“MAD MEN” Season Three Quibbles

Although I consider Season Two of AMC-TV’s “MAD MEN” slightly better, I ended up enjoying Season Three very much. It also brought about some drastic changes into the lives of the characters. But I am not here to discuss what I had liked about Season Three. I am here to discuss the quibbles I had with this latest season. Some of the problems I had with Season Three had to do with creator Matthew Weiner’s story. And some of the problems I had were with the fans. Perhaps I will start with the fans.

 

”MAD MEN” Season Three Quibbles

Fan Reactions

Betty Draper – I get the feeling that many fans of ”MAD MEN” have this great desire to brand certain characters as the villain or villainess of the season. Both Herman “Duck” Phillips and Bobbie Barrett were castigated by many fans as the “bad guys” of Season Two, despite the fact that they were no better or worse than the rest of the major characters. This season, it became Betty Draper’s turn to attract the fans’ ire. For an entire season, I came across comments and articles that branded Betty as a cold wife and an even colder and abusive mother. The fans dumped their shit on poor Betty’s head so much that they managed to ignore the fallible of other characters – especially Don’s lack of parental skills. Every time Betty scolded her children, the fans labeled her as abusive, cold or the worst mother in television history. I do not believe that Betty is a wonderful mother. Then again, she is not a terrible mother. She is not very demonstrative or warm. But compare to Don, she is usually there for her children.

The only two times she was not available happened when her father, Gene Hofstadt died in (3.04) “The Arrangement”. Dealing with her father’s death and a grieving daughter screaming in her face that she did not care caused Betty to order said daughter to her room. Fans dumped a lot of shit on Betty for that act. Yet, at the same time, many of them failed to notice that Don seemed more concerned about Betty than Sally. In the season finale, (3.13) “Shut the Door. Have a Seat”, she left New York with baby Eugene and new beau, Henry Francis, to get a quickie divorce in Reno, Nevada. Fans castigated her for leaving Sally and Bobby behind in New York with the Drapers’ maid, Carla. And yet . . . no one speculated on why Don was not keeping an eye on the kids, during her absence. So much shit has been dished out about Betty that I found myself coming to her defense in two essays. Two. And Betty is not even my favorite character.

 

Peggy Olson’s Romance With Duck Phillips – I never understood the reaction to this romance. Then again, I never understood the fans’ aversion to Duck Phillips. In (3.05) “The Fog, Duck Phillips had approached Peggy Olson and Pete Campbell in an attempt to recruit them for the agency he worked for – Grey’s. Pete, who had not forgiven Peggy for her revelations about their son, left before Duck could begin his recruitment speech. Peggy heard the speech, but rejected Duck’s offer out of some misplaced (in my opinion) loyalty toward Don and Sterling Cooper. When Don had chewed her out for asking him to work on the Hilton account, Peggy arrived at the hotel suite that Duck was working at to return a gift . . . and began an affair with him. The reaction to this affair was unbelievable. Critics like Matt Maul began spouting this view of Peggy as this naïve woman being sexually and emotionally exploited by Duck. All because most of the fans disapproved of Duck abandoning his lousy dog into the streets of Manhattan in last year’s (2.06) “Maidenform”. The ironic thing is that Peggy and Duck’s relationship did not bring about any personal catastrophe for Peggy. She simply had a healthy, sexual relationship with an older man with no strings attached. And for some reason, many fans could not deal with this. Especially when the man in question was Duck Phillips.

 

The Adulation of Joan Harris née Holloway – By the end of Season Three, I found myself wondering if I had developed a dislike or even hatred of former Office Manager, Joan Harris. Why? I have noticed that in the eyes of many fans, Joan cannot do any wrong. And I found this attitude annoying. It was bad enough when fans defended or excused her racist remark to Paul Kinsey’s ex-girlfriend, Sheila White, last season. Sometime between Greg Harris’ rape of her in (2.12) “The Mountain King” and the Season Three premiere, (3.01) “Out of Town”, Joan married him. She married the fiancé who had raped her. On a certain level, I understood why Joan did it. She internalized this belief that being married to a successful professional with kids and a house in the suburbs was an ideal life. She had internalized this belief to the point that she upped and married her rapist, instead of dumping his ass and search for another potential husband. And instead of criticizing Joan for this incredibly stupid act, many fans came to her rescue and created all sorts of excuses for her action. One of the Lipp sisters on the ”Basket of Kisses” site even accused this woman of stating that it was Joan’s fault that Greg had raped her. That was one of the most stupid accusations I have ever come across. In (3.11) “The Gypsy and the Hobo”, Greg whined about his failed job interview for a position as a psychiatrist. In a fit of anger, Joan took a vase and slammed it against his head. And many fans cheered. That is correct. Fans cheered over an act of domestic violence. Why? Because they disliked Greg for raping Joan, last season. Which is understandable. I also disliked Greg. But these same fans believed that because Greg had raped Joan last season, she had every time to bash him over the head in a fit of temper. What can I say? I would have cheered if Joan had been defending herself. But self-defense did not seemed to be Joan’s aim. Instead, she committed an act of mindless violence to express her anger and frustration at her loser husband. Yet, her act garnered cheers, much to my disgust. Every time Joan’s name was mentioned, a slew of complimentary adjectives followed. By the time the season ended, the woman seemed to be on a damn pedestal. Yep, I do believe I am in danger of developing a deep dislike toward Joan. And it is not even her fault.

 

Don Draper . . . Father of the Year – Pardon me, while I take some time out to control my laughter over this. I am going to make this short. I agree that Don is a warmer parent than Betty. He knows how to be friends with their kids. And I had applauded his decision to take that dead German soldier’s helmet away from his son, who had received it from Granpa Gene Hofstadt. But that is the best I can say about Don as a father. Being a warm parent only tells me that he knows how to be a pal to his kids. But I still believe that he is a lousy parent. Why? He is hardly there for Betty and his kids. A heavily drugged Betty had complained about Don’s unreliability, as she was about to give birth in ”The Fog”. And in the season finale, Sally pointed out that Don was rarely at home with his family. This was certainly the case during his affair with Sally’s teacher, Suzanne Farrell. Following Gene Hofstadt’s death, Don consoled a grieving Betty and failed to show any concern for a grieving Sally, until the last moment – while she was asleep. And when Carla had confronted both Betty and Don about Sally’s infraction against Bobby in (3.08) “The Souvenir”, Don sneaked away in an effort to avoid responsibility in dealing with his daughter. I believe that Betty Draper is a mediocre parent. As for her warm and friendly husband, he is a lousy one.

 

Season Three Story

Suzanne Farrell – I understand that Matt Weiner wanted the fans to believe that Don had fallen in love with Sally’s schoolteacher. And although I managed to accept this by (3.10) “The Color Blue”, I thought the storyline surrounding the Don/Suzanne romance was one of the worst to be featured on the show. I had a problem with it on two major counts:

a) Actress Abigail Spencer (who portrayed Miss Farrell) had NO chemistry with Jon Hamm. Many fans have claimed that Hamm is one of those actors who can create chemistry with just about anyone. I think that his interactions with Ms. Spencer had disproved this theory.

b) The Don/Abigail romance ended with a whimper in ”The Gypsy and the Hobo”. Don and Abigail had plans for a trip to Connecticut, while Betty and the kids were out of town. But when his family returned unexpectedly and Betty confronted Don about his false identity and the items found in his study, Don left Abigail sitting in his car and waiting for hours. She eventually slinked away back to her little home. The following morning, Don informed her that their affair was over . . . for the moment. A rather lame ending to a rather disappointing affair.

 

The British Invasion – Nothing really came from Putnam, Powell, and Lowe’s purchase of Sterling Cooper. Well . . . Lane Pryce, the parent company’s financial officer for Sterling Cooper, was responsible for the dismissal of several staff members by the time ”Out of Town” aired. In that particular episode, he fired someone named Burt Peterson, who had succeeded Duck Phillips as Head of Accounts. At PP&L’s orders, he set Pete Campbell and Ken Cosgrove against each other for the position of Head of Accounts. Sterling Cooper nearly ended up with Guy Kendricks, a PP&L executive, to helm Sterling Cooper in (3.06) “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency”. But Kendricks’ encounter with Lois Sadler at the wheel of a John Deere lawnmower severed his foot and his budding career as an ad man. In ”The Color Blue”, Lane Pryce learned that PP&L planned to sell Sterling Cooper and revealed the news in ”Shut the Door. Have a Seat”. This led to Pryce, Bert Cooper, Roger Sterling and Don Draper raiding some of Sterling Cooper’s talent to form their own agency. And that is it. Weiner failed to develop a steady storyline regarding PP&L’s ownership of Sterling Cooper and the so-called British Invasion ended without any real drama between the season premiere and the finale.

 

Gene Hofstad and Sally Draper – I understand that Sally had been devastated by the death of her maternal grandfather, Gene Hofstadt. But I found myself unable to empathize wholeheartedly with her. Perhaps that was due to my belief that Weiner and his writers had failed to engage in any prolonged exploration of their relationship (which was only covered in two episodes) before the old man’s death.

 

Betty Draper’s Pregnancy and Gene Draper’s Birth – According to Matt Weiner, he had decided to set Season Three nearly six months after the end of Season Two because he wanted to depict the effect of Betty’s pregnancy and young Eugene’s birth upon the Draper family. I hate to say this, but he failed. Baby Eugene was barely focused upon, following his birth.

 

Carla – I am certain that many fans of the show are relieved that Matt Weiner has allowed the role of Carla, the Drapers’ maid to have a bigger role, this season. And so am I. But . . . once again, Weiner proved himself incapable of creating an interesting and complex African-American character. What is my beef? Many fans have praised Carla for being “dignified and sympathetic”. Unfortunately, these traits simply made her another Hollywood stereotype – the dignified black servant. In other words, Carla is boring.

There are no imperfections in Carla’s character at all. In fact, there seemed to be nothing wrong with Carla. I realize that as a servant, she has to maintain a facade in front of her employers, but . . . good grief! If the secretaries and minor employees can show their warts when their bosses are not around, why not Carla? Why not allow her to interact in a more interesting way with other servants in the Drapers’ Ossing neighborhood? Why dump her with a stereotype that has been around since the 1950s?

 

Peggy Olson and Duck Phillips’ Affair – I can only wonder if Weiner plans to explore Peggy and Duck’s affair in Season Four. He certainly failed to do so in Season Three. Fans had been prophesying disaster for Peggy ever since it started in”Seven Twenty-Three”. Instead, nothing really came of it. No real disaster struck in regard to Peggy and Duck’s affair.  Instead, she simply grew tired of him in Season Four and reacted badly to her rejection . . . by getting drunk.  That is all.  It seemed a shame that in the end, this story arc was created . . . for nothing.

A Few Observations of “MAD MEN”: (3.11) “The Gypsy and the Hobo”

After viewing the SeasonThree episode of ”MAD MEN” called (3.11) “The Gypsy and the Hobo”, I came up with the following observations: 

 

A Few Observations of “MAD MEN”: (3.11) “The Gypsy and the Hobo”

*Ever since his affair with Suzanne Farrell began in (3.09) “Wee Small Hours”, Don Draper has been increasingly dismissive of Betty’s presence. In some ways, he seemed to be in a great hurry to get her and the kids out of the house. And that is understandable, considering that he had proposed to Suzanne, a trip to Mystic, Connecticut during Betty’s absence in order to continue their romantic interlude.

*The scene in which Betty asked Don for more money before her departure reminded me at how women were (and probably still are) regarded as children by their husband. I could not help but wonder if the $200 dollars in Betty’s bank account is regarded as nothing more than allowance by both of them.

*Annabelle Mathis seems to be the first woman since Mona Sterling who seemed to have a romantic connection to Roger. She must have hurt him a great deal when she dumped him to marry another man to run her father’s dog food company, Caldecott Farms. Some fans have suggested that Annabelle’s earlier rejection of him may have led to his cavalier attitude toward women. I have no answer in regard to that suggestion. But I could sense that the attraction between them had remained strong.

*Like many of the series’ fans and Don in (3.03) “My Kentucky Home”, Annabelle seemed dismissive of Roger’s marriage to the 20-something Jane. Whether they are right or wrong remains to be seen. Judging from his conversation with Joan Harris over her request to find additional work, it is obvious that Roger still have feelings for the red-haired former office manager. But he had rejected Annabelle’s overtures on Jane’s behalf.

*I am a little confused over the situation regarding Gene Hofstadt’s house. Correct me if I am wrong, but did he give 50/50 ownership of the house to both Betty and William? What are the exact terms regarding the inheritance? Does anyone know?

*I never had any idea that the divorce laws for New York State were so stringent that the Hofstadts’ attorney, Milton Lowell, would advise Betty to remain married to Don. Was this only the case for women? Or did men who longed for a divorce from their wives also faced difficulties?

*I find it interesting that Annabelle Mathis seemed very reluctant to follow Don and Roger’s advice about changing the brand name of her product. Are they right? After all, Caldecott Farms is one of the companies reeling from the horse meat/dog food expose. If Don had been the only one advising Annabelle to do this, I would have sympathized more with her. I might as well be honest. Don has a history of not only following this advice himself – a tactic he had used to escape from Korea – but he had advised Peggy to forget the reason why she had ended up in the hospital in November/December 1960. Perhaps Don’s past history in this particular area may have led me to be a little prejudiced against his advice. But Roger had offered the same advice. And considering that the topic is dog food, I really do not see why Annabelle would ignore such advice.

*How did Joan Harris’ husband, Greg, expect to transfer from the field of medical surgery to psychiatry so easily? Would that have required his return to school . . . even in 1963?

*After Joan’s encounter with Sally Draper in Season Two’s (2.04) “Three Sundays”, I had believed that she was not the maternal type. I changed my mind. Watching Joan help Greg practice with his job interview, I realized that she is the maternal type . . . but with grown men.

*I might as well be frank. I found nothing to cheer about Joan’s assault upon Greg. I found it childish and violent. I realize that Joan was weary of Greg’s self-pity act and childish whining. But Joan proved that she could be just as violent and childish as her husband, when she struck him on the head with that vase, out of her own frustration and anger. And Greg’s reaction to Joan’s assault was similar to Joan’s reaction to Greg’s rape. As Joan had done last season, Greg caved in and begged her forgiveness for being whiny. I found it just as disgusting, as I had found Joan’s decision to go ahead with the marriage. But what really disgusted me was how many fans had condoned Joan’s violent act.

*When the Suzanne Farrell character first appeared, I did not like her. I did not like the idea of Sally Draper’s teacher having an affair with Don. Mind you, I do not dislike Suzanne any more. Actually, I feel rather sorry for her. Despite her past experience with married man, meeting Don had led her to drop her guard and risk encountering further heartache. Watching her climb out of Don’s car and slink away from the Draper residence was rather sad.

*On the other hand, I do not feel that Jon Hamm (who portrays Don) and Abigail Spencer (who portrays Suzanne) have any screen chemistry. I simply do not see the magic. Perhaps that is the main reason I found it difficult to buy the Don/Suzanne affair.

*The expression on Don’s face when he realized that Sally, Bobby and Betty had returned from Philadelphia a lot sooner was priceless. He looked as if someone had pulled a rug from underneath him. Actually, this is exactly what Betty was about to do.

*Jon Hamm and January Jones were superb in this episode. Honestly. Both did an excellent job of conveying this moment of truth in the Draper marriage. Watching Hamm convey Don’s transformation from “Master of the Universe” Don Draper to the frightened Dick Whitman was amazing. The man not only deserves an Emmy nomination, he deserves to win the award . . . unless someone else can do better. It took me a while to get over the Emmys’ failure to nominate January Jones for a Best Actress award for last season. After her performance in this episode, it would be downright criminal if they fail to nominate her.

*There was an episode in late Season One, in which Betty was visiting her psychiatrist, Dr. Wayne. He had said something that obviously annoyed her. And she reacted by sitting up and giving him a dark look. That look told me that regardless of any personality flaws that she possessed, Betty might prove to be a formidable woman. Kicking Don out of the house at the end (2.08) “A Night to Remember” and her confrontation with him in this episode has proven me right.

*So . . . Greg upped and enlisted in the U.S. Army as a surgeon/officer. He claimed that since he will acquire the rank of captain, Joan would not have to work. Whether he is right or not, I suspect that Joan is not the type to sit around the apartment and collect Greg’s checks. Unless Matt Weiner proves otherwise. Some fans see Greg’s entry into the Army as an opportunity for his character to end up in Vietnam . . . and dead. And a widowed Joan will be able to seek solace with Roger Sterling. Hmmm. Last year, many had assumed that Joan would not go ahead with her marriage to Greg after the rape. Weiner proved them wrong. Perhaps Greg will end up dead. Then again . . . perhaps not.

*I was relieved that Don finally told Betty the truth about his background. However, I was surprised that he had described his stepfather – Uncle Mac – as being kind to him. Yet, in (1.10) “The Long Weekend”, Don had described his stepfather to Rachel Mencken in a different way:

””You told me your mother died in childbirth. Mine did too. She was a prostitute. I don’t know what my father paid her, but when she died they brought me to him, and his wife. And when I was ten years old he died. He was a drunk who got kicked in the face by a horse. She buried him and took up with some other man, and I was raised by…those two sorry people.”

Don did not have any kind words to say about his father Archie, his stepmother Abigail or his stepfather Mac. Yet in this episode, he had kind words for Mac. To whom had he told the truth – Rachel or Betty?

*Speaking of Don’s half-truths, I noticed that he had put a twist on his story about how he had left Korea. Audiences know that Dick Whitman had accidentally killed the real Don Draper by accidentally dropping a lit match into gasoline. Audiences also know that he had deliberately switched dog tags with the officer. Yet, he told Betty that that the real Draper was simply killed and that the Army had mistakenly switched their identities. Even in confession, Don Draper aka Dick Whitman cannot be completely truthful.

“MAD MEN” RETROSPECT: (1.07) “Red in the Face”

“MAD MEN” RETROSPECT: (1.07) “Red in the Face”

Due to some sense of nostalgia, I decided to break out my “MAD MEN” Season One DVD set and watch an episode. The episode in question turned out to be the seventh one, (1.07) “Red in the Face”

After watching “Red in the Face”, it occurred to me that its main theme centered around some of the main characters’ childish behavior. I say “some of the characters”, because only a few managed to refrain from such behavior – Sterling Cooper’s co-owner Bert Cooper; Office Manager Joan Holloway; and Helen Bishop, a divorcée that happens to be a neighbor of the Drapers. I do not recall Cooper behaving childishly during the series’ last four seasons. Helen Bishop merely reacted as any neighbor would when faced with a situation regarding her nine year-old son and a neighbor. As for Joan, she had displayed her own brand of childishness (of the vindictive nature) in episodes before and after “Red in the Face”. But in this episode, she managed to refrain herself.

I cannot deny that I found this episode entertaining. And I believe it was mainly due John Slattery’s performance as Roger Sterling, Sterling-Cooper’s other owner. In scene after scene, Slattery conveyed Roger’s penchant for childishness – proposing an illicit weekend to Joan, resentment toward the female attention that Don Draper managed to attract at a Manhattan bar, making snipes at the younger man’s background during an impromptu dinner with the Drapers, making sexual advances at Betty Draper, and gorging on a very unhealthy lunch. That is a lot for one episode. Roger’s behavior served to convey a middle-aged man stuck in personal stagnation. Even worse, he has remained in this situation up to the latest season. And Slattery managed to convey these tragic aspects of Roger’s character with his usual fine skills.

Jon Hamm fared just as well with another first-rate performance as the series’ protagonist, Don Draper. In “Red in the Face”, Hamm revealed Don’s immature and bullying nature behind his usual smooth, charismatic and secretive personality. This was especially apparent in a scene that Hamm shared with January Jones, in which Don accused his wife Betty of flirting with Roger. And Don’s less admirable nature was also apparent in the joke that he pulled on Roger in the episode’s final scenes. Speaking of Betty, January Jones also did a top-notch job in those scenes with Hamm. She also gave an excellent performance in Betty’s confrontation with Don, following the dinner with Roger; and her conversation with neighbor Francine about her desire to attract attention. I have noticed that most of the series’ fans seemed to regard Betty as a child in a woman’s body. Granted, Betty had her childish moments in the episode – especially during her confrontation with neighbor Helen Bishop at a local grocery store. But I have always harbored the opinion that she is no more or less childish than the other main characters. This episode seemed to prove it. One last performance that stood out came from Vincent Kartheiser as the young Accounts executive Pete Campbell. To this day, I do not understand why he is the only major cast member who has never received an acting nomination for an Emmy or Golden Globe. Because Kartheiser does such a terrific job as the ambiguous Pete. His complexity seemed apparent in “Red in the Face”. In one scene, he tried to exchange a rather ugly wedding gift for something more dear to his heart – a rifle. His attempt to exchange the gift seemed to feature Pete as his most childish. Yet, he also seemed to be the only Sterling Cooper executive who understood the advertising value of John F. Kennedy’s youthful persona during the 1960 Presidential election.

Earlier, I had commented on how screenwriter Bridget Bedard’s use of childish behavior by some of the main characters as a major theme for “Red in the Face”. I have noticed that once this behavior is apparent; Roger, Don, Betty and Pete are left humiliated or “red in the face” after being exposed. Betty’s decision to give a lock of hair to Helen Bishop’s nine year-old son in (1.04) “New Amsterdam” led to a confrontation between the two women at a grocery store and a slap delivered by Betty after being humiliated by Helen. If I had been Betty, I would have admitted that giving young Glen a lock of her hair was a mistake, before pointing out Glen’s habit of entering a private bathroom already in use. And Pete’s decision to trade the ugly-looking chip-and-dip for a rifle led to being berated over the telephone by his new wife, Trudy. Only a conversation with Peggy Olson, Don’s secretary, about his fantasies as a hunter could alleviate his humiliation. During the Drapers’ dinner party with Roger, the latter noted that Don’s habit of slipping his “Gs” indicated a rural upbringing – a revelation that left Don feeling slightly humiliated. And after accusing Betty of flirting with Roger, she retaliated with a snide comment about his masculinity. Don tried to retaliate by calling her a child, but Betty’s stoic lack of response only fed his humiliation even more. However, he did get even with Roger by setting up the latter with a cruel practical joke that involved a falsely inoperative elevator and a heavy lunch that included oysters and cheesecake. Although the joke left Don feeling smug and vindicated, I was left more convinced than ever of his penchant for childish behavior. Aside from feeling humiliated by a pair of young females’ attention toward Don, Roger managed to coast through most of the episode without paying a price for his behavior. In the end, he suffered the biggest humiliation via his reaction to Don’s joke – by vomiting in front of prospective clients.

“Red in the Face” featured many scenes that I found entertaining – especially the impromptu dinner party given by the Drapers for Roger Sterling. But if I must be honest, I did not find it particularly impressive. Although “Red in the Face” offered viewers a negative aspects of four of the main characters, I do not believe it did nothing to advance any of the stories that began at the beginning of the season. I must also add that Betty’s confrontation with Helen Bishop seemed out of place in this episode. While watching it, I had the distinct impression that this scene, along with Betty and Francine’s conversation, should have been added near the end of “New Amsterdam”. By including it in “Red in the Face”, it almost seemed out of place.

I could never regard “Red in the Face” as one of the best episodes of Season One or the series. But I cannot deny that thanks to performances by John Slattery, Jon Hamm, January Jones and Vincent Kartheiser, I found it entertaining.