Mad Men – 4×09: Mad Dissatisfaction

Dear Abby, I need your help...? (AMC)

Yes! Yes, Don is trying! He’s really trying! Okay so everyone is trying, but Don in particular recognizing the need for change in his life is a huge advancement. Now, of course, everyone is also pretty much failing but, hey, acknowledging the existence of a broken spirit is the first step to putting the pieces back together again. Also note what a significant change in attitude this represents in comparison to the 1960 versions of these characters who were all so incredibly careless and clueless regarding the severe consequences of their decisions way back when. Sunday night’s episode, “The Summer Man”, had us deeply involved in the lives of four of our characters: Don, Betty, Joan and Peggy. Don and Betty took part in one drama, while Joan and Peggy took part in the other, yet each character also had their distinct moments of lone self reflection within their respective conflict. Each one wondered, deep down: What do I want?

Don Draper

It isn’t made clear in the episode if there is an actual reason as to why Don has decided to turn all “Dear Diary” on us, but I’m not going to lie, I felt it was a tad bit too obvious in its narrative for an episode of Mad Men, which has always been able to boast its ability to move the story forward with minimal verbal exposition. It’s not a huge deal, and it obviously won’t become the future format of the series, but I personally find reflective voice-over thoughts from the main character (which is different from voice-over narration) to be a sign of a weak visual storytelling ability (i.e. that’s the biggest flaw with a show like Dexter which I love but whose overuse of V.O. feels like a spoon feeding). For this one episode of Mad Men, however, I can deal. It just freaked me out a little as I’m not using to being inside Don’s head. His thoughts have always been the untapped source from which all magic flows and being privy to them is a tad unsettling — creepy almost.

Moving on, but still related to the journal, it was shocking to hear the opening line:

They say as soon as you have to cut down on your drinking, you have a drinking problem.

Not only was it the opening line of the entry but of the entire episode, which was also odd being that the words “drinking” and “problem” never seem to be heard in the vicinity of one another within the walls of SCDP or Sterling Cooper before it, and certainly never from Don. As the episode went on we saw how much Don was beginning to struggle with drinking less or not at all, to the point that even when it didn’t look like the presence of alcohol bothered him it began to bother me. When he opened that can of Budweiser in front of his TV set or when he ordered the Chianti during his date with Dr. Miller, I wanted to grab him by the neck and shake him and yell “Don’t do it!” It’s funny, once you know someone is so close to figuring it all out, I guess it becomes that much more frustrating when they don’t. It’s sad but I don’t think Don even thinks of beer and wine as alcohol, not consciously, which is most likely the reason why he didn’t have the same kind of weird out-of-body experiences in those moments as he did in his office when he and the creative team were drinking whiskey. (That moment was also an odd deviation from business as usual on Mad Men.)

Oh and seeing Don at the gym, and then walking into the office with a duffel bag instead of a briefcase with a rock n roll song playing in the background…? Again, things I’m just not used to. Matthew Weiner co-scripted this episode himself so I can’t really blame these oddities on a lack of control from the head-honcho, which begs the question: what was the deal?

Moving on to Don’s three important dates of the episode: Bethany, Dr. Faye Miller, and Jean Draper-Francis.

Bethany, poor thing is madly in love with Don just as any 20-something girl would be, and I can admire her honesty in telling him so instead of getting dicked around just wishing and hoping that eventually he’d love her. This is what a woman 5-10 years back would have done. Bethany herself points out that they come from “different generations” (a little more out of the norm in-your-faceness here) and we understand just what she means, although we don’t live in those times, because we remember that young women were not like this in season 1. So does Don. They didn’t “push as hard”, haha. Nice way to put it, Don. Yes, women used to let you use them up and ask no questions meanwhile you knew they wanted more from you but you never had to worry because they’d never push. I enjoyed watching Don squirm in his seat uncomfortably during this dinner, for a change. Instead of feeling sorry for poor Bethany’s unrequited affections, however, it was Don who should have been embarrassed. Yes, even if she blew him in the backseat of a cab. She knew just what she was doing with that.

Faye’s date was a bit shocking simply because I didn’t think it would ever happen. I thought they would finally make a woman truly unconquerable for Don, just to prove a point both to him and to the audience. I guess I was wrong. It was a bit of a let down, despite enjoying their chemistry, since I don’t particularly love her character (I think it’s the actress) and since I was counting on Don receiving as many blows to his ego as possible to bring him down to earth and help him recognize that he couldn’t just always get his way simply based on looks and charm alone. Plus, he’s hit on this woman several times in creepy and cocky ways which make her less respectable for still dating him after all of it. Just saying… Also, I wasn’t a huge fan of the cheesy Aesop fable she tells at dinner. The obviousness train rolled into town a bit too hard this episode. I was, however, thrilled to see Don take Faye home and not sleep with her despite her advances and his clear desire to do rip her clothes off and throw her down. Self control, check! Perhaps he’s already been brought down to earth through all the less than dignified occurrences of recent months. Plus, he only had wine at dinner, right? So maybe that’s all it takes. Good boy.

Still, the most successful date Don had in this episode was the one with his son, baby Jean. He showed up! Sober! He’s on the right track, now if only he could find a way to stay on it. I don’t think that it’ll be possible to do so without some outside help in staying sober (perhaps from Peggy? Faye? Betty?!?) because if we’ve learned anything about what Don needs since we met him, it’s people. Do you think he’ll join AA? Roger would collapse.

Peggy Olsen

For all her creativity, candidness, and accomplishments, Peggy is surprisingly dependent on the acceptance of others — I mean, she’s a leader, not a follower. Ironically, her choice to be a strong leader by firing Joey was just a pathetic attempt at having Joan like her, and have the boys respect her. She failed in a huge way on both those ventures, unfortunately for her. She’s so clueless and needy by the end of this episode that she actually gloats about it to Joan. She’s got to start learning from those older than her about how to just basically be a badass instead of a mousy ex-secretary. Despite that, Don was right when he told her:

Believe me, you do not want me involved in this. People will think you’re a tattle tale. You want some respect? Go out there and get it for yourself.

The only problem there is that when gaining people’s respect is your main objective in firing a person, it’s going to show, and its going to backfire. And that’s when this happens:

Joan: “All you’ve done is prove to them that I’m a meaningless secretary and you’re another humorless bitch.

This is going to be a significant problem in the office moving forward. Particularly with Stan who has already butt heads with Peggy and resents her showing him up back at the Waldorf. Then again, I think Joey had something when he joked around that Stan was in love with Peggy, but this may add more fuel and resentment to the fire than anything.

By the way I’m so disappointed that we never again saw the guy that Peggy made out with in the closet at the raid in Greenwhich that time! I was sure he’d be back. Damn.

Joan Holloway

I think that since I’ve always personally been in awe of Joan and that hair and that body and that self-confidence, I may have missed out on the point in time in which she became a tad outdated. I also forget she’s older than just about every other woman on the show: older than Trudy, Alison, Peggy, Betty, Bethany, etc. If people are giving 26-year-old Peggy shit for being childless, Joan must seriously look like a dried up dinosaur.

It’s so hard though, to keep track of the “changing times” and morphing cultural perceptions on Mad Men, and for this reason I can understand why some people just can’t watch the show. I admit its exhausting if you’re not willing to put in the work, because that’s exactly what it can be. Perhaps you’re a baby boomer reading this who finds the show far easier to follow, but for a 23-year-old Hispanic girl from South Florida, if you don’t remember the feeling and flow of the era, its sooooo easy to get lost in the perception game. I bring this up because Joan got lost in the context of all this for me, and trying to decipher if she does in fact look like some whore in a brothel to these guys or just a voluptuous bombshell is near impossible to predict if you’re neither living in 1965 with them, or you never did.

That being said, the manner in which Joey treated Joan and the words he used to insult her in her office were something I was highly unprepared for. Joey is a different kind of sexist asshole than those of the late 50s and early 60s. One that does not exalt women for their beauty yet undervalue their intelligence and autonomy like the Rogers and Dons and Freddies. Instead he treats them like garbage straight out and forthright from resentment because they dare attempt to be on the same level as a man yet continue to use their physical allure to their advantage in getting there. In other words, Joey is a hater and a sexist of the worst kind. I’m glad he’s gone.

Betty Francis

Well well well, it looks like someone isn’t over her dreamy ex-husband just yet. After all she dumped Don after assuming she could not love him if he technically wasn’t who she thought he was. Now that some time has passed, she’s seeing that Don isn’t so different from the man she always knew, flaws and all (some heightened and more frequent), may have started to affect her confidence in her decision to leave him. She loved Don, but she loved more who she thought he was, so when he wasn’t that… it was over. But what if she really did love him? Well, I’m not so sure about that just yet. Quite honestly, I just think that she suffers from what Woody Allen calls “chronic dissatisfaction”. She is selfish and spoiled and wants the best of every world all at the same time. She wants the kids, she wants the stable husband, she wants the young and hot husband, she wants the freedom to live the single life he gets to, and so on and so forth. Betty is insane and the sooner she realizes that, the sooner she can do something about it..

Last Night’s Theme

The one thing all these stories had in common was a case of I-can’t-get-not-satisfaction, as the Stones so loudly reminded us. Joan can’t get respect OR friendship at work, but she doesn’t care so much about that, it’s the fact that she’s got to put up with their shit because her husband can’t support her and now that’s he’s being drafted she’ll have no one else to talk to except co-workers. It’s also quite dissatisfying that she can’t have a baby from the fear that she may end up a single mother once Greg is drafted and possibly killed. Peggy can’t seem to get respect OR friendship at SCDP either, the difference being that this actually bothers her, and of course she doesn’t even have the husband or killer looks to fall back on that Joan has. Betty can’t be satisfied in a good marriage or a bad marriage, she’s unhappy and unsatisfied no matter what her situation. Don’s most obvious dissatisfaction problem seems to be sobriety itself. Don does not feel satisfied unless he feels the whiskey flowing through him, and by attempting to deprive himself of alcohol he is certainly not satisfying his desires. However Don is also dissatisfied with Bethany’s beauty and honesty somehow — and on a physical level that cock tease ended in zero satisfaction as well. One would hope that Don’s relationship with baby Jean could turn into something that could satisfy Don’s desire to regain and maintain his family.

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7 Comments

  1. Time
    Posted September 17, 2010 at 9:14 am | Permalink | Reply

    I was really surprised with the voice over too. But I really liked some of the lines, for example “I bet she thought of the line all day”. That was so bad-ass.
    And I think Faye is the hottest woman on the show so far.

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