Sunday, October 03, 2010

"No, it's not."

Mad Men Season 4, Ep. 9 ('The Beautiful Girls') was extraordinary. While remaining true to a set of characters, it meditated on the overlapping destinies of 5-6 micro-generations of women. Apparently, Sondheim's Follies, which opens and closes with the number 'Beautiful Girls', is an important reference. Will have to check that out now.

At any rate, the episode climaxed with a remarkable series of Resnais-meets-Demy, female tableaux, anchored by the amazing facial acting of Christina Hendricks. Just, wow.

I don't pretend to know what to think of the final image of Peggy, white-gloved (like Betty), smiling. She's less touched by Sally Draper and Miss Blankenship than the others of course, but evidently there's a lot more going on than that. Peggy looks the best pulled-together she ever has in that final shot. On the one hand, she looks like she's off to the Country (white privilege) Club, which, given the racial themes of the ep., would be somewhat disappointing. On the other hand, her hat/bonnet is halo-like, and the light that flares up off the closing elevator doors creates angels' wings for her. A Catholic icon or an astronaut like Blankenship? I dunno, but either way this is impressively suggestive cinematography.

And is Mad Men secretly, actually Peggy's memoir/novelistic reconstruction of her time with Don Draper (written when, say, she's herself an '80s, eminence grise of the ad. world)? Probably not, but that possibility, among others, was certainly opened by the end of this extraordinary, gut-twisting, brain-bursting episode. For some reason too, the end of the ep. made me think of (is soundtracked internally for me by) this piece by Olafur Arnalds:

One flaw with the ep.? Megan (Jessica Pare) half swallows her lines before and after Sally's heart-breaking 'No, it's not'. Of course, Megan is supposed to be a little awkward, unformed, not especially poised, possibly vaguely promoted above her abilities because of her looks (although I don't quite get those beyond her impressive, but somewhat generically runway model-ish height and figure), etc.. So her verbal clumsiness is arguably a feature of and not a problem with Pare's performance. Still, the near-('80s Valley-girl-to-early-Anne-Hathaway) lack of enunciation, the speaking from the back of her mouth and in scattered sentence fragments grates. It makes Megan (and Pare) stick out like a proverbial sore thumb on Mad Men. The end of ep. 4.10, indicating a wider role for Megan on the show therefore currently looks to me like a mistake, even setting aside the dread that a Don-Megan 'ship inspires.

Update October 5: The end of ep. 4.11 confirms that Mad Men has indeed made one of its occasional blunders (comparable to some about Betty last season), this time with Megan. Having been quite inarticulate and apparently unsophisticated up until this point, Megan is now quickly and implausibly revealed as a college grad., as super-calculating and worldly, and as, in fact, pretty much just a plot device to heighten Don's damage-done-already to Faye. Having Faye breach her Chinese wall at Don's suggestion was enough: it's a fateful self-betrayal by Faye that was well set up over a couple of eps. The additional element with Don and Megan then and there is insane, soap-erific overkill. And, realistically, that they actually have sex brings to a head that the show has gone to the well of spontaneous, causal sex too often. It's become a crutch for the writers at this point. Don going out for a bite with Megan and having a good time (i.e., her surprising us and him with her depths, etc.) would still have been unnecessary heightening for Don's situation with Faye, but it would at least have satisfied basic believability. Badly done Mr Weiner. Badly done Erin Levy (the official, sole author of ep. 4.11).

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