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'Mad Men': The boxes that bind

October 19, 2009 |  9:50 am
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Attention, couples: If one of you has a secret drawer, sooner or later, your partner will break into it. Or at the very least, they will fantasize about breaking into it. We all have secrets and should probably be allowed some secrets, but when they are locked away in a tangible location and are printed on papers with fancy, serious words like decree and deed, well, that’s just asking for trouble. At least keep all that incriminating evidence in a security box at the bank, Don!

If only another TV creation, Tony Soprano, could step in and show this guy how it’s done. Then again, that box in the backyard didn’t work out so great for him either.

When we heard that first metal scrape inside the dryer, there wasn’t anyone who thought, “Ooh, wonder if it’s a silver dollar!” No, we all said, “Uh-oh, Don’s in trouble.” Though Don’s drawer represents many of his most pervasive deceptions, they still have the patina of distance, unlike his affair with Suzanne, which the writers are desperately trying to imbue with a sense of magic.

Speaking of the writers, for those keeping track of  “Mad Men” internal affairs, Episode 10, “The Color Blue,” was penned by creator Matt Weiner and Kater Gordon, Weiner’s former assistant who made a meteoric rise to Emmy-winning scribe, only to be sacked recently amid juicy rumors.

“The Color Blue” felt awkward – it had neither the dreamy elegance of some of the earlier episodes of the season nor the exuberant plot machinations of the infamous lawn mower episode. It clunked along, tossing pleasant enough scenes our way, but it felt like appetizers when all we want this far along in the season is a hearty meal.
Nevertheless, let’s break it down, shall we? We met Suzanne’s brother this week – was anyone excited about that? An epileptic, Danny floats into her world ostensibly looking for a job, but it turns out a wad of money will do the trick. Don’s care and generosity toward Danny is supposed to show how fused he is with Suzanne at this point, but I’ve yet to see any evidence of why this affair is particularly special. We’ve seen the pillow talk and the kissing and the mutual tender touching of cheeks, but it remains flat and unconvincing. Suzanne, as a person, is simply dull – she doesn’t even have cool bongo-playing beatnik friends like Midge or a serious fantasia of hats to call upon like the department store heiress Rachel.

In Betty’s corner, things aren’t looking so great. No matter how low she might’ve plunged in that bath with her copy of Mary McCarthy’s “The Group,” nothing can take away her boredom, the nagging questions that must’ve been rattling around somewhere in her head. Is Don really working so hard? What am I supposed to do with all this time?

After Sally answered the phone and it was a hang-up, Betty phoned Henry Francis and asked him if he was the phone phantom in the night. Rather ungenerously, he reamed her for playing games. Betty tried to save face by getting off the line quickly, but we all felt flushed for her. An idle mind will do lots of things to preoccupy itself.

As Betty pawed through the contents of Don’s drawer, her face was stricken. She told Carla to keep the kids busy till dinner while she wrapped her mind around it all. Her first strategy was to confront Don when he got home, but as the hours waned, another strategy kicked in. Betty put away the box and performed as trophy wife for the 40th anniversary party of Sterling-Cooper, but obviously this won’t be the last we see or hear of that loaded box, to say nothing of the stacks of crisp cash. You can buy a lot of room-killing fainting couches with that dough.

In the Sterling-Cooper world, Cooper got depressed about the passing of time while Roger bitterly dug at his wayward protégé. He found Don working at a fur company and doing night school, he haughtily remarked over a dragon-like exhale. Lane Pryce comforted his stodgy British wife who can’t get a handle on America’s tricky cab system, not to mention the lack of stratified class.

Peggy and Paul shared a moment built around the vagaries of the creative process and a man named Achilles. A fine, minor scene but nothing to get too excited about.

And finally, one last thing: Hi, Lois! Nice to have you back. I’ve missed your daffy presence. Don’t sever anyone else’s dorsalis pedis artery, OK?

--Margaret Wappler

Photo: Carin Baer. Betty and Don, a dashing couple with secrets to hide.

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