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'Mad Men': 'The Souvenir'

Betty

Step aside, dapper gentlemen of Sterling Cooper. “The Souvenir” was Betty’s episode to shine – if only for that updo, a soft and sweeping tower of golden blond hair. She could’ve wandered onto “La Dolce Vita” and elbowed Anita Ekberg off to the side. In fact, Betty’s whole being seemed to glow in the Roman moon. She was like some underwater creature, floating at the bottom of the ocean, undiscovered till now.

Don only sees her power sometimes. When bilingual Betts (and hey, maybe she knows French too) talked politics with him in the kitchen, his eyes lit up, dazzled by her savvy. He saw a rare side to his wife, probably one that came out more in their courtship but is buried all too often these days in preparing chicken salad sandwiches and gossiping with Francine. Henry Francis sees her depth too, but Betty probably won’t let him get any closer than that Cadillac kiss.

When Betty and Don return from Rome, Carla informs them that Sally freaked out on Bobby after he teased her for kissing Ernie. Betty sits down with Sally and, in one of her few moments of mature, sensitive parenting that we’ve seen on-screen, Betty tells Sally what is special about kissing. It’s where you go from a stranger to knowing someone, she says. Every kiss after is a shadow of that first kiss. A lovely explanation to be sure, but she also wedged in “You don’t kiss boys; boys kiss you.” Third-wave feminism, come wash this silliness away!

Of course, eventually Betty wakes up in her Ossining home and realizes that not even Don’s trinket – a sparkling mini-Colosseum for her charm bracelet – will keep the magic intact. They pretended to be lovers on an international tryst, but now it’s back to baby Gene and late nights of not knowing where Don is, with only wafts of cigarette smoke and red wine to keep her company.

“The Souvenir” also brought us plenty of Pete Campbell. This episode didn’t do much to obviously further any larger plot – it was more like a drift of scenes, humid and charged with secrecy. Like the August air in New York, it lulled the viewer into some sort of stasis that had more to it than it maybe first appeared. Strange things can happen during a heat wave, when the city is half emptied out.

Pete, bored with his “Davey and Goliath” cartoons while the wife is away, stumbles upon a sobbing au pair trying to stuff a stained dress down a garbage chute. As soon as Pete said he could help, ladies everywhere shuddered. Everyone knows this breed of guy – there are no real favors in Pete’s world; if he does something for you, you owe him. So it was no big surprise to see Pete pressure Gudrun into what was likely sex. (Something tells me Pete didn’t have a crisis of conscience right after that first kiss.)

Only Pete could figure out a way to subtly blame his wife for his affair. “I don’t want you to go away without me anymore,” he says to her over dinner. In one way, his request makes sense. Pete recognizes that he simply doesn’t have the strength or control to behave himself when she’s gone. On the other hand, it isn’t exactly taking responsibility for your behaviors or actions. In fact, when Ed Lawrence, the au pair’s employer, takes Pete to task for upsetting Gudrun, the conversation between the two neighbors barely has more tension to it than if Lawrence was telling Pete he was tired of his dog barking all night. It’s just one of those things about apartment living, ho hum – sometimes your neighbor manipulates your au pair into sex. What a hassle!

This episode’s best scene was easily the moment when Pete brings in the Bonwit Teller dress for exchange. What a stroke of brilliance to make Joan the manager. Of course, she being the ace detective she is, knows Pete’s lying through his teeth about this dress. Size 10? Trudy? No way … but Joan makes things easy on him and gives him a brand new one. Her mentioning that Greg would be possibly pursuing psychiatry was appalling. That is a guy you don't want anywhere near your mental health.

Seeing Joan was something like seeing a ghost. Her complete absence from the last episode was a smart move. Already her identity has mutated – her hair and makeup were just different enough to conjure the feeling of time passing in the way that carries us away from the memories of people we once saw every day. “This never happened,” she says to Pete, and a tacit agreement seems to pass between them. Pete will also keep her secret, but her comment carried little shivers of something else. It’s almost like Joan herself never happened — she’s already so far away from us.

That kind of sensation is at the fulcrum of “Mad Men.” One day someone can seem so familiar to us; the next day so strange. Betty and Don, for instance, have this flow between them in so many ways -- from Rome to Ossining -- and then there’s the great continuum of the self. As much as we can’t fully know our partners; our own selves carry vast reservoirs of mystery as well. There are certain pools of depth we may never discover in ourselves, but they are there, waiting to be found out.

— Margaret Wappler

Photo: Carin Baer

 
Comments () | Archives (12)

It was a Lincoln Continental Kiss.

I had a thought about Betty while I was writing my review. If only we could just take a scalpel and dig around in her brain, we’d probably like her a lot more. There may be a tipping point to liking Betty and I’m still not there yet, but after the scenes not in Rome, I’m certainly getting close. Her constant coldness is getting a tad creepy and her talk about kissing once again proved her inability as a mother. Full review of the episode.

http://th3tvobsessed.blogspot.com/2009/10/review-mad-men-season-3-episode-8.html

I am not sure about this show..It is just enough of a shot from my own life during that era to make me uncomfortable yet I am intrigued. But at times, the actors are so deliberately wooden, it's downright boring..

Pete acted like a creep and Don and Betty were fun to watch together for once.. but that was it. Or rather, that was it? .. I have to ask myself, were we that formal in those days even as while posturing for a s-e-x? OMG, we were "square" for sure but no, not really that dull and stilted as personalities.

Beautifully written article.

So let's see. It's 1963. We saw the July eclipse. Now the steamy August. So there's September, October and then November 22, 1963.

I hope this is not the end for Joan. I hate to see her disappear from the series like Rachel Menken Katz, Helen Bishop or Midge Daniels. They were potentially interesting women, but watching Joan in action was poetry in motion as she used her sexuality and brains to stay in control and maintain order in the office.

Too bad that life for her is taking an unexpected and disappointing turn for the worse.

Several episodes ago Roger was looking at his daughter's wedding invitation -- the day is Nov. 23, 1963.

A size 10 dress in 1963 would be more like a size 6 today. Fashion designers adjusted sizes downward in the US to appeal to women's vanity, but they still have the same old-school sizes in Britain.

I enjoyed the focus on Betty and her ease and comfort in Rome portrayed by her style, beauty and grasp of Italian. She was in her element. Until reality sets in on the return home and she states: 'I hate this place, I hate our friends' and you feel her pain as she thinks-is this my life? tuna sandwiches and gossiping?

What I missed from the episode was witty banter in the office. It all felt more like a soap than a drama.

Can't help the feeling that we're getting ready for the REALLY BIG THING. There's such an edge. The cusp of major changes. Pretty soon their sealed predictable lives will disappear, and they'll become who they really are. Look at Betty! Who knew?

Of course "Mad Men" didn't go to Rome to shoot the scene...does it look like the Music Center plaza to anyone else? And when Conrad Hilton called Don and Betty from the hotel lobby, was it in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion foyer? Silly, but I love figuring out the local landmarks they use for their outside filming.

Okay...Pete's foot was apparently amputated, at least according to conversations at the hospital. He doesn't seem to limp; nothing more has been said about the accident, his hospitalization, rehab, prosthesis, etc. What's up?


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