“A Night To Remember” Review
“Loose Lips Sink Ships.”
January Jones is a serviceable actress who possesses a limited range. In the right role, she’s perfect. For example, Betty Draper — a cool and icy femme fatale — is the part she was born to play. Nevertheless, her emotionless demeanor can sometimes be too one-note.
In “A Night to Remember,” Betty confronts Don about his affair(s) and subsequently kicks him out of the house. It’s meant to be one of the most hotly-contested scenes in the entire series, yet Jones’ delivery is somewhat hollow and indifferent, punctuated by a repetitive timbre and a lack of genuine fervor.
What should’ve been a climactic moment for her character ends up falling flat, and Betty appears childish as a result. I wasn’t supposed to come away from this argument siding with her philandering husband.
Betty’s emotional resentment best manifests itself when she smashes a wooden chair in the dining room or rides a horse with a look of frustrated determination. In other words, scenes where she doesn’t speak. It’s not a complete knock against Jones’ ability; it’s more so that she’s noticeably outmatched when sharing the screen with Jon Hamm.
For these reasons and more, “A Night to Remember” is somewhat unmemorable. Even the sub-plots at Sterling Cooper — Joan Holloway helps out Harry Crane in the television department, while Peggy Olson and Father Gill collaborate on an advertisement for the local church — are second-rate when compared to the more entertaining storylines featured in other episodes. Dare I say we need more Pete Campbell?
That being said, “A Night to Remember” still does a great job exploring the struggles that our Mad Men women face in their day-to-day lives. Joan excels in her temporary role as product-placement advisor (reading TV scripts to determine which commercials are suitable to air) yet is very disappointed when Harry hires someone else for the position. At home, her fiancé Greg doesn’t seem to care and wonders why she isn’t reading house listings instead.
Meanwhile, Peggy finally gets the opportunity to write and pitch her own advertisement … it just so happens to be a flyer for a church youth dance … and she’s doing it on her own free time. Still, the scene where she answers the phone pretending to be her own secretary is humorous and heartwarming in all the right ways. Another minor victory for our favorite workaholic.
“A Night to Remember” is an installment that ultimately doesn’t live up to its full potential. The limited range of January Jones is certainly a valid reason, but the onus isn’t entirely on her — even if there had been better acting in her aforementioned argument with Don, the episode remains somewhat unexciting. That’s because every storyline carries the same mood and tonality. Don and Betty’s separation isn’t any more dramatic than Joan’s dissatisfaction with her role as office secretary, which undercuts any emotive undertone the episode intended.
Luckily, the masterful ending sequence is a poignant return to form: Don heads to the kitchen for a late-night Heineken, the camera zooming out to reveal he’s sleeping at the office. It makes up for all the inconsistency that came before.
Plot-wise, we’ve reached a turning point in season two. Quality-wise, it’ll only go up from here. Even though Mad Men isn’t always perfect, low-stakes chapters like this help give the masterpieces more impact. The only problem is that this shouldn’t have been a low-stakes chapter at all.
MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS
- Betty kicks Don out of the house when she sees Jimmy Barrett’s Utz commercial on TV. She calls him at work and tells him not to come home. Even though she finds no “evidence” of Don’s affair, she knows what he’s done.
- Earlier in the episode, Betty feels embarrassed when Don hosts a dinner for the CEO of Heineken and asks Betty to cater. Betty prepares the meal in predictably ditzy fashion, thus proving that ditzy housewives are a viable target demographic. Don’s advertising “experiment” betrays her confidence and ultimately leads to their big fight.
- Betty obviously feels betrayed by Don’s affair, but she seems to be even more disheartened that he cheated on her with an “old” woman like Bobbie Barrett. Once again, Betty’s shallow naïveté is on full display. Perhaps Jones’ childish delivery was intentional?
- As discussed above, Jones’ emotional range is limited. Nevertheless, she’ll continue to grow as an actress as the series progresses. I can’t imagine Betty Draper being played by anyone else. Overall, she does a fine job with the character throughout the series.
- Jones’ aforementioned “repetitive timbre” comes during the argument scene. She says “admit it” and “you’re lying” with the same exact inflection, which slightly took me out of the scene and led to my various quibbles with the acting.
- Mad Men often looks at the advertising industry through a cynical lens, yet series creator Matthew Weiner shamelessly plugs Heineken throughout the episode as part of a real-world product-placement agreement. It doesn’t detract from the episode, but I guess it proves his thesis correct: everyone is guilty of materialism.
- Father Gill (played by Colin Hanks) showcases his musical talent by singing and strumming a Peter, Paul & Mary song over the end credits. It’s a nice performance, yet I don’t believe it has any bearing on the episode other than to display Hanks’ abilities. Another shameless plug perhaps? At least the song fits the mood well, even if the Father Gill character is largely redundant.
- Peggy grows angry with Father Gill when the church asks her to rewrite the flyer. Didn’t the priest know he’s supposed to be an Account Rep in this situation?
- Just like Don won’t confess to Betty that he cheated on her, Peggy won’t confess to Father Gill that she gave her child up for adoption. Both Don and Peggy are subscribers to the “this never happened” approach, yet they live with their silent guilt everyday. Their only outlet is advertising — work that ultimately convinces consumers to believe what they tell them.
- “A Night to Remember” was written by Robin Veith and Matthew Weiner and directed by Lesli Linka Glatter.
- “Crab, Duck. Duck, Crab.”
- “I would never do this to you. How could you do this to me?”