Two Guys, a Girl and a TV Set

Three college friends out in the world, filling the void with television…and loving it.

Review: The Fog (Mad Men S3:E5)

Posted by Christopher Moltisanti on September 19, 2009

So, I refer to The Sopranos a lot. Part of it is because it’s the greatest show of all time. The other part of it is that thanks to the Matthew Weiner link, Mad Men mirrors The Sopranos in a thousand ways — from the dark comedy to the impact of social change on entrenched groups to the role of women. In many ways, though, Mad Men offers a darker view of the world. The Sopranos argues in favor of the redemptive power of family life. In Mad Men, the family serves as little more than a prop. Serious familial concerns are treated as annoying impediments to the “perfect” life. For instance, the parent/teacher conference about some troubling behavior from Sally is too painful for Bets to deal with. “I just want everything to be perfect when the baby comes,” she says.

“The Fog” is a troubling episode that shows the painful isolation that exists between family members. From the moment Betty and Don get to the hospital, they’re separated, and childbirth takes place in a prison-like setting reminiscent of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Don, ignorant of his wife’s painful childbirth, seems disturbingly unconcerned as he sips whiskey in the dark waiting room with, fittingly, a prison guard. The father-to-be’s naïve expectations (like those described by Connie in “My Old Kentucky Home”) contrast with Don’s disillusionment.

Later, when Don eats a late night snack with Sally in the dark, it becomes apparent that her teacher is more her parent than her parents. The most heartbreaking part is that Don doesn’t really seem to mind.

Like “The Test Dream” and other abstract dreamlike episodes from The Sopranos, “The Fog” is full of seemingly bizarre imagery. But, it all fits as a way to showcase both Betty’s insecurities and desire for control. In her dream, Betty is in charge of her (very simplistic) domain as she cups the bug in her hand. But she’s also bombarded by the driving forces in her life — her parents — who reinforce her sense of inadequacy as a housewife. (I’ve always thought these “dream” episodes, though well-shot and conceived, were a bit heavy-handed. This episode was no different, hence the grade at the bottom.)

You’ll notice that during an episode about childbirth, the characters are completely focused on themselves. The baby comes in the world with Betty in a drugged-out haze, removing some of the intrinsic connection between mother and child, and Don hardly acknowledges the baby when he visits his wife in the hospital. When she takes it home, it quickly becomes just another prop in this façade, this life of superficial perfection. And with her father’s name, it’s already burdened with the brutal weight of family legacy showcased in “The Arrangements.”

Other thoughts:

-In addition to being another episode about family, the female plight is at the center of this episode. Having not been around in the ‘60’s, I have no idea how real the hospital scene was (with the men not being allowed in the room and the woman begin drugged up the whole time), but it was certainly troubling.

-This episode also gave us some more office intrigue with the return of Duck Phillips (oddly sporting a mock turtle neck, or was it a real turtle neck? I never can tell), who ostensibly is trying to court Peggy and Pete, but probably is playing a game of intrigue with Sterling Cooper. For the record, I love Duck Phillips. His return to alcoholism last season was heartbreaking, and I’ve always thought Mark Moses does a great job of capturing both the business savvy and below-the-surface insecurity that undermines him at every turn.

Grade: B+

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