12
Oct
09

Poor Sal

In case anyone’s forgotten how difficult life was for homosexuals before gay rights became an issue, last night’s Mad Men served as yet another reminder. Sure, the show generally exaggerates the whole early ’60s repressed/hedonistic milieu, but Sal’s plight is one plot thread that completely rings true. (And how great is Bryan Blatt as the tormented yet dignified Sal? His character’s panicky attempts to fit into the boys club at work have been some of the show’s most painful scenes.)

Lee and SalAnyway, after major client Lee Garner (Lucky Strike) makes a pass at Sal and is  rebuffed (Sal: “I’m married.” Lee: “So am I.”), Garner pretty much causes the art director to be fired from Sterling Cooper. I was hoping that Don, who knows Sal’s secret, would get all righteous and somehow save the day, but he has his own client troubles (Conrad Hilton) and is in no mood to put himself on the line. “You people,” he sneers, before shaking Sal’s hand and offering faint encouragement for future employment. Cold. But very 1963.

Was Conrad Hilton as awful as he’s portrayed in Mad Men?! Though it doesn’t Don and Connieexactly address the question, this Houston Chronicle piece details the show’s accuracy regarding the legendary hotelier. For Don, he is fast becoming a nightmare client: needy, demanding and power mad. On the one hand he tells Don, “You’re my angel; you’re more than a son to me because you didn’t have what they had and you understand.” But then he withholds praise for a well thought-out campaign because it didn’t deliver on one of his earlier requests (“I want a Hilton on the moon!”). There’s also his scary imperialistic talk about America dominating the rest of the world. So far, Don’s been kowtowing to the big man, but how long can that go on?

Also in this episode: Betty indulges in her crush on Henry Francis, but then backs out when it comes down to actually consummating the affair. Very school-girlish of her, but then she’s hardly a grown-up. Meanwhile, landmark civil rights moments are occurring, including Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech on the radio, which Don tries to turn off, undoubtedly a common reaction among a lot of white people back then. But still disheartening.

Later, Draper housekeeper Carla is listening to radio coverage of the funeral for the four girls killed in Birmingham. ”I hate to say this,” says Betty, ”but this has really made me wonder about civil rights. Maybe it’s not supposed to happen right now.”

As fascinating as this show is (and I remain enthralled), it is becoming more and more depressing.

(photos: AMC)

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