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The Ballad of Peter and Peggy, Redux, in “A Little Kiss”

[ 26 ] March 30, 2012 |

(It goes without saying that this is another one of those posts.)

Poor self-defeating Pete, trying his best to become the very Draper whose misery’s invisible to him. Remember when Pete had hope, and director John Slattery hammered the possibility of it home via reverse shots? How Pete saw Peggy longing for him:

Peg01

Returned her implicit, medium long offer in kind:

Pete01

And was returned in kind:

Peg02

And again:

Pete02

And again, an almost final invitaiton?

Peg03

Of course, between them in each reverse shot is the not-insignificant–and increasingly significant, given the racial aspects entering the series in future episodes–glass door separating the firm from the world it claims to represent. As I wrote in the post linked above:

The viewer is looking at Peter looking at Peggy in the first medium close up in the scene.  (There is a slight unreality to this point of view shot: it zooms in on the pair in a way only cameras can.  The zooming seems to act as a cinematic proxy for attention or concentration.)  Slattery made sure the nearly invisible wall separating them remained visible, which creates a tension between the intimacy of the close up and the reality of the glass walls separating them.  That he chooses a more intimate when these two are in different rooms is, for obvious reasons, significant.  She sees him peering at her and, by its positioning, the camera acknowledges the bond that will remain despite the increasing distance between them: the baby they had together.

But now Peter’s a father, only not of Peggy’s baby, but of his own. Who’s screen presence exists as such:

Mad men00262

See the baby? The one he had so he could be more like Draper? It’s sitting there, frame central, hovering invisible in that tacky chair he should’ve had the decency to replace if he’d had any sense of style. He’s becoming Draper–disappearing into the life he mistakenly believed he wanted. No children to greet him, just cold dinner and a warm shot of whisky. Don’t believe me? Let’s rewrind to the first season and remind you of a similarly framed shot:

Mad men00297

In this case, however, Betty’s lying about going to the community center to watch them film the pool–she’s off to watch pretty things die, as per the episode’s title, for”Sport.” But there’s something more than sport to her deliberations. She wants to savor the experience of watching something die. First she feeds the children, then she does the laundry:

Mad men00306

Then the camera acknowledges that she’s had an idea and zooms into a close-up to reiterate that fact:

Mad men00310

Note the joy on her face. Knowing that her idea is one that–whatever joy it might bring her, society would disapprove of, she ponders her decision for a moment:

Mad men00313

Moments are fleeting:

Mad men00317

Her decision has been made. Cut to exterior:

Mad men00319

Relief. Betty’s just a central figure staring at the sky in wonderment at all God’s creations:

Mad men00327

Look at those birds? The fact that they’re incapable of being centrally staged only emphasizes their freedom. The frame can’t constrain them! They’re free! If only Betty had an equivalently symbolic emblem of relinquishing societal constraints:

Mad men00333

She does. Her feelings of entrapment are nothing a healthy dose of nicotine can’t cure. Except why has she shifted stage-left? She had occupied the central portion of the screen, but now it’s as if she’s making room for something else. Whatever could that be?

Mad men00335

Of course, she being an American, the only thing she can do with her symbol of freedom is shoot it with … another symbol of her freedom. I wasn’t able to capture her aiming the gun, which is why the space on the right side of the frame had to be cleared, but that’s why it was. Oddly, her cigarette still occupies the central portion of the frame, as if, like the nicotine it delivers into her blood, is calming her down, making her transgressive violence possible. Can’t be sure. However, visually speaking, the indication is that Draper’s created/creating a sociopath, and the implication is that Peter’s following a similar path. He began his morning commutes in “A Little Kiss,” you’ll remember, alone and engrossed in a paper:

Mad men00120

His loneliness is highlighted by both the empty chair beside him and the man with the solitaire board across from him. By episode’s end, things seem a bit different, though:

Mad men00218

Wonder why that might be? Couldn’t have anything to do with, say, this:

Mad men00378

Nothing at all there. Not between Peggy and Pete. Not with a viable baby hanging out right there in a carriage.

Comments (26)

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  1. efgoldman says:

    Jesus H!
    Not a single damned post all day, and then forty frackin’ column inches on freakin’ Mad Men?!? Gimme’ a damned break!

  2. Anonymous says:

    It’s not like SEK teased this post twice this week, spent some time on it, and posted it around the same time the White House likes to disappear inconvenient stories. Sorry, but I’m fine with this blog being what it is when it is. If you’re not, start your own. I’m sure you and the person you can convince to read it will be very happy with yourself.

    • Anonymous says:

      That’s in reply to this bullshit.

    • Heron says:

      Haha! Yeah that’s it; he wrote this article because Barry Fartbongo Soytaro called him up on his private commie-line and told him to. Mad Men Fandom is all part of the vast homoliberal Pinko Conspiracy!!

      Jesus, do you realize how paranoid and ridiculous what you just typed was? What should we expect from you next; a comment on the obvious political connotations of Scott Limieux’s affection for apples? I’ve always wondered; how DOES it feel going through life as an absurd and laughable caricature?

      • SEK says:

        Yeah that’s it; he wrote this article because Barry Fartbongo Soytaro called him up on his private commie-line and told him to. Mad Men Fandom is all part of the vast homoliberal Pinko Conspiracy!

        I have less of an idea of what you’re talking about than you do. It takes me days to write these posts — the same way it takes me days to write lesson plans — and a commenter who, despite being anonymous, knew enough to recognize that. What are you going on about, again? The fact that I, what? Put work into my work? As opposed to what you write in a comment section?

        Shall we take a vote as to whose contributions are more valuable? Or is that even necessary?

  3. commie atheist says:

    Haven’t watched the episode in a while, but was Peggy raped by Peter? That’s how I remember it, anyway. A lot of drunken sex in this this show, with men who are obviously in a dominant position being the aggressors.

    • SEK says:

      You’re not wrong, but she kept the baby, of which he wanted no part. Plus, men as dominant aggressors in this show? That goes without saying. I think Joan’s the only exception — and only maybe in some bits in this episode — but we’ll have to see.

      • commie atheist says:

        Does he know the baby’s his? I didn’t get that impression…especially with his reaction to his wife’s being pregnant.

        And yeah, Joan was the exception, but her husband definitely doesn’t see her as one. Damn, I can’t wait until Sunday night.

      • John says:

        Peggy kept the baby? What are you talking about?

        • SEK says:

          She didn’t abort it, and put it up for adoption, unless I’m completely misremembering. (Which, being that it’s the tail end of a long quarter, may well be the base.) But yes, whatever the outcome, Peggy communicated in no uncertain terms that the baby was his, and that he’d have no say in what became of it.

    • Chasm says:

      No, she wasn’t raped. In season 1, she had sex with Peter twice: once when he showed up at her apartment unannounced (in the pilot ep) and once in his office early morning before anyone (but the janitor) was around. The iconic shot was a reverse from the janitor’s POV showing the lovers silhouette through the frosted office glass, her legs in the air. That was probably the deed that done it.

      • commie atheist says:

        Now I need to go back an re-watch Season 1, since I only remember the one time, when it seemed to me like she was definitely not giving full consent.

        • Chasm says:

          Since I just watched Season 1 it’s all fresh in my mind. In the pilot, he shows up at her apartment late night and talks his way into sex.

          For the next couple of episodes they share looks across the office floor, culminating in the early morning tryst in his office. There is pretty much no question that she shares an attraction to Peter.

          It’s not until the after hours party celebrating her first success as a copywriter that he reveals his jealousy and possessiveness towards her (by refusing to dance and share her joy) that Peggy shuts him out of her emotional life.

      • Chasm says:

        Alright, by contemporary standards we could argue whether he raped her based on his position of authority/power – such a scenario would have raised red flags at the annual sexual harassment meeting. Within the milieu, though, it seems to me she both handled it as a sexual being in her own right, and also made her own decisions about the repercussions afterward.

        The episode is one of those grey areas that make us uncomfortable as a contemporary audience, but which would have passed unacknowledged at the time – a true “Mad Men” moment.

        • jp says:

          I wouldn’t call that first Peter-Peggy sex encounter rape, but it was icky. It was especially creepy because he had been such a jerk to her at work from the start (that Amish comment and its ilk). That might even have been her first day at work? Or if not, shortly after she started.

          So, a drunken, ill-advised, borderline mentally abusive booty call, sure; but not rape.

          Not that Petey’s not capable of rape; recall the au pair down the hallway who is unfortunate enough to encounter him.

    • I don’t think Pete raped Peggy. Late night booty calls aren’t rape. Her consent was demonstrated onscreen when she dismissed her roommate to be alone with him. Obviously, in real life, “choosing to be alone with someone” isn’t consent to sex, but in terms of film rhetoric, I think we can safely say she consented. Peggy has always found Pete to be sexy, for whatever god awful reason.

      The scene where Pete rapes someone is when he closes himself in the room with the neighbor’s au pair and makes it clear that “no” isn’t an acceptable answer.

      One thing the show does a nice job of is showing how women’s consent is assumed compromised all the time in real life, and the sex that happens because of it is often weird and strained and upsetting, even if it’s not rape.

  4. Chasm says:

    Except why has she shifted stage-left?

    Now you’ve done and made me correct you. I know you meant “camera-left,” and you should have gone with that. On stage, left-right are reversed from the audience POV as “stage-right” and “stage-left” are relative to the actor on stage looking out to the audience. But in cinema we refer to the cameras frame. Betty may be ‘camera’ left, but she is ‘stage’ right.

    Sorry.

  5. Kurzleg says:

    OK, I’ll admit it SEK. I didn’t read anything you wrote. But goddeamnit, the images you posted are quite fabulous even out of context.

    • SEK says:

      Check out the numbers in the image files. The fact that the highest is “00335″ is only because I went back to that episode. You may call me OCD, but if you if you did, I’d have a difficult time disputing it.

  6. Kurzleg says:

    Or goddamnit, even!

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