“Every job has its ups and downs,” said the elevator operator.
For an episode chock full of developments, it’s a testament to my overpowering love of silly wordplay that the first thing I remembered this morning as I reconsidered last night’s Mad Men was this quote from Hollis, the man who works in the elevator. Silliness aside, The Fog gave us a number of telling moments and suggestive possibilities for the show’s future, but for me was much more about the smaller throwaway lines and brief glances.
As my focus has been largely on this season’s increasingly insistent relationship with its historical period, the most obvious of those throwaways is the embedded account of Medgar Evers’ assassination. First Sally’s teacher mentions she has been asking questions about it in class (and assumes this is related to coping with her grandfather’s death), then footage of the memorials plays in the background while Don sits in the hospital waiting room, and finally the reference culminates in Betty’s drug-induced hallucinations. Explaining to her mother that she’s having a baby, Ruthie tells Betty to shut her mouth, and then gestures to the bloodied black man sitting at the kitchen table. “See what happens to people who speak up? Be happy with what you have.” Evers, who died mere hours after Kennedy’s civil rights speech from the previous episode, organized boycotts and spoke in favor of integration, and then became a figurehead for the civil rights movement after he was assassinated in 1963. Ruthie’s comment that Evers should signal the importance of being “happy with what you have” is one of the show’s great motifs. From the surface, Betty should be happy with her picture-perfect life (a picture taken just a few episodes ago at the end of the school May Day performance), but the emotional hollowness underneath and the historical pressures from outside both telegraph the increasing impossibility of simply being happy. The mismatch between Ruth’s words and Evers’ bowed head make it clear that being “happy with what you have” will not be the way of the future.
The other brilliantly played small glance in this episode comes in the scene where Peggy asks Don for equal pay. After being prepped by the “previously, on Mad Men clips” and the lunch with Pete and Duck, we are completely ready to see Peggy finger the blue baby boy’s footies and feel the flooding memory of her traumatic first year at Sterling Cooper. It is no coincidence that the thematic content of the scene is a direct parallel to Betty’s hallucination – where Ruth scolds Betty to settle for her unhappy marriage, Peggy goggles at Don’s amazing life. “You have everything,” she breathes, “and so much of it.” He has the income, the social stature, the suave snappy suits, and most painfully, the baby she could never have raised on her own. Don’s life is what Peggy strives to attain.
Except, whether you want it to or not, “every job has its ups and downs.” For Peggy, although she longs to achieve the seemingly perfect life of Don Draper, Duck Philips is right to point out that this is Peggy’s time, and Don’s job may well be on its way down. While she may want what the old guard has, Peggy is as much on the right side of history as Betty is on the wrong, and her freedom to pursue her own career gives her the opportunity to speak up rather than being happy with what she has.
As for Hollis the elevator operator, soon it will be his time as well. And when that time comes, Pete Campbell will be right there to sell him a TV.