6
Oct
2009
Mad Men: Season 3, Episode 8
Souvenir
Jordan
Last week's Mad Men showed us some very crucial developments in many of the characters. This week, "Souvenir" takes a step back to give us a look at the bigger picture of how two couples function in their long term relationships. The episode features most of the show's ensemble in minor roles at best to allow us to get up close and personal with the relationship of Betty and Don, and that of Pete and Trudy.

Betty has been on something of a journey of self-discovery and developing toward true self worth throughout the season, and really the series as a whole. She is not happy with Don as a husband; she feels unfulfilled as a mother and thinks she is underappreciated by everyone around her. So it's no surprise when she lights up at the small victory of delaying the building of a water tank at the reservoir. This could not have been done without the help of Henry Francis, who ordered a new study be conducted to demonstrate why the water tank is even needed. As Henry points out, "when you don't have any real power, you have to delay things." This sentence means more to Betty than it does to almost anyone, as she shows throughout the rest of the episode. When Henry makes it clear that he is romantically interested in her by kissing her (and thus ending the debate over whether he is looking to be a paternal or romantic figure in her life), she simply delays dealing with the issue by flying off to Rome. She is unsure of how to react to Henry's advances, and believes herself to be powerless, so she does as he taught her"”she delays dealing with the issue. Unfortunately, if the water tank can be seen as a metaphor for Henry and Betty's relationship, it appears her delay tactics won't work for long, as by episode's end the City Council has held a secret meeting, likely to order the building of the water tank.

Meanwhile, Pete finds himself re-experiencing bachelor life as Trudy is on vacation (he made it clear last season that he never intended to summer with her family). Pete deals with his freedom as any 12-year-old boy might"”he throws his clothes on the floor in the living room and watches cartoons late into the evening. He soon becomes embroiled in the troubles of a German au pair who works for a family on his floor. It seems she has borrowed a dress that belongs to her boss, and ruined it in the process. Pete's determination to fix the problem and get her a replacement dress at first seem noble, but as everyone knows, Pete never does anything without some self-serving ulterior motive, and it's no time before he has leveraged his way into her apartment.

If what Pete did in that room doesn't constitute rape, it's certainly a pretty severe form of sexual intimidation, made all the more relevant by how similar it is to the situation between Betty and Henry Francis. Both men did something seemingly noble for a woman in their lives, only to use it as leverage for their own lascivious intentions. Henry is clearly more sophisticated than Pete in his actions, and thus less sinister about taking his "reward," yet in each case a man did something for a woman expecting sexual favors in return (and, at least partially getting them to boot).

The closest Pete even comes to feeling guilt over what he's done is when his neighbor comes over to discuss what has occurred in his absence. What could (and should) have been an angry and accusatory conflict in fact becomes just some friendly advice between men, as Pete's neighbor tells him he might be better off looking outside the building for his indiscretions. Pete shows some vague remorse to the man, but seems to have been more deeply affected than he first appeared. When Trudy returns home (ostensibly from Community"¦because she's also on that show) Pete actually confesses his affair and tells Trudy she better not go away without him anymore. This seems like the perfect way for Pete to avoid having to grow up or deal with his dark side"”so long as Trudy is around, he can't cheat on her and so he won't. Pete's answer to the threat of his own infidelities is to put him on a short leash because he cannot be trusted. It seems his stint of immaturity and moral cowardice is far from over.

Meanwhile, Betty's ability to go to Rome at all is brought about as Don travels to all of the Hilton's around the world to more fully understand his biggest client. The trip abroad, brief though it may be, gives Don and Betty the chance to rekindle their romance, as evidenced by their feigned unfamiliarity with each other in the face of two Italian men hitting on Betty. The exotic atmosphere takes them out of their day-to-day dreariness, and the two spend most of the vacation in bed. What little time they don't spend enjoying their exotic freedom they spend in the company of Conrad Hilton, who seems more and more to genuinely enjoy the pleasure of Don and Betty's company. Connie remains a bit of an enigma to me: when we first came into contact with him back in "My Old Kentucky Home," Don opened up about his past and was soon rewarded with the trust and business of the man. Yet we know seemingly very little about him, excepting that he's very religious and his lineage will give birth to Paris Hilton. I expect what draws him to Don is the idea that both share a past devoid of riches, and have pulled themselves up by their own ingenuity. Both men were born relatively poor and have since become vastly successful, though it seems that Connie comes by his success a bit more honestly than Don does.

Finally, back at the Draper house, Sally is playing marriage with Ernie, and making all the moves herself in the face of his obvious lack of preparation for this (when she asks him if she's pretty, he replies with a shrug and says "I guess so."). When New Bobby (who is vastly inferior to his predecessor) mocks Sally for kissing Ernie, she retaliates by throwing him to the ground and punching him. Carla separates the two, and informs Don and Betty of the problem when they return. Don, as per usual, checks out of parenting while Betty imparts some wisdom to Sally which highlights the difference between the two characters and displays again how ineffective Betty is as a mother. "You don't kiss boys, boys kiss you," she tells Sally, and while Sally listens and claims to understand, it's clear that she disagrees with her mother's assessment. Beyond that, Betty may have lectured her on the importance of the first kiss ("Every other kiss is just a shadow of that first one" she tragically tells her) but she has entirely forgotten to deal with Sally's growing temper and anti-social tendencies. This recurring behavior and the fact that everyone around her ignores it makes me worry that Sally may not grow up to be as well adjusted and appropriately rebellious as I hope. If Sally isn't put back on the right track by someone, she may end up a violent sociopath by the end of the series (and I truly hope that is not the case. Sally is one of my favorite characters on the show, and watching her heart break every week kills me inside).

The episode ends with Don presenting Betty with a charm he picked up for her in Rome. To him, this is a way of extending their intimacy upon their return home, but Betty knows that vacations cannot last forever, and that the two have returned to the way things were. She is still unsatisfied with their marriage, and he is no better equipped to improve it. "Now I have something to look at when I tell the story of our trip to Rome," she tells him, and the tragedy in that sentiment is palpable. Betty knows she's back in the real world, back in a marriage she doesn't want to be in, and back in a place where she must seriously consider infidelity. Betty and Don's trip also exposes the inherent failure of Pete's plea for Trudy to never go away without him again. The two may vacation together from now on, but they will always return to a home in which their marriage is still flawed, to a place where they don't always tell the truth and where they can visit untold torments on one another, simply through the institution of marriage. It's easy to try and fly away from their problems, but eventually real life will rear its ugly head and these people will be left with only souvenirs of when things were better.

Grade: B+

Notes:

-"Let me speak to the manager." "Of the entire store?" "Of the republic of dresses!"

-Joan returns as the manager of a department store. Both she and Pete had their prides bruised during their exchange. She has been forced back into work by her husband's failings, and Pete has brought in a dress that is clearly too large for his wife.

-Greg is thinking about going into Psychiatry. He is such a bad surgeon they don't want him to be able to touch his patients.

-American dollars are very good in Italy. It must be the 1960's.

-"By golly, you are an indecently lucky man."

-Trudy is a constant reminder of how weird 60's fashion could be.
Tags: Mad Men
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