Conrad Hilton not only dreams of the moon, he wants it delivered to him, posthaste, with crackers. And should you fall short there’s no time for apologies, let alone talk of a simple misunderstanding and a promise that said moon will be delivered most ricki-tick, by lunchtime, along with Athens, Tokyo, Rome and the rest of the world. Because he’s an American on the march, and as such cannot accept anything like a boundary, even if it’s temporary: “America,” he already explained, “is wherever we want to go next.”
Which is a kind of nice idea, if you’re into the good old manifest destiny. But what if the rest of the world-slash-galaxy doesn’t want to BE America? Do Conrad Hilton’s desires trump everyone, and thing, else?
Clearly. Because he’s got the money, and thus the power. And does that mean anything to people like you?
Yes it does. So wonder this episode of “Mad Men,” packed with trenchant, even withering observations about the American culture, may have been the darkest hour in the series’ history.
Follow the jump for more….So it’s the late summer of 1963. School’s back in session, the skies are bursting open and Betty is too smitten with Gov. Rockefeller’s aide Henry Francis to even wrap her brain around Sally’s simple request for a new pencil holder. Did she even LOOK at young Bobby, let alone speak to him? Yikes.
Meanwhile, Hilton is playing good dad/bad dad to Don. Calling at all hours of the night, demanding new ad campaigns or, simply, company. He’s a lonely guy, beneath his King Midas exterior, and this only accelerates his appetites. He NEEDS, is the thing, and despite having a passel of ungrateful, unfulfilling kids of his own (all raised too rich to truly get it) he now turns to Don as both his advertising expert and substitute child. “You’re my angel,” he says. And yet it’s hard to imagine that Don is earning his wings just now.
Indeed, he’s just doing his own version of what Hilton (and Betty, and Henry, and surprisingly pansexual Lee Garner, Jr. of Lucky Strike fame, and everyone else in sight, is doing: taking what he wants, when he wants it.
America, you’ll recall, is wherever we want to go next.
And so Garner first forces a reluctant Pete to smoke (koff, koff). Which is just good ol’ boy play, as opposed to when he puts the moves on Sal, and when frustrated (“I’m a married man!” Sal protests, though they both know that’s only part of his story) he calls Harry (the junior-est exec at his disposal) and orders him to fire his reluctant target. Hilton goes ballistic when his midnight musing about putting a Hilton Hotel on the moon isn’t reflected in the international ad campain he ordered Don to turn around double-quick. Don focuses his expansionit ambitions on mysterious young Miss Farrell, who he finds jogging (!) in the pre-dawn hours.
Everyone wants what they wants, and are ready, willing and eager to flex whatever power they have to get it. Henry and Betty flirt, then kiss, then collaborate on fundraiser for Gov. Rockefeller’s presidential campaign (a doomed prospect if ever there was one, but that’s how they do it in Ossining). Garner storms out of Sterling, Cooper when he sees the (temporarily) extant Sal. The whole brouhaha moves into Don’s office, who fires Sal on the spot. Lucky Strike, he reasons, could turn out Sterling Cooper’s lights. “You’ll be fine,” he assures Sal, minus much in the way of true feeling, let alone sympathy.
And just because this is America, the real nastiness washes down eventually to the African-Americans, here represented by the long-suffering Draper domestic Carla. Who we see watching the memorial service for the four little black girls blown up in an African-American church destroyed by white segregationists. At first Betty notes the woman’s grief, and offers her a day off. (reparations, you see) Carla nods this off, which emboldens the lovely Mrs. Draper to widen her view to the civil rights movement as a whole. Yes, the murders were truly awful, she acknowledges. And yet so much trouble for everyone to deal with! “Maybe,” she concludes, “this just isn’t the right time” for civil rights.
Carla’s face goes stony. She’s heard this before. Justice and equality, it turns out, are not high on America’s where-to-go-next list.