For an episode that involved the death of a minor, but important, character and a scene in which Peggy’s mom informed her she’ll inevitably be raped in Manhattan, this felt genuinely breezy by Mad Men standards. Despite the death at its center, “The Arrangements” spent a lot of time dealing with jai alai, the failed Patio commercial, and Peggy’s search for a suitable roommate. It probably had more laughs—and not dark, stick-in-the-throat, holy shit Roger’s in blackface laughs—than any episode this season. And yet, there’s Gene’s death, and the specter of more change and destruction, haunting even its lightest moments.
It’s probably no accident that Grandpa Gene dies in an episode called “The Arrangements” that relies more than most Mad Men episodes on viewers knowing about the future in the way our 1963-dwelling characters could not. We know jai alai—the next great American pastime or “Polish handball,” depending on who’s doing the telling—will not take off. And we know that news report of Thích Quảng Đức, a monk who burned himself alive to protest the unfair treatment of Buddhists in South Vietnam, will become much more than an arresting, weird news blip. Gene begs his daughter to look at his funeral arrangements. She doesn’t want to face the future that’s been staring her in the face for a while. Even her father’s, “We talk about it now then we don’t talk about it” doesn’t comfort her. It’s dark and unpleasant and Betty doesn’t handle such things well.
I also don’t think it’s any accident that Betty’s difficulty looking to the future falls in the middle of an episode concerned with the disconnect between parents and children. When Sterling-Cooper consults with the father of the foolish jai alai enthusiast he responds simply, “We didn’t know what kind of person we were making.” Neither, obviously, did Peggy’s mom, who has a daughter who’s become successful enough in business to buy her a top-of-the-line Admiral television but failed in all the ways that must count to her as an old-fashioned Norwegian Catholic still upset about the Pope’s death long after it’s rated time on the evening news.
Then there’s the Draper children. If I thought Matthew Weiner had plotted out the whole series in advance—and I don’t—I’d see a lot of foreshadowing in Gene talking about war to young Bobby Draper in an episode in which Vietnam gets introduced. But even if Mad Men doesn’t deal explicitly with Bobby and Vietnam, he’ll still come of age in an era with that war hanging over him. Sally will too, and she’ll carry her grandfather’s insistence that she “could really do something” with her. (Interesting, too, that Gene sees his daughter’s life as a bit too conventional for his taste and that he can barely hide is mixed feelings about Don.)
Peggy, on the other hand, is already doing something. And in this episode she’s looking to start doing it with a less taxing commute, even if it means taking on a wildly inappropriate roommate. (And not just because one is Norwegian and the other Swedish.) She’s good at her job, so good that she can’t quite hide a smug look when Sal’s Patio campaign spot lands with the an audible “oof.” And why? It looks like the Ann-Margret scene from Bye Bye Birdie, it sounds like that scene and yet it feels just a little off in part because it’s nothing more than a rip-off and in part because it just doesn’t speak to its intended audience for all the reasons Peggy knew it wouldn’t. (It also seems appropriate that a campaign for diet soda would fail because it’s a kind of sad imitation of its source material.)
As for Sal, I’m not sure I can handle too many more scenes from the tragedy-in-the-making that is his marriage. His wife seems sweet. She also seems less oblivious than before that something is terribly wrong. She needs “tending” and whatever compromise he might have reached in his mind to get the job done in the past clearly isn’t working anymore. Their scene played out with sad inevitability then closed with a moment I couldn’t quite read: Mrs. Sal looked enthralled by his presentation at first and then… what? She ends with, “You’re gonna do great” then stares off into the middle distance with an expression I couldn’t read. It wasn’t joyful, however. It looked uneasy with what’s to come.
- Was that prank call to Peggy done with cruelty or affection?
- Also, not a lot of Joan this episode but the scene in which she taught Peggy how to create an ad pitch for herself was priceless.
- Let’s talk about food: Did everyone catch the Caesar salad being made the old-fashioned way in the restaurant scene? Also, Gene salted his ice cream, which I’d never seen before and which sounds repulsive. Am I wrong? (Also: Does anyone else salt watermelon? I do. And it is delicious.)
- The “perfect mixture of athletics, spectacle, and speed.” Who could resist that? Apart from most of America.
- Gene refers to Betty smoking as “suicide.” Is the first suggestion we’ve gotten that tobacco might be something other than harmless?
- Did anyone else find Peggy taking down the “Free Kittens” sign as amusing as I did?
- Did anyone else think of All That Heaven Allows when Peggy gave her mom the television?
- “I’m fun. And I love to have… fun.”
- More Mad Men links to check out: For fellow TV-bloggers-in-arms, I highly recommend Maureen Ryan at the Chicago Tribune and the New Jersey Star-Ledger’s Alan Sepinwall. For a different take, I never miss Movieline’s Mark Listanti’s weekly Mad Men Power Rankings. (I predict a rise this week for Pete and Peggy and a dip in the Don Draper Fingerbang Threat Level.)