Bullet Points – Mad Men 06:11

While the title of the episode is “Favors” and was about people doing favors for one another and how that can often blow up in one’s face, another theme was prevalent this week; parents ruining things for their kids.

Take Pete Campbell for instance. The show has gone out of its way to show that his mother Dorothy is an absolute shrew (doing everything in her power to thwart her son at every turn), but having her say “You were a sour little boy and you’re a sour little man. You’ve always been unlovable,” was a new low, even for her. One could argue that Dorothy is in the throes of dementia (you will recall her scene with Peggy where she confused her with Trudy), but people in dementia often have their moments of clarity and Dorothy once again dumped a heap of misery on poor Pete; relishing her “relationship” with her new male nurse and making his life hell. While it might have been seen as a dick move to let Dorothy go out into the city on her own, it was pretty justified on Pete’s part. Even his clumsy attempt at leveling with Peggy during their dinner with Ted was a sweet if sloppy way of trying to have a connection with someone.

That said, there is someone waiting in the wings for Pete. While many people have suspected that Bob might be gay, the second Bob deployed the patented “knee touch move,” the gay members of the audience all gasped and clutched their pearls. Of course, Pete rebutted with a comment that it was “disgusting” (referring to Manolo’s homosexuality but also obliquely to Bob’s), but it was hilarious if only for a moment to watch him consider it. It also ties back to when Peggy touched Don’s hand at the end of the first episode and plays into the notion that symbols and things repeat in this universe in strange (and in one case, disturbing) ways.

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

Speaking of children, let’s talk about Mitchel Rosen. It was clear from the way he mentioned his plight to Megan that he has been a pawn in Artie and Sylvia’s battles over the years. That’s why he turned to a person that is somewhat close to his age and could relate to his fears of being drafted. So Artie tried to do the right thing and couldn’t make it happen. Don tried to do it, but made a clumsy mess of it in front of the General Motors executives. And Ted managed to make it happen, and managed to at least earn a detente in his ongoing skirmish with Don. In a way it parallels their parenting styles and their family lives: Artie muddles through, oblivious to what is going on around him, Ted actually cares for his family and tries to make things work, and while Don tries to do the right thing, he ends up screwing up and it bites him in the ass.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

But if there is any child who has been fucked up and over by their parents, it would be Sally Draper. Being the apple of her father’s eye (and a stand in for his conscience) and the subject of her mother’s scorn (“Like everything else in this country, Diplomacy Club is just an excuse to make out!” ), Sally has had a rough go of it of late. Betty may thwart her dreams but she has done a fairly admirable job of keeping Don’s neurosis and peccadilloes from harming their kids (even as she takes her resentment of him out on them at times). But this season has seen Sally’s burgeoning entrance into being a teenager (complete with the requisite amounts of sarcasm) combined with the slow erosion of her faith in Don. It started with “The Crash” when she realized in the face of a stranger that she knew nothing of her father, but this episode drove it home. While I was annoyed at the return of Sylvia Rosen (probably the lamest of Don’s various mistresses) it did set up a true bombshell of a moment; Sally walking in on her father having sex with someone not his wife (which was a repeat of earlier this season when young Dick Whitman walked in on his stepmother having sex with the man running the whorehouse and an echo of last season when Sally walked in on Marie Calvert fellating Roger at the Codfish Ball). It was interesting as Don was chasing after Sally and then later when trying to talk to her through the door, how disheveled Don looked. Or rather Dick looked because if anything could pierce through the shell of Don Draper into the frayed mess of Dick Whitman, it would be failing his daughter. Once again, Kiernan Shipka knocked her scenes out of the park with equal parts confusion, hurt, and genuine rage. It was hilariously pathetic as he tried to explain to Sally that she didn’t see what she clearly saw. That line of “This never happened!” may have worked in the past, but I fear that it’s not going to work this time.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
“This Be the Verse” – Phillip Larkin

Photo Credits: Jamie Trueblood, Michael Yarish / AMC

Originally Published on 11 June 2013 as part of my column “The Idiot Box” for l’etoile magazine.

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Bullet Points – Mad Men 06:13 | Todd O'Dowd

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