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Family Matters (Mad Men S3:E4)

Posted by Christopher Moltisanti on September 9, 2009

“When we put that money aside for him he was a little boy. We didn’t know what kind of person we were making.”

“The Arrangements” was the episode action-starved Mad Men fans have been waiting for. With Gene’s death, Peggy’s showdown with her mother and Sal unknowingly outing himself to his wife, this episode pushed the plot forward more than the last two episodes combined. Still, as has been the case all season, it was a thematically cohesive episode with a lot to say about weighty, universal issues. In this case it was the power of family legacy — both good and bad. On one side, there are those (Betty and the jai alai client) who idealize family and seek constantly (and often futilely) to live up to the standards of their parents. On the other, there are those motivated by a desire to escape their past and strike out on their own. As we see with Don and Peggy, though, extrication is a constant struggle.

This episode isn’t all about the children, though. It also makes a pointed critique of parents’ expectations. As Gene’s unfair evisceration of Betty at the kitchen table shows, parents often have a deluded desire to create perfection. Like the Patio reps, they have an image they want copied and preserved in their child. They fail to accept that when a child (or an ad, for that matter) is placed into the world and influenced by people, society and circumstances, it ends up different than anyone could have planned. There seems to be “something missing,” when in fact it’s just unique.

It’s a theme The Sopranos dwelled on throughout its run. Why was Meadow choosing between med school and law school while A.J. was flunking out of community college?

Parents’ attempts to mold their children is not benign, however, as evidenced by the heartbreaking ending: Sally crying on the floor while her parents sit in silence, absorbed in their own personal struggles.

Grade: A-


2 Responses to “Family Matters (Mad Men S3:E4)”

  1. Mr. Feeny said

    I hate Betty more and more with every passing episode. Her attitude during the scene pictured was unbearable. “Let’s just not talk about things we don’t want to talk about so we can keep faking contentness.” That’s how she handled Don’s affair. She’s unable to face reality or concern herself with anything beyond her little realm. I wanted Gene to really chew her out. Unless I’m forgetting something, I can’t think of anything he said to her in this episode that was out of line.

  2. Blu said

    I can’t wait to jump into this series!
    I’m glad I’m not reading the episode reviews!!!!

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