Monday, August 18, 2008

Mad Men: "Three Sundays" - Rebirth of a notion

Easter is a time for celebrating rebirth and new beginnings, and the characters on Mad Men, whether conscious of it or not, get swept up in that notion. The episode is framed around Peggy's Catholic church, and as such, makes clever use programs from the book-ending services, beginning with Passion Sunday (the fifth Sunday of Lent) and ending with Easter. And it's really Catholicism that ties the episode together, both with the confessionals happening throughout, and especially the literal and metaphorical Easter egg hunt going on, as everyone searches for that egg of rebirth -- and it's not easy to come by.

The egg throughout, is one represented by "what's new." Peggy's mother and sister starts the theme by pawning over the new priest, Father Gill (Colin Hanks,) a Vatican II priest for whom breaking from tradition comes naturally -- like his first pass at saying grace. An old reverend is like an old husband (take Anita's husband Jerry,) someone familiar and a bit boring, and a handsome young priest is the perfect safe proxy for Catholic wives. Father Gill, again breaking from tradition, is instead taken by the least religious of the clan, Peggy, and by several clues (both obvious and not-so-obvious) is interested in her more than just for her presentation skills.

The next egg we see is through Roger (John Slattery,) which he sees in his daughter and her fiance. It's cute that the thing that put it over the top for Roger was hearing that his future son-in-law would only order the garlic mussels if his partner's mouth was sullied by the aromatic as well. It's the aroma of young love ... something Roger no longer senses in his wife (played by his real life spouse, Talia Balsam,) but finds again (via a confession from Pete) in the call girl Vicki. Roger's way of dealing with his health has been to remove his vices from his view, thus bumming cigarettes and drinking Don's booze, so it makes sense that he's ignoring the stable of potential "eggs" in the steno pool, and instead paying for the fantasy -- and Vicki makes for a nice Joan proxy. The scenes are intertwined cleverly with the American Airlines emergency meeting at the office, connected by the closing and opening of doors and Vicki saying "no one ever died doing this" (a meta-reference of the AA crash).

The whole AA pitch was the pursuit of an egg, and Don's epiphany, interestingly enough, was to chase the egg using an egg, ie, using rebirth as a strategy to woo American Airlines. Of course, the strategy is straight out of Don's playbook for himself: Forget the past and build for the future. It's interesting then, to find Don later that week finally (reluctantly) confessing something of his past to Betty, as a way of explaining his reluctance to discipline Bobby too harshly. That wouldn't have happened, of course, if it weren't for the scene prior, where Bobby innocently gets Don talking about his father ("what kind of food did he like?" -- the violet candies that Don remembers were apparently Choward's Violet Candy). The shoving scene between Don and Betty was riveting, acting for Don as a for of physical confession leading up to the verbal one. Who do you want disciplining your children, Don the brute, or Don the restrained? Poor Bobby, like many children, is the manifestation both Don and Betty's hangups. Both see him essentially as a smaller version of Don. Betty wants to be able to control this little Don, so normal behavior for a 5-year old gets blown up to Don-size and she's openly frustrated in not being able to control either of them. Meanwhile, Don sees a little Dick Whitman trying to get his footing in the world and refuses to even come close to using the violence of his father. Through the conflict, though, Don's confession acts the egg, providing hope of a rebirth for their relationship.

Getting back to confessions, the literal one here was Anita's which seemed purposeful, as Anita shows the jealousy she has for her sister and her egg of a relationship with Father Gill. By telling him about her controversial past, though, I think she may have endeared Father Gill even more to her. It sets up the amazing final scene, where we see her 17-month old son try to get an egg only to have it snatched up by another child. By presenting her with the blue egg, Father Gill is both making her finally confront her past, and also offering her a chance to start anew, a rebirth in honor of Easter. The color blue is the color of the Virgin Mary, but it's also the color of new beginnings, and of optimism. Thinking again of the color blue, earlier you may have noticed Don and Betty slow dancing to Perry Como's "Blue Room," which in the song the color symbolizes "new love" (and, interestingly enough, 'fidelity'). As far as the artist is concerned, Perry Como, who himself was Catholic, is also another future dinosaur already slowly in decline. Just a few years prior, he was the highest paid television star, and in less than a year, his weekly program would be off the air. Of course, he remained on television for years with his Christmas specials, because, like Don says, "his voice sounds like Christmas."

Song: "Blue Room" - Perry Como - Don and Betty slow dance in a drunken haze

Previously: What Are You Worth? (Episode 2.03)

1 comment:

Juanita's Journal said...

Betty wants to be able to control this little Don, so normal behavior for a 5-year old gets blown up to Don-size and she's openly frustrated in not being able to control either of them.

Even Matt Weiner admitted that Bobby was being a little brat and had to be disciplined. The problem with today's child-rearing is that most adults (especially the middle and upper classes) tend to indulge their children. To ridiculous levels. We're becoming a nation of Mildred Pierces.