Monday, August 17, 2009

Limit your exposure.

Attn: I am going to be recapping individual episodes of Mad Men each week, so anyone who isn't caught up should avoid these posts and the spoilers within. This means you, Dad.

Last night, the third season of everyone's favorite show, Mad Men, finally premiered. Their marketing in recent weeks, with a Mad Men Casting Call contest (brilliantly tied in to Banana Republic), a "Mad Men Yourself" avatar maker, and wonderful Don Draper drowning ads, has built the anticipation up perceptibly. I am a Mad Men latecomer, having watched the first two seasons on DVD this year, subsequently purchased them, and rewatched. I have a track record of getting into shows two seasons too late (Lost, House, HIMYM, Grey's Anatomy -- though Grey's and I broke up at the end of season 3), so I am familiar with the "good hurt"* of watching the third season premiere on television, ingesting the goods with commercials and weeklong breaks for the first time. This is never as bad as it was with Lost, and thankfully last night's Mad Men had limited advertising (ironically enough).

But enough of that. Let's talk content. The show's opening, in which Don imagines his birth, the birth of Dick Whitman. I love seeing scenes of Dick's cornpone youth, because it is so jarring when juxtaposed with the crisp, bespoke Don Draper's adult life. Betty is heavily pregnant, and mostly glossed over in this episode. I can't wait to see her given more screen time, though she was a focus of the end of season 2.

Peggy and Joan, everyone's favorite characters, were also mostly glossed over, but each revealed something interesting about recent months. Peggy's got her own secretary now, who is less enthused about respecting Peggy's status than even her male coworkers. And Joan mentioned that she is going to be "out of here" before too long. Did her rape last season, at the hands of her fiancé, crush the ambition and pride she once had in her job? Is she planning to become a housewife? Answers soon, please!

Things are still a little nebulous at Sterling Cooper, or at least I still don't quite have a grasp on who's who in the boardroom since the merger. There's definitely a British presence in the office, and strings are being pulled, but everything just seems generally in flux. Pete and Ken were both sneakily offered the job of Head of Accounts, and are going to have to share the title until one of them knocks the other off the pedestal (American Gladiator style, one hopes). Pete made a quick reference to Peggy, seeming very cold towards the mention of her name. I can only imagine that in the months since her confession to him last season, he has taken pains to avoid her whenever possible.

The most captivating arc in the episode was easily Don's and Sal's business trip to Baltimore. Accidentally in disguise, the two end up attracting the attention of some stewardesses and a pilot, with whom they share dinner. Predictably, Don and Shelly, the more "game" of the two girls, end up arm in arm upstairs. She hesitates briefly about their tryst, saying she's engaged, but he might be her "last chance." Don's reply, "I've been married a long time. You get plenty of chances," was kind of chilling. Don't you think if you were engaged, and some handsome guy you were considering riding dirty with said that, you'd get so skeeved out? And also intimidated at the onset of your own marital discord? He admits it's his birthday, and I suspect it really is -- Dick's, not Don's -- so they do end up in bed. Shelly's awkward prattle while undressing was uncomfortable to watch, as it represented the nervous insecurity of most women, standing nude in front of a stranger.

And then Sal -- Sal! -- finally had some screen time devoted to his biggest secret, the fascinating storyline hinted at since the pilot. We've heard whispers of Sal's homosexuality, and times when it was teased at but thwarted, but in general his suave je ne sais quoi, or as we call it today, his "sparkle," has been written off as Italianism. Last night a young bellman made the first move, kissing and undressing Sal who was too stunned to be more than a passive participant. Actor Bryan Batt did such a good job of portraying breathlessly exactly what was going on. It was his dream, his worst fear, and it was too good to be true. The confirmation of what he'd never admitted to himself.

Of course, a fire alarm interrupted the tryst before it could go very far, and Don caught a glimpse of Sal in flagrante delicto as he made his way down the fire escape. While viewers know enough about Don, his past, and his treatment of Peggy in her time of crisis, to know that he is unlikely to out him, Sal is palpably terrified of what Don's reaction will be. He says nothing until discussing their London Fog ad with him on the flight home, describing a woman in a trench coat revealing herself to a man (note that Shelly wore only a trenchcoat on her way downstairs during the fire alarm the night before). Don's copy: "Limit your exposure." A tad scolding, mostly sage advice to Sal in a time when neither his wife nor his coworkers would appreciate knowing what Sal doesn't want them to know. Kind of genius writing, Mad Men staff, well done. Interestingly, no sign of Kurt, last season's Gay-or-European (it's a trick, he's both!) around the office. Perhaps the new British bosses are not as tolerant of mock-turtleneck wearers?

Can't wait to tune in next week.
Mad Men, season 3, episode 1, "Out of Town." Sunday nights at 10pm on AMC.

*Taco Bell or some such has been using this term in radio ads to describe the sensation of eating spicy food. I think it's kind of gross, but also kind of fascinating (a lot like Lady GaGa), so I'm trying to figure out how best to reappropriate it.

No comments: