Friday, September 14, 2007

They shoot pigeons don't they?

This whole season has sort of hinted at creator Matthew Weiner's Sopranos pedigree, but last night truly showed that Mad Men might just be that groundbreaking series' successor. It was also the probably the funniest episode yet, thanks in part to the direction of Freaks and Geeks creator Paul Feig (who's also directed many episodes of other Drake faves The Office, Arrested Development, 30 Rock and Weeds.) The episode began and ended with Betty Draper and her neighbors homing pigeons taking flight, but it's the ending that most folks are talking about: Betty, in her nightgown with cigarette dangling, shooting her son's (empty) BB gun at the birds as their owner watches in horror, all to the tune of Bobby Helms' "Special Angel." Shocking, tragic... even sexy... it was truly a Sopranos-like moment.

But back to the bird as metaphor. When Betty first sees her neighbor's homing pigeons fly out of their coop, she looks on admiringly, soaring vicariously through them out of her trapped setting as suburban housewife. Then while attending Fiorello! (the Pulitzer-prize winning musical about former NY mayor Fiorello LaGuardia) she gets her chance to 'fly the coop.' McCann-Erickson head Jim Hobart, as a means to get Don to bite on a job offer, offers her a modeling job for Coke. You see, Betty was once a model (If you ask, she'd be happy to tell you.) She sees this as an opportunity to get back to her idealized pre-housewife glory days, and break-through the suburban prison she's fashioned for herself. Don gives her his (half-hearted) support - you can tell he wants her to be happy, but he doesn't trust Hobart's intentions, and justly so.

As she's on a shoot, the Draper kids witness their dog take down one of the pigeons (in a hokey cgi effect - jarring only in that the rest of the series is so exact.) The maimed pigeon, still a metaphor for Betty (Don even calls her "Birdie" in the episode,) clues us that she will be hurt as well. Meanwhile Don's getting gifts sent to the office from Hobart, including a set of golf clubs that Roger intercepts and uses to try and open some negotiations. Don at this point is amused by all the attention. But when photos from Betty's shoot are sent over, like her modeling job is just another gift, Don shuts down Hobart. Say what you will about Don's selfishness, but I think he turned down the job because he didn't want his wife used as a pawn (like Jackie Kennedy in her Spanish language tv spot for her husband's campaign.) The fact that he parlays the McCann courting to bargain a 50% pay raise doesn't hurt, and he'd rather see Betty home with the kids anyway.

Betty seems to take the news personally, revealing a strong fear of rejection (stemming from her own mommy issues, ala Tony Soprano.) While consoling her, Don reveals that within his own mommy issue lies his attraction to Betty. She's the caring, loving mother he never had. His little Oedipus (by proxy) complex. (That he's attracted to single Manhattan women like Midge and Rachel suggests that Betty once appeared to him this way.) It's telling that instead of making a go of it, Betty resigns to be just a mom again, telling Don she really didn't like the work anyway. This, like when she shoots at the pigeons with a toy gun, is an empty gesture to keep appearances (which she's been programmed to do all her life.) She pretends to shoot down her own dreams instead of really, truly face them.

Contrast that to the ever-expanding Peggy. Is she pregnant as I suggested last week, or is it she, unlike Betty, doesn't care about appearances? When she gives back Joan's dress, she's adamant about not keeping it - Joan's red dress is a metaphor for the role of 'husband hunter' that she's rejecting. Peggy really wants to play in the men's league, and that confuses Joan.
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.”
Hiss hiss. Peggy figures out though that Joan actually thinks she's helping, and informs her not to bother... she's forging her own ground, something that Joan can't understand, and Betty is too scared to do. But just what is Peggy packing away, anyway? Besides Don's dance with McCann, it's the talk of the office, and is embarrassing to Pete enough to get in a fight with Ken (allowing for the comedic talents of director Paul Feig to shine with Don and Roger's nonchalant exit.) If she's carrying a little Petey in there, then he should save his embarrassment for when the rabbit dies.

Music on Mad Men Episode 110
1. "Special Angel" - Bobby Helms - closing scene with Betty shooting at birds
2. "The Infanta" - The Decemberists - I missed it but tv critic Andrew Johnston claims this played during the credits

Previously: Hobohemian Rhapsody (Episode 108)

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1 comment:

Scott Brown said...

I think Peggy is going to get brought back down to earth in the next episode. I think Don is going to take out his frustration about his wife's modeling on Peggy. If you listen carefully in this episode, Betty says she called Don's office but couldn't get him and Don says something about Peggy not doing her job.