12
Oct
2009
Mad Men: Season 3, Episode 9
Wee Small Hours
Jordan
A lot of this season of Mad Men has been about dreams. The season opened with Don's dream-flashback of his own birth, we witnessed Betty's drug induced hallucinations during labor, and "Seven Twenty Three" played with narrative in a very dream like fashion. This week's episode, too, is about the dreams we have in the "Wee Small Hours," and the desires we have during our waking ones. Few people sleep during the episode, as most are finding their dreams and waking desires coalescing in ways both interesting and a little disappointing.

The episode opens with Betty dreaming that she is lying on the antique couch gifted to her by Henry Francis while he attends to her, slowly kissing and caressing her. She is almost instantaneously jolted back to real life, however, where her husband gets a late night phone call from Conrad Hilton and her baby needs to be fed. The dream may be short lived, but the desire it stems from lasts into her waking hours. Betty begins writing to Henry, letters filled with empty nothings that still, to her mind, signify an intimacy that breaks the fidelity of her marriage. The letters display her naivety about courtship and adultery in the real world"”she seems like a middle schooler passing inconsequential notes back and forth, more excited by the anticipation of receiving another than by the content within them. Henry, however, gets plenty excited by the correspondence and soon heads down for a rendezvous, which is interrupted by Carla almost before it begins. Carla has always hovered over the Draper household, a quiet observer who really knows the score, and sometimes even the game being played, better than any of the family members, so she understands immediately that something is amiss. Betty plays it off, pretty badly, as an attempted fundraiser, and then out of guilt, actually arranges to hold the fundraiser just to keep Carla from being suspicious.

When Henry sends a representative to the fundraiser on his behalf, Betty feels she's been made a fool of. She threw a party so a boy she likes would come over, and instead he sent someone in his place. She goes to his office in a huff, only for him to rightly point out that she is a married woman, and will have to call the shots in this affair. He kisses her, and only then does Betty realize how real life affairs play out. In her mind everything is romantic and sweet and innocent, but in the real world, adultery is a tawdry, messy, underhanded practice to engage in. Betty wants Henry, but she doesn't want any of the real life guilt and complications that come with having him. She is happier with the dream.

On another front, Conrad Hilton is calling Don at all hours of the night, requiring almost as much maintenance as the baby, and inviting Don over for a late night rendezvous. Connie has a dream for the Hilton. He wants it to show the world how wonderful America is, to display our ideals (and our religious morals) as a high point for the rest of the world to aspire to. He also wants a Hilton on the moon. Connie too is a dreamer, believing that his business will be more than just a hotel chain, seeing it as the gateway to American cultural supremacy and the destruction of the Soviets (this is a very slight exaggeration of the point he makes in the episode). Much of Mad Men is about the level of power we have over ourselves and over others, and Conrad Hilton is a very powerful man. Unfortunately, that power leaves him feeling lonely at the top. He sees Don as an angel, and as a son to him. Don, unlike his actual children, did not grow up in a world of privilege and so understands what Connie is trying to be. Sadly, for Connie at least, Don is an ad-man at heart, and he takes Conrad's dream and inverts it into a brilliant campaign. Where Connie had hoped to show the world how excellent America is, Don's campaign shows American supremacy by making the rest of the world seem more like America, through the helping hand of Hilton. Don's campaign will work better for business, but Conrad is still disappointed. Connie preferred his dream to the cold, dirtier feeling of reality.

Sal too has a dream, but one that he has spent his entire adult life fighting. He is directing a Lucky Strike commercial, and having some minor professional differences with Lee Garner Jr. (a man who Wikipedia tells me, unlike Hilton, does not exist). Garner is willing to overlook those personal differences for a chance at a little editing room hanky panky with Sal, but Sal refuses. He says no not simply because he prefers his professional persona to be firmly entrenched in heterosexuality, but also because Garner is kind of a prick, and Sal will not acquiesce just because he's a dude. Sal may be gay beneath his layers of repression, but that does not mean that he'll jump the bones of any guy he sees. This leads to another looks at who has the power and who is simply powerless. What Lee Garner wants, he will get, even if Harry doesn't have the power to give it to him. Roger, in another of his recent tirades of unfeeling anger, fires Sal almost without blinking and seems just as ready to throw Harry under the bus if that's what Garner wants. Even Don acquiesces to the power of the Lucky Strike account. Sorrowfully, it's more than just that however. Don has a frank chat with Sal, eliciting that Lee came onto him, and basically tells Sal that when someone is that powerful, you should just give it up to them. In maybe my least favorite Don moment of all time, he sighs and says "You people," disappointed in Sal not simply for being gay, but for not being willing to exert his sexuality to his own benefit. It doesn't occur to Don that Sal should have his pick of partners as anyone should, just as it doesn't even cross his mind that Sal wouldn't have acted on his urges given the opportunities. In Don Draper's mind, "the gays" just can't help themselves. So Sal is fired, and forced to begin lying to his wife about his job (and possibly about his cruising of Central Park). Reality was nothing like what Sal would dream, and it has been crueler to him than to most this week.

Don hasn't had much time for sleeping lately, but he's had plenty of time to dream. His early morning run in with Suzanne Farrell has a dream-like quality to it, and by the end of the episode, Don is at her door, again in the middle of the night. Since Don saw Ms. Farrell dancing around the maypole she has been an object of his desire, and let's face it, she is exactly Don's type (or at least Dick Whitman's). She is intelligent, independent, strong willed, witty, and brunette. She points out several times throughout the episode that she is not good for Don. She is equated to coffee as a reason Don isn't sleeping, and points out as he enters her home that however he may have strayed before, he has never done it so close to home. She taught his daughter, knows his wife, and lives a mere two miles from his house. Yet Don is a man who gets what he wants (at least from women) and his dream has yet to sour when faced with reality. It likely will in time, but as the episode ends, Don is the one who finally gets some sleep. Lying next to the woman he's been dreaming of, he is finally capable of letting go and falling asleep.

Throughout the undercurrent of tonight's episode runs the civil rights movement. Tying into the heavy emphasis on dreams is the delivery of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech." King's dream is one that to this day has not quite matched with reality, but also one that will come much closer to fruition before the decade is out, because King may be a dreamer, but he's also a realist. King knew how to make his dream a reality, and instead of chasing goals that would never be realized in the real world, he chased results that would move him closer to his ultimate goal. The March on Washington that precipitated his speech was the realization of a long sought for dream and his continued efforts further go to show his grounded idealism. He knew his dream had a dark side as well, and while he did not like that, he was still prepared to deal with the real world consequences of his idealistic actions. Near the episode's end, King's eulogy to the murdered girls in Birmingham signifies that he is capable of bringing his dream into the grittier real world. There will be tragedy along the way because that is how life works, but if he perseveres, he believes that his dreams can be realized. Betty, like most of the characters on this show, is unwilling to accept any compromise between her dreams and their real world realizations, however, and she points out to Carla as the eulogy plays that "maybe the time just isn't right for Civil Rights." One misstep, one tragedy, is enough to put Betty off of the idea of realizing a dream, but Carla, as silent as she is knowing, understands that the only way to truly realize dreams is through sacrifice.

Grade: B+

Notes:

-Again this week, I was left feeling that the series is a little overwhelmed by its ensemble this season. We haven't seen Cosgrove in weeks, and the rivalry between he and Pete that was set up early this season has been largely squandered as a plot. Additionally, seeing Paul tonight just reminded me that all he's done this season is smoke a little reefer.

-Roger is another victim of reduced screen time, definitely to the detriment of his character, but this is one subplot I think the show will rectify by season's end. His seeming breakdown likely results from his own failing dream. He idealized Jane and is probably realizing that his own reality is not all the fulfilling. Still, he's been an asshole most of the season, and I think he and Don have a few more conflicts in them before we wrap for the year.

-Pete trying a cigarette was hilarious.

-"Now that I can finally understand you, I'm less impressed by what you have to say."

-"Sometimes I look around here, and I think, "˜by golly, I'm King Midas.'"

-When Connie asked Don, with a hint of disgust, "What do you want from me, love?" It broke my heart a little. Connie set himself up as another father figure for Don, then told him how much Don disappointed him. Also, Conrad seems like a man who lives, rather purposefully, without love and affection.

-"I can't stop thinking about you." "Because I'm new and different. Or maybe I'm exactly the same." Well said, Ms. Farrell. Well said.
Tags: Mad Men
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