"Mad Men" #8: "You Be Me For a While, I'll Be You…"

I’m having trouble doing the photo/design thing this morning. Which is both annoying and conceptual: Because I’m not really a photo/design person, and every time I perform that function I’m faking it (see also: my inability to wrap type around the photos) and getting away with something (barely).

Which brings us back to “Mad Men” 8: a subtle fantasia, with virtually everyone playing out a new, unfamiliar role, pretending to be who they’re not, and still trying to parse the potential consequences.

This is deep psycho-narrative “Mad Men,” nearly as deep as you can get. Particularly when you notice how much the characters reveal about themselves when they slip (frightfully easily, or not) into their own feigned realities.

Betty moving awkwardly into her new career as a local pol/activist. Only her first significant victory turns out to be centered on something else entirely – or something not so now, which is to say her icy blonde good looks. Gov Rockefeller’s man, Henry Francis, swoops in, official papers in hand, but this is a quid-pro-quo, and when Betty won’t deliver the quo, the quid evaporates. So back to role #1, with a first stop at the beauty parlor for an all-new look for Don.

Follow the jump for more. . .

Pete Campbell, meanwhile, finds himself alone in the city for a weekend. Drinks with the boys (he’s buying!), then a fortuitous run-in with the tearful au pair next door, a Gertrude of Germany, who has dress problems she can’t solve, but Pete can, with the sort of dispatch a rich young man can create in the big city. Off to Bonwit Teller where he runs into. . . .Joan Holloway, unhappily (and yet with the same super-smart ability) solving her customer’s problem while revealing no small amount of dismay over her new non-Sterling-Cooper station in life.

Don has been summoned to Italy to be with his new friend Connie Hilton, accompanied (at the last minute) by Betty, with her new ‘do and an out-of-left-field ability to speak perfect, conversational Italian. Mama mia! A romantic two-night getaway, which becomes particularly enjoyable for Don when he meets Betty in a cafe, only to find her being hit upon by two randy young Italianos. She bats them around cat-and-mice-like, and Don picks up on the game instantly, sitting a table away and pretending to be a stranger. The Italianos are aggrieved, but helpless: Their young American target falls instantly for her handsome countrymen, and goes right back to his room. Their room, actually, but the Italianos didn’t know that.

Back in Ossining the long-suffering Carla plays Mama Draper, while Sally plays sexually-agressive grown-up lady, smooching neighbor child Ernie on the cheek, just in time to be observed, and taken to little brotherly task, by the roundly (if mysteriously) despised young Bobby Draper, who interprets her sister’s activities as being similar to any couple who might be sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. Sally takes immediate and violent exception to this description, and fraternal violence occurs. Carla breaks it up, freaked out both by Sally’s extreme moods and (unstated) how odd it is for a young american girl to be quite so aggressive about anything. (something’ happening here/what it is ain’t exactly clear….)

Back on the upper east side, Pete hands Gertrude her new dress, grandly, but to no real effect. A few drinks later he comes back in search of his just desserts. Provided, it seems, but not happily. Caught out later by his neighbor, he attempts to fib his way out of the mess (“I have no idea what you’re talking about!”) then fesses up, mostly to himself. Sad and humiliated, he greets the returning Trudy with an expression of dismay, guilt and sorrow that he won’t explain, except to plead, mysteriously, “I don’t want you taking any trips without me.”

Which leaves us with a quandary: Is Pete Campbell, so unable to be anything other than himself, the most inherently moral of our “Mad Men” characters? If so, why does he seem like such a jerk so much of the time? Could there possibly be something enlightened about the boy?

Who among our Sterling Cooper friends is really the most guilty of dressing sharp but feeling (and acting) dull?

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