Saturday, January 5, 2013

Mad Men: Shoot (1.9)

Is there any greater statement on suburban malaise than the Betty montage that closes this episode? She does the laundry, fusses with her children before she takes them to school, and sits passively smoking in the kitchen, bored out of her mind. So she goes outside to curb it, shooting a bunch of her neighbors' pigeons with an enormous rifle. Did it really happen? Was it just an elaborate fantasy? It doesn't really matter, but wonderfully depicts how desperate Betty is for some kind of excitement in her life; a break from the monotony of her existence and eager for something that can quell her inner rage.

It's also an appropriate time for Betty to unleash all her anger, considering Shoot is the most she's been dumped on since the series first began. An opportunity to model for Coca-Cola is something that fits into her day-to-day schedule, something that raises her happiness and grants her a chance to escape for a couple of hours. In short, it's independence on a variety of levels. But then it turns out to once again be all about Don, her new management using Betty as some kind of emotional leverage to get Don to join their advertising company. When he turns it down, Betty isn't required as a model anymore. She still lies and tells Don that she chose to break away from it of her own accord, but you can see how disappointed she is.

At the same time, her therapy sessions are illuminating the source of a lot of her problems. We've slowly gotten this picture of Betty as a woman obsessed with surface perfection, references previously being made to her fear of aging and her own weight issues as a kid. Here she talks about her mother's concern with looks and weight, and how becoming a mom herself only brought to a head her own mortality. Then we have her dueling roles in life, the idea of being a perfect wife and mother, and the idea of being an independent woman with a career. But because she doesn't seem to enjoy her life at home, and has the emotional baggage of having her chosen career described as prostitution by her mom, she's left drifting in the middle somewhere -- crying out for one of those things, despite being troubled by both.

At work, Peggy is noticeably putting on weight, so much that she's splitting her dresses and has become the butt of jokes by the ad team. It's incredibly hostile and nasty, particularly the suggestion that this is the "real" her, having slimmed down to get her job in the first place and given up dieting now that she's firmly settled in. What also works so well is how the story eventually says a lot about Peggy's closest relationships at work. Pete, enraged by Ken's snipes, punches and fights him in the middle of the office. Regardless of their lack of recent intimacy, he seems to care about Peggy, enough at least to defend her honor. Unless, of course, he hates that he had engaged in an affair with a woman now labeled a hog. Eh. It depends whether you actually think Pete is capable of feelings.

Peggy also undermines a lot of Joan's negativity, too. Joan does one of her trademark jobs by being underhand and sort or rude in the guise of helping her, and seems to believe the only reason Peggy is trying so hard at work and seeking out new jobs is because of her desperation for a husband. Again, you can read it two ways. Either Joan is incapable of believing anything comes before landing an attractive man with an appealing career or, more believably, she's finding herself terribly insecure around Peggy, somebody who is moving up in the world and really pursuing things. So, being Joan, she tries her best to make her feel bad. Heh.

It's easy to phase out of the Don work negotiation stuff, but Shoot has some wonderful characterization all its own. Betty remains both an intriguing character and a fascinating portrait of a suburban wife in the 1960's, and her closing rampage gives us one of the most defining images Mad Men has ever offered up. A-


- The advertising world is pursuing models who are a little more Audrey Hepburn, and a little less Grace Kelly... another signal that Betty is entirely out of place.

- In an era of smizing and blank staring, it's fun to see how basic the Coke ads were, Betty smiling happily with her fake family. Ooh, metaphor!


Jim Hobart: Did anyone ever tell you you're a dead ringer for Grace Kelly?
Betty: They used to.

Salvatore: I think women will hate her. It's like their better-looking sister married a handsome senator, and she's going to live in the White House. I'm practically jealous.

Joan: You're hiding a very attractive young girl with too much lunch.
Peggy: I know what men think of you: that you're looking for a husband, and you're fun, and not in that order.
Joan: Peggy, this isn't China. There's no money in virginity.
Peggy: I'm not a virgin.
Joan: No, of course not.
Peggy: I just realized something. You think you're being helpful.
Joan: Well, I am trying, dear.

Guest stars
Robert Morse (Bertram Cooper); John Slattery (Roger Sterling)
Writers Chris Provenzano, Matthew Weiner Director Paul Feig

No comments:

Post a Comment