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September 4, 2015

Mad Men: Babylon

by Bob Sassone, posted Aug 24th 2007 2:18AM
Mad Men


"It was interesting...like watching a dog trying to play the piano." - ad guy Fred, about Peggy's great lipstick ideas.

Someone sent me an e-mail after last week's episode, and the person said that they didn't like Mad Men because "nothing ever happens." I disagree with this statement strongly, but I know what they mean. Nothing ever happens in the sense that there aren't any cliffhangers before each commercial, there aren't any explosions or murders, and there isn't some incredible event that pushes the show in another direction for the next episode. But to say that "nothing every happens" as a general statement about each episode is proof, I think, that we've been conditioned to expect all shows to be the same, and if they have a different pace then it's "boring" or "nothing ever happens."

If Mad Men is boring, then all shows should be this boring.

So Joan is having an affair with Roger. That slut! I'm talking about Roger. We met his wife and daughter this episode, and for some reason I just didn't think he was cheating on his wife. His daughter seems to have the hots for Don (wouldn't that be an interesting plot development down the road if that were to ever happen). I like how when Roger tells his daughter that he likes her pigtails because "it makes you look young," she responds by saying, "I like your hair daddy because it makes you look old").

This episode was about lipstick and Israel. Not necessarily in that order. Don and the guys have to come up with an ad campaign for Israel as a vacation spot ("How can we do that when Bermuda is only 3 hours away?"). This isn't easy, so Don calls Mencken for an "expert's opinion" on Jews and Israel ("Am I the only Jew you know in New York?"). He also wants to have an affair with her while he's having an affair with Midge and also taking care of wife Betty and his kids. All while smoking constantly. He's a multitasker.

This opens up some rather blunt and frank talk about Israel and Jews that you don't hear that much on modern-day set shows. Mad Men has gotten a lot of kudos for it's writing and dialogue, and this is another example. It's an interesting balancing act, trying to talk about people and society and places and products from 47 years ago without doing it just because it's so "cool" to contrast how things were back then with the way they are now. If it's too obvious it would seem gimmicky. This show does it just right. There's no hitting over the head with pop culture and music references. They do it through products in the background and ad campaigns and discussions of the book "Exodus" and Rona Jaffe and IBM typewriters and the clothes and all that cigarette smoke. Well done.

When Mencken leaves their lunch meeting after telling Don all she seems to know about her people, Don goes over to Midge's. They start to do it, and there's a knock at the door. It's Roy, another friend of Midge's. He convinces Don and Midge to go to a poetry reading with him. Don doesn't want to go, but ends up going. When he's there we're treated to a guy on stage reading wedding announcements from the paper and then a group of three Jewish men singing a song ("Babylon"), which I'm sure will give Don some idea about how to approach the ad campaign (one small quibble I have about this show is that there always seems to be a handy parallel in another plot to help Don with his campaigns - Betty even tells him about a Jewish boy she kissed once - but it's a small quibble.) The scene does provide some humorous moments. It's great to see Don in his clean suit and shoes hanging out with beatniks, and when he asks Roy, "So Roy, if you had a job, what would you do?" I laughed out loud.

Oh, back to the lipstick. A makeup company hires Sterling Cooper so Fred and Joan and the guys get a bunch of lipstick samples and let the girls in the office (or as Fred calls them, "the chickens") try a bunch of different colors (while being watched behind a two-way mirror - just when I thought of a masturbation joke one of the ad guys makes one too). They all try different colors except Peggy, who doesn't try any because her color was taken. She knows what she likes. Fred and Sal find this interesting, and Fred likes her description of a trash barrel filled with lipstick-stained tissues as a "basket of kisses," so she's going to get a chance to work on the campaign (side note: it was driving me crazy where I'd seen Fred before, and checking online I found out it's Joel Murray, who played Danny on Still Standing.)

I haven't mentioned the surreal flashback at the start of the episode, when Don falls down the stairs and looks across the room and sees his childhood "Dick" self on the floor, surrounded by his parents and his new baby brother Adam, who he paid off last episode to leave town. (Update: as readers have pointed out, this flashback shows that Don might be Jewish, which brings a whole new dimension to why he's keeping his life a secret).

So in this episode we have a flashback that shows Don is feeling guilty about his little bro, we find out that Roger is sleeping with Joan, we see the other part of Midge's world start to creep into her relationship with Don, and we see Peggy get some possible ad work at the office (and maybe a hint of jealousy from Joan?). Who says nothing ever happens on this show?

Next week: Nixon, Helen, and Glen the creepy kid!

Will Peggy get a promotion at work?
Yes, and this will illustrate how times changed in the 60s56 (29.3%)
Maybe, but it will be short-lived and she won't be liked60 (31.4%)
No way, they won't allow it75 (39.3%)

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Please; Sal is gay. The brilliance of Sal's gayness is that there is no one in 2007 who would possibly mistake him for straight, while there is no one in 1960 who would possibly consider that he is gay. Except for other gays.
As for Don being Jewish... it would be a cool twist on the mystery, but if that is where the writers are going, then I'm sorry, they are getting it wrong, wrong, wrong, as many of you have pointed out. Dick Whitman is just as white bread as Don Draper. But perhaps Adam is a Jew. Perhaps Don/Dick's father married a Jewish woman in Round 2. It's funny, because 'Uncle Mack' sounds so close to 'Uncle Max' which screams Jewish. But Uncle Mack could be short for anything.
And yeah, the bris is a ceremony that takes place when the boy is eight days old. With lots of food and company and of course a moyle.
This show was the most compelling for me... the reveal about Joan was inexplicably effective! It knocked me out.
(I thought the line was 'puppies', not 'dogs'.)
This is the only episode I didn't tape; the only one I haven't gotten to re-watch.
The show may have some flaws, and it does move slowly, but I am in! I find it is like a play or short story... nearly Every. Single. Word. is significant. And it is the attention to those details that keeps me coming back for more.
Plus, you know, it's pretty.

August 30 2007 at 1:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Dan - Excellent observation. Such a comment is further proof of why I watch each new episode over 2,3, maybe 4 times over after the first viewing. There's so much more to this show than meets the eye.

Jean - I refrained from making a post stating something akin to "Salvatore IS SOOOOOO Totally GAYYY!!!" just because I'm not one to make brash statements. I did assume that anyone who has been watching the show as closely as most posters have would be very aware of this fact, but I guess I just didn't want to jump to conclusions that there weren't any casual viewers reading the postings who might not have necessarily picked up on this at first glance.

Anyway, "this Is-Don-Jewish?" thread that everyone keeps commenting on is a question that I personally need more convincing on. It's certainly a possibilty as to why Don abandoned his identity, but we'll see how it unfolds.

Personally, I'm looking forward to the advancement of the "what-the-hell-is-up-with-Glenn" storyline that we saw a snippet of in preview of next week

August 29 2007 at 11:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Bob, I liked what you wrote about this episode but I think you missed something that ties the whole thing together: The title "Babylon." All the discussion of Israel suggests that America is the new Babylon-- the place of exile for Mencken, and the place where Don (according to the beatnik) has created a new religion of consumption. This connects to the whole lipstick focus --whore of Babylon-- though that's a New Testament reference. But the writers suggest there's no obvious alternative to our consumer society since utopia is "the place that cannot be," resulting in conflict (Israel) and Castro.

August 28 2007 at 11:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
eric f

After half of this week's episode, I deleted the season pass from my tivo. I was intrigued by the show, but it's starting to bore me. I am sure that when the Fall TV season starts, there will be no room for this show in my schedule anyway.

August 28 2007 at 9:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Um, yeah. No question on Salvatore, Katie. They're not being particularly subtle in hitting us over the head with that every week. And Don/Dick is definitely Jewish. In one of the post-show clips a few weeks ago, Jon Hamm said that in an interview.

This week's funny recap of the episode (and a lot on Salvatore's closet dwelling) here:

August 27 2007 at 5:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Of course Sal is gay! There have been references since the first episode. In this one Don tells Betty like "All men like Joan Crawford. Salvatore couldn't stop talking about her." Hello? Joan Crawford is a gay icon!

August 26 2007 at 5:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I thought Sal was gay from his very first scene in the pilot. If you don't recall, he came into Don's office to show a new print for Lucky Strikes, showing a man posing topless on a lounge chair with a cigarette. Sal's exact words were "I had my neighbor pose for it". Stop right there! In what scenario would a man get another man to lie sunbathing outdoors for a sketch??? I bet it was really a boyfriend/lover/etc.

Don said he should add a girl to the picture, to which Sal just casually replied "A sexy girl? I can do that". Yet somehow getting a man to pose topless was the first thing that came to Sal's mind...

August 26 2007 at 2:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sal is absolutely in the closet - it IS 1960 after all! It was very evident from the beginning based on his mannerisms, comments, and even slightly effeminate speech patterns. I recall one of the first episodes when they were at a bar with several women who commented on the handsome men and Sal agreed with them. The girl he sat next to kind of gave him a look, turned her back and scooted away from him.

I am on the fence about Don's Judaism - it doesn't really resonate with how things have been presented. But it does open my eyes to how my inlaws fought so hard to be assimilated and deny to a large extent their heritage because of their social status. My folks, on the other hand, were more working class so hiding their roots wasn't necessary.

Best line, Roger to Joan : "Until I met you last year, I was ready to leave my wife." It sums up how these men truly regard the working women, as just a piece of a**.

August 26 2007 at 2:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think all the jewish references suggest that Don might have some jewish background but nothing in the flashback suggested anything jewish to me.

Also, if Peggy is from Brookly, how come she doesn't have a NY accent? None of them have accents for that matter

August 26 2007 at 2:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So, someone made the comment that Salvatore is in the closet. I get that feeling because he is so overly homophobic in his comments and jokes. It is as if he is trying really hard to be one of the guys. Well, Draper, with his comments about jews, could be overcompensating for his secret past. Also, the scene with Rachel is very telling. She says, "I'm the only Jew you know in New York?" Draper replies, "You're my favorite." That could be in reference to Adam and himself. The other two Jews he knows in New York. I don't think his curiosity about Judaism is purely business. Could his past also be that his stepmother and half brother are Jewish, and he and his father are not and he is ashamed to be from a "blended" family? "He ain't my brother?"

August 25 2007 at 10:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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