Did you hear it? That was the sound of the Mad Men implosion, as the death of JFK on November 22, 1963, rocked the country and the lives of the show's characters. This season has been building up to the events of this episode, which felt more intense, more important, than next week's finale can possibly be. If there's an episode that has defined the third season so thoroughly, it's this one, "The Grown Ups."
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- Death of a President: The timeline of the show has made it clear that John F. Kennedy's assassination is coming, but like those who experienced it, there was no way to prepare for it emotionally. So where is everyone when JFK is shot? Peggy is having a "nooner" with Duck, Betty is at home, Pete and Harry are talking work, and Roger's daughter Margaret is having a fitting on the eve of her wedding.
- One wedding and a funeral: The show must go on, Roger decides, and Margaret's wedding still happens on Saturday night, with far fewer guests in attendance. I understand why they didn't cancel it, but as Joan remarks, "Poor thing." Margaret overcomes her marriage jitters and fit over Jane's extravagant gift and presence in her life, only to agree to be married the day after the President's shooting. That's pretty rough.
- Downgrade: Pete is demoted so thoroughly at Sterling Cooper that he leaves work and tells Trudie he's been fired at first. Like Betty, the fact that he's already going through something jarring when JFK is shot only escalates his personal situation, and he stays at home with Trudie instead of going to Margaret's wedding. Shaken as well, Trudie tells Pete to start gathering his clients in preparation to leave the company. Pete seems shattered, and again, I enjoyed Vincent Kartheiser's nuanced performance of one of the show's most complicated characters.
- Where's the love: A wedding and a violent event prompt everyone to re-evaluate their romantic relationships; particularly Don and Betty (their kiss at the wedding proves to be only passionate from one side) and Joan and Roger. That Roger calls Joan, just happy that she's home, says so much about his feelings for her.
- The Proposal: "What is going on?" Betty asks both Don and Henry, distraught about the country's events, but that's exactly how I felt when Henry tells her in her car that he'll marry her if she leaves Don. Last week, when she got advice against divorcing him, I thought there was no way they'd split up, but now that Betty has this viable option, I'm actually scared they may divorce. As screwed up as their marriage is, their being together is one of the show's fixtures. Their separation would be like Sterling Cooper going out of business. But Betty sees things as having "no point" now, and she tells Don that she no longer loves him. I don't know what to think! Is it a coincidence that she was wearing a pink twinset like Jackie the day JFK is shot? Hadn't she just "lost" her husband in last week's episode when she discovers that Don is really Dick Whitman? In any case, it's completely disconcerting to see Don, sitting in his bedroom at the end, broken by Betty's dramatic disclosure of her lack of feelings for him.
Everyone keeps saying variations on how everything will be fine, it will all be OK, but we know from experience with this show that nothing is going to be fine. Whatever is to come, I'm so impressed by this episode; in the future, this will be the episode that you remember when you think of this season.
What do you think will happen with Pete, Roger and Joan, the Drapers? Will Betty take Henry up on his offer? And to talk more about the show later, join the Mad Men group in the community.
Photo courtesy of AMC