Betty feels that the reality won’t be as good as the fantasy. It won’t be the romantic and blissful tyrst she envisions.

    As for Carla and Betty….I just feel for Carla. I’m sure it upset her to hear Betty say it’s not time for the civil rights movement now, but what could she do? It must be difficult to have to tip-toe around specific issues or turn off the radio when Betty walks in so that she is careful not to “offend” the Drapers.

    And poor Sal! I don’t think that Don’s response was out of character but I was still hurt by it. I think I was hoping that Don would stand up for Sal but instead Don basically accused Sal of asking for it and then not following through on what he really wanted. It was really harsh and i am so upset that Sal was fired.

  4. Cooper October 12, 2009 at 12:46 pm Reply

    Wow, Don is disgusting. First he throws Sal under the bus, then he runs off to Suzanne, Sally’s old teacher. Although I don’t think that Don’s affair with Suzanne is going to end well, due to the fact that she already “predicted” what was going to happen between them during the eclipse. She’s definitely is going to cause more chaos in Don’s life.

    Also, did anyone see that Peggy was the last to leave the room when Connie wanted to speak to Don alone after Don couldn’t give him the “moon” She knew Connie was going to scold him and she wanted to savor that moment, standing in the door and looking at Don like “haha, you are getting your just desserts.” Or at least that is how I interpreted that scene.

    Clara had a lot of face time this episode, especially that MLK walk on Washington and Birmingham bombings were being played out in the world during this time.

    Did Don pull a Pete this episode? When he came to Suzanne’s door, he coerced her to let him in her door. But I assume that because Don is “attractive” he won’t get the flak that Pete did last week. Sigh

    • keke October 12, 2009 at 12:59 pm Reply

      I don’t think that Don pulled a Pete…the teacher is really attracted to Don and she wants him. I just think she wants Don to know that he cannot woo her with any of the romantic talk. She is like the opposite of Betty. Betty wants the fairy tale fantasy with Henry but the teacher gives it to him straight–basically saying I know this isn’t going to result in a happy ending. She has done this type of thing before and has been really hurt by it.

      I know many ppl don’t care for her but I do like the teacher. I think her tone with Don is great and kind of funny but at times she seems kind of out there; like she does not know restraint. Maybe she is just a straight shooter, but I have a feeling that it won’t be easy for Don to break it off with her. Just like she called the house when she was drunk, she may be the woman Don cheats with who causes the most trouble in the Draper household. But Don is so intrigued by her.

      • Cooper October 12, 2009 at 1:15 pm Reply

        Also wanted to point out: All of Don’s mistresses are brunettes.

  5. Jeremy R. Levine October 12, 2009 at 5:36 pm Reply

    Things I hated about this episode, in no particular order:

    1) Betty is so blase about her affair. Dude seems really into her, but she’s typical Betty, unemotional, removed, more about the idea than the reality. Yeah she threw the money box at him, but that seemed to be more about her realization that the affair has lost a bit of its initial sizzle. She just seems…emotionally awkward. Maybe that’s part of her character, but I can’t say I liked watching it.

    2) Connie is a pissy old man that speaks in tongues and just throwing the equilibrium of the show off kilter. He’s messing with Don’s head, which is rattling him, but it doesn’t seem like he has any end in mind. What I mean is they’re playing up this “long lost father figure” stuff, but they aren’t really committing. Is he going to be a fatherly mentor, or an annoying, petulant client? Pick one.

    3) Sal. Let me repeat: SAL. This turn of events was F-ed the F up. I interpreted Don’s comments on the plane to be a “Look, I don’t care what you think about when you’re in bed with your wife. Just don’t let anyone in the biz know, for both our sakes.” An interesting gesture from a (then) interesting character. But here, he drops the “You people” line, implying that he never really saw Sal as “one of us.” It bothered me, and it really, REALLY seemed to go against a lot of Don’s earlier character development. It follows in line with his tongue lashing of Peggy 2 episodes, yeah, but I found that to be more of a reaction to his own insecurities/emasculation at the hands of Cooper earlier in the same episode. Compared to the previous episodes of the entire series up until this point, this “you people” crap really flies in the face of how (I thought) we were supposed to view Don (interestingly nuanced, potentially libertarian, etc etc).

    So Sal is fired, and what does he do? Head to the Village, or some other stereotypically gay area in NY to apparently express his repressed sexuality. Kind of seemed like overkill to me.

    4) Don’s conquest of the teacher. I didn’t find this charming in the slightest. When Don had his affair with the Jewish retail giant, there was an interesting power dynamic involved: She was an important client, and fiercely strong willed. Their cat and mouse game was more of a cat and cat game, where they each held advantages over each other in different respects. Power was imbalanced in specific places, but relatively balanced overall. He respected her power. He respected her worldliness. Same goes for his hippie affair. He respected her (though maybe not her deadbeat friends).

    But with the teacher, Don treats her with pretty disgusting contempt. He almost ridicules her idealism, ruffling her brow as she sits in the car and turns up the News report. She knows exactly what he will do to her (use her and toss her away), but she gives in NOT because she has a desire, but because she knows she’s weak. Moreover, he conquers her (and I use the term intentionally) just to say he can; he clearly has no respect for her, not for her mind, body, flirtations, or otherwise. I’m sorry, but this really doesn’t play out like his previous affairs.

    5) Carla/Betty. Ugh. That’s all I can say about that conversation across the dinner table.

    I guess I’m in the minority here, but I really, really had problems with this episode.

    • quadmoniker October 12, 2009 at 8:14 pm Reply

      I definitely did too. The most saliently points were told too bluntly. And the whole episode was kind of a mess.

    • Leigh October 12, 2009 at 8:45 pm Reply

      “Betty is so blase about her affair.” I disagree with this. She’s pretty moony the whole episode about Henry, taking the risk to write him a letter, staring into space without the usual bitter look, driving, frankly, in a rage to his office when he didn’t come to the fundraiser. I think she’s all over the place on this – she wants him but doesn’t want to be some cheap stereotype, and I think it’s being played very well.

      Also – the teacher, I don’t like the storyline either, but I disagree again w/your characterization. I don’t think Don treats her w/contempt, and I don’t think she gives in just because she’s weak.

      It’s pretty clear to me there’s a trend going on with sex in this show/time period. Pete shows up at Peggy’s door; Pete has Peggy on his couch; Pete shows up at the au pair’s door; Greg rapes Joan on the floor; Don shows up at the teacher’s door, etc. etc. No women say no on this show, AFAICT. To us, some of it is more or less coercive than others, but the one thing I like about the Don-teacher interaction is that it’s like, oh yeah, here it goes – a) dude shows up, expecting sex; b) woman complies, whether eventually and/or enjoyably. Women can’t really say no in this environment; they don’t have any power; they’re expected to comply; so they do, ultimately, always, in the end. I think the teacher storyline is annoying because it makes Don look tired/trite, but it has little to do with her. She seems kind of modern in her honesty/ennui (and late night jogging), but she’s still a woman of that time.

      • Jeremy R. Levine October 12, 2009 at 10:53 pm Reply

        I think it might be because Betty’s character has always been boring to me. Like, I understand she is smitten with the guy, and the letter writing was pretty clear. Her face too, when he didn’t show up to the fundraiser, was telling. But still…something about her is so half-assed to me, like she never commits. It’s like she’s intrigued, a bit excited, and just going along for the ride. Maybe that’s just how women were conditioned to act at the time. But…blech. It’s just boring.

        On the teacher: If you have this on DVR or downloaded, look at his face when he picks her up in the car, and she turns the radio up, commenting on King’s speech. I interpreted it as a look of disgust. His conquest of her is about the conquest, whereas his past affairs from Seasons 1 and 2 seemed to really be an affair with the woman, as a *person* or *object* of lust. With the teacher, it’s like he’s going through the motions whereas in the past he got a kick out of being with strong, independent brunettes. But this one? Calling him drunk a few episodes back? Holding a glass of booze when she opens the door the night they ultimately sleep together? She’s weak. Her idealism is immature rather than assertive, and Don sees right through it (in my reading of the show).

        Maybe I’m reading too much into all of this (aren’t we all?), but I just don’t like the direction last night took us in. I’m starting to get annoyed with the characters. Hopefully next week will bring it all back in, for me at least.

        • Jeremy R. Levine October 12, 2009 at 10:59 pm Reply

          the second paragraph should read “calling him **while** drunk a few episodes back?” Sorry for the typo.

        • Leigh October 13, 2009 at 10:45 am Reply

          There’s a casual dismissal of the women characters in your analysis that’s troubling me.

          Re: Betty – “something about her is so half-assed to me, like she never commits.” Isn’t this the exact boredom/ennui that The Feminine Mystique addressed? Betty seems totally enraged/seething just beneath the surface, and also totally at a loss about her life, so she just bounces around her home and yells at her daughter and drinks and smokes constantly and meddles in her friend’s lives and regresses in front of her father and half chases affairs. Her experience is definitely not “boring” to me.

          I agree w/you re: Don going through the motions, but there’s also the moment of connection re: the early loss of parents b/w he and the teacher that leads to her drunk dialing, and he seemed charmed by the dialing when it occurred. I think this is a terrible set-up, the 2 of them sleeping together, but I disagree that Don disrespects her any more than he does any of the other women he sleeps with. He seems to have thought the least of Bobbie, IMO. With the teacher he seems to be trying to fit her into some mystique mold – e.g., when he’s astounded that she’s jogging while he’s driving and that this should be interpreted as meaningful, kismet that he should now drive over to her place days later and f— her.

          • Jeremy R. Levine October 13, 2009 at 12:11 pm Reply

            Maybe I’m dismissing Betty unfairly, in part because I can’t connect with her boredom/discontent. I think if I imagine Betty more in the context of Freidan I might be able to appreciate her character more. I think it might just be that I’m anxious for her to explode in some way, and the anticipation is unsettling. So, upon further reflection, I *guessss* I can concede that Betty’s more interesting than I gave her credit for Sunday night.

            As for the teacher, I just can’t see her the same way I saw Rachel or Bobbie. Maybe I think her character is a bit forced. Maybe I just don’t see the attraction to her as a person, in the same way I saw the attraction to Rachel and Bobbie. I don’t know. But I can’t help the fact that I don’t like her, and the more she finds her way into the plot, the less I like where the show is taking us!

            • Leigh October 13, 2009 at 9:28 pm Reply

              “Maybe I think her character is a bit forced.”

              Agreed. Suddenly, there’s a straight-talking young gal to take on Don. She’s “sassy” but white, since it is, after all, 1963.

    • Jeremy R. Levine October 12, 2009 at 10:56 pm Reply

      So, I just re-read this comment and realized I made a few typos/missed a few words in my rant. My B. Hopefully the context captures what I meant to write.

      • Alli November 12, 2009 at 11:13 pm Reply

        Just happened across this site post-finale and was interested by the analysis of the Sal firing – this isn’t how I saw it at all and I seem to be in the minority. I think it’s all tied to what Leigh said about the women in the series – they aren’t allowed to say no to sex. I think that a gay man would probably be viewed in the same light at that time, and I think that has something to do with it. During the firing scene, Sal says something along the lines of, “would you be doing this if it had happened to some girl” and Don replies “depends what I knew about the girl”. Basically, Don “knows” that Sal has had sex with men, and doesn’t see any reason why he should have turned down an important client.

        If you think about it, Don slept with Bobbie, in part, to fix the mess with her hubby. I think given the era and what we know about Don, it’s fair to say that he doesn’t fire Sal because he’s gay, but because a multi million dollar client wants him gone.

        Honestly, with no legal recourse (which, of course, there is none) and given Don’s attitude to sex, women (and perhaps gay men?), and the business aspect, did you really expect any different?

  6. ladyfresh October 13, 2009 at 12:17 am Reply

    ok wants is the theme of the episode

    Lee wants Sal – didnt get him

    Sal – wanted to keep his job – didn’t get that

    Conrad wanted the Moon…literally – didn’t get that

    Betty wanted Henry…or Henry wanted Betty – they didn’t get that

    carla wants civil rights…um…yeah not yet

    Don wanted the school teacher – he got that

    but the audacity of saying ‘i want you, doesn’t that mean anything to someone like you?’

    i…

    i’m oddly still stuck on Conrad wanting the Moon – seriously folks?

    lol

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