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Mad Men – “The Inheritance”

“The Inheritance”

October 5th, 2008

Pete Campbell has inherited a lot of things from his parents, but one of them might well be his fundamental lack of humanity. As he greets his mother before a short meeting, they embrace by touching each other’s faces: not with any sort of kissing motion, but this awkward greeting that’s not a hug but rather just a proximity that seems to indicate that they are happy to see one another. But it is this coldness, that his mother seems to share, which makes Pete so incapable of handling the financial crisis she is in, and the own family drama that plagues his home life.

Betty Draper inherited from her mother her looks but also her fragile nature. She has many of her mother tendencies, and even has a housekeeper who appears to have raised her much as Carla is raising Sally and Bobby for most of the episode. It is these qualities, then, which make her so unable to deal with the reality of her father’s ailing health, and why her family didn’t even tell her about his failing in order to help continue her shield from the cold reality around her.

Whereas Don Draper has spent decades resolving his relationship with his father (although last week indicated he still sees that side of him), the inability to handle what they’ve inherited from a generation past is what holds Pete and Betty back, what keeps them from becoming fully realized members of society. What “The Inheritance” becomes is less a mediation on any pivotal moment in either of their development, but a demonstration over a number of days of their reactions to these ideas being tested, of their innocence or coldness rising in opposition to something that needs to be said or done.

The result is an episode that doesn’t quite hit as hard as the past few episodes on an emotional level, and feels like it doesn’t really add things to our story; that being said, it also feels distinctly like Matthew Weiner and Co. moving pieces around in preparation for something larger.

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