Mad Men recap: The Parent Trap
After Don deals with the effects of one father's legacy at work, he then has to go home and deal with Betty and the scars her father left her with
Can someone please give Kiernan Shipka an ice cream sundae? The young actress, who plays tortured Sally Draper, certainly earned a special treat with that performance on the front stoop (”no! no! no!”) and later in the kitchen amongst the adults. It was an episode about family, and the fraught tether that binds its members. Parents demand too little or too much, inevitably disappointing in small and large ways. Children crave recognition and approval, even when they’re breaking free of legacy. And nobody dealt with their familial pain and longing better than little Sally, who seemed to experience all seven stages of grief in the one hour.
Some mourn in broad fashion. Take Peggy’s Ma for instance. The Pope has died, along with her television. The woman is a crabby mess, her tiny world rocked by distant losses and the threat of her daughter moving a borough away. ”You’ll get raped, you know that!” she told Peggy, in that feverish gnashed-teeth tone of fear-mongerers everywhere. But Peggy is moving on to a different world, and she needs a roommate. She posted a dear little ad that assured the world she was clean and responsible, if snuffly around cats. Joan, in a bit of dream big-sistering, helped her get a clue. Proving once again that she should have a corner office and the stalled Patio account, she rewrote Peggy’s very DNA on the fly. ‘Fun loving girl, responsible sometimes. Likes to laugh, lives to love. Seeks size 6 for city living and general gallivanting. No dull moments or dull men tolerated.” Peggy later tried out said playful side with a silly girl who doesn’t look forward to Fleet Week. This was an otherwise hard and moving night of TV. So the scene of Peggy pretending to be fun (”no sailors, I agree!”) was a delightfully welcome one.
Speaking of roommates…Kitty popped out of the bathroom in adorable apple green lingerie, hoping against hope that she might coax Sal into her arms. They are oddly the most functional couple on the entire show — tender and respectful and loving with each other. And yet Sal was clearly going to stay buttoned up in his pajamas on his side of the bed. ”I’m not myself,” he soothed a worried Kitty, neatly summing up his closeted existence. ”I do have one horrible flaw,” she said. ”I love you.” Oh sister, if you only knew. But then a sad awakening crept across her face during Sal’s breathless reenactment of his Patio treatment. As he fluttered around the room, Kitty’s smile sagged dreadfully. It was as if she was seeing her husband clearly for the first time. That new gauzy number is going to have lonely life folded up in her dresser drawer.
While Kitty’s dreams of married life crumpled before her eyes, Sally was blooming in Westchester. Grandpa trusted her behind the wheel, and she could barely believe her luck. While Gene treats his granddaughter like an adult, he has a daughter who stamps her foot and demands to be tip-toed around like a little girl. When he tried to acquaint her with his will, she looked like he had just told her that she couldn’t go to the school dance. It’s always so strange to see Betty in house clothes, her hair lank and face free of makeup. While Betty huffed on her cigarettes, her Dad lobbed a sneering sense of dismissal back her way in return. He thinks she married badly. He thinks she’s too sensitive. She’s just like Scarlett O’Hara, plugging her ears and playing dumb in the face of a storm. Betty had heard enough and she had one final plea for her aging father. ”I know it must be horrible to look at whatever you’re looking at, but can’t you keep it to yourself!” This is a woman whose very being recoils from intimacy.
NEXT: Gifts of the fatherWhile Don tried to enjoy a drink at home, with the stupidly cute Draper dog at his feet, Gene got to telling war stories to a wide-eyed Bobby. Again, his crude attempts at bonding were wildly inappropriate. Gene wanted to reminisce about hookers and men he shot in the head. ”War is bad,” Bobby said, clearly parroting his father. Gene harrumphed. ”Maybe, but it makes a man out of you!” When he placed one of his enemy’s battle hats on the boy’s head, Don had finally had enough. ”Bobby, it’s a dead man’s hat. Take it off!” Oh, the irony of Don protesting someone else trying on a dead man’s uniform. As much as Don seemed disgusted by Gene, he seemed struck as well by the man’s attentions to his children. Gene and Don are opposites, and they find one another vaguely repugnant. And yet I feel like their pinging off one another in their new shared living space has created an undercurrent of grudging respect. They might not get each other, but they both in their own flawed ways love those kids.
At the office Don was moved by the messy father-son relationship between two of the agency’s clients — a powerful shipping magnate named Horace and his unfortunately named heir Ho Ho. Junior was an an old classmate of Pete’s, a silly man in an ascot who believed his deluded vision for the sport of jai alai would finally earn his father’s respect. Don felt queasy about taking the stupid young man’s money and called a meeting with Horace Senior. ”Should you be lucky enough to strike gold,” the weary father told the room of men, all of them dads except crackly Mr. Cooper, ”remember that your children weren’t there swinging the pick…My son lives in a cloud of success, but it’s my success. Perhaps when that evaporates and his face is pressed against the reality of the sidewalk he’ll be of value to someone.” (What tremendous language we’re lucky to enjoy on this show!) The older man’s regrets struck a chord in Don, as did his dumbo son’s earnest need to impress his father. It drove him out of bed later that night, reaching into his study’s desk drawer for a picture of his own old man. Archie and Abigail, 1928. Don looked into the picture deeply, as if searching for a glimmer of his father’s soul and any traces of his own self in the hard man’s face.
Gene thinks he sees a little bit of Betty’s mother in Sally’s eager eyes. God, I hope not too much. The woman sounds like a bit of a witch, at least when it comes to our little Betty’s weight. When Sally refused a spoonful of ice cream, Grandpa wondered if it was because her mother was scared she’d be a fat child like she was. Turns out Betty’s Mom rode her chubby ass, and used to make her walk home from the grocery store to burn off calories. No wonder the woman survives on Melba toasts and martinis. There was something a little gross about the little ice cream social around the kitchen table, as Gene urged Sally to get out from under Betty’s thumb. He’s all kinds of wrong with her, and so disrespectful of her mother, but Sally practically swells in his presence. Finally someone in this house is really looking at her, and liking what they see. If she wants peaches, then by golly he’s going to stop by the store for peaches on the way to pick her up for ballet practice.
NEXT: Bye bye, DaddyOf course, he never showed. Betty finally picked up the kids from school, without asking about either of her children’s days. At home a policeman arrived with news that Gene had died in line at the A & P. Sally wailed while two ice curtains fell over Betty’s eyes. She drifted into the house, closing the door on her heartbroken daughter. Later the four adults sat around the kitchen table drinking and talking about Eugene Hofstadt #2. Turns out there were two Eugenes at the bank, but the bit spoke movingly to the varied layers of all our Mad Men family members. There’s literally Don and Dick, but also Don’s light and dark sides. Betty is a bitch, but it’s impossible to picture her younger, rounder self trudging home from town and not feeling for the woman. And Gene always struck me as kind of a bastard — but damn he made his granddaughter come alive. So it was terribly moving when Sally stormed into the kitchen, furious at the laughing adults, and screamed about the sudden vanishing of her Grandpa. She was a mess. If only Betty had been allowed to similarly grieve her mother, she might not have ended up on shrink’s couch with the shakes. Sally raged, Betty imploded. ”Sally go watch TV!” she spat at her daughter, for what felt like the hundredth time of the season so far.
Don crept out of bed for the second time this episode. He ended up in the guest room, latching up his father-in-law’s bed like a suitcase. It was an incredibly wistful last scene. Don seemed to be on the verge of feeling not just this loss, but every one before it. He is a man desperate for some kind of mooring to the world.
What did you all think? Am I oversentimentalizing the connection Don might have felt for Gene? What do you think drove him out of bed to look into the photograph of his own father? Did Peggy’s new roommate also remind you of the Anna Faris character in Lost in Translation? Can you forgive Betty her treatment of Sally?
Jon Hamm stars as Don Draper in the Emmy-winning ’60s-set drama