Mad Style: The Quality of Mercy

Posted on June 19, 2013

Here we go, Miss Porter girls; the penultimate “Mad Style” of season six. Grab yourself a refreshing glass of Tropicana and let’s get started.

Props and costuming wordlessly setting up the conflict to come in this episode; orange vs. cranberry. Megan’s outfit is eye-popping, as so many of her outfits are, trendy, and clearly very expensive. She’s definitely dressing for success, because it’s not really a requirement for a working soap actress to show up on the set looking this dolled up. If anything, it would be more normal for her to be dressed down, since she has to get into makeup and costume at some point. Another subtle way of reinforcing how her marriage helps her career; another subtle reason to tie her to Sharon Tate, who was largely considered to have received major benefits to her career by marrying Roman Polanski. But keep in mind what we said a couple weeks ago: Betty Draper used to be dressed like Grace Kelly because she was, like Grace, a Main Line princess who gave up a glamorous international career to marry and have children. Joan used to reference Marilyn Monroe because she faced a world of men who couldn’t see past her breasts and she had to fight her whole life to be seen as more than her body. But Betty isn’t likely to die in a car accident and Joan isn’t likely to die of a pill overdose. Janie dresses some of the women in the show like the most desirable women of the period to draw parallels, not to predict their fates.

At a different point in the season, we would have made a bigger deal out of that red signaling Don’s prostitution issues but we think that, for the moment, those issues have been shocked out of Don’s system. We’re not suggesting growth on his part; just that at this particular moment, he understands how he screwed up and largely why he screwed up. In fact, it’s why he’s punishing himself so hard here; because it’s not something he can escape or wave away anymore. Fortunately for him, he found a way to transfer his self-loathing to someone else.

 

Don’s plaid bathrobe will do double-duty on the meaning front in a bit. For now, let’s look at Betty, whose clothes keep getting better each time we see her. She’ll never be trendy again the way Megan is, but check out that hem. That may just be the shortest skirt we’ve ever seen Betty Francis wear. But it’s still a respectable outfit; perfectly appropriate for a Republican candidate’s wife, but with a little bit of style to it. Pat Nixon or Betty Ford might wear something like this on their best day.

Blue and yellow; again in a scene signaling a lack of connection; not between Betty and Don. They’re actually in a pretty good place right now. It’s between Betty and Sally. Betty isn’t connecting with her and thinks Sally is mad at her for some reason. The golden yellow here has a slight metallic quality and the wealthier women on the show have always been the ones who wore the metallics to signal their wealth: Betty, Jane Sterling, and Megan, most often.

 

Persistent themes and motifs here: Two people in the Draper apartment, one dressed, the other undressed. Blue/green towel signaling adultery (which is the cause of Don’s misery in these scenes). With the cutting back and forth to Megan and Harry, you get both the “east coast vs. west coast” long-time Mad Men theme, but you also get the “cranberry vs. orange” short-term motif.

 

Well, what else would you put Harry in for a scene “on the coast,” where he tells Don Sunkist’s back in play? He’s not even inhabiting the same world as the other members of SC&P and his costuming once again shows it. Like Abe’s costuming signaling much earlier in the season that not only was he going to leave Peggy, but he was going to leave her over differences in philosophy, Harry’s clothing this season has been signaling more and more that he can’t stay in the corporate, NYC-based world of SC&P much longer. Something’s going to have to change for him, and if this Sunkist deal really goes through, he will have even more leverage to ask for what he wants. Either he walks soon, or SC&P opens a west coast branch. Given the major clients and accounts the newly merged company seems to be bringing in left and right, the latter option seems all but inevitable.

 

You could point out that Don and Megan are clearly the trendier couple here, and that Don in particular is mimicking costuming from Rosemary’s Baby. You could also point out that they can afford to look more dressed-up and glamorous because they didn’t come from the office like Peggy and Ted here. What we liked about this foursome was the way Don was mimicking Ted so clearly, right down to the turtleneck and plaid jacket. That’s a signature Ted Chaough look and Don is standing there, wearing it in dark grey and black, like a figure of judgment against him. It works perfectly on a thematic level because this episode dealt both with doppelgangers and with Don punishing other people for something he did.

As for Peggy and Ted, their color story is very murky. Blues, greens and yellows. Blue and green consistently signal adultery and blue and yellow somewhat less consistently signal a lack of connection. The murkiness in meaning here really works, since we’re still not entirely clear in this scene if this is a full-blown adulterous affair or merely an office infatuation.

You’ve gotta give it to them; they’re one hell of a good-looking couple. We don’t think Megan’s clothes here owe much to Mia Farrow’s from Rosemary’s Baby, but as she talked about how creepy she thought old apartments were, we got the sense that these two are meant to be seen as the post-war apartment building version of the Woodhouses, the young, glamorous good-looking couple of the movie. There’s been quite a bit of horror in this apartment building for the characters this season and just as in Rosemary’s Baby (spoilers ahead), a glamorous young woman’s  husband made a connection with a creepy older neighbor lady (sorry; we hate Sylvia)  in the building; a connection that threatens to destroy the marriage. It’s all quite ominous when you take the Rosemary’s Baby framing and decide not to take it literally.

Of course the character of Guy Woodhouse in the movie was a struggling actor, and quite a few viewers this season seem to think Megan’s been having an affair for a while, so make of that what you will.

 

Again, blue/yellow playing out, this time in a corporate, Don vs. Ted scene. Remember, this motif started when the two agencies merged, giving it an undertone of representing each side of this new whole. It also tends to pop up in scenes where people are not connecting, confronting or being honest with each other, which also works as an interpretation here. Roger’s all in blue, Ted’s all in yellow, and Don’s in yellow and blue, giving the impression that he’s somehow bridging a gap here, when in fact he’s still waging war on Ted. He’s just doing it under the guise of “helping the company.”  Jim is again in a colorless ensemble, surrounded by men in color, illustrating how inscrutable he is. And that wallpaper sure got a lot of meaningful play this season on the whole “orange vs. cranberry” theme.

 

You can’t quite catch it in these shots, but Pete is wearing a red tie here, tying both these characters together. We don’t think Pete’s ever had a secretary work for him as long as Clara has, which means the woman deserves some serious respect for putting up with THAT every day for the last 4  years.

As we said last week, we feel a little bad for not highlighting more of Clara this season, since Janie Bryant’s really gone to town on her costuming, giving her the chance to be pretty much the trendiest out of all the secretaries we’ve seen on this show. This is pure 1968, Edwardian, Hendrix-and-Rolling-Stones-inspired, and yet another example this season of the anti-establishment youth trends making their way directly into the establishment. We loved this look on her and it really stood out how much and how often Clara changes up her style. She’s clearly quite the clotheshorse. Not even Joan in her heyday seemed to have as many outfits and looks as Clara does.

And speaking of standing out, look who pops the brightest and takes all the focus in this scene:

None other than the madly fascinating Bob Benson, all done up in bright greens, blues and orange. He almost looks like a logo himself; purely surface, advertising a false image to the world and masking it with bright, friendly tones. More things to note: All the other men, in comparison to Bob, couldn’t possibly be more establishment and corporate, all in shades of blue, grey, and black – except Ken, who’s in similar (albeit less bright) tones as Bob, giving them a kind of solidarity here.

As we said in our initial review of this episode, our mistake in last week’s Mad Style was assuming that SC&P had some bare-bones form of credentials-checking process. In retrospect, certain things about Bob make a lot more sense, such as the idea of sending a deli tray to Mrs. Sterling’s funeral. No upper-middle-class striver would make a tacky bungle like that. Having said that, we still stand by pretty much every other thing we wrote in our take on Bob; that he’s “culturally gay,” as opposed to the intensely-closeted Sal Romano, that the law and the culture of 1968 make it extremely unlikely that any non-gay man in a corporate setting would pretend to be gay, and that his feelings last week for Pete really were genuine – which make even more sense now, given his class-based ambition. It’s HILARIOUS to make this comparison, but the blue-blooded Peter Dyckman Campbell was essentially Bob Benson’s Betty Hofstadt; the person who was going to erase his humiliatingly low-class origins by loving him back and making him worthy of his aspirations, just like Betty did for slimy little Dick Whitman.

He’s definitely a grifter in the Dick Whitman mold, but we still find it very hard to believe that he’s working some form of long con here. He’s been an employee of SC for a year now, seemingly only wanting to move up the ladder. And if this is some sort of elaborate, year-long scheme to somehow get a hold of the Dyckman family fortune, he’d have to be the dumbest, least competent con man in the history of the game, considering there hasn’t been a fortune for years and the “con” requires two people to work well-paying jobs for long periods of time.

Back to costuming: we’ve noted before that Bob tends to wear pin-striped shirts under his suit. Combined with a striped, patterned tie, it gives him a buzzing, distracting quality in closeups; too much pattern, a feeling of being slightly off. It would have been perfect if he’d just been dressed in blue and green here, so we could point and call him a cheater and a liar, but that orange is distracting.

 

Blue and yellow tones in Betty’s outfit as she tries to connect with the pretty much un-connectable-at-the-moment Sally; a light figure vs. a dark figure.

It feels like Weiner & Co. have spent this season redeeming Betty from the damage their writing did to the character just after the divorce, in season four. Her anger was completely understandable at the time, but they oversold it with scenes of her slapping Sally across the face and firing Carla. She had reasons for those actions, but they weren’t tempered with any scenes to show a more well-rounded Betty. For a good while there, she was just shown as nasty and angry all the time.

We wouldn’t claim her weight loss is solely the reason why she seems so much more centered, self-assured, and focused on being a good wife and mother now, but Betty only functions well when she’s got some self-confidence. When she loses it, she loses everything in her personality. Besides, we tend to think a combination of sessions with Sally’s old therapist, countless Weight Watchers meetings, and a supportive, attentive husband worked to remake Betty into someone who knows herself pretty well, making her a better parent and partner.

This is a long way of saying that, on a purely superficial level, it’s great to see Betty with her style mojo back, but on a much deeper one, it’s great to see Betty happy and self-assured in her life. Sure, she snipes at Sally all the time (and Sally snipes right back), but how is that different from practically every mother-and-teenage-daughter relationship ever?

 

We’re really starting to like Moira. She’s clearly very protective of Ted, the way a good secretary was required to be. And while we’ve seen some slight prickliness coming from her this season, we appreciated the relatively tactful way she spoke of Ted and Peggy’s flirting and the way she immediately looked guilty for bringing it up. Again, Janie Bryant dresses her in clothes that draw attention to her in a scene, much like Clara, and Megan, back when she was a secretary. Background players don’t get such focus-pulling clothes. Moira matters in the story. Whether that means a bigger role down the line, we can’t say. Clara matters as one of the few people in the world on Pete’s side, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll ever get a big storyline out of it.

 

What’s most interesting to us about the costuming here is that once again, a blue-yellow dominance is evident in the clothing of everyone in the room – except for Peggy, who shows no traces of either color. In fact, she is almost colorless except for that focus-pulling, busy print bow. She’s not part of the color dynamic here because she is the person everyone in the scene is talking about or thinking about. This scene is about how everyone else in this scene is reacting to Peggy, who is an almost totally neutral figure, with the only visual interest being a buzzing mass of tumult right over her heart.

This is the third or fourth dress in exactly this shape and style she’s worn this season. She wore a purple version when she found out about the merger, a blue version (slightly different; without a collar) when she and Ted kissed, and a teal version in this episode, when she went to the movies with him. It’s literally her Ted dress. It’s a trick she learned from Joan. When you find a dress that works for you, buy it in every color.

We’re desperately trying to figure out Joan’s status at the moment because the show is frustratingly vague. Did Avon call? Who can tell? She’s certainly acting quite secretarial throughout the episode; shepherding clients to and from the reception area, mentioning the cookies in the conference room, and getting defensive with Don when he questioned her hard on the budget for the St. Joseph’s ad. She clearly knows what’s going on with Peggy and Ted and, like Don, she’s not impressed with how they’re acting. She managed to carry on an affair with a partner that lasted over a decade and practically no one ever saw evidence of it in the office. Of course she’d be a little annoyed with how Peggy’s acting.

She wore this suit the day of the merger, when she ushered Peggy to her new office and said how glad she was to have her back, making the use of it here a little on the ironic side. It’s also the outfit she wore when Bob Benson rescued her, making us wonder if she’s going to figure into whatever’s going to happen next with him.

It’s ENTIRELY too much to ask the writers of this, but please give Joan the Avon account and have her appoint Bob her backup. We want the quintessential gay/fruit fly relationship, dammit. It would be hilarious, the two of them jetting off to Avon headquarters together, laughing the whole way about what an asshole Pete is and how you should never, under any circumstances, fall for a partner.

Ah, well. We can dream.

 

And there’s Don Draper’s adultery bathrobe, in dress form. Taking it further, Sally’s plaid is blue and green.

We kinda thought this dress was a bit too short for Sally. Perfect for the time, but we would have thought Betty would insist on a slightly longer hem than that for this trip. Even so, she’s the height of the good little preppy girl. The lady from Miss Porter’s has a pleated skirt, which is a slightly unusual detail for a suit like that but gives her that extra little touch of preppy that suits the scene. Her autumnal shades speak of back-to-school and serve as a counterpoint to Betty’s creamy pastels and Sally’s dark blue plaid.

 

Josephine clearly does not care to dress Dorothy up like a drag queen, the way Manolo did. It should be noted that, while Dorothy is considerably less glamorous than she appeared last week, Josephine did in fact dress her far more appropriately for her station and even her personality. That’s why her Manolo ensembles were so hilarious; because they were so over-the-top they bordered on inappropriate.

We don’t pretend to have any advanced knowledge of elderly dementia, but we think the show does a very good job of portraying it in shades. Dorothy’s not a drooling idiot or raving lunatic. Her grasp on reality may not be as tight as was, but she has her moments of lucidity and even gets in a good line every now and then at Pete’s expense. In a weird, highly dysfunctional way, we thought this scene showed the love underneath all the sniping in their relationship.

 

Just a snapshot of a perfectly art-directed teenage girl’s room in 1968; from the heavy floral motif, to the butterflies, to the inspirational posters, to the puppies on the mantel and the Snoopy on the windowsill, it’s all very much of its time.  A “What if the Brady girls were rich east coast bitches?” kind of thing.

 

Sally and the blonde are connected through their preppy plaids. They’re the ones who stay with the boys. The blonde and the other girl are connected through color. They’re the ones who belong here.

 

Glen and Rolo are two privileged east coast prepsters dabbling in counter-culture styles, but it’s all a put-on. Once they take their jackets off, they’re pretty much as preppy and establishment as any two teenagers could be at the time, even with the pot and the ugly toe-sandals Rolo brought to the party:

Tons of preppy plaids here.

 

They’ll both be in fraternities by 1972 and on the executive track by 1976; count on it. They’re certainly never going to have to worry about Vietnam.

There was vigorous disagreement as to our take on this scene, but having watched it six times now, we’re standing by it. Rolo was a jerk and Sally absolutely should have put a stop to him, but when she told Glen he tried to force her, she was definitely exaggerating. Once Sally said no and stood up, he stayed there on the floor, insulting her. Even when Glen came out, he stayed on the floor and called her a tease. A privileged dick of a teenage boy who needed to be put in his place, yes. Someone who was attempting to rape Sally, no. And she knew that. These scenes were about the many ways in which she’s trying to get away from her father’s influence by embracing her mother’s desires for her, but she keeps demonstrating the falseness of the statement “My father never gave me anything.” From her blue plaid to her smoking and drinking to the need to punish someone else, Sally’s story this episode was about how she’s more like Don than she ever wants to be.

Note that Rolo is wearing a black turtleneck, just like Don, the man Sally really wants to punish. Stand-ins within stand-ins in this story.

 

Peggy wore this suit in the first episode of the season, when she was dealing with the headphone client who was scared about the ear jokes made on Johnny Carson. So on that level, we can say it’s her “dealing with a difficult client” suit. But we’re kind of thrilled, because we picked up on the very persistent blue and green motif right at the beginning, with this suit (“Peggy wears a lot of blues and greens in this episode, possibly signaling a new set of power colors to replace her old, mid-Century, mustard yellow power color. The blue-and-green color combo was extremely popular during this colorful period, as was the pink-and-orange one. They come back in and out of style, but they’re fairly strongly identified with the late sixties.”)  We had no idea at the time how far it was going to go this season, but we love that we noted it so early.

 

Put her next to Ted, also done up in blue and green, and the adultery motif gets even stronger. It’s notable here that Don is only in gray and black; a figure of judgment, just like the grey and black he wore in the movie theater. Joan also stands out boldly, as one of the few observers in the room who knows exactly what everyone is talking about.

 

Bob is wearing a second orange, green and blue tie and we think we know why with this scene. Ever the company man (on the surface at least), he’s deliberately working the orange from the new SC&P logo (seen on his coffee cup, because coffee cups are practically totems to Bob Benson) in to his outfits, trying to sell that image even harder. It’s an example of why Pete surrendered to him here. Bob’s a charmer on a world-class level, right up there with the 1954 version of Don. Pete knows he can’t win fighting someone like that. The partners all but told him they’d take him off Chevy he tried to take Bob off it. What Pete did here was ensure that he has a subservient ally on his side. We think the potential for this relationship is enormous. We hope they don’t write Bob out after this season. A gay (or at the very least, not entirely heterosexual) Dick Whitman as Pete Campbell’s bitch is one of the best new ideas to come to the show since Lane Pryce fired the partners. As long as Pete doesn’t mistreat Bob (which is not assured at all), this could do them both a ton of good in their careers.

Notable here that Pete is essentially wearing a prep school tie, speaking to the massive class differences between the two men. Bob’s also jacket-less, which gives him a sense of being without his armor. The only other time we can remember him not wearing a jacket is when he encountered Jim Cutler in the hallway; another moment where someone else seemed to have the upper hand on him.

 

And finally:

Betty got what she always wanted; a daughter just like her, right down to the complementary blue tones and the smoking. We wonder if she’s going to press the issue with Sally, since it’s clear she knows there’s something going on between her and Don. That’s a look of motherly concern, but she may just want to leave it be, since whatever it is that happened gave her the perfect daughter in the end.

At least on the surface.

 

 

[Stills: tomandlorenzo.com]

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