“Red in the Face” Review
“The Generational Divide.”
Mad Men bridges the end of one era with the beginning of another. The fact that the series feels so relevant from a 21st century viewpoint only adds to its overall timelessness.
With season one set in 1960, cultural revolution was right around the corner. Nevertheless, the shadow of the “fabulous ‘50s” still loomed large. This was back when America Was Great™, so they say. But not everyone saw it that way.
“Red in the Face” pits the Silent Generation against the Greatest Generation in the form of Donald Draper versus his boss, Roger Sterling.
After all, everybody’s generation is the greatest if they’re the one being asked.
The episode leans more toward Roger’s point-of-view for the first half, before shifting to Don’s by the end. The transition is seamless.
Roger, who is jealous over the fact that young girls in the bar would rather flirt with Don over him, is feeling his age. To make matters worse, Don’s rising star in the agency seems to be burning brighter by the day. Throughout the series, there will be several occasions in which characters bluntly ask Roger, “What exactly do you do here?”
Inviting himself over to the Draper residence for dinner, Roger gets drunk and makes an aggressive pass at Betty. He takes a bottle of vodka for the road.
Directed by Tim Hunter, whose other television work includes Twin Peaks, Deadwood, Breaking Bad, Hannibal and Bosch, “Red in the Face” has an enduring quality even though the storyline seems to go by in fast motion. Much of that has to do with how effortlessly Hunter is able to capture the wide confluence of emotions that the characters display. The camera moves at a stately pace, and the editing between shots is never hurried.
Last episode gave us our first insight into Roger’s character, but “Red in the Face” is the first time he’s given a real spotlight. The episode succeeds because John Slattery delivers an excellent performance, imbibing Mr. Sterling with a casual, charismatic and comfortable whogivesafuck attitude. He never regrets what he says, and he’s entertaining in whatever he does. If nothing else, he’s Mad Men’s greatest source of humor. And that’s why he’ll soon become one of the series’ most endearing characters.
Perhaps he says it best in his half-assed apology: “When a man gets to the point where his name is on the building, he can get an unnatural sense of entitlement.”
Don, on the other hand, isn’t going to let himself be outgunned by a silver fox who won’t accept that his best days are behind him. On the day of an important meeting with the Richard Nixon election campaign, Don takes Roger out to lunch for all-you-can-eat oysters and all-you-can-drink martinis. He also bribes the elevator operator to say it’s out of order upon their return, forcing them to walk all the way back up to the office.
23 flights of stairs later, Roger pukes all over the Sterling Cooper lobby floor. Don gives him a pat on the back: “Are you alright?”
Roger’s dumbfounded expression gives the episode its title.
While Don and Roger spend the episode big-dicking each other, the rest of the characters go about their daily struggles. For example, Pete Campbell goes on an unlikely odyssey trying to return a Chip-n-Dip that was gifted to him as a wedding present. He buys a rifle with the store credit, which later puts him in the doghouse with Trudy.
Meanwhile, Betty is also having marital problems of her own, stemming from her increasing isolation. She feels lost in the supermarket, giving divorcée Helen Bishop a well-deserved slap in the face. She’s also taken to drinking wine in the daytime.
While her storyline may initially seem dull, her plight is getting more sympathetic by the day. Sure, Don is charismatic, but is he not one of the shittiest TV husbands of all time? He’s currently juggling three different lovers and has the nerve to blame Betty when Roger flirts with her. No wonder Betty’s state of mind is becoming more depressed.
All in all, Mad Men is slowly becoming master of a style that is its own creation. The ability to turn these happenstance inconsequentialities into highly entertaining eccentricities is truly a remarkable accomplishment.
Old man eats oysters and vomits on office floor? Depressed wife slaps a bitch in the vegetable aisle? Even though the stories appear uninteresting on the surface, they are enthralling and captivating and extremely relatable. Mad Men is able to capture the human condition in surprisingly realistic ways.
MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS
- Don begins the episode by checking in with Betty’s therapist to see if she’s making any progress. The doctor tells him that, “Basically we’re dealing with the emotions of a child.” Big yikes. But does Betty’s behavior mainly stem from Don’s neglect?
- Don doesn’t want to talk too much about his experiences in Korea, while Roger is more than happy to share his WWII Air Force stories. Once again, the generational divide is obvious.
- Then again, why doesn’t Don want to talk about Korea? Or any aspect of his past, for that matter? The mystery of Dick Whitman strikes again.
- I’m not sure I enjoyed the scene in which Pete describes his hunting fantasy to Peggy in vivid Jack London-esque detail. Is it supposed to be a romantic moment? I thought it was a little off-putting. Ditto for the scene in which he aims the unloaded (I hope) shotgun at different women in the office.
- “Red in the Face” was written by Bridget Bedard and directed by Tim Hunter.
- “Stop smoking so much, it’s a sign of weakness.”
- “I’m a vegetarian sometimes.”