by Ryland Walker Knight
—Though I did see some movies this week and though it was not ideal to battle insomnia with seven straight episodes last night, I barreled through Season Four in the past few days. So that's what I'll talk at below. But I did want to note that I saw that stupid ballerina movie, and I actually tried to like it, but I don't know how I could like it. I also watched some of Domino again, and it's wholly stupid, too, but it's not really aiming for anything profound; its main fault is its sentimentality; but that's almost an endearing through-line for Tony Scott now. In any case, they make a funny pair and it should be no surprise that the one that commits 100% to its lunacy (that is, doesn't try it on like a costume at arbitrary lengths) is the one that wins. But enough. There's bigger idiot winds to brave against.
Suffice to say, I was compelled. At this stage, I am drinking some kind of kool aid. However, compulsively entertaining as this season was, I must air some complaints. My major complaint, in the wake of what I wrote last week, is that the show simplified Betty a little too tidily. Sally was complicated almost to replace (rather than refract) what seemed to go on in her mom, but that's a different kind of relationship to a television character than I was looking for; and I was perhaps too easily skeezed out by the idea of people making that scene/those images of Sally's, um, transgression at the sleep over. Which is another way of saying that there was a lot more about work and about Don's sex life in this season than I'd anticipated. Yet, all that fed one of the best things about watching Don's trajectory: the tension in him between acting and being*.
Don is tired of acting. But Don's impulses at being, at responding to himself, are the most confused actions he takes. It's what got him into the pickle of a relationship with Anna Draper, before all, even though that was the first bit of acting he had to do. But even that sentence gets at what a mess it can be to delineate these two strains of behavior. That is, they're always woven.
Recognizing what idea feeds another idea and how we have responded or will respond or are responding is about as difficult an element of becoming a person as I know of. And that's all this show's about at bottom. That's part of the joke, of course: advertising is selling ideas to people, and the show does a great job to feed certain fantasies, as all mass media entertainment can (and more often does, duh). That's why I want to see Betty's complications instead of her press-button immaturity. I want to know there's more to that creature. It makes me feel shallow. I think that may be the point.
Even more fascinating, however, was Peggy's role in this season. She's really given a lot to do, for a lot of reasons, including sex and power and both at the same time and telling a lot of boys to shove it, even Don in a way; and the fantasy that this little lady lived and thrived back then in the mid-60s is one I want to believe as well. This one makes me feel something close to proud, some might say inspired, and I dont doubt that's the point.
Just as Joan's continued abasement at the hands of the writers continues to baffle me. Not that she can't stand on her own. Not that she doesn't have plans and dreams and boobs worth dying for. But one phone call to Vietnam in the finale is nothing compared to that whole birthday episode Peggy gets. Don't get me wrong: Joan gets to turn down Roger, she gets to flare up at Lane, she gets to do all kinds of Strong and Powerful acts. But they're forever undercut by what motivated them or what is consequent to them. There's got to be another avenue for her than another sign post that says sexuality was still circumscribed (and chastised, as highlighted by the Sally masturbation fallout), as well as circumscription for certain kinds of sexy ladies, in this era.
Which is why Don's choice of Megan over Faye is so sad, I suppose. We're reminded of his limits, of his inability to separate trains of thought; or, we see his rationalizations play out. We see she was right: she failed "the kids test" and Megan passed it better than should be expected. Faye was so appealing precisely because of the compliments Peggy gives her the same way Megan is so appealing precisely because she's allowed wrinkles and background the way Jane was not. (And because she never gives off that ugly gold digger pony bride vibe.) All these confusions in Don of course make me question my romantic confusions but I also have the luxury of some truly valuable time spent with professional that have helped me better understand all the strands woven through my life. Naturally, I'm still not an expert on myself, nor living, but I do take pride in how much attention I pay to differences that make a difference. I can see that California is a safe place for Don, a place where none of the expectations of New York matter; I see how he sees "a fresh start" not unlike his ex-wife; and I see how he conflates certain forms of happiness into a ball of expectations nobody will be able to make good on in the long run. When he figures out how to return to himself, once and for all, we might not have a show to watch anymore. But we also may not get there at this rate.
* = This construction is Martha's, I feel compelled to note, and it also describes some of the fun of the show where Weiner got his start, the irreplaceable Sopranos, which I feel compelled to mention in part because I can see how I've drawn a parallel between Betty and Carmella because I realize that my attraction to both of these characters is just that they are so complicated at times, just like anybody, though they can also be obtuse imbeciles with no grip on how to behave as adults.