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Mad Men: Sally and Don in “A Little Kiss”

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

First of all, let me begin with what I won’t be talking about: race. It’s clearly going to be an abiding issue this season–it bookends “A Little Kiss,” first as an insensitive tragedy, later as an almost unmangeable farce–but the majority of what comes between these allusions to the Civil Rights movement concerns the demise of almost every relationship in the lives of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s employees. For example, here’s the sole appearance of the former Mrs. Draper:

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It occurs during the “Previously on Mad Men” introduction, not within the body of the show itself. The current Mrs. Francis exists in this episode as a function of her children, whose own screen time is limited to the first fifteen minutes of the episode–their appearance is significant, however, and as good a place as any to begin looking at “A Little Kiss.” Let’s start with Sally:

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She’s alone and miserable in a bed that’s not her own. The audience doesn’t know that, so she merely seems like a child who should have, but hasn’t, overcome her night terrors. (The therapy she began last season apparently either failed to take, was never followed up on, or became monopolized by Betty’s problems to the extent that the therapist thought she could help Sally more by working through Betty’s issues. Too soon to tell.) As I’ve remarked on multiple occasionsand even diagrammed–hallways are extremely significant on Mad Men, suggestive of the fact that these are shiftless people who are neither entirely sure where they’re from anymore (Draper) or that they’re trying to own the space between their amorphous origins and designated destinations. But as this episode makes clear on three occasions, this is nothing more than a convenient lie. Here is Draper owning a hallway in “The Suitcase”:

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Here’s Sally, half asleep in an unfamiliar apartment, “owning” hers:

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I don’t think I need to draw all over this shot to demonstrate that, like the one above it, there’s an operative symmetry to Jennifer Getzinger’s direction–nor do I think it’s unobvious that Getzinger directed both “The Suitcase” and “A Little Kiss.” But in “A Little Kiss” Getzinger undermines the symmetry from “The Suitcase” by having Sally saunter down the hall without occupying the central area of the screen. She doesn’t own this hall–she’s exploring it. When she finally (and mistakenly) believes she’s found her bearings:

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She finds the bathroom door locked. Because it’s not the bathroom door:

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It’s her father’s bedroom, and despite Sally and Don being neatly framed between the door jambs, they still don’t occupy the central area of the screen. Technically, nothing does, but scan down and the audience can see what Sally shortly will, only not from her perspective yet–the small of Megan’s back and the curve of her hips. Something is coming between Draper and the only woman he loves unconditionally, and Sally can see that something’s ass:

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This is one of the rare moments in the episode when the audience is allowed into the head of a character, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s Sally’s head into which we’re allowed entrance. I have a feeling–something more like an inchoate theory–that ten years from now this show will be remembered as having belonged to Sally, but I’ll share that when I can muster up more evidence. For the moment the real matter of significance is that Sally perceives Megan as the single greatest impediment to developing the relationship she so desperately desires with her father. She recognizes, without truly understanding it, that there’s a disconnect, and Getzinger highlights this not merely by showing the a vulnerably half-naked Megan, but by indicating that Sally can’t tell whether it’s the woman in the bedroom or the bedroom door that’s frustrating her:

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That door jamb is the visual equivalent of a poetic enjambment, uniting two lines in manner that foregrounds the fact that they ought not be united. A quick example from W.B. Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium“:

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress […]

The enjambed “unless” functions as a redirected thought dangling off the edge of an unthinkable abyss–the moment when an “aged” Yeats decides unequivocably that this is “no country for old men,” but despite the apparent abruptness of his decision, the tranistion from the enjambed “unless” and the “soul” which opens the next line creates a hope for some sort of continuity. Just read it aloud: “unless/Soul clap its hand and sing.” Possibility abides despite the apparent disconnect. Unlike many other moments in this episode, the ostensible disconnect between this daughter and this father seems surmountable. She just doesn’t know it yet.*

But she should: Draper concludes this conversation with an offer to cook her one of his patented witching hour omelets, a process which began when the dark was deep and the shadows long and ended right about here:

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The implied elapse of time is clearly significant, as the two characters occupying the central frame have obviously been awake and ostensibly been conversing for quite some time. But their centrality isn’t the item of significance in this frame: in the lower left corner of the shot is the footstool on which Draper will be sitting at the height of his humiliation, which will, of course, be brought about by:

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The woman wearing the gawdy yellow top who’s not only occupying the center of the screen, but is doing so by visually dividing Sally and Don. Sally’s point-of-view shot earlier set this up, and it leads to a shot in which her worst fears are being realized. Getzinger cuts to Sally:

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Although seemingly happy, it’s what she’s not that’s significant: she’s not sharing the frame with her father anymore. She’s alone and off-center–and there’s a good reason that the shot’s off-kiltered. Look at what she sees:

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Her father and Megan are one side of a walled-in nook, she and her siblings on the other. Moreover, whereas Megan and her attention-grabbing shirt are inching closer to a central position, Sally’s almost being pushed off-frame. Don’s not consciously aware of what he’s losing, but losing her he is. Because this is such a long episode, I’ll save my thoughts about Peter and Peggy and Joan for another post, but before I do, I just want to follow up on the significance of the aforementioned table. Here’s Don at his “surprise” birthday party:

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The nook is now off-camera and Don’s literally dominating the shot: even the color of his shirt sets him apart from the dark dresses and suits of his guests. But with the footstool now center-stage, Draper is at his emptiest. He is alone and all eyes are upon him, uncomfortably astride a piece of furniture designed for feet, and he’s miserable. He’ll sleep alone tonight because he realizes that whatever it is he has with Megan, it’s not enough–and the more she tries to convince him otherwise, the further he pushes her away.

*Before you ask: I can’t believe I just wrote that much about a door jamb either.

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