By Sarah Carlson | TV | September 20, 2010 |
By Sarah Carlson | TV | September 20, 2010 |
We hardly knew ye, Miss Ida Blankenship, Don’s venerable if sometimes laughable personal secretary. Roger’s memoirs depict her as a hellcat in her youth, but in her golden years, she, played by Randee Heller, brought us great comedic and memorable one-liners — “It’s a business of sadists and masochists, and you know which one you are,” she said to Peggy just hours before her untimely death. Apt words, Ida. “Mad Men” is all about the give and take of its characters, and Sunday’s “The Beautiful Girls” focused on a variety of relationships and the members’ desires to appeal to their companions, either as friends, lovers, family or co-workers. Ida was always appealing, more so to the viewers than to Don, but he and others at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce were sad to see her go. Interestingly, her demise was played out in one of the funniest sequences of the series to date — “Weekend at Bernie’s” on 1965 Madison Avenue. The ninth episode of the season, written by Dahvi Waller and series creator Matthew Weiner and directed by Michael Uppendahl, mixed in drama as well, forming a pleasant chapter in the storyline that continued themes explored in last week’s heavier “The Summer Man” as well as bringing us a chance to laugh. How appealing.
Faye and Don are in the early stages of their relationship, meeting up for an afternoon delight at Don’s apartment before heading back to the office, where Roger and Joan are revisiting their past. Roger is flirting with Joan, trying to play cute but coming across as childish, and Joan isn’t interested. Her husband, Greg, has been called up for Vietnam after basic training, which Roger learns from his secretary, Caroline. Roger’s form of apology is sending a team of masseuses to Joan’s apartment that night for a massage, manicure and pedicure — he knew he was “rubbing her the wrong way,” so he thought he’d find those who could do it the “right” way.
Joyce stops by SCDP to invite Peggy out for drinks, a situation Stan enjoys teasing them about, giggling at the idea of them being lesbians. (Well, Joyce is.) At the bar, though, Abe (Charlie Hofheimer) appears, a writer Peggy met and kissed at a party several months before. He tracked her down, which she admits is flattering, and Abe nervously rambles on about his passions involving politics and hating The Man. But when the topic turns to corporations, Peggy is naive about the agency’s clients, even those that are family owned operations such as Fillmore Auto Parts. That business is worse than a corporation, Abe says, because they won’t hire blacks in their Southern stores, actions that have led to boycotts. Peggy has a hard time believing this news, especially since the topic has never come up at work, and she’s equally naive about the interaction of advertising with society. But then she switches gears, pointing out that most of the things blacks can’t do, she can’t do, and “nobody seems to care.” “All right, Peggy, we’ll have a civil rights march for women,” Abe says sarcastically, which prompts her to call it a night.
Abe shows up at the office the next day, saying Peggy inspired him to write a piece titled “Nuremberg on Madison Avenue,” and he waits in the lobby for her to read it. Joan thanks Roger for the massage gift, but when he invites her out to dinner, she’s again frustrated by him — “You’re incapable of doing something nice without expecting something nicer in return.” Don, Faye and Kenny have a meeting with the owners of Fillmore Auto Parts, who need a campaign to help them reach out to more customers (albeit white ones). Faye’s research shows that “domesticated suburbanites still have a primitive desire to get their hands dirty” and will spend good money at a store such as Fillmore’s to gain that satisfaction. Leonard Fillmore isn’t so sure, throwing out classist comments to Don and Kenny assuming they, as suits, wouldn’t know the first thing about car mechanics. Besides, a blue collar worker might not want to keep shopping at Fillmore’s if they see white collars such as Don around. Leonard’s co-workers object, saying the business needs to reach out to more customers. Kenny’s idea to combine both sides with the strategy, “It’s where the pros go, and everyone’s welcome,” is quickly squashed by Don. He points out that the phrase is two strategies connected by an “and,” and he tells the Fillmores to agree on a strategy before they can continue. The office’s main secretary, Megan (Jessica Pare), interrupts the meeting to get Don.
Sally is in the front reception area, having been brought in by an older woman who found her alone and without money on a commuter train. Sally ran away because she didn’t want to wait two weekends to see Don, she says, and he sends her back to his office as he talks to the lady. Back in his office (“She looks so chubby in the pictures!” Blankenship says about Sally as Don walks past), he phones Betty, who says Sally’s psychiatrist suggested that Sally walk from camp to her doctor’s appointment by herself. “Great idea,” he says. “Thank you, psychiatry.” “Don’t yell at me. She needs to learn responsibility,” Betty says. “You need to learn responsibility,” Don fires back, and Betty says he can just keep looking after Sally until the next evening. Don orders Sally to remain in his office while he rejoins the Fillmore meeting. Meanwhile, Peggy charges out to reception to confront Abe, still sitting there. His piece is incendiary and mentions Fillmore Auto Parts, an aspect that could get Peggy fired, she says, if it’s printed. He says that she’s too good to be wasting her talent as a part of the corporate machine — though she’s not a “war criminal” as are others lambasted in his piece. “You’re not supposed to be insulted, you’re supposed to be flattered,” Abe says, then saying he must have been wrong in his assumptions about Peggy.
Peggy storms back to the office and tries to talk to Blankenship, who is sitting motionless at her desk, her head tilted slightly backward. Peggy tries to rouse her, touching her shoulder, but that just sends Ida crashing forward, forehead to desk. She’s dead. Peggy is shocked and begins rushing around, and soon Megan interrupts Don’s meeting again to tell him about Ida. Joan, Peggy and Caroline are around Ida’s desk, teary-eyed, and they try to decide who to call. Joan says she’ll need a man to help her move Ida, as well as a blanket — there’s one in Harry’s office. Don returns to the Fillmore meeting but can see Ida slumped at her desk through the conference room windows. Behind the Fillmore executives, a farce plays out while Faye tells Don that they’ve decided on a strategy — “For the mechanic in every man.” He’s too busy watching Pete and Joan try to maneuver Ida out from behind her desk and wheel her down the hall, covered in a blanket. Harry arrives in time to call out, “My mother made that!” Megan goes over to Ida’s desk, hands in gloves, to remove the calendar her head had been resting upon. She carries it at arm’s length.
Out of the meeting, Don asks Faye to take Sally back to his apartment and sit with her, which Faye is clearly nervous about. “Hello, my name is Faye,” she says to Sally after Don has already introduced her and left. “I know. My dad just said that,” Sally replies. Ida is wheeled out on a gurney past stunned employees, including Roger and Bert, and Joan follows Roger back to his office. He doesn’t want to die in this office, he says, not like that. “She died like she lived — surrounded by the people she answered phones for.” Joan tries to hold back a smile, and she finally agrees to have dinner with him. Faye and Sally are watching TV at Don’s when he returns, and later that night, Sally asks Don if she can ask him a question. “Yes, I’m still mad at you,” is his immediate reply, but she really wants to know if he’s going to marry Faye. He doesn’t even concede that she’s his girlfriend, but after clever questioning by Sally, Don says that Faye is someone Sally might be seeing again. “Oh,” Sally says.
At dinner, Roger reaches for Joan’s hand and tells her he wishes she would confide in him more. Greg doesn’t like it, Joan says, but Roger says that when he thinks of his life, all of the “good stuff” was with Joan. When they leave, they walk, even though Joan doesn’t like the neighborhood. Sure enough, the two are held up, and the robber takes their jewelry and Joan’s purse. (Did he have to be a black guy, Weiner? The only black person we see all episode? Come on.) Joan panics and Roger takes her around a corner to calm her down, and she quickly kisses him. They keep kissing, and as she tells him not to stop, they have sex.
At Don’s, Sally tells him she wants to live with him all the time, which Don says isn’t possible. He puts her to bed in one of his white undershirts, and he wakes up the next morning to find her making French toast. “What’s on this?” he asks as he takes a bite. “Mrs. Buttersworth,” she says. “Go get it.” As she hands him the “syrup,” he says, “That’s rum. Read labels.” “Is it bad?” she asks. “Not really,” he says, both surprised and approving of the taste as he keeps eating. With very little arm twisting, Sally convinces him to spend the morning with her. Their mutual love for each other is evident, and this is the happiest we’ve seen Sally. She can be herself around her father.
At the office, Joan helps Bert and Roger write Ida’s obituary, the men not knowing what to say and annoyed with themselves for it. “She was born in 1898 in a barn. She died on the 37th floor of a skyscraper. She’s an astronaut,” Bert comments as he leaves Roger’s office. Roger takes the moment to confront Joan about their night, apologizing, but Joan says she isn’t sorry. She’s married, however, and it can’t happen again. “I feel something,” Roger says. “I know you do.” After spending what seems to be all day with Sally, she and Don return to the office to wait for Betty and Don has a meeting with Peggy and Stan to discuss the Fillmore strategy. The clients apparently want a jingle for their ads, and Peggy and Stan list off names of potential singers for the song. Peggy suggests they use the black singer Harry Belafonte, an idea Stan laughs off. She asks why they work for a company that doesn’t hire blacks, but Don’s only answer is that “Our job is to make men like Fillmore Auto, not Fillmore Auto like negroes.”
Sally doesn’t want to leave Don and return to Betty, screaming “No, I’m not going! I’m not leaving! I hate it there!” Don again enlists Faye’s help to deal with Sally, but Sally tells Faye to shut up and runs out of Don’s office. As she heads down the hall, she trips and falls face first, and her commotion has already brought Don, Faye, Peggy, Joan and Megan running. Megan quickly picks Sally up and holds her, telling her everything will be OK, as the rest watch, stunned. She and Don lead Sally out to reception toward to waiting Betty, whose impatience comes across as cruel to the women who have gathered. Don just looks at Betty, seeing what Sally sees. Don tells Sally goodbye, and Sally closes off yet again, turning from screaming to indifferent in a manner she no doubt learned from her mother. Don heads back to his office, where Faye is upset with him for twice putting her in the awkward position of having to take care of Sally. She had wondered if she would meet his children, she says, but while she loves kids, she’s not good with them. “It feels like there was a test, and I failed it,” she says, but Don holds her and reassures her that that is not the case. They make plans to have dinner that weekend.
Peggy is in her office, drinking, when Joyce shows up. Joyce is sorry for the set-up with Abe, but says that Peggy shouldn’t be surprised by his actions — he’s a man, after all, she says. Joyce compares men to soup and women to pots — “Who wants to be a pot?” she says. Peggy isn’t interested in going out for drinks. “Are you angry or lovesick?” Joyce asks. “I don’t know,” Peggy replies.
At day’s end, Joan, Faye and Peggy end up on the same elevator going down together, all trying to figure out where they fit in with the men in their lives.
Ida’s death sequence was almost unbelievable, given that it was occurring during the self-serious “Mad Men.” But that was the series of the past, as Weiner has made clear this season. He’s found a way to entertain the audience and appeal to what we know makes a smart show — drama that knows when to be funny. His characters have never been so compelling.
Sarah Carlson has a front-row seat to the decline of the newspaper industry and lives in Alabama with her overly excitable Pembroke Welsh Corgi.