Mad Men 3.5 – You can’t kill an idea (updated)

First, I have to comment on the irony that real-life father Will Harris is busy documenting tonight’s season finale of “True Blood,” while non-family guy me gets to write-up the episode where Don and Betty Draper finally have their third child.

Of course, that’s only one of the key events on tonight’s show. We also witness a financial squeeze from the new British overlords of Sterling Cooper while a mercenary variation of civil rights awareness descends on Pete Campbell. Also, Herman “Duck” Phillips returns to attack from the outside and prompts some proactive behavior from cash-deficient Peggy Olson.

peggy-ep5

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“The Fog” opens as Don and the extremely pregnant Betty have a conference with Sally’s teacher prompted by a nasty fight with a schoolmate. Betty’s revelation of the sudden passing of Grandpa Gene last episode, however, causes the teacher to become upset and cut the meeting short. She mentions, however, that the death might explain Sally’s unusual interest in the murder of African-American civil rights leader Medger Evers.

Things aren’t too smooth at work, either. Don walks in late to a meeting in which Sal Romano is being grilled about the details of his expense account on his and Don’s nearly fateful trip a couple of episodes back. When he realizes that British honcho Lane Pryce is going to be discussing excess spending on pencils, he leaves abruptly. Later, Pryce appears in his office and, after some brief snippiness, complains about people drinking at work — reasonable enough by today’s standards. Don responds that creative people tend to be nonproductive, until they are productive, which is equally reasonable to anyone who knows anything about creative people.

Don pours a couple of Scotches and suggests a more proactive stance towards making money by working with Bert Cooper and Roger Sterling, rather than harming morale by cutting back on expense accounts. The meeting ends on a surprisingly cordial note.

Seemingly from out of nowhere, Herman “Duck” Phillips surprises Pete Campbell with a phone call. Rather than falling wholly into a bottle after being vanquished last season, he is now possibly back on the wagon and at Grey Advertising (today, Grey Global Group), which I gather is a historically Jewish firm. Pete accepts with some fairly great trepidations, which turn into outright anger when he arrives at the lunch and finds Peggy Olson already there, sipping a Bloody Mary. Perhaps assuming he’s once again going to be pitted against a contemporary, he threatens to leave. But the very gentile Duck is in Mr. Jewish Cool mode, suggesting Pete stay for a “nosh.”

“Two months at Grey and you’re already having a ‘nosh,'” responds Pete. Like everyone else in NYC, even young Mr. Mega-goy is influenced by Jewish intonations without knowing it.

Pete sits down but soon regrets it. The conversation that follows is far more awkward than Duck can possibly realize as he alludes to a “secret relationship” between Pete and Peggy.  Keeping up the theme of Judaica, he comes on like the great lawgiver of the Torah (which makes sense, given as he’s really actor Mark Moses) and offers to lead to two young adfolks to “the promised land” of Grey. Pete leaves in a huff, while Peggy keeps her cool.

Meanwhile, back at the Draper household, Don picks up the phone to hear the voice of Miss Farrell, Sally’s teacher, who I failed to mention earlier is — naturally — extremely attractive. Drink in hand, she is calling to apologize. Something about her father dying when she was roughly Sally’s age and  making the situation too personal. The call itself is an embarrassment and she says so. Don is chivalrous about the whole thing, and perhaps a bit more than that, if only out of habit.

Don has to end the call abruptly when Betty calls. The baby is coming. Don gets a bit comically confused. Not quite in the manner of sixties sitcom fathers-to-be, but still amusing. Betty asks who was calling, Don says “nobody.” Maybe he doesn’t want to rehash her father’s death at a moment like that. Nevertheless, he’s also keeping his options open.

At the hospital, we’re get our obligatory reminder of how things have changed over the decades when a friendly, older nurse informs Don that “his job is done.” This will be the opposite of a natural childbirth. Betty gets so drugged up that, between occasional bouts of unpleasantness, she gives birth in what amounts to a dream state. In one key moment, she is back at home and finds her later father mopping up blood as her mother — who appears a bit more swarthy than you might expect — is standing next to a black man, who I suppose is Betty’s vision of Medgar Evers. “You see what happens to people who speak up?” mom warns.

Dad is more pleasant, if that’s the word for it. “You’re a housecat. You’re very important and you have little to do.”

In the hospital waiting room, Don briefly bonds over more Scotch with a worried prison guard whose wife is having a breach birth. Once again, we see Don being far kinder and more sensitive toward people who are not a part of his daily life. Easier that way, I guess.

Soon enough both the guard and Don are the proud fathers of baby boys. Betty informs him that the newest Draper boy will be named Eugene, as in Gene. Don returns groggily to work after half a day off and things are hopping. A conversation with gray-haired Roger Sterling starts off in the usual jocular manner of congratulations, but the dark undercurrents continue as their friendship seems increasingly like a thing of the past.

Meanwhile, Pete acts on a brain storm he’s been having about the Admiral Television account. Noting that they seem to sell especially well in cities with large black populations, he buttonholes Hollis, the elevator operator, and questions him about what kind of television he bought (RCA) and why (he doesn’t remember or care much; more important things are happening). Hollis is worried something he’ll say might get him into trouble, but Pete is remarkably honest about what he’s up to. We’re not sure if he’s simply too oblivious and privileged to be embarrassed about his in-your-face racial market research, or if he’s really as un-bigoted as he seems to fancy himself. Maybe a bit of both.

Pete really does seem ignorant of the amount of hate being exposed by the civil rights movement. He goes into a meeting with Admiral executives and proposes “integrated” TV commercials in key cities to appeal to both white and black audiences. Pete’s several years early with the idea, and the executives are horrified. One wonders if it’s even legal and the other seems just plain offended. Later, Pete is called on the carpet fairly sharply by Bert Cooper and Roger Sterling while Lane Pryce is present.

Once the “flailing” is completed (and Sterling complains it wasn’t as much fun as he’d hoped), Pryce remarks that maybe it’s not an entirely wrong tack to consider with other clients. He might be new to our country, but he realizes that something is happening with the races in the U.S., and it could mean a whole new market and therefore lots of money. Pryce may be a little bit smarter than we’ve been giving him credit for. He at least is willing to try new approaches when it comes to finding cash.

Speaking of money, having been offered a new gig by Duck Phillips, Peggy approaches Don about a raise to bring her more in line with what the other copywriters are making. She even brings up some new laws mandating equal pay for equal work between the sexes. Don is unmoved, alluding to Pryce’s penny-pinching over pads and pencils. Pete stops Peggy on the way out and tries to bully her into divulging the content of her talk with Don. She will have none of it.

The episode concludes as Don brings Betty back home from the hospital with little Eugene Scott Draper. Sally and little Bobby seem delighted. Betty’s friend, Francine, wonders why she doesn’t “force” Carla — the Drapers’ black housekeeper who doesn’t appear in this episode — to stay and help. When Francine asks her what the birth was like, the answer is that it was like a “fog.”

***

Just a few random thoughts as I wrap up and return the reins to Mr. Harris, who’ll be back at the Sterling Cooper salt mines next week.

* Matthew Weiner wasn’t credited on this week’s show. This week’s writer was Kater Gordon and the director was Phil Abraham. Very solid work from both, even if aspects of the show tonight are perhaps a bit obvious.

* Can anyone out there identify the music that accompanies some of Betty’s visions and is repeated over the end credits? I’m thinking it’s drawn from one of Nino Rota’s Fellini scores, possibly “Amarcord.” While set in the forties, that movie came out ten years after all this. Would that be an anachronism?

* This week’s overt movie reference was during Don and Lane Pryce’s conversation on the topic of expense accounts and morale.

“You’ve obviously seen ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’.”

“I’ve seen everything. You have the ticket stubs.”

* I alluded to this before, but I guess it makes sense that this episode really brings us the more empathetic and even vulnerable side of Don. A moment where the prison guard, their bonding now over, ignores him at the hospital is surprising in that Don is noticeably disappointed, maybe even hurt. It could be a reflection of some kind of need to atone for his tragic denial of his brother from the first season.  On the other hand, a scene where Don cooks a late night for snack for himself and Sally — whose becoming a surprisingly vital part of the “Mad Men” ensemble — was also especially sweet. Like the guard tells him after hearing the news of his son’s birth, at least right now he really seems to want to be a better man.

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UPDATE: The music over the end credits and during Peggy’s hallucinations turns out to be from 2001’s “Sex and Lucia” and was composed by Alberto Iglesias, who was about Sally’s age in 1963. Talk about anachronisms. You can hear it/see it in it’s original context in this YouTube clip.

  

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