“MAD MEN” RETROSPECT: (1.07) “Red in the Face”

“MAD MEN” RETROSPECT: (1.07) “Red in the Face”

Due to some sense of nostalgia, I decided to break out my “MAD MEN” Season One DVD set and watch an episode. The episode in question turned out to be the seventh one, (1.07) “Red in the Face”.

After watching “Red in the Face”, it occurred to me that its main theme centered around some of the main characters’ childish behavior. I say “some of the characters”, because only a few managed to refrain from such behavior – Sterling Cooper’s co-owner Bert Cooper; Office Manager Joan Holloway; and Helen Bishop, a divorcée that happens to be a neighbor of the Drapers. I do not recall Cooper behaving childishly during the series’ last four seasons. Helen Bishop merely reacted as any neighbor would when faced with a situation regarding her nine year-old son and a neighbor. As for Joan, she had displayed her own brand of childishness (of the vindictive nature) in episodes before and after “Red in the Face”. But in this episode, she managed to refrain herself.

I cannot deny that I found this episode entertaining. And I believe it was mainly due John Slattery’s performance as Roger Sterling, Sterling-Cooper’s other owner. In scene after scene, Slattery conveyed Roger’s penchant for childishness – proposing an illicit weekend to Joan, resentment toward the female attention that Don Draper managed to attract at a Manhattan bar, making snipes at the younger man’s background during an impromptu dinner with the Drapers, making sexual advances at Betty Draper, and gorging on a very unhealthy lunch. That is a lot for one episode. Roger’s behavior served to convey a middle-aged man stuck in personal stagnation. Even worse, he has remained in this situation up to the latest season. And Slattery managed to convey these tragic aspects of Roger’s character with his usual fine skills.

Jon Hamm fared just as well with another first-rate performance as the series’ protagonist, Don Draper. In “Red in the Face”, Hamm revealed Don’s immature and bullying nature behind his usual smooth, charismatic and secretive personality. This was especially apparent in a scene that Hamm shared with January Jones, in which Don accused his wife Betty of flirting with Roger. And Don’s less admirable nature was also apparent in the joke that he pulled on Roger in the episode’s final scenes. Speaking of Betty, January Jones also did a top-notch job in those scenes with Hamm. She also gave an excellent performance in Betty’s confrontation with Don, following the dinner with Roger; and her conversation with neighbor Francine about her desire to attract attention. I have noticed that most of the series’ fans seemed to regard Betty as a child in a woman’s body. Granted, Betty had her childish moments in the episode – especially during her confrontation with neighbor Helen Bishop at a local grocery store. But I have always harbored the opinion that she is no more or less childish than the other main characters. This episode seemed to prove it. One last performance that stood out came from Vincent Kartheiser as the young Accounts executive Pete Campbell. To this day, I do not understand why he is the only major cast member who has never received an acting nomination for an Emmy or Golden Globe. Because Kartheiser does such a terrific job as the ambiguous Pete. His complexity seemed apparent in “Red in the Face”. In one scene, he tried to exchange a rather ugly wedding gift for something more dear to his heart – a rifle. His attempt to exchange the gift seemed to feature Pete as his most childish. Yet, he also seemed to be the only Sterling Cooper executive who understood the advertising value of John F. Kennedy’s youthful persona during the 1960 Presidential election.

Earlier, I had commented on how screenwriter Bridget Bedard’s use of childish behavior by some of the main characters as a major theme for “Red in the Face”. I have noticed that once this behavior is apparent; Roger, Don, Betty and Pete are left humiliated or “red in the face” after being exposed. Betty’s decision to give a lock of hair to Helen Bishop’s nine year-old son in (1.04) “New Amsterdam” led to a confrontation between the two women at a grocery store and a slap delivered by Betty after being humiliated by Helen. If I had been Betty, I would have admitted that giving young Glen a lock of her hair was a mistake, before pointing out Glen’s habit of entering a private bathroom already in use. And Pete’s decision to trade the ugly-looking chip-and-dip for a rifle led to being berated over the telephone by his new wife, Trudy. Only a conversation with Peggy Olson, Don’s secretary, about his fantasies as a hunter could alleviate his humiliation. During the Drapers’ dinner party with Roger, the latter noted that Don’s habit of slipping his “Gs” indicated a rural upbringing – a revelation that left Don feeling slightly humiliated. And after accusing Betty of flirting with Roger, she retaliated with a snide comment about his masculinity. Don tried to retaliate by calling her a child, but Betty’s stoic lack of response only fed his humiliation even more. However, he did get even with Roger by setting up the latter with a cruel practical joke that involved a falsely inoperative elevator and a heavy lunch that included oysters and cheesecake. Although the joke left Don feeling smug and vindicated, I was left more convinced than ever of his penchant for childish behavior. Aside from feeling humiliated by a pair of young females’ attention toward Don, Roger managed to coast through most of the episode without paying a price for his behavior. In the end, he suffered the biggest humiliation via his reaction to Don’s joke – by vomiting in front of prospective clients.

“Red in the Face” featured many scenes that I found entertaining – especially the impromptu dinner party given by the Drapers for Roger Sterling. But if I must be honest, I did not find it particularly impressive. Although “Red in the Face” offered viewers a negative aspects of four of the main characters, I do not believe it did nothing to advance any of the stories that began at the beginning of the season. I must also add that Betty’s confrontation with Helen Bishop seemed out of place in this episode. While watching it, I had the distinct impression that this scene, along with Betty and Francine’s conversation, should have been added near the end of “New Amsterdam”. By including it in “Red in the Face”, it almost seemed out of place.

I could never regard “Red in the Face” as one of the best episodes of Season One or the series. But I cannot deny that thanks to performances by John Slattery, Jon Hamm, January Jones and Vincent Kartheiser, I found it entertaining.

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