“The Times They Are a-Changin'”
By Colin Hart
8.1 / 10
Despite Mad Men’s bright colors and glamorous setting, there is always a sense of impending doom hanging in the background. That’s because we’re able to view the 1963 storyline from a modern perspective, while the characters have no idea what the future holds. They sit back and laugh about the current state of affairs, unaware that their way of life is about to change dramatically.
Unfortunately, however, “The Arrangements” is one of Mad Men’s least inspired episodes. The themes may be universal — death, aging, the strained relationships between parents and children — yet the execution leaves much to be desired.
“The Arrangements” is probably best remembered as the episode in which Grandpa Gene (finally) dies. It’s a necessary chapter for season three as a whole, closing the book on one of the series’ most insipid storylines. Nonetheless, it makes all his appearances in the episodes prior feel like a waste of time, which is something we suspected from the start.
First introduced in season two, Betty Draper’s extended family has always typified the series’ worst tendencies: annoying characters, soap opera storylines and a pretentious sense of self-importance. “The Arrangements” does little to change our minds; in fact, these flaws bleed into the rest of the episode, as if all the worst aspects of season two are being magnified.
Peggy Olson has another argument with her Catholic mother, Bobby Draper remains the worst actor of all time and the Sterling Cooper executives take advantage of a dumb client peddling Jai Alai as the next great American pastime. The only character who can save an episode like this — Donald Draper, of course — is given a light workload this week.
Predictably, he’s still at the center of the episode’s two best scenes: 1) a pensive moment when he contemplates a photo of his father, circa 1928, wondering if he’s turned into the very man he hated, and 2) a lighthearted piece of slapstick in which he accidentally shatters an ant-farm with an errant Jai Alai toss.
Perhaps the episode’s most memorable scene, however, is when Sal Romano performs a rendition of “Bye Bye Birdie” for his wife, who immediately realizes that she married a homosexual. Even though it’s a moment of deeply-rooted tragedy, I have to admit that I’m sick of hearing the song.
All in all, “The Arrangements” is as forgettable as they come, one of Mad Men’s very worst episodes. Luckily, this is just about as bad as the series will ever get. Despite its shortcomings, the installment still remains a very watchable episode of television.
Would I rather watch “The Arrangements” or a random episode of Burn Notice? You get the idea. But would I rather watch “The Arrangements” or basically any other episode of Mad Men? I’d take the latter ten times out of ten. And there are several episodes of Burn Notice that I’d rather watch, too.
Mergers & Acquistions
- Just like Paul Kinsey’s marijuana dealer, the Jai Alai ambassador is one of the most annoying Mad Men side characters. He thinks he’s the smartest man in the room, when in reality he’s by far the dumbest. And he only has money because he inherited it from his father, a wealthy ship magnate who is old friends with Bert Cooper.
- Although it enjoyed some popularity in states like Florida, Jai Alai never caught on in America. Too complex, too boring and too corrupt.
- The episode’s main goal is to highlight the fractured relationships between children and their parents. However, it only succeeds when it focuses on Sally Draper’s depression and Don’s memory of his father. Sally takes Grandpa Gene’s death the hardest, wondering how everyone can move on so quickly. She then sees the infamous video of a Buddhist monk burning himself alive on the news.
- Apparently, Grandpa Gene wasn’t as fond as Betty as she made it appear. They had a strained relationship growing up. He even earns some sympathy via his interactions with Sally before he dies.
- Does Gene remind anyone else of Joe Biden, or is it just me?
- The episode takes place not too long after the death of Pope John Paul XXIII.
- “The Arrangements” was written by Andrew Colville and series creator Matthew Weiner, and directed by Michael Uppendahl.
- “I don’t like watching you commit suicide. Neither do your kids.”
- “Kill or be killed. Eat or be eaten. That’s how I was raised.”