Mad Men s2e4: Three Sundays

“He makes everything sound like Christmas.”

Man, do I love this episode. It’s cleverly structured over the course of three Lenten Sundays in April of 1962; Passion Sunday, Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday.

Sunday #1: Passion Sunday

Ahh, the appearance of Colin Hanks’ priest guy, or as I like to call him, Priest J. God.

Peggy is hungover during mass in Flatbush, and talks with new priest in town Father Gill as she’s getting some air. Then there’s one of those bizarre Catholic post-church luncheons where her mother and a rando lady from the ‘hood obsess over Father Gill at Anita’s house. He’s taken a liking to Peggy, even asking for her copywriting help with his sermons. Good thing Vatican II is around the corner and mass won’t be 99% Latin soon..

Cut to the ~sacrilegious~ Draper house, with Don and Betty awakening to the phone ringing at 9:30 on a Sunday morning. The kids barge in as they’re about to have a bang.

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image courtesy of Fanpop

Afterwards in the lounge, Betty is reading a copy of the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story Babylon Revisited. Coming back to survey the ruins of a once extravagant life during a crisis is speaking to Betty on some level, or perhaps Arthur asking her if she’d read a different Fitzgerald story stuck in her mind.

Don and Betty are relaxing in the lounge together, listening to dreamy Perry Como croon on the hi-fi. Bobby fucks with the stereo, Don barely looking up from his paper, and we’re back to Betty talking about how Don isn’t harsh enough on Bobby and doesn’t take responsibility. Frustration. They change the conversation by dancing to the song, enormous glasses of vodka with a thimble of tomato juice in hand.

Roger and Mona are out to dinner with their daughter Margaret, and her vaguely cro-magnon fiancé Brooks. They’re talking about the wedding, adamantly disinterested in a big wedding until Mona reminisces about her own wedding to Roger and how wonderful and perfect it all was. Roger is staring into space.

End of the evening at the Draper house, and they’re seemingly having a nice family moment.. until Bobby breaks the bed by jumping on it. Betty stiffens, pissed off, and tells the kids to go to bed, but it’s only 7:30pm.. ay yi yi. Grilled cheese all around then. Don does fuckall. More frustration on Betty’s end of things.

It’s Monday, and Kenny and Pete are entertaining some bald Marty when high class hooker Vicky strolls in. Roger pops over and is exceedingly charmed by Marty’s obvious Not Wife. The wheels are turning.

Bobbie pops in to Don’s office, talking about selling a Candid Camera knockoff called Grin and Barrett. As the deadbolt clicks into place, Joan rolls an eye.

The minute Don gets in the door at home, Betty lets him know that Bobby broke the hi-fi and lied about it to her face. She makes an assumption that his own father hitting him made him the man he is today. Betty is expecting Don to punish him in some meaningful (physical) way, but instead he delivers the much scarier Stern Dad Treatment. He knows Bobby’s aware he did something wrong, there are other ways to go about things.

“Mommy says you broke the hi-fi. I believe her. Don’t do that again.”

“..I won’t.”

Sunday #2: Palm Sunday

Peggy is at mass again, and the Drapers are having tasty pancakes! Duck phones the house, yapping about Shel Keneally and American Airlines, as Bobby tries to put his mouth on the goddamned griddle and shrieks. Betty is pissed at Don, he says he’s got to go into the office. Since Bobby has to hit up the ER, he’s got to take Sally with him. More frustration.

Father Gill followed Peggy’s advice, her mother is glowing and saying that it felt like he was only talking to her. “So nice he’s taken an interest in her!” Anita is pissed off and resentful that Peggy does whatever she feels like, and expresses this to her mother who ignores her complaining. Woof.

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image courtesy of Maxim

At the office, everyone is blinded by Pete’s tiny shorts. Duck is asking about Don’s plan for American Airlines, they’re set to present on Good Friday. Don is uncertain, everyone is rattled.

Not Roger, as he rang up Vicky for a night out. Apparently this is his first hooker since he was in the Navy! I’ll be damned. “Don’t believe what they say. No one dies doing this.”

Sally is wandering around the office, not quite sure what to do. She finds a photo of Kinsey’s girlfriend Sheila, asks Kinsey, “is that your maid?” Y I K E S

Don delivers an iconic Don Draper Speech, where most of Sterling Cooper is left wondering what exactly in the fresh hell he’s on about..

“American Airlines is not about the past any more than America is. Ask not about Cuba, ask not about the bomb.. we’re going to the moon. Throw everything out.”

(“Everything??”)

“There is no such thing as American history, only a frontier. That crash happened to somebody else. It’s not about apologies for what happened, it’s about those seven men in the room on Friday and what airline they are going to be running.”

(“So.. what does that mean?”)

“Let’s pretend we know what 1963 looks like.”

Sunday #3: Easter Sunday

Good Friday, the American Airlines presentation. Everyone is in their Sunday Best (ha ha ha), ready to present and totally fried.

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image courtesy of Tumblr

And then, the gunshot: “Shel Keneally was fired this morning.”

Anita hits up confession, knowing that Father Gill will be on the other side. She slyly throws shade at Peggy, expressing anger at her little sister, yapping about her child out of wedlock. “She acts like it didn’t even happen, and I hate her for it”. Anita feels invisible next to Peggy and all she’s doing and accomplishing, not understanding that Peggy is trying to move past all of this and live her damn life. Father Gill reminds her that she needs to forgive her sister, and that she loves her. Catholicism, man.

Cut back to Sterling Cooper; American Airlines meeting is over, all the shrimp is gone. Everyone looks both defeated and vexed. Don is pissed off that they jettisoned Mohawk Airlines for that wink from American, but Roger in his post-hooker glow rhapsodises that the chase is worth it. Old business is just old business.

Bobby is playing with a toy robot at the dinner table, and after being prodded by Betty Don’s finally had enough and throws the goddamn thing at the wall. Everyone is startled, Betty included. Betty tears into him, saying that he doesn’t take responsibility for raising the kids, that she’s stuck there all day with them, outnumbered. Betty insists that he gets to come home and be the hero, but Don battles all day with bullshit at the office. She shoves him and he shoves her back and immediately regrets it. No good.

Don has a bonding moment with Bobby. He apologises for getting mad and overreacting, and they talk about Don’s terrible father, his affinity for that perfume-y violet candy in the beautiful purple and silver packaging. It’s a nice moment, and they hug. Sometimes Don has flashes of good parenting. He tries explaining a bit of his upbringing to Betty, who is obviously uninformed. Unfortunately he wields this information in a way that’s manipulative, making her feel like she’s in the wrong.

“He’s a little kid. My father beat the hell out of me. All it did was make me fantasise about the day I could murder him.”

“I didn’t know that..”

“..and I wasn’t half as good as Bobby.”

Don and Betty are a couple that lack true intimacy in its purest form. There’s a faint flicker when they have that exchange, but it’s not enough. Part of the idea of marriage to me, is that you swap places emotionally, you let that person into your life and your mind so they can understand you and vice versa. Neither Don nor Betty can do that because neither one has any clue how to let the other in, and deep tensions are created, festering over the years. The banging around, the accusations, constant boozing, fights with shoving and other bizarre behaviours are propelled by this stalemate.

Easter Sunday after mass, Peggy is standing around with the other ladies watching kids gather up Easter eggs from the lawn. Father Gil hands her a Judgement Egg, stating that it’s for “the little one”. DAAAAAAAAAAAAAMN

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image courtesy of Tumblr

.. And now, the word “Sunday” has lost all meaning to me.

Mad Men s1e3: Marriage of Figaro

This episode opens on the train, Don staring at that ironic Volkswagen ad in his Playboy. He gets called Dick Whitman by some schlub rando, and he’s visibly rattled. More on that to come!

Oh hey, it’s Sally’s birthday! Time for Don to get absolutely shitfaced and assemble a playhouse. #men

From the women of the club, we hear about the arresting suburban scandal of Helen Bishop .. AND HER WALKING.

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I CAN’T FEEL MY FACE

image courtesy of Imgur

A lot of this episode centres around marriage and where these characters fit in. It’s pretty plain where Don fits vs. where he doesn’t fit; at work, and at home. He’s in charge of it all at the office, but at home he’s relegated to filming the party, building the playhouse (yet he’s not permitted to wash his hands with the weird porcelain-handheld soap), being told repeatedly to pick up the cake.

Don doesn’t wear a wedding band (and is continually losing his cufflink in this episode), but Pete Campbell actually digs it.

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image courtesy of 9gag

Ladies and gentlemen, Pete Campbell. He’s back from his honeymoon and trying to clumsily navigate being a married guy in a post-banging Peggy world.

Speaking of Peggy, she is trying to figure out where she fits in at Sterling Cooper. It’s clear that she’s very different from the other ladies in the steno pool; Pegs is cut from a different cloth.

The way Don’s written is fascinating. Here we have our main character, the guy we’re ostensibly rooting for; he’s simultaneously good and infuriating, yet we can relate to all of it. Who hasn’t just wanted to ghost on some garbage party filled with a simulation of friends? These people can be absolutely exasperating in reality, yet he’s relatable in this instance. Sneaking a peek at his world allows us to see the motivations behind bouncing, his desire to get way the hell away from those faux friends.

Pausing on that secret kiss he captures with the camera – Don feels a pang, and he feels even more isolated. Maybe he’s realising that love he haughtily claimed he created for products may be legit. But then again, Don is a guy that so clearly does not understand intimacy in real life. You can’t be ~mysterious~ and play everything so close to the chest but also have true intimacy; shit just doesn’t work that way. Gotta give some to get some. At first, Don is cloying with Rachel, listening and probing with questions like a fun flirty first date but revealing nada of himself, and she already seems to be over it. Especially when he pulls the “I’m married” card. Mess.

As he’s watching the train to Manhattan blast by in Ossining, I bet he’s thinking of trying to reach Rachel somehow. How to Human, 101.

Hours later, daddy saves the day by bringing home a dog for Sally. Betty is seething with palpable rage. He’s thinking back to when he snogged Rachel Menken on the rooftop, and her saying that, “For a little girl, a dog can be all you need. They protect you and they listen”. She told all her secrets to those dogs, apparently; and Don knows that he’s probably total shite at being a father to Sally, so uh.. here’s a dog.

But where in the fresh hell did he get that dog? Did he just jack someone else’s Golden Retriever from their yard? Fucking bizarre.

Let’s talk about House of Cards.

I’ve been seeing a ton of hate for s3 of House of Cards recently, mostly because I think people missed the goddamn point. This post contains spoilers for s3, so if you haven’t watched it, don’t complain about spoilers.

We blasted through s3 last weekend/most of this week, and while some things didn’t work overall for the season (like fucking Doug and his manpain bullshit), I’ve been thinking a lot about Claire Underwood, and her relationship with Frank and what it all means and how it all relates. All the reading I’ve been doing about this season has made a theme emerge; people keep labeling her as ‘incompetent’ and ‘the new Skyler White’ from the neckbeard contingency, and this shit is just incorrect. But then again I think the naysayers and the room-temperature intellect types watch the show because Frank Underwood is their ultimate dudebro fantasy on steroids and thus miss the goddamn point.. like the Walter White proponents from Breaking Bad.

I keep thinking about the uncomfortable/overall sad fights Claire and Frank had this season, and how they left me cold. s3 is a lot about their marriage, it’s a recurring theme they keep coming back to. I kept thinking of those questions Nick Dunne posits in Gone Girl;

I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage:

What are you thinking?

How are you feeling?

Who are you?

What have we done to each other?

What will we do?

And I think Claire knew exactly what was going to happen when she asked Frank to fuck her in no uncertain terms that night in Iowa; of course she knew that he wouldn’t be able to do it. She wanted to force him to admit that he was incapable of giving her what she wanted and needed.

Frank does not see, and never has seen his wife as a sexual being or someone to be desired.. he respects her too much. And Frank doesn’t get off on respecting his sexual partners, especially the lady partners. He doesn’t get off on love; remember, he reminds the audience via Oscar Wilde that sex is about power. When Frank bangs a woman, the absolute last thing on his mind is whether or not he loves her, and he loves Claire. As much as Frank Underwood seems incapable of loving anybody, he loves Claire. She’s his partner, his sister, his friend, his confidante. He has no family to speak of, save for Claire. She’s as much a part of him as his own two hands. And sure, he likes to be intimate with her (maybe? I think?), but it’s not really sexual to him.. it’s more like giving a friend a backrub or a hug or something along those lines. It’s all very comforting, affectionate, and uh, pleasant? Baseline shit. We see at the beginning of s3 that he wants to be in the same bed as her, but it’s purely from a comfort standpoint. He wants her body in the bed next to him and that’s about it; a comforting presence. And there’s a reason every single sex scene on House of Cards is entirely fucking uncomfortable, sterile, and unsettling.

Claire understands all of this, and for almost 3 decades she’s accepted Frank’s sexuality as part of who he is, and part of what their marriage is. In a way, it made them stronger as a partnership and as if their love transcended sex.. almost. Because Claire always harboured a lingering resentment, just bobbing there under her well-manicured, stoic surface. When she figures out Zoe, she feels exposed and raw. When Frank banged dudes, Claire could rationalise it, but not so much with Zoe. When Claire went to Zoe’s flop apartment and looked around at the stained carpet, the shitty bare mattress, the peeling paint, the bugs, she was forced to face reality. Hearts and minds and all that. She knew Frank had fucked this girl in every single way he could think of; Claire also knew it was a business transaction. Yet on a purely visceral level, Claire was jealous. She hated that she was jealous, but she couldn’t help it; she loved Frank. She desired Frank. She wanted it to be her, and Frank knows it, too. When Claire visited Zoe and then ran off to New York City to be with Hot Older Man(TM) Adam, the message was clear; he had crossed a line, and he had really hurt her. Frank took no pleasure in that whatsoever – he doesn’t like hurting Claire. But it’s like.. he can’t help it, he can’t help himself, though he tries not to; it’s just who he is as a man, we all know a man like Frank. Some of us have dated a man like Frank. Frank is the type of man who loves, but repeatedly hurts the type of woman Claire is, and she can’t help herself. She alludes to this push and pull to Yates when she’s in the blood draw haze on the verge of blacking out – that she hates how she needs Frank. And in Frank’s most unselfish moments (which obvi don’t come around too often), he is point blank ashamed of himself.

I feel like that’s why he does a lot of what he does; as Dr. Rosen dropped that truth bomb on Mad Men, people will do anything to alleviate their anxiety. Frank doesn’t dwell on it, but it’s always there; his nagging sense of inadequacy is just under the surface, the monkey on his back dating back to his childhood. Anyone notice how Frank doesn’t break the fourth wall as much this season? Or how his trademark ring double-tap was glaringly absent? As the President, he never quite feels in control like he has in the past. His confidence is shaken, which is a large reason he’s been uncharacteristically lashing out at times he shouldn’t. He cannot narrate a situation which he cannot control.

That uncomfortable bedroom scene in Iowa was about Claire confronting her own fears and demons. She was admitting Frank’s inadequacy to herself and then, in a fit of anger, throwing it right in his face. She taunted him with it, and she did it again in the Oval Office and received the horrifying response she knew was coming from him. “You couldn’t even give that to me” and “You’re not enough” were clearly meant to jab him in the spot that she knew he was most vulnerable. And obvi, Frank had it coming for a whole slew of reasons.. but it was still genuinely nasty of her. It was the meanest (and most truthful) thing she could have possibly said. She pushed him to snap, because she was already emotionally prepared for it to be over. And then she split. Claire is 120% done.

Let’s backtrack a bit with Claire’s character development up until this point. I feel like people are dismissing Claire’s s3 arc as ‘bad writing’ or that ‘she’s an imbecile’ or ‘her emotions control her lololol women’ because they’re unable to reconcile nuanced characters who are pretty close to real people on television, much less a female character who has agency and is written like.. gasp.. A REAL WOMAN. What the Fuck on God’s Green Earth. People don’t know what to fucking do with themselves when they’re given a character like Claire, or Skyler White, or Carmela Soprano, or Peggy Olson. To me, Claire Underwood is the lady TV character I always wanted and and didn’t know I needed. A woman who is unapologetic about having had an abortion, who was unbroken by that experience; a rape survivor at that. A woman who is unapologetic about her choice to not have children, her overall disinterest in that lifestyle choice, yet she is not judgmental of other women who choose to have families, and doesn’t make it A Thing(TM) that defines her personality. Seriously! Claire is my Lady Hero. She’s smart and calculating and puts careful thought into who she’s meant to be, what she’s meant to do. Career aspirations aside, I relate to Claire on an innate level.

In s1 we could see from Claire’s interactions (i.e. that uptight woman who told her not to run in the park, the bum outside her building who gives her a paper crane made from the $20 bill Claire gave her, her clear remorse for Russo’s kids) that she is capable of empathy and has some semblance of a conscience. A different tune to Frank’s overall nonchalance about standing on whomever’s shoulders he needs to to achieve what he wants at any expense.

In s2, one of the most powerful moments was when she broke down crying on the stairs in the season finale. Claire had been confronted with the fact that was hated by the public, labeled as Satan incarnate (I mean, God forbid a woman who has an abortion not be fundamentally broken..), had driven a depressed rape victim to attempt suicide, and destroyed the career/reputation and marriage of the only woman to consider her a friend (Mrs. Walker). Her breakdown was a crucial moment for her character, and people hating her on the internet seem to be forgetting that happened. These actions she was taking in Frank’s best interest really cost her a whole lot, and she doesn’t manipulate people with grace and ease like Frank. Frank killed Zoe, for fuck’s sake, and it doesn’t really faze him. Claire carries that, I think.

In s3 she started thinking that all of this might be worth it, and by seizing the opportunity to go for the UN Ambassador position, she could begin to directly benefit from all the awful shit they had done. I guess I could attribute most of the ‘incompetence’ that people keep yammering about to the fact that her unraveling had already begun a touch in s2, and as the days went on it was slowly tearing her apart. She was physically ill at the idea of confronting Frank about the Ambassador nomination, and her ensuing outburst at the hearing was that stress manifesting itself outward. She and Frank had done unforgivable things to get to that point, and she was more full of doubt than ever. On top of all that, she can’t even use running as an outlet since she’s too high profile.

When it comes to the whole Russia mess, the more I think about it I feel that she did the right thing by publicly condemning Petrov. It was very risky and overall not a good look (and literally WHO sleeps through someone hanging themselves, that shit is LOUD) but I think that they almost had an obligation to condemn such a horrific/jank-ass culture. It was a good move in that it got the public opinion back on her side (the USA saw her as a hero), and she managed to salvage the situation with her UN business until the attack in the Jordan Valley and the false flag accusation. Internet people complain that she was easily manipulated, but she was manipulated BECAUSE she was Frank’s wife. She was targeted because Petrov wanted to drive them apart the way they drove apart the Walkers. She was forced to resign because she was being used as a weapon against Frank.

Shortly after, she was very very close to having her personal secrets about her past abortions exposed to the entire world, as a weapon against Frank potentially wielded by Dunbar. Fucking Doug..

Claire knows that she’s more likeable and would probably make a better politician based on that alone, but her affiliation with Frank has led her to take part in unforgivable, dark things. On a grander scale, she has actively prevented herself from accomplishing her own goals in pursuit of Frank’s. She left her lofty position at the CWI, she dropped the sexual assault bill, she resigned from the ambassador position, and she did all of it for Frank’s best interest. Yikes.

Frank spent this season burning his final bridges and alienating any allies he had when he wasn’t in Absolute Power. Absolute Power stripped away all of his skills of manipulation and ‘whipping’ that he used to have, and brought out the monster that was underneath the whole time. Claire saw it first as horrific, slept on it, and then saw it as being of absolutely no benefit to her. So she’s splitting. I’m so curious about what they will function like as individuals.

So uh, I have a lot of feelings about the Underwoods.