Mad Men – The Arrangements

The Arrangements A little late, we know. Blame the Beatles…and our host server.

A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

–Albert Einstein

With each episode we learn a little more about the characters of the show. Sometimes we learn a bit about their past. Sometimes we learn more about their upbringing. Sometimes we learn about their personalities. This week, we learn about their humanity.

The task of living with and caring for our parents and grandparents isn’t easy for anyone. The perspectives and prejudices tend to clash and the Drapers are finding this out the hard way. Grandpa Gene is still bunking in their spare room and teaching little Sally and Bobby some bad habits. It’s hard enough bringing your kids up with a sense of compassion and responsibility; it’s even harder when some old coot is letting your eight year old barrel around the neighborhood in a ’63 Lincoln and your six year old is wearing a dead man’s Kaiser helmet. Yes, war is hell—that’s why it’s left on the battle field.

This episode acts as the preface to the generational gap that percolates in the later 60s. Kids vs. Parents.

The subtext and supporting theme is that we’re all our parents’ children and there’s nothing we can do about it. Peggy strains to spread her wings (and a bit more, if you know what I mean) and move to the city, much to her mother’s chagrin. After a failed attempt at finding the right roommate, she takes some sage advice from Joan, who once again illustrates her untapped talent for advertising judgment and copywriting. Peggy may have just landed a new BFF with whom she can pal around Manhattan. The life of a single Big City girl can be fun, and complicated. Is Peggy man shopping or career climbing? She likely doesn’t even know yet.

And then there’s poor Horace. This rich douchebag was in Pete Campbell’s graduating class and leave it to Pete to soak the poor bastard of his inheritance when dimwit decides to throw the whole lot in to promote Jai Alai as America’s new pastime. Only Don thinks to alert Ho Ho’s old man, who has connections back to Bert Cooper a million different ways. As it turns out, Don is thinking of more than saving Sterling-Cooper from taking a short-term boon at the cost of a long-term business relationship. He sees in Horace an inadequate man desperately trying to make his way and impress his old man. Horace Sr. has all but written Junior off as a dimwitted ne’er do well. The flash of sympathy on Don’s face belies his killer instinct in the board room. Don, as it turns out, has a heart but that’s not to say he won’t drain poor Ho Ho in the end. It’s just that he tried his damnedest to warn the poor fool off first. Ho ho and his money will indeed soon be parted.

Yet another display of Don’s humanity comes by way of a commercial shoot. Pepsi is dead set on pushing Patio, a diet soda with a faux Ann-Margret pitch girl. The director bails at the last minute and without missing Draper beat hands the job to Sal. Untested, but clearly talented and passionate, Don entrusts his Art Director with a single-shot, musical commercial based on a wildly popular film. The whole thing was the client’s idea so it wasn’t that much of a gamble—unless it doesn’t work. And it doesn’t. For some reason our latent gay man has a hard time capturing the elusive sexual charm of the original scene. Maybe because he’s not turned on by young, buxom girls? Nobody can quite put their fingers on WHY it doesn’t work except Peggy (who warned against this dopey idea in the first place) and probably Draper…and Sal’s undersexed wife.

Best line: Grandpa Gene – Don, look at this. Victory medal; France. I should have another for beating the clap.

Sal’s carrying a lot of weight. Not only was he just been handed a potentially career-making opportunity, but he’s a closeted homosexual living in the brutally repressed 1960s. The two worlds collide when his cute as hell wife tries to entice him away from working by trotting around in a green teddy, but it’s Sal who puts on a show with a particularly enthusiastic run-through of the commercial shot, complete with skirt flutters and batting eyelashes. Mrs. Romano seems to have a realization, but can she ever bring herself to acknowledge that her beefy Bronx husband is a little light in his Italian loafers?

It’s hard being someone’s child but it’s also heard being someone’s parent. Grandpa Gene tries to impart some wisdom on little Sally and we get yet another glimpse into what has made Betty Draper the less-than-idyllic mother she appears to be. Seems Grandpa Gene thought young Betty was fat and shiftless and apparently made every attempt to make her aware of it. In a bit of projecting, Gene tells Sally that she can do something. “Don’t let your mother tell you otherwise.” Ok, grandpa. Why, did she say something to you? Grandad likes to play games.

Good drama requires fully formed characters. It’s easy to write stereotypes and caricatures. It’s hard to write people. Even Karl Rove has people in his life who love him, so there MUST be some redeeming qualities in there somewhere. When Draper’s humanity comes through it is heartbreaking. He’s a cad, he’s a philanderer, he’s a sometimes cruel and callous man, but he’s human and he sees humanity in others. He knows that he too is the product of his own parents and finds a sympathetic character in Horace Jr. But you can’t always save people from themselves so why not order another round of drinks and charge the whole lot to the client: Horace Jr. and his jai alai hallucination.

The last facet of our humanity is our mortality. We all die. Grandpa Gene tries to tell Betty his end of life wishes (how timely! Maybe a death panel is in order?) but Bets ain’t hearing it. It’s hard to address the mortality of those who raised us; those on whom we depended on for everything we have and are today. Even when our relationships are strained, we still have deep emotional ties to those who set the template for what we seek in a mate (or what we avoid) and those who draw the blueprint for what it means to be a man or woman. It’s a deep emotional and mental imprint and one not easily washed away. Expect to see Betty struggle with her father’s death in the coming weeks. Grandpa Gene drops dead in line at the A&P.

It’s not just the mortality of those we love that moves us. As little Sally lays on the floor watching the nightly news still in mourning over her grandfather’s death she watches the local news report on Thích Quảng Đức’s self-immolation suicide in protest against the persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam’s Ngô Đình Diệm administration. We’ve all seen the image a thousand times since and I suspect that’s part of creator Matt Weiner’s point. We’ve all been so desensitized to violence and death the image of a person burning himself to death—no matter how old—is no longer shocking. It was to the millions of Americans who saw it on their living room TVs and the covers of magazines and to little Sally Draper, but even then the shock was mitigated by the fact that it was allotted 30 seconds on the nightly news before segueing into the financial reports. Life goes on and so does TV.

Mad Men: iTunes, Amazon, wiki, AMC’s official episode guide.

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