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William Bradley

William Bradley

Posted: November 2, 2009 06:41 PM

It's November 22, 1963 On Mad Men: HuffPost Review

What's Your Reaction:

"Everything's going to be okay."

-- Don Draper

No, Don. It won't. It really won't.


A day we've long awaited on Mad Men, November 22, 1963, has arrived in "The Grown-Ups," the second to last episode of this very fine third season.

As always in these reviews, there be spoilers ahead, so you've been warned.


President John F. Kennedy delivers his Inaugural Address.

I've always wondered how Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner and the shows's terrific corps of writers and producers would handle one of the most critical and shattering events in American history, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I think they pulled it off brilliantly.

Having lived through both, albeit as a small child in the first instance, the JFK assassination was an even bigger event than 9/11. I can give you historical and political reasons for this, but I'm not really writing about politics per se in these reviews.

The Kennedy assassination -- and the tragedy is deepened even further by virtue of the fact that this is the first Kennedy assassination, presaging the assassination five years later of my boyhood hero, Robert F. Kennedy -- was the first mass experience of a televised event. It was an astonishing experience, a cultural breakpoint, which had its greatest impact on young people.

It is no coincidence that the tremendous grief and angst that the assassination of JFK triggered would segue, only weeks later, into the American version of Beatlemania. Which was even more intense in America than in Britain. The following month, under pressre from radio listeners hearing bootleg copies from Britain, Capitol Records made an early release of a single called "I Want To Hold Your Hand." And the month after that, the American version of the album released in Britain on the very day of the JFK assassination, "With The Beatles." Which I'm listening to now.


Betty Draper discovered Don's little box of big secrets in Episode 11.

Rather than treat the assassination as a background event, with, say, Joan telling a friend on the phone how sad it was as she put on her stockings and Pete -- the show's unacknowledged modernist all along -- banging his head against the wall in his office, the show placed it right in the foreground throughout.

That's as it had to be. This is a show about many things, but it views its era, which is now about to change again, and very dramatically, through the prism of the advertising business.

Advertising is about media. Media reflects and directs the culture. And there was no bigger media event than the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Deftly directed by Oscar nominee Barbet Schroeder, the episode begins deceptively with Pete Campbell sleeping in his office, looking like a child on his sofa. (He grows up a great deal in the next few days.) There's a cold snap, the heat in the Sterling Cooper building isn't working, and he's freezing. Hildy brings him cocoa, but it's made with water, as Pete sulkily points ot. Then he apologizes to her, which he wouldn't have done in season one.


Don Draper was on top of the world in Episode 10.

Summoned to Lane Pryce's office -- the Brit is amusingly wearing a heavy scarf, and gloves, from his London days -- Pete gets what Lane correctly tells him is bad news. Lane has decided to promote Ken Cosgrove over Pete, ending their competition as co-chiefs of accuonts. Ken gets the senior vice presidency, and Pete gets a consolation title.

Lane gives Pete a very insightful explanation for the decision. (And it is his decision, solely, which again raises the question of how Roger Sterling, whose name was left off the latest organizational chart handed down from London, would be able to summarily fire art director Sal Romano.)

Pete, explains Lane, does an excellent ob of meeting the clients' needs. However, "Mr. Cosgrove has the rare gift of making clients think they haven't any needs."


Don Draper's amigo and uber-client, Connie Hilton, was disappointed in Episode 9 when surrogate son Don didn't give him the Moon. But he's still a big fan, hosting the 40th anniversary party for Sterling Cooper at the Waldorf Astoria.

Ken really is quite charming and adept at what he does, seemingly effortlessly. And, typically, he's making nice out in the office as Pete decides he's taken ill and heads for home.

Coming out of the elevator, he runs into Peggy Olsen and her ill-conceived roommate, who've had a less than frolicking lunch.

Peggy's roomie doesn't like Duck Phillips' aftershave. In fact, she doesn't like the whole idea of Duck. After all, he's not married. "Why are you with him,"? she asks Peggy.

Elsewhere, my least favorite character in the show -- okay, next to Betty's brother -- Roger Sterling's spoiled brat of a daughter, Margaret, is with her mother, Roger's ex-wife. Whose divorce demands when Roger married Don's 20-year old secretary Jane led to the sale of Sterling Cooper to their British overlords.


Here's a quick recap of Episode 8.

Margaret is whining and complaining. Jane gave her a beautiful wedding present from DeBeers. She's so terrible!

"Doesn't she know that, that she ruined my life?" And she's giving Margaret advice! "Don't go to bed mad. Be sexy."

Margaret works herself into such a state that she declares that, since Jane is coming to her wedding -- brilliantly set for November 23, 1963 -- she's not going to go herself.

So she calls Daddy to whine some more. Roger Sterling is, as you know, played by the terrific John Slattery. And in a devilish bit of casting, his real-life wife Talia Balsam plays his now ex-wife on the show. Roger tells the erstwhile apple of his eye to put Mona on the phone.

They hilariously tag team the brat to kind yet definitive effect.

Now Roger is exasperated by both his daughter and his young wife. For he "forbid" her to be in contact with his daughter. When she comes in, looking like a cross between Jackie Kennedy and a New York fashion model, he upbraids her, treating her like a child for contacting Margaret. "I'm the good person here," she exclaims. No, you're not, he tells her, because she didn't do what she was told. She doesn't take that sort of thing well, and so Roger's lovely row with Jane ends with her locking herself in her room.

Now we're at Pete's. He's eating some sort of comfort food, and tells his wife he's been fired. After coolly determining that he hasn't been, with Pete hilariously describing his session with Lane, Trudy is again looking for the bright side. And probing. "Stop it with the Ellery Queen," Pete tells her, not unkindly.


A quick recap of Episode 7.

That night, Betty is impressed to find Don rocking their crying baby in the middle of the night. He's trying, and the storm of last episode's revelation of his total identity theft has passed. Still, there's a certain reserve in her manner.

Now we're at Sterling Cooper on November 22nd. Peggy is going over ideas with Paul Kinsey. The phone rings and it's Duck Phillips. He wants to hook up. Now. For a nooner at the Elysee Hotel. He even throws in a Montecristo sandwich for enticement, knowing her appetites. Peewee, he says, it's been three weeks. "Peewee?"

Overhearing her side of the conversation and getting the gist, Paul gently ribs Peggy, who tries to say she has to go the printer. And off she goes. Not to the printer.

Pete and Harry Crane are talking office politics. Harry acknowledges he knew that Pete wasn't getting the big ob, having been informed but not consulted.

The TV is on in Harry's office, as it always is, since he has to monitor shows to see if their TV ads air. Pete asks that the sound be turned down, at least, while they talk.

Harry notes that his hard work, too, has been overlooked by the Sterling Coo leadership. "I'm going to die at this desk unnoticed," he says. Ironic.


"Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency" is a consequential episode.

A moment later, CBS anchor Walter Cronkite comes on to announce the first fragmentary report of the shooting in Dallas. Neither Harry nor Pete notice. That doesn't last long, as a crowd of their co-workers bursts into the office, demanding that the sound be turned up.

Don is in Lane's office, complaining that his choice to replace Sal as art director has been turned down. No art director, per London, says Lane. It's too expensive. When Don protests, Lane offers him his phone to call St. John Powell. Stymied, Don leaves in a huff with the line, "Bert Cooper still has some say around here."

Then the phone Lane had offered Don to call London rings. "What?!," he exclaims at the unheard news.

Eagerly awaiting Peggy's arrival, Duck hears the early report, then yanks out the TV's power cord. He wants to get busy with Peggy before dealing with as big a distraction as the assassination of the president.

The phones are ringing now, unanswered, all over Sterling Cooper as Don walks through the office. Then the phones go silent. The telephone system across the country, overloaded, is going down. "What the hell is going on,?" Don demands. No one but the audience hears him.


The essential milieu of Mad Men is not all that admirable.

Back at Chez Draper, Betty is in shock. She and Carla, the African American housekeeper who spends so much of her time raising the Drapers' kids, are both crying heavily as the Cronkite confirmation comes that President Kennedy is in fact dead. Little Sally, so keyed into Betty's emotions, hugs her to comfort her.

Recall that Betty said that she hated Kennedy in season one. Because the sexy neighborhood divorcee worked on his campaign. That was sad little Glenn's mother, who had threatened Betty with her independence. Now Betty, perhaps enticed by the glamorous vision of the Kennedy marriage -- she was transfixed when Jackie did her televised tour of the White House early in season two -- loves Kennedy and is devastated by his assassination. This event will lead her to reconsider the shaky foundations of her own life.

In afterglow, as it were, at the Elysee, Peggy is dreamy yet concerned. "Did you give me a hickey,?" she asks. Her mother so hates seeing those. Duck has something else on his mind. "Listen," he tells her, "there was a news story on before you came in. It's been distracting me." And so they, too, learn of the assassination. Well, Peggy learns. Duck already knew, which should give Peggy pause as she considers the nature of their relationship.

Meanwhile, Margaret, in billowy white dress, is sobbing that her wedding is ruined. Ruined!

Back at Chez Draper, where Don has returned as nothing is getting done at Sterling Coo on this day, Don and Betty are hugging, qite warmly, clinging to each other really, and the kids are transfixed by what they are seeing on the television. Betty's a wreck.

But Don tries to maintain an even strain. He asks why the kids are watching this. This is clearly not what Betty wants to hear. "What am I supposed to do? Keep it from them?" Don tells the kids to turn off the TV. But they don't. And neither, finally, does he.

Gathering them with him on the sofa, he tries to keep it cool. "Everything's going to be okay. We have a new president. Everyone's going to be sad for a bit.There's a funeral on Monday."

Then Don starts to get it, as little Bobby asks: "Are we going to the funeral?"

The next day, however, Don is insistent on going to the Sterling wedding. Betty wants no part of it. She wants to watch the Kennedy coverage.

Back in the city, Pete is feeling the same as Betty. He really doesn't want to go to this wedding. Not only is he furious with his bosses, he thinks Roger's daughter is an appallingly spoiled brat and it's bizarre to hold her wedding at this time.

And he's bitter about Kennedy's death. Very bitter. "It felt for a second like everything was going to change." Asked by Trudy if he's been drinking, he replies: "The whole country's drinking."

It's clear that Trudy, who has become much ore of a grown-up, having dealt with her disappointment about not having a child or adopting, doesn't really want to go to this silly wedding, either. But she's being a helpful wife. Perhaps they'll cancel, she wonders.

No, says Pete, "They'll never cancel. You know why? Because they're happy." "'Man had a lot of enemies,'" he quotes some unnamed colleagues. And his friend Harry Crane is "more concerned about ads getting canceled."


Here's a quick recap of Episode 5.

Infuriated by this, Trudy agrees with Pete that they should stay in. Like most of the country.

The wedding is the predictable disaster. Well, it's even worse than that. Actually, we don't see the wedding. We see the reception, which is bad enough. Apparently few came to the wedding, though the church was deceptively full. Filled, that is, with people praying in the aftermath of Kennedy's assassination.

There's a bigger crowd for the reception, as this is where people mingle and, naturally, grease the wheels of business. Even so, there are lots of no-shows. Which means everybody can have not one, but both entrees. If they help themselves, that is, as there are also no waiters. There isn't even a wedding cake.

Roger is downing drinks. Jane, completely bored with Margaret's wedding, is in the hotel kitchen watching the TV coverage with Bert Cooper, Ken Cosgrove, and Harry Crane. She's getting a bit sloshed, too. Roger wants her to come out for his toast. Jane is having none of that, and notes there's no one there and she's heard his toast a million times. She's much more interested in the Kennedy story.


A quick recap of Episode 4.

Betty, sitting diffidently in pale green, the better to accent her very pale appearance, with Don at their mostly empty table, spies Henry Francis. And, taken aback, whispers "Of course." For he looks at first to be a typical disappointing guy with a young babe. But no, the senior advisor to New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller is with his daughter, as Betty approvingly overhears.

Roger takes the microphone and gives it the old college try. "This could have been an awful day," he says, gamely ignoring the fact that it clearly is. "We could have been watching TV but here we are all watching you on your special day," he says to his daughter and new son-in-law.

Quipping that he has wonderful things to say about his wife so he wants her to come back from the kitchen, he drops his voice and says: "But while we're alone ..." Then he gives a touching toast to his ex-wife, calling Mona "a lioness." A lioness who "didn't eat her cub" in the run-up to the wedding.

Roger is a great after-dinner speaker, that's for sure. And we see that Don agrees, for he has an approving gleam in his eye as he watches his old pal play the trouper.

Betty is now decidedly standoffish with Don after sighting Henry. As they dance, Don says, "Hey, everything's going to be fine." Betty doesn't think so. "How do you know that,?" she asks, coolly. He kisses her, yet she seems diffident. "You'll see," he says.

And now we get a variation on Betty's first meeting with Henry Francis, back on Derby Day. She comes out of the ladies room and they catch sight of one another. This time, Henry is standing in frame with Don, a little behind and to his left, not to borrow a line from Oliver Stone's take on the assassination. Betty walks toward them and it isn't clear who she's going to at first. Till she takes the arm of the still oblivious Don and walks out of the room.


Here's a quick recap of Episode 3.

Now Roger is carrying his young bride to bed. She's drunk, slung over his sholder. She doesn't drink well, and has probably taken to it out of boredom with her much older hsband, who isn't listening to her and is treating her like a child. But she still gets off one of the best lines.

"He was so handsome, and now I'll never get to vote for him!"

With Jane dead weight on the bed beside him, Roger calls Joan. To check in on such a big day. Clearly, she is still a very important touchstone for Roger.

"Joan, I wish you could have seen it. Oh my God, what a disaster."

Tellingly, his old lover has forgotten about the wedding. And she doesn't seem to have that job that Roger was fixing for her yet, either.

Her erstwhile ticket out and up, Greg aka Dr. Blockhead, is, she says, off at the ER. The country, she notes, has stopped cold, but people are still getting sick and getting hurt. Life, at least of a sort, is going on.

"I'm glad he's not home," notes Roger. "I had to talk to you. Nobody else is saying the right thing about this." Roger admits he doesn't really know what to say.

"Because," Joan tells him, "there's nothing funny about this."

Incidentally, we shouldn't necessarily expect to see Joan with Roger, or all that evident in the show as it goes on. In real life, even the best people can spin off in different directions.


A quick recap of Episode 2.

Ironically, Jane is passed out next to Roger while he talks with Joan, her old nemesis at Sterling Cooper. It was only because Joan took a disliking to the new girl, and fired her -- oddly without checking with Jane's real boss, Don -- that Roger hooked up with her and ended up marrying her. Setting the big changes at Sterling Cooper in play.

The next day at Chez Draper, Don and Betty seem to have a detente. He's fixing a drink while she watches Lee Harvey Oswald being brought through the Dallas police station. She shreaks when notorious mafia associate Jack Ruby is allowed to walk right up to Oswald and shoot the purported presidential assassin to death on live television.

Don, too, is appalled. For Betty, it's at last too much. The world has swng off its axis. "What is going on,?" she cries. Don again tries to comfort her, his assurances ringing utterly false. Like his identity. "Oh, please, let me alone," she tells him, shaking him off.

Later, Betty nudges Don awake on the sofa. She's going for a drive. He thinks a family drive is a fine idea. She doesn't. "I need to clear my head," she tells him, coldly.

She pulls the car into a deserted parking lot, where she meets Henry Francis.

"Derby Day," she notes, thinking back to the day they met. "It seems like a hundred years ago. And then this morning, seeing that man shot to death. What is going on?"

Like Don, Henry tells her that it will be okay. After all, we've lost presidents before. America goes on. He's wrong, because it hasn't happened like this. Betty doesn't believe his words any more than Don's.

He offers to leave the Rockefeller campaign now. He wants to marry Betty. She doesn't know what to say, yet she likes what she hears. Here is a man who is giving her what she needs, adoration. Don stopped adoring her a long time ago.

He tells her that if she searches her heart, she'll know that he can make her happy. They kiss very passionately.

Soon it's time for her to go. Searching for a way to make her feel better, he tells her that he wants to take her to the movies. To go to "some theater playing your favorite movie. What is that?" It's Singing In the Rain. "Well," he tells her, "just think about that." She smiles and glows, for the first time in the episode.


Mad Men's third season opener set a strong stage for things to come.

Pete and Trudy are outraged by Oswald's murder. "They just stood there," Pete marvels. "No security. Why even have a trial?"

Pete's not going into Sterling Coo the next day. "It's a national day of mourning."

Trudy is fine with that. She's come around to his first instinct at being passed over, which was to go elsewhere. "You don't owe them anything," she says. "You shold start gathering your clients. They'll follow you wherever yo go." Well, that will depend on where he goes, won't it?

Betty is back at Chez Draper. She's being decisive. "I don't know where to begin," she tells Don. "I want to scream at you for ruining all this. Then you try to fix it. And there's no point."

Don is, once again, saying all will be well. "I know it's painful. It's going to pass. You're distraught."

What Don doesn't understand is that learning that he is really Dick Whitman has broken the picture of him in her head. And that Henry Francis is sliding into that old slotting of the masterful man who will adore her.

Betty has been left out in the suburbs rather than included in Don's high-flying ad exec life, which she's told him repeatedly she wants. She experienced what it could be like in Rome with Don and Connie Hilton. And was left in the end with only a charm for her charm bracelet, as she bitterly noted at the time.

"I don't love you," she tells Don. "I kissed you yesterday and I didn't feel a thing." Unlike what she just experienced with Henry, whose name is his own, who is legitimately an advisor to one of the leading politicians in the country, and who is willing to step away from that for a time to be with her.

Don again tells her that everything's going to be okay. Yet neither is hearing the other, as they both acknowledge.

Betty turns up the TV to watch more of the Kennedy coverage, shutting Don out. Don goes upstairs to the bedroom, where he sits in a chair, balling up from inside.


"All My Loving" is on "With The Beatles." The album was released in Britain on November 22, 1963.

The next morning, Don puts on his suit and goes into Sterling Cooper. Betty is silent and wan as he leaves.

The office is dark. There is only the sound of one typewriter. It's Peggy. The office is the place where these two are truly at home.

Don asks her what she's doing there.

She's reworking that awkward Aqua Net spot. You remember, the one with the two couples in a convertible.

The storyboard looks exactly like Dallas the moment before the shots ring out.

"What are you doing here,?" Peggy asks.

Don delivers one of the best lines, perhaps a valedictory for his marriage, the facade of which may finally have been shattered by the shattering events in Dallas.

"The bars are closed."

Peggy notes that the president's funeral is beginning. With Don's okay, she goes into Bert Cooper's office to watch it. Don does not. Instead, he goes into his darkened office and pours himself a drink.

"The End of the World" plays over the credits.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.