Wow – Mad Men continues to impress! In this episode in particular, the attention to detail was simply amazing. It began with a party scene (more on that later), then went back to the office the next morning, where people were huddled around a radio: it seems that American Airlines flight 1 had crashed in Jamaica Bay (and yes, that actually happened). Later in the episode, one of the characters goes to Mass, and not only is the priest celebrating the Mass in Latin (Vatican II hasn’t happened yet), the crucifix is also draped in purple cloth… and yes, the American crash did happen during Lent in 1962. It’s the attention to detail that really makes this show so special; most other TV shows would have had the Mass in English, or forgotten to drape the crucifix in cloth (or both). But not Mad Men.
As mentioned, the episode opens with a long party scene at Paul’s place in Montclair, New Jersey. Paul makes a big deal about telling everyone from Sterling Cooper how “artsy” and bohemian Montclair is. He lords over his party with his new beard, ascot, a pipe… and his new black girlfriend! Paul is a pretentious twit, and his efforts to be “cool” are obvious to everyone. He’ll get his comeuppance later in this episode, trust me.
We then move ahead to the next morning, where everyone is huddled around the radio, listening to news reports about the plane crash. People start making off-color jokes, including Pete… who finds out minutes later that his father was aboard the plane that crashed:
It’s never been a secret that Pete and his father didn’t get along. Pete’s dad hated his son’s profession (he famously called Pete a “pimp” in “New Amsterdam” in season 1). Pete’s dad – from a now-broke blueblood New York family now coasting by on their name alone – was an overbearing bastard, the type of guy that only tells his son that he loves him once or twice in an entire lifetime. Although Pete is often played as a jerk, it was nice seeing him look around the office for sympathy, specifically how he looked to Don as a father figure. But more on that later.
While all that’s going on, Sterling, Cooper and Duck are having an intense conversation. It seems that one of Duck’s contacts from his London days works for American, and they are interested in possibly changing ad agencies in the wake of the crash. There is, of course, a catch: Sterling Cooper currently represents Mohawk Airlines. And thus, a huge conflict erupts between Sterling, Cooper and Duck (who see huge dollar signs if they can land the American account) and Don (who thinks it’s unfair to ditch Mohawk Airlines just for the chance of landing American). This is, of course, quite revealing. Don is, at heart, a con man. You’d think that he’d be all for trying to get an account that could get him a summer home in the Hamptons. But no: Richard Whitman has so thorougly become the man he is pretending to be that he can’t see things as they actually are.
We then visit the Campbell family as they “grieve” over the loss of their father\husband. Many online pundits seemed to misunderstand this scene. It’s an old-school WASP family that has absolutely no idea how to grieve, much less deal with each other:
It’s slightly familiar (although my family wasn’t nearly as stiff as the Campbell family). The bit where Pete’s mom pratically forces Trudy to take the pink elephant is so… human. She sees her world collapsing around her – especially since Pete’s dad apparently not only spent all of his own money, but also spent a huge chunk of his wife’s trust fund too. It’s awkward, in much the same way that scenes from The Office make you cringe… only this time it’s not funny.
Next its off to the Draper home, where Don only wants to rest after a trying day. Unfortunately for Don, Carlton and Francine are coming over to play cards. There was a lot going on in these scenes: Don teaching his young daughter how to make mixed drinks (that’s probably considered “child abuse” thse days); the kids sneaking around, trying to see what the adults are up to; Don and Betty’s differing opinions about their son tracing a drawing and claiming it as his own (Betty: “he’s a liar”, Don: “boys will be boys”); the almost complete reversal of Don and Betty’s roles in the home (sometime between late 1960 and spring 1962, Betty started wearing the pants inside the Draper home, and now Don is the whiny, needy one – more impotence on his part?); lastly, there’s Don’s nickname for Betty. During season 1, he usually called her “Birdie” – now she’s “Bets”. What does that mean, exactly?