Mad Men Season 2 Episode 4: Three Sundays

Posted on August 18, 2008

Well, what did we learn last night?

We learned that Peggy’s sister carries around a ton of resentment. We learned that Don and Betty think sitting around and getting wasted on a Sunday constitutes family time. We learned that Duck is pretty lousy at his job and Don is always right. And we learned that Roger is a lonely and fairly pathetic man who desperately wants to hold on to his youth but is now reduced to paying call girls in order to do so. But as with all things Mad Men, there’s so much more.

Going back to the theme of social change that we discussed in our last post, to the impending rise of feminism and the civil rights movement, as well as the burgeoning youth culture and the exponentially growing power of television, we can now add the changes in the Catholic church to the mix. These writers aren’t missing a trick.

Social change comes about through many different avenues, but we tend to think only of the secular ones as the important ones. It’s nice to see the writers of the show not falling into that trap. Vatican II is coming and you could smell it on the air in this episode. It is of course represented by the young and handsome Father Gill, who plays guitar and doesn’t say Grace the way Peggy’s mother (a hard line old school Catholic if ever there was one) would like. In his scenes with the Olson/Respola family, you can see the tension between old and new, even if most of the participants can’t put their finger on it. Father Gill sees it, but Peggy’s mother and sister Anita react to the young charismatic priest with befuddlement. Especially Anita, who clearly resents that the priest has taken an interest in Peggy, who she sees as the bad girl that everyone falls all over while she, the girl who did everything right, doesn’t get the recognition she deserves.

To be honest, she has a point. After all, she’s the one cleaning up Peggy’s mess by raising her child for her. Granted, it’s doubtful that this is what Peggy wants. We presume that Peggy would have eagerly given the unnamed child up for adoption, but the state (and apparently her family) took that decision out of her hands.

So, did Anita do a shitty thing by telling all to Father Gill? Sure, but it’s more complicated than that. We have no doubt she walked into that confessional with the intent of setting him straight on her sister, but we think her emotions (and tears) were real and surprising even to her. Also of note is the way the scene in the confessional mirrors Betty’s scene with her therapist last year where she told him she knew about Don’s affairs. Good girls like Anita and Betty can’t be direct in their communication, so they do end runs around people’s expectations of them. It’s both brilliant and a testament to how women were expected to behave at the time. Never address directly; always plant seeds to get what you want indirectly.

It’s difficult to read what’s going on with Peggy and the good Father, but we are hoping against hope that the writers aren’t going down the illicit affair route. For one, it’s exceedingly lame and way too soap opera for a show that does a good job of avoiding cliches. For another, it would pretty much put the final nail in the coffin for any lingering respect we have for Peggy. She falls for this priest and she will officially become the woman with the worst taste in men in the history of television. Peggy’s too smart to do this, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed. Besides, whatever attraction they might have had for each other at the start of the show seemed to be dead by the time he handed her that blue egg (oh, the symbolism!) at the end.

As for Don and Betty, we thought they only danced around it last season but the writers seem to be coming fairly close to portraying them both as out-and-out alcoholics this season. It wasn’t just the gigantic Bloody Marys they were drinking on Sunday morning, an apparent all-day binge that resulted in them actually forgetting to feed their children dinner, it was the way later in the episode Betty simply moved her ever-present wine glass over to Don when she found out he had a bad day. Not a word was said, but the message was clear: booze makes it all better.

Of course, things aren’t exactly getting better in the Draper marriage. Betty is increasingly shrill around the home and she’s clearly taking her frustrations with Don out on her poor son, Bobby. On the one hand, we want to cheer her on for standing up for herself and not being the doormat she was last season, on the other hand (and it’s pretty telling that every aspect of this show has that “on the one hand…on the other hand…” quality to it) she’s so immature that she can’t vocalize her needs without being a bit of a brat about it.

Don’s caged-animal persona is ramping up this season too. We saw him basically sexually assault a woman last episode when he felt his back was up against the wall and this episode we saw the spectre of domestic violence rear its ugly head when he and Betty got into a jaw-dropping shoving match that was “about” the children but really, it was about how unhappy and trapped they both feel in their marriage. Strangely, this hint of violence led to an unheard-of act of communication on Don’s part, resulting in him revealing more to his wife and son about his past than he ever had before. Still, it’s a testament to how fucked up the Draper marriage is that a shoving match is the healthiest act of communication we’ve seen from them yet.

Don fell off the wagon with the disturbingly named Bobbi (same name as his son) last week and apparently he’s not getting back on any time soon. We’re not sure how to read that one at all. First off, she’s a HORRIBLE human being. A personality that’s a combination of broken glass AND nails on a chalkboard. Sure, she’s attractive and sure, Don always goes for women that are nothing like his wife, but we honestly can’t see the attraction. Literally. It doesn’t seem like Don is even remotely interested in her and yet he keeps getting drawn into compromising positions with her. How DELICIOUS that the locked door didn’t escape Joan’s notice, though. That girl is smarter than everyone else around her.

In other Mad Men news, Sterling Cooper didn’t get the American Airlines account, which we kinda knew all along. It remains to be seen what this means for the Don/Duck (Donald Duck?) struggle for dominance in the firm. Don was clearly in the right, but Roger seemed to shrug it all off. Then again, Roger doesn’t seem particularly interested in anything but getting his rocks off and feeling young and desirable again. They seem to be paying more attention the Sterling family dynamic this season but to be honest, we can’t say we find those scenes compelling because they’re note for note exactly the same as the Draper family scenes. Distance from both children and spouses. Perhaps the writers are trying to show what Betty, Don and their children have ahead of them but frankly, we don’t need that spelled out for us.

Some nice touches: the aforementioned blue egg, positively dripping with fertility and gender symbolism; the line of office girls waiting their turn to be fed and resenting Peggy for being allowed to eat before them; Betty reading F.Scott Fitzgerald after Arthur mentioned him to her in the stables last week; that call girl and her fabulous dress; the dead-on take on Catholics of the period – Peggy’s family treated the visiting priest as if Christ himself had showed up for Sunday dinner; Sally Draper drinking herself to sleep in the Sterling Cooper offices and Joan just smirking about it; and Pete’s utterly ridiculous tennis shorts.

One minor thing that didn’t ring true to us at all: we could almost accept that someone like Paul Kinsey would openly parade around his black girlfriend in front of a select group of his co-workers a couple weeks ago. We thought it was odd, but we could accept it, even though he wasn’t treated to any sort of backlash for it, save for Joan’s razor sharp putdown of him in the middle of the office. What we find wholly unbelievable is that he would have a framed picture of her in his office in 1962. That just defies belief.

Still, if that’s our only complaint of the episode, then that’s one damn good hour of television. As with every episode of this show, we can’t wait to see what happens next.

Oh, we do have one other complaint: Not enough Joan. But then again, we could sit and watch her smoke, walk and quip for an hour and consider it quality television.

For more on Mad Men, you could do no better than to check out our good friend Mo Ryan at the Chicago Tribune, who’s obsessed with the show and gleefully told us last week that she got to tour the sets and “touch the plaid wallpaper” in the Draper kitchen. We’re seething with jealousy. Also, TV critic Alan Sepinwall has done some masterful work writing about the show and we urge you to check out his blog here.

[Photos: Courtesy of amctv.com]