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Monday
Apr082013

Mad Men @ the Movies: From Here To Eternity & A Star is Born

In Mad Men at the Movies we explore the cinematic references of television's finest drama. So good to have the SCDP gang back on our small screen dreaming about their big screens. Naturally mild spoilers follow...

6.1 "The Doorway"
Vague Synopsis: The sixth season of Mad Men begins just before New Year's 1968 (?). A client has paid for the Drapers to vacation in Hawaii assuming that the trip will inspire Don to come up with a brilliant ad campaign to sell their hotel. They don't quite get what they were expecting since Don Draper is perpetually gloomy and unknowable even to himself -- 'The Inferno? just a little light reading on the beach!' Later both Peggy & Don run into trouble with their latest individual ad concepts due to uncomfortable associations - Peggy's ad rubs up against the world's worsening Vietnam problems, Don's ad reminds his clients of suicide. Meanwhile, perpetual child Betty Draper Francis obsesses over her daughter's friend (this isn't the first time!) and continues to need more therapy even more frequently than lost playboy Roger Sterling is getting it.

As ever not all of the movie references on Mad Men are spelled out with movie titles. more...

I loved the subtlety of mixing the highly appropriate Hawaiian set From Here to Eternity into the episode in multiple free-association ways from drunken G.I.s in Hawaii to the title's spiritual afterlife implications both of which sprung from a tossed-off crude remark.

So Don Ho... Did you have a blue drink in the white sand? Ernest Borgnine chase you down the alley with a switchblade? Love that movie!"
-Roger to Don 

Roger is of course referring to From Here to Eternity's violent villain, Sgt. "Fatso" Judson who terrorizes Montgomery Clift in the Best Picture of 1953. Borgnine wasn't nominated for his role but virtually everyone else in From Here to Eternity was; it's one of only 9 pictures in Oscar's 85 year history to win 5 nominations in the acting categories alone. [Aside: Trivia Purists will know that this was most common in the 1950s and it just doesn't happen any more. Network (1976) is the last film to win 5 acting nominations. The last time it almost miraculously happened was, I'd wager Chicago since Richard Gere was presumably a near-miss) 

Roger also cheerfully name-checks A Star is Born (1954) which we're covering very soon on "Hit Me With Your Best Shot") in the episode's key scene:  Don's "Jumping Off Point" ad campaign for his Hawaiian hotel clients. He's telling the clients about this feeling that stayed with him...

Don Draper: I think we're not selling a geographical location but we're selling an experience. It's not just a different place, you are different. And you'd think that there would be an unsettling feeling about something so drastically different but there's something else. You don't miss anything. You're not homesick. It puts you in this state. The air and the water are all the same temperature as your body. It's sensory: the music, the the fragrance, the breeze, and the blue. Hawaiian legend has it that the soul can go in and out of the body but it usually leaves from a leeward point into the waves.

"Hawaii: the jumping off point"

The clients are confused. So what happened to him? Don explains again, clearly proud and obstinate about his idea.

Client #1: I suppose it reminds me a little of the cinema. But mostly I see James Mason at the end of that movie walking into the sea.

Client #2: What is that movie? 

Don: I'm not sure i know what you're talking about.

Client #1: He's killing himself. I don't think they show it but he's going to swim out until he can't swim back.  

Don: That may be a personal association for you but that's not what this means.

We all looked at this. None of us thought of that! 

Roger Sterling [remembering]: "A Star is Born!" 

Client #2: I'm sorry but this is very poetic.

Don says thank you to this last remark but the client clearly didn't mean it as a compliment. Don is too frustrated to think straight and to arrogant for his memory to work straight. Everyone knows that Don is an incurable moviegoer. There's no way he's forgotten A Star is Born.

Sadness looms like a cloud over the very successful in A Star is Born -- and not just in retrospect because Judy didn't win her deserved Oscar --  as it does over these Mad Men but I love that when Roger remembers the title he says it so 'a-ha!' cheerfully. Roger and Judy have this in common, the dazzling charismatic surfaces with much darker interiors. For the entire episode Roger Sterling is laughing off death whether by suicide or natural causes yet he's clearly and emphatically thrown. "This is MY funeral" he shouts annoyed when his mother's funeral doesn't go the way he'd planned. It's one of the most perfect line readings imaginable (How does John Slattery not have an Emmy yet?). He's not to happy in the Here but he definitely prefers it to the Eternity.

All this and we didn't even have time to unpack Crazy Betty from her "rape" joke (uhhh) to her Manhattan journey to her sudden dye job. Her son's reaction "I hate it. You're ugly" (which is basically like every person on the internet every day with Betty) but her husband is kinder. "Elizabeth Taylor what have you done to my wife?"

Mad Men Mania
The Cut explores the fashions in the first episode of the season 
Cinema Blend five biggest questions after the premiere 
Basket of Kisses "Don doesn't even know he's suicidal" 
Vulture Don Draper wants to be every woman he seduces 

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Reader Comments (20)

Thank you. I'm watching the show right now and went to look up what the Ernest Borgnine reference meant and here you are. ;<))

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCJ Laity

I have yet to watch this episode, but I heard about this rape 'joke', 'dirty talk', whatever it was.
you see, I don't want weiner to 'redeem' betty as a character, but couldn't he NOT make her say that? what was the point? she is already the most hated character on the show.

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermarcelo

aaah! thanks for all the clarification with the references. Roger had a whole string of them that flew over my head.

I'm glad that the show is back but i wasn't feeling this episode at all. But they are probably setting up shop for the rest of the season so they get a pass.

and screw Don. BETTY is the most interesting and complicated character on the series. Every time she shows up she does something totally perplexing...even if understood that rape "joke".

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck

I really think that Margaret's "refrigeration" opportunity for Brook is an East of Eden reference.

April 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

I love Matt Weiner and January Jones' total commitment to the obliqueness of that character. Betty's rape joke was the single most shocking moment of the episode, compounded by her follow-through - 'I'll hold down her arms' - even when she could see how appalled Henry was. Her storyline this week reminded me of that great vignette in Season 1 when her car breaks down and she doesn't have enough money to repay the repairman. There's this tension between what the audience believes to be the case and how aware Betty is of herself in any given situation. Was she aware of the inherent danger in the exchange? Her bizarre boundary pushing in this episode, both with the joke and that superb mixture of mother figure, fellow outcast and middle-class standard bearer was, to me, the most interesting and ambiguous aspect of the episode.

April 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBen

I just love how Betty remains so immature and yet always manages to perplex us with her actions. I do wonder if that visit to the city looking for Sally's friend and her later "style statement" is actually hinting to the fact that Betty might, surprisingly, be the one adult character to react to a further extent to the new social changes in the late 60s/early 70s.

April 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarlos

I was wondering what movie Roger was referring to! Now just need to figure out which comic they were riffing on (Lenny Bruce?)
The best part of the whole Betty bedroom weirdness was, "My goodness, you're blushing."
No one sells a "My goodness" like January Jones.

April 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

People dog Betty, but every time she's in an episode I feel like *so much* happens with her and to her. But wow, that dye job and those prosthetics really have transformed January Jones into another person. Trippy.

April 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBia

Hmmm, fairly good opening with, for me, A grade work from Jones who in this 90 minute premier seems to overshadow everyone. I don't know if it's the arc (I already feel like this single episode offered her more than everything in season 5) or if it's just an example of how good she is when given the chance but she was episode MVP for me.

The rape "joke" was queasy, but it was obviously non sincere I didn't feel it was a way of making Betty "worse". Of course, it's cool Betty obliquely avoiding her fear that she's getting old and Henry wants someone younger.

April 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew K.

My one issue is that if this season is really going to be all about Don, which Matthew Weiner says is largely going to be the focus, does the show really need him to always be so quiet and withholding? At least have his story-line vis a vis somebody in a different or similar place but taking a much more active role. I fear the fact he is out of step and also fears his real self to get redundant very quickly. Roger was good foil to Don which made the episode go down much more smoothly for me. Not only has this been building to the moment he seeks therapy but he is far more open about his introspection and realizes he is a disappointment, but not in a snotty poor little rich kid sort of way that is refreshing.

Is it weird that even since she gained weight that I really liked Betty? Not just in her being sympathetic or the fact I was oddly charmed by her Wendy & The Lost Boys dynamic with those dirty hippies but the shock quality of her telling Sally about Anna last season and that 'joke' she made that weirdly implicated her and her husband.

Peggy's story line was great if lighter and change of pace. She handles the clients well unlike the Heinz beans incident, she is tough to impress as a superior but we know she works the hardest, she is still buddies with Stan, and that phone call with the pastor, where she unloads a series-worth of family history was hilarious. That said, no idea why she and Abe are still together. Her dynamics with Stan and now Ted Chaough are much more interesting.

April 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

So glad someone else picked up on the East of Eden reference. And as I recall, that refrigeration investment didn't work out too well for anyone concerned...

April 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterprincesskaraoke

Ben, your post is giving me everything right now. I got into an argument with someone over Betty yesterday, which seems to be the norm with my friends and I when discussing her.

The rape joke was horrible and uncomfortable, but, like you said, Weiner and Jones' commitment to Betty, warts and all, just makes me stand up for her even more. A lot of people would rejoice if Betty was no longer on the show and Weiner has said that he doesn't want to do the show without Betty/Jones.

In terms of character shifts and growth, it's all about Peggy (the obvious choice) and Betty for me. Even if most really don't understand where I'm coming from re: Betty. I can't wait to see where they take her this season considering she's allegedly in it more.

April 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterkia

The level of complexity remains. We're going to have a ball.

PS Linda Cardellini? Good addition!

April 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I'm convinced now that Matthew Weiner hates January Jones. Putting her in this awful and distracting fat suit for a second season, and now this dark hair? I'm with new Bobby on this one. Having Betty hang out with those hippies at the condemned bulding was even worse. I just can't with Don back to his cheating ways again. Poor Megan. Peggy was badass as the new Don. Slattey was great. Can't wait for the next episode.

April 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDiaz

But the fat-suit was done for the show to still being able to use her during her pregnancy. Once they did that, they had to be realistic about a woman who gained that much weight at the time did not have the resources of today to lose that much weight in 7-8 month period. Now my question is did she become less padded or did the makeup become better and she just stayed the same weight because I think the character dropped a few pounds but obviously is still probably going to Weight Watchers.

Betty will never be worse than she was in Season 4, mainly because it was so directly toward Sally. Now she and Sally are on good standing and there were so many opportunities for her to go off on Sally in the episode being so bratty (my, have the tables turned) and it just rolled off her. I think Weiner and the writers realized they had to step back with her.

April 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

Betty, like Anne Hathaway, is a polarizing figure but also a galvanizing screen presence. Her evolution from season two to now is amazing and adds a dimension to the show that I think a lot of people don't even realize. May she live long and fester.

April 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

I realize that they're no Stairmasters to use in the 60s, but that still doesn't account for the bizarre way that Weiner writes for January Jones. Look no further than Betty's rape fantasy exchange with Henry in the premiere. When he's not giving her cringeworthy dialogue, he's saddling her with an awful dyejob or wig and latex that couldn't look more fake. I'm not expecting "Avatar"-level effects here, but come on now. Mr. Weiner has some lady issues.

April 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDiaz

Weiner has explicitly stated that he would never want to do the show without Jones. He could've easily been done with her after Season 3 when she wasn't married to Don anymore and yet he still goes back to her, much the the chagrin to the audience. To say that he hates her or has lady issues (a hilarious statement, considering the women on the show are actually some of the most illuminating characters) is kind of off base.

And I guess regarding whether the prosthetics and fat suit and works or not is up to personal preference, but I think the make-up for Jones is effective. It's certainly more realistic than what they did with Moss in Season 1.

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