18
Oct
2009
Mad Men: Season 3, Episode 10
The Color Blue
Jordan
Tonight's Mad Men was all about perception, what we see and what we want to see. Early in the episode, as Don lies next to his current conquest Suzanne Farrell, she tells him that one of her students brought up a standard philosophical question while painting in class that day. He asked her how she knows that what she perceives is blue is actually what anyone else sees. No matter how many times this question is posed, it retains its depth, and its importance"”we see the world through our own eyes, and never anyone else's, so how do we know that anyone sees what we see? What I think is blue could very easily be your orange, which displays very simply how difficult it is to bridge the gap of isolation, to actually communicate with another human being and know you are being understood. Don's answer to the question speaks volumes about his proficiency at his job, but also about the way he views humanity. He tells Ms. Farrell that he knows that at least 45% of the world agrees on what blue is, and so, speaking to the lowest common denominator, he can capture a large audience. As he puts it, "People may see things differently, but they don't really want to." Most people are just happy fitting in, so if you tell them what blue is, they'll believe it.

Don's perception of Ms. Farrell (like real life teachers, I find myself unable to refer to her as simply Suzanne, as, it seems, does Don) was altered a bit this week, both as his understanding deepened and as her flaws became more noticeable. Her epileptic brother blows into town after losing another job, and she does her best to get him back on his feet and into another job. This conflict has her relying on Don more than he would prefer, for lasting emotional support and eventually to drive her brother to his new job (though Don, in an act of developing intimacy, actually volunteers for the latter). Ms. Farrell is in many ways Don's type"”she's independent, strong-willed, intelligent, challenging, and brunette, but she also has a bit of Betty in her. She is attracted to teaching because she gets to see the world through children's eyes, which in turn attracts Don to her (Betty doesn't recognize that she often sees the world as a child might, but Suzanne willfully puts herself in that position). She also has a liberal dose of Betty's naivety; she may have been around the block a few times before, but she still rushes to Don for support as if he doesn't have a family to think of and doesn't need the air of secrecy surrounding their tryst. She sees Don as a man who likes his privacy, and for now at least, he sees her as a woman he might connect with as an equal.

Ms. Farrell's brother is also cursed by the perceptions of others. He may be smart and capable, but all the world ever sees is a man prone to fits in which he wets himself. He is unable to rise above menial work because he is seen as weak and unreliable when in fact he is much more complicated than that. In an act of Don-like proportions he takes some money from his sister and then Don and disappears into the night rather than become a janitor at a hospital. He hopes to create a different image for himself, and find a life where he can be seen as a more powerful, capable human being. Don sees a bit of himself in the boy, and gives him his card in case he ever needs help. Don knows what it's like to run from your weaknesses and to seek a better life, to control people's perceptions and allow them to only see what benefits you.

This becomes a problem as Betty discovers the key to his drawer of secrets. It was bound to happen eventually, but tonight, Betty Draper discovered that her whole life is a lie. She now knows that Don has colored her perceptions of him from the moment they met. She knows his real name is Dick Whitman, she knows he did not earn the accolades he was awarded in Korea, and she knows about the "ex wife" who lives in California. Don's whole life is held together by the veil of secrecy he uses to disguise his weaknesses and his moral transgressions, and it also hinges on the wads of cash he leaves stashed with all of his secrets. Don is a man who is ready to abandon everything he knows and loves at a moment's notice, and know his wife knows how tenuous their bond is. Unfortunately she has secrets of her own, thinking that a "wrong number" might have been a call from her aborted affair Henry Francis (when in all likelihood it was a call from Don's more successful romp with Ms. Farrell).

Paul becomes embroiled in an office rivalry and a crisis when he feels Peggy has been outpitching him, due more to her spontaneity and feminism than through actual talent. He gets the chance to prove himself when he is struck with a brilliant campaign for telegrams, but unfortunately, in the drunken revelry that results, he forgets to write down his idea and loses it. Peggy, proving just how wrong Paul is, manages to triumph developing a brilliant campaign that markets telegrams as keepsakes that can outlast a memory. Paul's perception of her proved false, and in fact there was a much more complex and capable woman underneath the stereotype he colored her with.

Earlier this season, Don knowingly advised Sal (through the guise of a London Fog pitch) to "Limit your exposure," and every character has been struggling with this challenge ever since. Sal's failure to do this resulted in his firing last week, and Betty has managed to do this by simply avoiding becoming engaged in the affair with Henry Francis. Don has built his entire existence on only allowing people to see what he wants them to, on shaping an ideal persona to reveal to the world. Roger reveals his own attempts at the same as he gives a gracious, if disingenuous, introduction to Don, who is about to receive an award as the episode ends. Roger has come to despise Don over the course of the season, yet for appearances he praises him as a paragon of success, a war hero, family man, and advertising giant. The camera lingers on Betty throughout the introduction, focusing on the new knowledge she has. She now knows Don is not a war hero, can hardly be called a devoted family man, and as far as she knows may be as dishonest in his work as he has been in his private life. Whether she will make like it's the "˜60s and repress her new knowledge remains to be seen, but the discovery she made has fundamentally altered her view of Don from here on out.

The episode ends with Don receiving thunderous applause as he steps up to accept his new accolade. The room seems to be acknowledging his various successes, but in fact, each person clapping has a very different view of the man they applaud. Betty knows him to be a fraud, Roger believes him to be an ingrate, and many of the guests must see him as a commodity they can purchase or a tool to accent their own success. Every person sees the world differently, but for the most part, people would be more content to pretend that they are all looking at the same thing. Blue is blue, whether or not what you see is actually yellow. A great idea is a great idea, whether it is used to win you the favor of your boss or the business of your client. Success is success, whether it means you have made your parent company profit or made yourself a more viable property to unload. And Don Draper is Don Draper, regardless of whether he may be Dick Whitman. People will see what they want to see, both from a desperate desire to fit in and from hope that they too can control the views others have of them. So it seems, what matter at the end of the day is not what we dream, or what we think we see, but what we can prove concretely. As Mad Men hurtles toward the end of the season (I never thought I'd use the word hurtles in reference to the plot of this show, but after tonight, it seems fitting) each character has many hopes, dreams, and perceptions that color the way they see each other in the world, but it looks as if Betty Draper may be holding the facts that can bring Don's house of cards tumbling down.


Grade: A-

Notes:

-As I think over potential buyers of S-C, the only character who comes to mind with enough money or influence to actually purchase the firm is Conrad Hilton. I'm not sure if the idea of that makes any sense to me, but there it is.

-"Churchill rousing or Hitler rousing?" I'll certainly miss Lane when he's gone.

-Roger's tale of his discovery of Don "working at a fur company and going to night school" reminded me of a blank spot in Don's past, and also of the relationship he and Roger used to have. I hope we get a Roger heavy episode that details his development and their rift more directly.

-The Draper's only go to church at Christmas. Carla goes every Sunday.

-The Kennedy assassination is still looming, and Roger's daughter is set to be wed on the same day. Things could get tricky.

-The return next week of Betty's brother is nerve-wracking, He has always hated Don, and if she gives him new ammo against him, things could get ugly.
Tags: Mad Men
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