Mad Men: The Noose Tightens

By
"Say, do you hear running water?" Photo: Courtesy of AMC
Character from Mad Men
Show
Mad Men
Episode Title
Six Month Leave
Season
2
Episode
9

To paraphrase Mariah Carey: Betty didn't have a breakdown, she had a breakthrough: Nutso suited her. Last week she broke furniture, kicked Don to the curb, and probably won next year's Emmy. This week, she's still on a tear. And Don isn't the only guy who gets the heave-ho.

The Pitch
Every ending is a fresh start.

The Campaign
Was Marilyn's suicide the birth of a new kind of woman? Marilyn kills herself; Betty slays Don. Secretaries weep; admen shrug. Oh — and there's a grim blood drive. The Sterling Cooper guys just pitched a cynical Marilyn-Jackie campaign to Playtex. Joan (the "original Marilyn," remember?) is distraught: "This world destroyed her," she cries. Don is unmoved: "Can't say I'm surprised." And Monroe is heard to complain, "Management is what's wrong with the business." Is she referring to an asshole like Don, who is so thoroughly corrupt he'll even cheat on the blood drive? And protect a drunken idiot like Freddy, who's occupying a desk that Peggy deserves? Freddy can get away with playing a drunken zipper symphony for the new girl, but when he literally pisses himself before an important meeting, he messes up so bad that even Don can't save him.

How far will this show will go to prove that 1962-era chauvinism wasn't just improper or cutely anachronistic but actually horrid and pathetic? Freddy's shoe squelches as he makes his perp-walk exit from the office; the guys riff on how he was "a real whiz in advertising" — and the cruelest twist is that he gets stuck with Don as his lone, unconvincing defender: "Freddy had a bad day." After firing the drunk, Don and Roger take him out to tie one on. Drinks on Roger! Don is fast hurtling into utterly unlikable-prick territory — hard-core Tony Soprano stuff — and Betty knows it. (She also pimps out her cute riding buddy to her long-suffering married friend — knowing she can do better for herself.) "I'm not going to talk you into it," Don says, not talking Betty into getting back together. "I thought you could talk anyone into anything," Betty snipes, before returning to Katherine Anne Porter's Ship of Fools, the best-selling and most cynical novel of 1962. After Freddy's depressing send-off, Don tells Roger he's "mostly … just relieved." Roger, shockingly, reveals that he's divorcing his wife. (Sorry, Joan!). "It's your life," Roger tells him. "You don't know how long it's going to be, but you know it's got a bad ending."

The Early Results
Bleakest episode yet? The old boys' club seems to be infected with an asshole virus, and everyone is oozing bitter nihilism. The only thing more pathetic than Freddy's pants-pissing was his office buddies' piss-taking (especially since everyone in that office is soused). A sentimental person might look at the new options opening up for Betty and Peggy and say that better beginnings are bound to follow these awful endings. But if you think a sentimental person is writing Mad Men, you are out of your head.