The shot heard ’round the world! Oh boy. Last night’s Mad Men concerned itself with an event the writers have been building up to over the past season: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy!
The episode starts with Roger Sterling’s daughter Margaret throwing a hissy fit over an extravagant wedding gift Roger’s wife Jane had given her. That, plus wedding jitters have got the girl thisclose to shutting down the wedding. Roger and ex-wife Mona are able to talk her down and the wedding will go on - on November 22, 1963!
At Sterling Cooper, Pete Campbell gets called in to speak with Lane Pryce, who informs him that Ken Cosgrove, not Pete, has been promoted to SVP of Account Services. Pete, however, has been bumped up to Head of Account Management, which doesn’t pacify him in the least. He goes home and is ready to call Duck Phillips about the Grey job, only to be stopped by wife Trudy, who convinces him to wait it out at Sterling Cooper, to see how everything goes.
Duck Phillips, meanwhile, is busy getting sexy with our girl Peggy Olson on a regular basis. They’re in the midst of one such lunchtime rendezvous when they get the big news: JFK has been shot and killed!
Everyone at Sterling Cooper has already heard in the meantime. The phones are ringing off the hook, people are starting prayer circles, the office is general havoc. Back home, Betty Draper and housekeeper Carla sit in front of the TV in tears, shaken.
Don Draper? Cool as a cucumber!
But Margaret’s wedding must go on. The next day, we see Don and Betty questioning whether it’s still on, and realizing they must attend. Pete, on the other hand, is on an anti-Sterling Cooper high horse, and decides to pointedly not go, because no one at Sterling Cooper is upset enough about JFK’s death. He needs to make a stand! Wife Trudy follows suit.
Everything at the wedding is a bit of a mess. Only half the guests were in attendance, a handful were in the back room watching TV, the servers hadn’t shown up, nor had the cake… Oy.
Betty spots lover Henry Francis across the way and is relieved to find the woman on his arm is his daughter. Roger gives a charming speech, the bride and groom begin dancing and couples join them on the floor. Betty can’t take her eyes off Henry, and husband Don, perhaps moved by the moment, gives her a big fat smooch on the dance floor.
The wedding ends satisfactorily. Roger and Jane are back at home and he’s annoyed with her. It seems to me as though the generational gap is starting to take its toll on their relationship - Roger is treating Jane a bit more like a whiny teenager than a wife. Even further, he relieves the stress of the long day by calling up former lover Joan Holloway. She’s the only one who’ll say the right thing, he feels. Uh oh! Between Baby Jane and Dr. Greg, will we be witnessing a Roger/Joan reunion? I can’t say I’d be disappointed.
Back at the Draper residence, Betty is still uncontrollably shaken by the murder of JFK…. which takes a turn for the worse when she watches the live murder of Lee Harvey Oswald on TV. Betty decides to go for a drive and meet Henry, who has a shocking proposition: if she leaves Don, he’ll marry her. She doesn’t have to decide right away; they kiss and part ways.
Betty’s emotions are running high! She goes home and freaks out at Don, telling him she doesn’t love him anymore, the kiss at the Sterling wedding was passionless for her, that she can’t get past the lies. Don responds with a calm “Everything will be fine,” a phrase that is repeated over and over by characters in the episode. He thinks Betty’s reacting to JFK’s murder alone and will snap out of it - though he’s clearly broken by her admissions. Sigh.
The next day, Don shows up at the office to find a lone Peggy Olson there. He declines her invitation to watch the state funeral, instead opting to drink alone in his office. This is the weakest we’ve ever seen Don Draper; as he sits in his office with a drink, it immediately becomes apparent that his Oliver fantasy has crumbled. Despite all his efforts, he has ended up truly alone.
A melancholy episode for sure. I was stirred by not only Betty’s lack of feelings for Don, but the state of the Mad Men nation as they collectively mourned the death of their president. I couldn’t help drawing the inevitable and uncomfortably eerie comparison between JFK and President Obama, as I believe the response would be quite similar to what we saw on the screen last night. A feeling of hopelessness, of unfulfilled promises, of extinguished youth, a fear for the future.
In fact, the entire episode was nothing if not a slow chipping away of anything we ever had to hope for: the death of a promising leader, a disappointing career flop, the deterioration of a relationship in their early stages, the slow killing-off of a seemingly perfect marriage… the list goes on. The Death of Hope episode ends with a fitting song: “End of the World” by Skeeter Davis. Give this sucker a listen to further bum yourself out.
WOW! Interesting, I thought, to have the JFK assassination fall in the second-to-last episode rather than the Season 3 finale. What could they possibly have in store for us next week? I’m shaking with excitement over here!