Note: If you haven’t yet seen last night’s episode of Mad Men or intend to see it at some later date, and are opposed to spoilers, then please skip this post.
Don Draper is in the midst of a very tough season – he’s a divorced dad without the illusion of family to moor him, responsibilities keep piling up at work and tying him down, he’s fast turning into a old fogey with a drinking problem, and now the one person who loved him despite knowing everything about him is dead. Meanwhile, Peggy Olson is having a Peggy kind of season – she’s pulling herself up one painful inch at a time towards the glass ceiling she doesn’t even know exists because she hasn’t made it far enough to know anything other than there is in fact a ceiling, juggling a so-so romance, and fighting with her mother while struggling to keep her skeletons buried.
In The Suitcase, they bonded over vermin, secrets, anger, respect, loss and an attraction that could go anywhere. Peggy wants to know she’s important to Don because her job at his office is the most significant part of her life. Don wants… well, Don wants Anna but he’d be happy to have someone who sees him for who he is without being repulsed by that knowledge (hello, Betty!).
All of this reminded me of a movie I’d seen fairly recently: The Switch.
The Switch? you say. That sounds familiar. Isn’t that…no! The Switch, starring Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston? In case you’re on your way over to my home to burn me at the stake, I should tell you I’m typing this while doused in flame-retardant. Maybe I just have it on the brain because I saw it last week against my better judgment but The Switch makes pretty much the same case in double the time and with half the awesomeness.
Wally doesn’t really think much of himself or hold out much hope for happily-ever-after. His idea of realism is colored by his father abandoning him as a child, which might well be a contributing factor in his growing up to be a “beady-eyed man-boy”. But Kassie knows him to be neurotic and messed-up and still wants to be his best friend. Meanwhile, Kassie just wants Wally to be supportive. She doesn’t really want him to look out for her, she wants him to be involved in her life. (At least, I think that was the plan – somewhere along the way the movie kind of forgets about Kassie except to remind us she’s the knockoff-Nutella in the sweet Bateman-Thomas Robinson sandwich, so I guess we’ll never know.)
What really brought the comparison home to me was the scene in which Don tells Peggy that she’s “cute as hell”. The subtext of that scene was that Don might mess things up with his secretary (and be willing to take his punishment for that like a louse man), but he knows and likes Peggy too well to use her like that, whatever anybody else might think or however many (unconscious?) hints she might drop.
Forty years later, we learn Wally took the same tack in The Switch by simply abandoning Kassie at their second date when things got a little heated between them.
For all the energy spent discussing the old saw about a man and woman never being friends, I wonder why nobody talks about what happens when a man and a woman are friends. It seems to me that in the movies (and television) it eventually comes down to exactly this point:
Woman wants Man to validate her choices in life (unlike all the other men she’s known). Man wants Woman to appreciate him (unlike all the other women he’s known).
Even the grand Bible of the “men and women can never be mere friends” theory, When Harry Met Sally, is about the same exact dynamic. Sally is constantly trying to convince herself that she made the right choices by bouncing them off Harry, while Harry likes the fact that Sally is his friend despite their history together right when his confidence is at low ebb.
I wonder if this translates to Hindi as well.