A-

Mad Men: "The Fog"

I didn’t catch the title of this episode before watching it then, as a thought experiment, I decided to wait until the episode’s end before looking it up. Mad Men’s episode titles tend focus on one aspect of the hour that also connects with everything else going on. If I had to guess, I woudn’t have chosen “The Fog” from all the possible titles, and yet it fits perfectly. It explicitly references Betty’s drug-induced delivery room hallucination. But all the characters seem in a haze this week, stuck between where they are and where they want to be. And frustrated because there’s no way of seeing if they’ll ever get there.

Let’s start with Dennis, the prison guard awaiting the birth of his first child (played and played well by character actor Matt Bushell). Bored and anxious, he breaks out the scotch, then lures Don into asking him about his job. The practiced description of his duties eventually gives way to a vague confession in the form of a promise to become a better man with the birth of his child. (His specific failings remain unspecified.) What does the look on Don’s face say? Is he on the same page as Dennis? Or has had the same thoughts in the past and given up trying to act on them? And what does the later scene when the two men pass each other in the hall mean? Dennis can’t acknowledge Don. Is he a reminder of a promise already broken?

Peggy also has her eye on another, better life. Specifically, she wants Don’s life, or what she imagines Don’s life to be. And she’s not afraid to engage in an awkward conversation to make her point known. What she won’t do, however, is let Don know that Sterling-Cooper exile-turned-turtleneck-clad archenemy is headhunting her. He’s now working for Grey, a real, still-thriving firm that wants promising young talent on staff. Peggy doesn’t mention this to Don. She knows, as Pete points out, that it’s her best leverage for a higher salary. Or maybe it’s an exit from S-C, which by Duck’s reckoning doesn’t reward innovative thinking as well as his new home. Whichever the case, she’s going to let the game play out a little longer.

Pete, on the other hand, has little use for Duck’s solicitation once he finds out that Duck’s interested in Peggy as well. This could be because the notion that he’s a package deal with Peggy, whom he’s never regarded as an equal, offends him. Or it might be, as he tells her later, that getting lured by Duck doesn’t give him any more power than he had before, since S-C could probably get by without him.

He certainly ends up in the doghouse this week for his handling of the Admiral Television account. Noticing that Admiral sets had started to sell better in markets with substantial African-American population, he tries to sell the client on targeting that demographic. His logic is sound, but he fails to grasp that Admiral would not want to be associated with an “undesirable” clientele. “Who’s to say that Negroes aren’t buying Admiral televisions because they think white people want them?” The logic of that corporate response to/perpetuation of racial prejudice eludes even our Charleston-dancing fallen blueblood.

It's not lost on the S-C higher-ups, but Pete’s faux pas does inspire Lane to ponder crossing some racial lines. “I can tell you there’s definitely something going on,” he notes. He’s right, of course. But it doesn’t take a genius to notice this either, what with civil rights leader Medgar Evers’ murder all over the news, becoming a Sally Draper obsession and even finding its way into Betty’s dream sequence. It’s stirred something in Hollis, the S-C elevator operator, too, who doesn’t find Pete’s I’ll-let-the-one-black-man-I-talk-to-regularly-tell-me-about-what-all-black-people-everywhere-think question insulting so much as foolish. There’s something going on, all right, and Hollis feels like he should be a part of it. And is it possible that Carla, the Draper housekeeper Betty gets admonished for failing to “force” to stay has left for just that reason? Would Betty think to ask?

While I never thought the show would put Betty or the new Draper (“Eugene Scott”) in peril, tonight’s childbirth scenes give the series some of the most uncomfortable moments it’s ever had. We see Betty handled like an object, treated with disdain, drugged up, and ignored. When she wakes up she’s a mother again, the transition happening to her while she slept in a Demerol-assisted haze. It may simply be the way things were, but the way things were looks creepy and invasive to modern eyes.

Then, there’s the dream sequence. Like voiceover narration, dream sequences are crutches for the lazy except when they’re not. And here they’re not. Weiner’s old home The Sopranos used dream sequences daringly, sometimes brilliantly. (I still don’t know how I feel about the talking fish). Betty’s two lapses into dreamland are a bit more traditional. They don’t foretell where she’s going so much as analyze where she is at the moment, filled with mixed feelings about becoming a mother and thinking about death, her parents’, Evers’ and her own. “You see what happens to people who speak up?” her mother tells her, using Evers as evidence. “You’re a housecat,” Gene elaborates. “You’re very important and you have little to do.” In fact, she has much to do, with the new baby and all. But, the episode ends with her pausing before attending to her child.

But before we end, let’s go back to the beginning, with Sally again behaving violently, and this time toward another child, not just an inanimate object. Neither Don nor Betty take the incident all that seriously, even though Sally, as that alarming cutaway makes clear, has drawn blood. Talking to Dennis later, Don’s quick to dismiss the notion that criminals have any right to blame their parents as “bullshit.” Later, making meat and eggs as a snack, he and Sally have a nice moment. But it’s just a moment. Sally’s clearly not getting what she needs most of the time. While Mad Men’s other characters try to escape the fog of their present lives, she’s already grown frustrated with the limits of the life given to her and nobody’s bothered to notice.

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

• Is it safe to assume that Sally’s teacher—after calling Don drink in hand, bra strap hanging limply from her shoulder—will be his next conquest, particularly given that he doesn’t tell Betty about the call? Or will the show not go the obvious route?

• “Pencils, pens, pads, paper and postage”: Who couldn’t listen to Jared Harris rattle off “p” words all night?

• “She’s a bit of a bruiser.”

• Roger: Not much action this week, but always quotable: “Are you aware of the number of handjobs I’m going to have to give?”

and

“Half the time this job comes down to, ‘I don’t like that guy.’” True of a lot of jobs, isn’t it?

• Worth noting: Admiral doesn’t want to be associated with black customers. Paul’s sense of coolness comes from his admiration of black culture. But S-C as a whole, and even Paul in particular (whom Peggy singles out as unproductive) have yet to find away to co-opt coolness.

• Also worth noting: Duck now has ducks in his office at Grey.

• If Lisa Simpson were your nurse, would you find that comforting or strange?

Filed Under: TV, Mad Men

More TV Club