It’s getting harder and harder for me to appreciate Mad Men for its technical excellence when the emotional component just keeps missing the mark. It’s very odd for me to think of an episode as “weak” because it hinged more on character relationships than on plot development, but when you don’t care about those characters their feelings aren’t particularly compelling. Still, the execution was its usual solid self and there was some good comedy in Don’s revenge on Roger. Beyond that, I continue to be baffled by Pete; not remotely liking him but not being able to think of another character anything like this on television.
We already knew the Roger was an asshole but, for the most part, he’s been an amusing asshole, directing his egotism at characters we either don’t know (his wife and daughter) or don’t like (Pete). “Red in the Face” sees the Drapers needing to cope with his self-absorption and, assuming you like them, this makes it a little less funny. His harassment of Betty is certainly the worst of it, but even before this, he’s one of the world’s worst dinner guests, prying an invitation out of Don and hijacking the conversation. Who the hell dismisses their host’s military service, “Oh, his war.”
Roger’s “apology” also leaves a lot to be desired. He admits to Don that he’s got a sense of entitlement but stops short of admitting that this is a character flaw or that it won’t happen again; it’s basically along the lines of “I may have made a mistake but hey, that’s the price you pay for being a big shot.” It ensures the audience is 100% on Don’s side, if they weren’t already, and the stage is set for some comeuppance. The oyster/vodkathon provides an amusing look at 60’s machismo and it, followed by the stair climb, are enough to hoist Roger with his own petard as he tries to outdrink Don and then refuses to let the younger man run ahead to the meeting, “My name’s on the building, they’ll wait for me.” It’s all well done and, as usual, the sort of thing that could only work on Mad Men, it’s just a shame I couldn’t share Don’s smirking satisfaction.
Speaking of, “only on Mad Mad,” I’d be remiss if I only mentioned Pete’s hunting fantasy in the final thought. The sixties pastiche isn’t essential to the moment he shares with Peggy (though it helps), but that doesn’t make it any less us unique. It’s truly a bizarre monologue, misogynistic in the extreme but laced with so much vulnerability that we can’t help but feel sympathetic. We can understand where Pete’s coming from, given how emasculated he’s felt during the rest of this hour, but I have a harder time buying why Peggy, the ostensibly career-minded woman, would be turned on by this. It’s possible that her lingering feelings for Peter cause her to see anything he shares as positive, or that she finds this kind of honesty refreshing amidst all the games at Sterling Cooper. Either way, I still don’t get it and so, like so much of Mad Men, their relationship falls flat for me.
Vincent Karhteiser once again deserves massive credit for his performance, completely selling the hunting monologue while also delivering the comedy when he returned the chip ‘n dip.
The interaction between Roger and Betty and Don’s reaction to it is entirely dependent on the sixties pastiche and that may be why it rang so hollow for me. Historical fiction has never really wowed me in literature and this seems to be holding true for television.
See the above point re the Nixon campaign. I’m guessing that most of the audience enjoyed watching the boys (the exception of Pete) misread America’s mood. “He doesn’t even wear a hat!”