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Mad Men blogging: The joke isn’t funny anymore

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, September 21, 2009 21:28 EDT
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BIG FUCKING SPOILERS.

Last night’s episode was titled “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency”, and so you knew from the beginning that this was ironic and the proceedings were going to be very dark. And they maintained a sense of unease right up until the Great Foot Mangling, and they did it so well we immediately rewound the show and watched it again. And you can see how literary you can be if you do this, since there’s ominous portends, with the most overt being the way Roger Sterling talked about the way his father died in a car accident, and how the windshield severed his arm. (An injury that’s significantly less common now, because of laminated glass.) The first reference to Vietnam was wedged in, as well, and I have to admit that they pulled that off as well as you can. “Mad Men” has always been about the moment before—before all the accumulating tensions sent people’s world into a tailspin. But last night, I suspect, was the moment the show signaled that the characters have passed the point of no return, though they don’t know it.

The Great Foot Mangling is the JFK assassination in miniature, though of course it’s an accident in this case. But all the elements are there: Guy McKendrick is the charming young leader taking over from Boring-But-Efficient. People are initially wary of him, but his charm is hard to deny. A sense of cautious optimism kicks off the party, and everyone really starts having a good time, until a sudden and shocking act of violence blows through it all. You even had Joan walking around in a bloody dress hours after the event, just as Jackie Kennedy was. And suddenly you realize that nothing will be the same. For Sterling Cooper, the 60s are really underway now.

The separation of Guy McKendrick from his foot was just the most dramatic in a series of separations and endings. Initially, Joan was supposed to be separating from Sterling Cooper, but now she’s simply ending her dreams of upward mobility through marriage. Roger Sterling, who has really represented the old guard this season, is being pushed out of his job. (What the hell does he do, anyway?) Pryce has given up his belief that being a good worker for a corporation will result in rewards. Sally is still aching from the loss of her grandfather, and is coming to the realization she can’t lean on her mother for anything.

Pryce got some of the most interesting lines. “Pax Romana.” Well, that ended when McKendrick’s foot was spewed all over the creative team, the walls, and the floor. The reference to Tom Sawyer’s funeral was an interesting one. In the original novel, Tom and the boys hear all the townspeople saying nice things about them, and they feel loved and appreciated, and so they reveal themselves. But Pryce says he heard his eulogy and didn’t like it at all. He’s learned what Joan’s known for a long time—that if you don’t fit people’s image of a role, no amount of competence will get them to see you that way.

Of course, we saw that Joan is the only one who didn’t collapse under pressure during the Great Foot Mangling. In fact, for a moment, you realize that she’s the one who should be a doctor, not her husband. She can have that job back in a second. I imagine that Joan’s smart enough to realize that it’s easier just to ask for her job back rather than apply for new ones. Watching her cry was tough, but the whole foot incident should erase that from everyone’s memories, giving her a chance to ask for her job back without sacrificing her dignity.

And so now the future is really, truly uncertain, which is how you know the 60s are really under way. Joan’s husband dodging her questions is just the most obvious example, but right now, no one knows what’s going to happen to them. Pete Campbell is with Sterling Cooper “for now”. Where’s Roger Sterling going to go, now that the new bosses passively-aggressively told him he’s redundant? Will Joan be able to get her job back? Is Pryce going to have to go to Bombay? Will Peggy decide to choose a new agency over her loyalty to Don? Who fucking knows? For these characters, the future has become far more uncertain than it usually is. No wonder the episode ends with Sally screaming her head off. The darkness is scary. And if there’s no such thing as ghosts, how come the Draper household continues to be haunted?

But here’s the thing: The uncertain future is incredibly scary, but it’s also full of possibility. And Don Draper is the only one who sees it, this time. He holds the baby and assures Sally that there’s nothing to be afraid of, that this baby represents the unknown, and that is a very good thing.

And for those who are skeptical about my theory about the Great Foot Mangling being a tip of the hat to the JFK assassination, I offer a comparison. The shot of the vehicle moving through the crowd, the slow turn, the movement for a bit, and then the explosion of gore:

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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