“My Special Angel.”
The way a TV episode ends ultimately determines how you remember it. If it’s good, you’ll tune in next week. If not, the entire installment becomes uninspired. The ending is the most important element, and a poignant closing scene can make the difference between memorable and forgettable. That’s why the image of Betty Draper shooting her neighbor’s pet pigeons with a rifle, a cigarette dangling out of her mouth, turns “Shoot” into an instant classic.
Even though the majority of the episode focuses on Betty’s aspirations to be a model — not exactly the most interesting storyline, I admit — it results in one of Mad Men’s most engaging moments due to the fantastic final sequence.
For now, we can put the “Betty is Boring” narrative to rest — she’s become a certified badass.
Betty worked as a model before she met Don. Then she got married, then she got pregnant and then she got pregnant again, thus creating the unfulfilled housewife we’ve seen throughout season one. She gets a second chance at a modeling career during a chance encounter with Jim Hobart, the head of rival advertising agency McCann Erickson. In an effort to lure Don from Sterling Cooper, Jim tells Betty that she’d be the perfect model for their Coca-Cola campaign.
The “unfulfilled housewife” shtick has been done many times before, and up until now Betty’s story was just the latest in a long line of uninteresting melodramas. However, the full scope of her character has finally come into focus, the tragedy being that she’s entirely dependent on Don.
She loses her second chance at a modeling career after Don rejects Jim Hobart’s offer. Nevertheless, she tells Don later on that she quit the job herself because she’d rather be home with her family. The cycle continues.
Taking out her disappointment on the neighbor’s pet pigeons is perhaps the most liberating thing Betty’s ever done.
Meanwhile, the rest of “Shoot” focuses on the latest goings-on at Sterling Cooper. Mad Men has an uncanny ability to perfectly balance the personal lives of its characters with their lives at work, even if the characters themselves can’t achieve such equilibrium. For example, Pete Campbell sucker-punches Ken Cosgrove after he makes rude comments about Peggy’s appearance, a combination of Pete’s jealousy over Ken’s short story and the fact that Pete f**ked Peggy at work a couple weeks ago. And, well, Ken was being an asshole.
Elsewhere, Don’s looming decision and ultimate rejection of the McCann Erickson offer weighs over the rest of the office. Roger Sterling, for one, is left scrambling to keep Don’s creative genius at the agency — even if that means giving him a raise without tying him down to a contract.
However, the character it impacts the most is Betty. As mentioned before, the final scene perfectly encapsulates the episode’s frustrations (or rather, an entire lifetime of frustrations). Maybe shooting the pigeons symbolizes the shooting down of Betty’s hopes and dreams. Or maybe it symbolizes her family forever holding her back. Or maybe her hatred of Don, her dead mother or some combination of both.
Either way, it’s a poignant parting shot as only Mad Men can devise. And when it comes to poignant endings, Mad Men may be the greatest of all time. “Shoot” is an early example of the series’ one-of-a-kind power.
MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS
- Peggy rips her skirt on her desk, which causes her to get in an argument about her appearance with Joan. She lets her know that others in the office have been commenting on her recent weight gain, which Peggy doesn’t even care about. Instead, the only thing Peggy wants people to notice is the fact that she’s the first woman writer at Sterling Cooper since World War II.
- Jim Hobart will be a recurring character throughout the series, forever trying to get Don to leave Sterling Cooper for McCann Erickson. While he ultimately fails in his endeavors this episode, the lure of large international clients like Coca-Cola will continue to entice Don, subtly foreshadowing the final scene of the series.
- Don agrees to stay at Sterling Cooper for $45,000 a year as long as he doesn’t have to sign a contract. He assures Roger that, “If I leave this place one day, it will not be for more advertising.” Once again, this subtly foreshadows how the series will end (though depending on your interpretation of the finale, Don might not be telling the truth here).
- The episode ends with “My Special Angel” by Bobby Helms, which is initially heard playing on the radio in the Drapers’ kitchen before filling the soundtrack as Betty goes outside to shoot the pigeons. It fits in perfectly with Mad Men’s penchant to close episodes with swingin’ pop songs from the 1950s, and it’s another reason why the scene is so memorable.
- “Shoot” was written by Chris Provenzano and series creator Matthew Weiner and directed by Paul Feig. Feig is also notable for directing Bridesmaids, several episodes of The Office and Arrested Development, and for creating Freaks and Geeks.
- “Can you imagine the lifestyle that goes with handling Pan-Am? It’s a panty dropper.”
- “Look around here at what you have. You want to start over?”
- “I just realized something: you think you’re being helpful.”
- “Campbell, you sucker-punched me. What is wrong with you?”
- “Draper! What the hell are you doing?! Mrs. Draper!”