Two things came to mind while I watched this “Mad Men” episode, “Souvenir,” which unfolded at a much more leisurely and subtle pace than the last two installments.
One was “La Dolce Vita,” Fellini’s seminal romp through Rome with Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg.
The other was “Summer in the City,” that turn-it-up AM radio classic by the Lovin’ Spoonful. (Yes, “Summer in the City” is 1966 and thus not strictly of “Mad Men’s” mid-1963 moment but “La Dolce Vita” is 1960, so I figure it all evens out.)
This episode, written by Lisa Albert and Matthew Weiner and helmed by Phil Abraham, found Don and Betty unexpectedly winging to Rome at Conrad Hilton’s behest for a 48-hour jaunt that seemed to do wonders for their relationship at a pivotal moment for Betty — at least until they got home. The other major subplot was Pete’s struggle to deal with his internal emotional conflicts, his urges and, clearly, his habit of self-medicating with alcohol. And we got an answer to the question “Mad Men” fanatics have been asking since “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency” — where’s Joan?
“Souvenir” was a tour de force for January Jones, who was so good in so many moments, big and small, that they are too numerous to mention. Like her leading man, Jon Hamm, Jones can speak volumes without uttering a word. It was also a fabulous showcase for Vincent Kartheiser, who’s overdue this season for a great spotlight seg. It starts on the page, for sure, but Kartheiser’s talent has done so much to add dimension to Pete.
On paper, he’s a character I should loathe — especially after his inexcusable, border-line criminal behavior with the German au pair down the hall — but I don’t, because Kartheiser has humanized him so much.
But back to Betty. Jones was so good in this episode that I almost stopped hating Betty, at least until her natural petulance got the better of her at the end. We got a little bit of everything from Betty this episode — past, present and the future she would like to have versus the future that she faces under her present circumstances.