A small reminder: I’m making my way through all of Mad Men before the last episodes premiere next spring. The plan is to do two episodes a week, with reviews going up Mondays and Wednesdays, but the schedule might vary a little bit.
Announcement: This week’s off to a bad start, as I’ve been having some major computer problems. So, as faith would have it, I lost all my notes on this episode. This is all to excuse the fact that this review might not be very focused or specific, but I promise I’m doing my best to try and remember all the things I wrote about ‘Red in the Face’…
..which continues the heavily thematic episode structure laid out by “Babylon“, as it is an episode all about adults behaving like little kids. It’s a theme the episode, like most Mad Men installments, is not trying to hide. It comes out and announces itself right off the gate in the first scene, in which Don continues his horrible habit of calling up Betty’s psychiatrist to hear about his wife’s therapy. The call itself might be read as an immature thing to do, but the real spelling of the episode’s intentions comes when Dr. Wayne tells Don, about his wife, something along the lines of “we’re dealing with the behavior of a small child”.
Betty is only one of the characters that behaves like a child, and we’ll get to her later, for now let us focus on the biggest set-piece of the episode, in which Roger visits the Draper home. Earlier in the episode we learn that Roger’s wife and daughter are away for the weekend, and after Joan makes clear she won’t be spending the weekend canoodling with him, he ends up having dinner with the Drapers. Roger spends the night flirting with Betty in front of Don’s face, and even waits until his co-worker goes into the garage to get more booze to corner Betty into giving up some action. This is some heavily adolescent behavior from Roger, who seems as hysterically horny as a teenager, just looking for whatever pretty girl he can find. There is definitely something that he is looking to find in his romantic misadventures, as he expresses to Don at the bar, when he complains about women losing their glow when they turn thirty just before he realizes the young girls that seem to be flirting with him are really interested in the much younger Don.
Betty refuses Roger’s advances during dinner, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t enjoying it. For all the unethical behavior he is indulging in, Dr. Wayne is not terribly bad at his job, because his accusation that Betty is essentially a child is spot-on. Not that she’s the only childish character on the show, but how else would you categorize the slap she gives Helen Bishop at the supermarket, when she is confronted by the fact that she gave Glen a lock of her blond hair, if not as the reaction of a child that cannot tolerate frustration? An even deeper glimpse into Betty’s psyche comes later in the episode, when her nosy neighborhood friend Francine visits her looking for an explanation about what happened at the grocery store, and Betty goes on on a monologue about how she likes to flirt with other men just to feel the thrill of doing something that she perceives as being wrong. Pretty much everyone’s a cheater in this show, and we are already getting into the psychological reasons why they are that way.
Someone we have spent a lot of time with exploring what makes him want to be unfaithful to his wife is Don, who besides his numerous extra-marital affair, can’t be at peace for a minute knowing his boss was flirting with his wife the night before. We learn that not only is Don incredibly possessive (as most men, especially at that time in history, are), he can also use his immenseness creativity in incredibly cruel ways. Case in point, he stages a rather elaborate revenge on Roger, going out for an extreme lunch consisting of many oysters and heavy drinking, and paying Hollis to pretend the elevator is out of order, so that an old and out-of-shape Roger will have to climb up the stairs all the way to Sterling Cooper’s offices arriving just in time to throw up in front of the men who had come in for a special meeting regarding the Nixon campaign. The episode is not quite as thematically rich as “Babylon”, but, as you can see, it is incredibly clear and effective in landing its themes. These people are all incredibly childish, which truth be told, is something I have come to realize about adults. We are all just a bunch of kids with money.
Also in this Episode:
The other major character that acts like a child is Pete Campbell, who goes to a department store to exchange a chip-n-dip he got as a wedding gift. He runs into an admittedly very handsome friend of his, and when the shopgirl turns out to be very interested in this friend and not at all turned on by Pete, which is to say, the moment he feels like his manhood is being diminished, he decides to use the store credit he gets from the chip-n-dip to buy, of all things, a gun. His story-line seems to echo Roger’s rather nicely, as we look at the insecurities that would make these men act like idiots. That being said, the key moment for Pete comes in the scene in which he open up to Peggy and tells her about his dream of living in a cabin, going out hunting, and coming home with a piece of meat that his wife will cook and then watch him eat. This tells us a lot about Pete Campbell’s look on life, but also about where Peggy is at psychologically, since she seems to be completely into the idea of being the woman in Pete’s fantasy.
Like I said, my notes got lost, so I only have a couple of things that I remember I wanted to mention:
- Talking about Pete Campbell, I think it’s incredibly important to note, when trying to think about his character, that for as disgusting a person as he can be, Pete is a talented guy with a very strong vision for the future of advertising. His comments are on-point during the Nixon meeting when he points out why Kennedy is the most likely candidate to win. “He doesn’t even wear a hat” says Bert Cooper, to which Pete responds with “You know who doesn’t wear a hat? Elvis.” This guys knows where the money’s at.
- Also, SPOILERS FOR THE SHOW IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT, this is the introduction of Pete’s rifle, which has, for a long time now, been pointed out by many fans of the show as a sort of Chekhov’s gun, which will go off at one point during the show’s run, but hasn’t yet.