There were a lot of great moments of subtle brilliance in this latest Mad Men episode, but the one that stands out in my memory this morning is the rickety chair in the Draper dining room. Like its current employer's marriage, the chair isn't very sturdy and is in need of some repair (no doubt on Don's "honey do" list). Betty is tired of the chair's diminished support and comically demolishes it while her children watch with a mix of horror and amusement. It's a sign of how Betty views their marriage now, in the face of Don's affair, and perhaps is even a rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic.
I bring up the Titanic because the episode's title ("A Night to Remember") refers not only to Peggy's choice of theme for a church dance, but also to the 1958 film based on the sinking of the Titanic. And the Draper marriage is much like that fateful voyage. A ship admired for its beauty and perfection, undone in the end by a bit of "unsinkable" over-confidence. They've hit the iceberg, and now we're just left to watch the scramble as the marriage slowly sinks. Similarly, when Peggy says about the dance's theme, "(it) holds the wholesome promise of the kind of hand-holding that leads to marriage," the Titanic metaphor again rings true, at least in Peggy's case, where the iceberg is hit even before marriage. The scene was funny not only for this subtext, but also for showing the universal dynamics of the creative-account-rep-client relationship that exists in and out of the office.
Meanwhile the unifying theme of the episode seems to confessions, specifically the withholding of them from the one who could provide forgiveness or resolution. Don denies his affair to Betty, Peggy won't own up to her past with Father Gill, and Joan's unexpected ambition is withheld from both her prospective boss Harry and her fiancé. The show ends with all of them in a state of undress, a sort of delayed response to the opening from a couple episodes ago ("Maidenform"). Don just has his suit jacket off, resigned to staying the night at work. Peggy is naked in a tub, stripped by Father Gill's question, "Do you think you don't deserve His love?" And Joan's bra strap is leaves a mark, showing that by getting a glimpse of what it's like to do a job you actually enjoy, she's outgrown the carefully manicured persona she's created.
Speaking of her fill-in work for Harry, the inclusion of the 1962 storyline for As the World Turns brings some interesting parallels to the Drapers as well. The story that summer followed the daytime soaps' first super couple, Jeff Baker and Penny Hughes (Rosemary Prinz), who had a marriage that had survived several tragedies and always bounced back. Actor Mark Rydell (Jeff) wanted off the show to direct (he eventually would go on to direct The Rose and On Golden Pond), so they had to kill him off in an auto accident, which also left Penny with amnesia following a short coma, allowing for them to cut free of the Jeff Baker character completely. Aside from parallels to the Draper marriage, the amnesia solution certainly reminds us of how Don, Peggy, and to some extent Joan (suppression of her unexpected ambition) have coped with their own problems. Joan is right about the show being on the verge of a major breakthrough with the upcoming episode (aired August 23, 1962), as even TV Guide called it "the automobile accident that shook the nation." All the letters, telegrams and phone calls to CBS proved just how beloved the character actually was to the viewers. The other interesting parallel to Joan's looking for surprises for advertisers was the reminder that there was no opposite research provided for viewers, as in the case of Betty and the unexpected visit of Jimmy into her home through the Utz commercial. Of course, there was some foreshadowing, as right before that word from their sponsor, Make Room For Daddy had star Danny Thomas saying "How do you know you lost her?" referring to his son's terminated relationship. "When I went to the malt shop and found someone else at the end of my straw."
Finally, who knew that it would be Father Gill that introduces the real life growing folk movement into the fictional setting Mad Men? Before the season, I had my money on Midge, and have since been hedging my bets on Kurt or Smitty. But here we have Colin Hanks' Vatican II priest strumming Peter Paul and Mary's "Early in the Morning,", from their just released self-titled debut. It's a great ending to another strong episode.
Previously: That New Car Smell (Episode 2.07)