Mad Men – “Three Sundays”

“Three Sundays”

August 17th, 2008

When Father Gil (Guest star Colin Hanks) stops by to the Olsen household for a dinner party, he is asked to say grace. He gives a short little moment of reflection on the meal in front of them, and Peggy’s Mother commends him on the fine words and asks if he’s going to say grace now. He quickly breaks into the traditional verse.

Roger’s daughter, meanwhile, is engaged. Her mother wants a wedding, a big gala where all of their friends can come and enjoy, but she isn’t on the same page: the young Ms. Sterling does want to feel like she needs to prove her love to anyone in some grand ceremony after only two months of engagement. Eventually, it seems settled: like it or not, a big wedding is simply unavoidable.

We shouldn’t be surprised by any of this: as my brother (who just finished the first season) noted, the 60s is a decade of change and Mad Men is a show about people of an older era. While this is not yet the time when there is an active war between these two generations, the battlegrounds are being drawn: as Don himself says, “We have a lot of bricks, but we don’t know what the building looks like.”

But, slowly but surely, the bricks are falling into place; and over these “Three Sundays,” a lot happens to lay a foundation.

While Don is usually a bastion for tradition in all of its forms, standing for an older time and older values, the household drama of the week actually has him on the side of a less traditional form of parenting. With Bobby proving more of a liar every moment, at least in Betty’s eyes, she wants to see a family environment where he hits his son to show him what’s what, so to speak.

Now, it is clear that Don’s reluctance has to do with his own past, his own relationship with his father. Betty’s ignorance to just how that has changed Don is clear with her question of whether Don would really be the same if not for her father hitting him – of course he wouldn’t be the same, and maybe he wouldn’t even be Don Draper.

But Don’s sudden and somewhat ironic shift is also echoed in his work on the now rushed American Airlines pitch, moved up a week to fall on Good Friday. It’s Palm Sunday, and everyone is called into Sterling Cooper in order to figure out how to frame their campaign. The plan is to focus on the history, to focus on the past of the Airline in hopes that they will ignore the recent events that have tarnished much of that.

Within the span of the day, though, Don reverses entirely: he says screw history, screw tradition: “There is no such thing as American History. There is only frontier.” Whether he’ll eventually buy what he’s selling is a whole other story, but that concept is exactly what the 60s is all about: and, if their contact at American Airlines hadn’t been fired the morning of their meeting, perhaps it would have been a progressive campaign that caught their attention.

The episode plays with Don’s usual divide, that being his inability to balance work and home lives. This is Don’s second week with a moment of despicable behaviour, from his threatening of Mrs. Barrett to this week shoving Betty in retaliation – and yet, again, I can’t condemn the man when it is clear that he has deep seeded issues that simply aren’t being dealt with. I’m not suggesting that this in any way justifies his behaviour, but rather that the character’s complexities keep me from taking these moments in a judgmental light.

The episode even throws the two worlds together, creating an impromptu “Take Your Daughter to Work Day.” It’s a big episode for the Draper children in general, actually – not only in terms of their lines, but in their awareness of what exactly goes on in their parents’ world. They witness their parents fighting, “laying on each other,” and in general terms get a crash course in reality. Both eventually get to experience some part of adulthood: Sally downs some alcohol and Bobby has a conversation with his Dad and manages to figure out something that his Mother couldn’t.

Of course, while there are Three Sundays in everyone’s lives, they are most specifically memorable for Peggy Olsen, who in this episode finds herself befriending Father Gil, the visiting young member of Peggy’s family’s church. She was about to leave that first Sunday before running into him, and she stays out of interest I’d say: there’s some part of her, I think, who would love to have a religious figure in her life who could know her independent of her “sin.” I don’t know if I’d call it romantic, per se, but rather practical: his religion makes him more attractive on that personal level.

I really like Hanks in the role, and it does make sense that we’d see agents of change in various parts of this world. Of course, the agents of tradition are stronger: Peggy’s sister purposefully outs Peggy’s secret to him out of pure jealousy, anger over the fact that Peggy does not constantly apologize and acknowledge her past sins in her daily life. While I will agree that there is something unhealthy about Peggy’s choice of acting as if nothing has happened, can we blame her for trying to recapture the life she had before the boy’s birth considering the psychological trauma that we are quite sure took place?

So Peggy’s life is only going to get more complicated: I don’t quite know how I read his passing of the egg to her in order to give the child. Is it an honest attempt to prod Peggy into interacting with the child more often, or a final act of kindness before writing her off based on her behaviour? He certainly seemed less than colloquial with her in that moment, but I’m not willing to decide either way. But, in a show where we kind of know the answer to the central conflict of tradition and new ideas, it’s good to keep a little bit of mystery in its characters.

Cultural Observations

  • The other main story thread we get in the episode is Roger, who heads off to recapture his relationship with Joan by sleeping with an escort that he sees Pete and Ken using to appease a client. He buys himself a new Joan, for at least one night: he pays her to break the rules, to break appointments, all because he craves the control he once had. Vicky reminds him of Joan, just a little: she’s not quite the same, but she has that same spunk about her; however, Roger has to know this is a losing battle.
  • I loved a lot of things about Sally in the office, from her questioning of Paul about his girlfriend to her eventual choice to down the alcohol, but it will need beat her giddy clapping when she found out she was heading to the office with her father. It was just so pure and innocent, I loved it to death. I also greatly enjoyed Don calling her “Jeeves” after she brought him his drink.
  • There was a lot of great setup work here, but my favourite was the beautiful office and the family portrait of the Sterling Cooper crew…and then, two scenes later, the usual chaos of the boardroom, back to its normal state of affairs.
  • Mrs. Barrett’s return seemed a bit unnecessary, as she pitched a TV show and another erotic encounter to Don – I don’t quite know what it added to the episode, although it could be foreshadowing of some sort.
  • My favourite image in the episode, though, was definitely the moment when Pete stands up at the table on Palm Sunday and we realize he’s wearing tennis shorts – I crack up every time.

8 Comments

Filed under Mad Men

8 responses to “Mad Men – “Three Sundays”

  1. Rosie

    “This is Don’s second week with a moment of despicable behaviour, from his threatening of Mrs. Barrett to this week shoving Betty in retaliation . . .”

    I find it disturbing that whereas Don’s behavior toward Mrs. Barrett and Betty are condemned, yet their behavior toward Don – Mrs. Barrett’s “seduction” of him inside that car in the previous episode and the fact that Betty shoved first – are either excused or ignored because they are women.

    I’m not excusing Don’s behavior. But quite frankly, I don’t think that Mrs. Barrett and Betty’s behavior should not be condemned.

  2. trippdup

    I had a similar thought; not that Don isn’t wrong, but that despicable is too potent a word for any proportionate response.

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