The Wheel shows an array of Family Values

 Posted by on April 18, 2008 at 10:55 am  Characters, Season 1
Apr 182008

Themes within themes within themes. That’s why we can devote an entire blog about one show; each word, each scene, each episode, and ultimately the entire season, has multiple and interweaving thematic threads.

So here’s the one I noticed as I sat down to re-watch the Wheel.

Family Values

That is, the value of family.

1st scene: Pete and Trudy with Trudy’s parents. Her father says to Pete, “I’m gonna treat you like a son, ˜cause I feel that way towards you.” Pete, for a guy who doesn’t get an ounce of love or respect from his own father, is remarkably unmoved.

2nd scene: Betty and Don in bed, discussing Thanksgiving. Betty to Don, “I don’t understand why you can’t make my family your family.” Which I find amusing, considering that everything she has just said about her family well, let’s just say it ain’t a hard sell.

3rd scene: Harry on the phone with Jennifer. Here we finally see a man who actually understands the value of family, who is completely in love with his wife, and yet he is the one whose marriage is in an (acknowledged) shambles.

4th scene: Bert Cooper and Don. Bert informs Don (actually, implies that Don would already know) that Rachel has left on a three month ocean voyage. He is not happy, as the call he received was from Abraham Menken. “It’s the tone of his voice; he’s her father.” Say what you want about our machiavellian yoda, he seems to get the relationship of a father and daughter.

And the 5th scene is Francine, half-crazed. On top of what seems to be postpartum psychosis, she has finally figured out that her husband is a cheating rat bastard. She is actively and audibly fantasizing about going Medea all over his ass. And the asses of his parents, her parents, and her kids. Over the river and through the woods!

Of everyone here, I am rooting for Harry, and not just because I have a blog crush on Rich Sommer. (We’re still allowed to get those, right? Even if we’ve seen the guy on tv?) Ironically, Harry knows what it takes to be committed, even though he deviated so royally from the plan. Harry also, I suspect, ˜gets’ women. I mean, I’m sure they confound him with their wiles and curves and all, but in listening to how he dealt with Jennifer on the phone, you could hear strains of real understanding on his part (even though he was fucking it up by being coyishly coercive in trying to get her to allow him come home). I suspect that if this marriage comes back together, it has a shot at the long-term. Harry will adjust better than the average guy to the just-around-the-corner changes. When Jennifer wants to go back to school or start a career, I think Harry will have space for that. I think Harry will water the garden that is Jennifer, while some of these other guys will, you know, keep them from the sunlight. As Trudy’s dad weirdly said, “Tend your own garden. That means, you know, start growing things.”


  30 Responses to “The Wheel shows an array of Family Values”

  1. 1. I think of Trudy’s dad’s statement saying as inaccurate. I think he sees Pete is Trudy’s husband, and everything he says or does is toward the goal of helping Trudy. Pete is smart enough to see that.

    Like the scene in Fargo when William H. Macy is trying to get his FIL to lend him money, and points out that it would be really nice security “Jean and Scotty.” FIL replies that Jean and Scotty don’t need to worry.

    The relationship between Pete and his FIL is too cordial for that, but it’s clear his largesse is for his daughter’s sake. He doesn’t want this daughter living in the kind of place Pete could afford without help.

    I kinda assume FIL thinks Trudy married way beneath her, Dykeman family name or not, and is just trying to see she doesn’t suffer for her mistake. There was probably a point where he just got that the bride’s family was the only one continuing to pay for the wedding, the marriage, possibly the christening…

    2. Betty’s family might be hell on wheels, but Don would have probably had the same disconnect if they were the Cleavers.

    3. It’s only cheating if you get caught — or tell on yourself. Not really, of course, but he was punished much more than the other cheaters because he apparently had integrity enough to confess. Either that or acted guilty because he had the moral fiber to actually feel guilty.

    4. Darn, nothing to say.

    5. It was the only time I liked Francine — when she channeled her inner-Cut-throat, um, Witch.

  2. Glass, totally agree on 1 & 2.

    3… yes, and it ties it with what I’m saying. Harry has quite the moral fiber, and an emotional intelligence that might actually serve him well once he grows into it.

    4. Ha!

    I’ve always really liked Francine, despite the fact that she is kind of rough and a troublemaker. There is something so real about her.

  3. On #1, I would suggest that Trudy’s father is acting quite lovingly toward Peter. I think of the relationship Pete has with Trudy’s father in direct contrast to the one he has with his own father.

    His father, ostensibly, should be willing to help him, but shuts the door emotionally and financially. He’s cold and distant and expects Pete to do more than meet him half way.

    Trudy’s father is the one that actually treats him like a son. I always viewed the handful of Pete/Trudy/Trudy’s parents scenes and being meant to show how unlike the Campbells they are.

    They might be a bit pushy for grandchildren and all that (not uncommon), but they seem to act consistently with Trudy’s (and by extension Pete’s) interests at heart. Including handing Pete the Clearisil account.

    Just because the largess is primarily for Trudy, it doesn’t mean that he has anything but affection for Pete. They seem to be the only ones that do not go out of their way to emasculate the guy (including Trudy). I think they would be that way about anyone Trudy married. That’s just my take.

    Pete’s lack of emotion towards the father when he made such a point of expressing his feelings was a result of Pete having neither the experience or the emotional tools to deal with that.

  4. See, I always saw Trudy’s parent’s — particularly her father — as being dehumanizing. I say that rather than emasculating, because they do seem to value his testes.

  5. Great post! I think I may have posted this before but it’s worthwhile watching Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and The Wheel back to back. The structure is similar, imo, and you can clearly see the level of craft in the writing.

    I don’t know what this says about me but Francine’s reaction didn’t strike me as psychotic. I totally related to her wanting to poison everyone. Awful, I know but I’d totally want to kill my husband if I found out he was cheating. Also in keeping with the theme of family values, she’s stating her feelings about the surface image and the actual reality of said family. Hmm. I guess no one’s gonna want to eat any cake with me, after that admission. This is actually one aspect of her Francine’s personality that I find likable: she says whatever is verboten. I did that. It’s not always charming but it’s refreshing.

    I think Harry’s marriage is going to flower. I bet he admitted it. This is quite huge, no, in an era not known for its honesty.

    I don’t think Trudy’s parents think she married beneath her. Pete’s family clearly was prestigious though impoverished. If anything, I think her parents might be a station below his but were probably social climbers; sending Trudy to finishing school, etc. Btw, when I first heard Trudy talk, I mentioned to my bf that she sounded really fake and he said: That’s a finishing school accent. (This was BEFORE that fact was stated in a later episode. I think the difference in accent was much more pronounced in those days. Anyway, I don’t have a good ear for accents in English plus I’d never encountered it in real life.) Her father just doesn’t strike me as the type from a chi-chi family; more like he made the money himself. If any of that makes any sense… Anyway, I agree with Glass. They don’t see Pete as his own person but only as Trudy’s husband. In the scenes where he interacts with them, I always come away feeling a little more compassion for Pete.

  6. And “Machiavellian Yoda”–Har!!

  7. Count me as an outsider because I was glad to see a cheater, Harry, get thrown out of the house. I looked at it as his wife having her own income and it was easier for her to put him out than these other women who relied on men being the sole breadwinner. (You can’t tell me these other wives of the Mad Men had no idea their husband’s were stepping out on them….)

    Harry seemed like a nice guy. Maybe his marriage will endure. That’s up to Weiner and Co., of course. But it was, JMHO, an illustration of how financial independence, for a woman, may also lead to emotional independence….

  8. Sorry Kay, I have to disagree with you on the financial. Jennifer is in the house and Harry needs to make it work for both of them. That’s why he’s not staying at a hotel.

    The expectation of the time was that men pay for everything. Helen Bishop did not pay for that house herself, but now works a menial job because more is needed. But I have no doubt that the bulk of the expenses still fall on her ex-husband.

  9. When I say that they think Trudy married down, it has nothing to do with his family name/lineage, which I’m sure they love, but more to do with his personal earnings.

    The name is why they’re married.

  10. I love this conversation.

    I agree with Eme in that I think Trudy’s family are New Money whereas Pete is Old Money. I don’t think Trudy married down; I think there was a goal for Trudy to marry Old Money, and the finishing school was toward that end. I think Trudy’s father’s largesse is a way of continuing the social climbing, keeping up appearances; can’t have Finishing School Trudy in a cheap rental. Plus he’s controlling of “my little girl” in a way that makes my alarm system go to yellow alert.

    I think Kay is smart to point out that Jennifer is the only wife we know has a job, and therefore she has more power. It speaks directly to women’s earning power as a cause of the divorce rate—women are able to leave unhappy situations because they have the means—and is part of the feminist subtext of the show. That said, I cannot help but like Harry, and I agree with Roberta and Glass that Harry has a fundamental decency about what it means to be a married man. And despite his decency, he made a mistake. It puts him in a whole different class of cheater than Pete or Don.

  11. Deborah, I find your argument somewhat contradictory.

    Women were more beholden to their husbands (and thus more likely to accept infidelity and other bad behavior) because of their financial dependence on them.

    At the same time, a young woman like Trudy is transitioning from the financial dependence on one man (her father) to another (Pete). So why is her father’s assistance considered controlling, if Pete is incapable of providing the same level as he has for many years?

    How are you distinguishing fatherly love from controlling behavior? I don’t see any evidence of it.

  12. Kay… my apologies, I completely forgot that Jennifer has a job.


    A man who sits his son-in-law down to tell him it’s time to start making babies is, call me crazy for thinking, a controlling lunatic. It’s all kind of buffered under that strange man-to-man tones of that era that I cannot relate to, but it’s creepy. The fact that he’s willing to sink his business dealings into the manufacturing of this product (Pete jr, the second… Peggy’s Pete jr will be the first) (I kid) is just an offshoot of his big lumbering controlling ways. Trudy’s a bit of a girl bully, but learned it from her father.

    Also, and this doesn’t speak to controlling, but her father also kept a box of who knows what kind of secret sex stuff. (I’m assuming.)

  13. Trudy’s father (Tom Vogel, for the record) is controlling. He wants to make sure “Daddy’s Little Girl” has everything, and he’s willing to do end runs around Trudy’s relationship with Pete to make it happen.

    Look at 5G New Amsterdam. Pete says he doesn’t want the apartment. Trudy gets him to ask his dad. Then Trudy asks her father without telling Pete she’s going to, so that by the time Pete and Tom discuss it, it’s a fait accompli. That’s not emasculating?

    Tom has stated that he’s still “taking care of his little girl” (or words very close to that). Sorry, but that’s no longer his role, and she’s no longer a little girl, and stop making me feel like you’re leering at her, Tommy boy.

  14. Ime, a lot of parents control their children via financial generosity. It’s a subtle thing in some cases bc a lot of times it does seem like the parent is just being genuinely generous. But in Pete and Trudy’s marriage, there’s also an element of Trudy completely ignoring Pete’s feelings. In New Amsterdam, for instance, Pete is trying to be independent and to make it on his own. Whatever one may say about Pete, I admire this particular part of his personality. From what I remember, he goes to his parents for money bc Trudy asked him to. When that doesn’t work out, Trudy takes it into her own hands to ask her parents and Pete looks embarrassed. Like Roberta said, Trudy is a bit of a bully. In fact, in every single one of the conversations between Pete and Trudy’s parents, I get a strong sense of Pete feeling humiliated. He is less of a man bc he cannot provide his wife with what she wants. Maybe it also reminds him of his family’s fall from monetary grace. Lastly, it’s almost as if Pete were being kept by Trudy’s father. And then as the coup de grace of emasculation, her father tells Pete that it’s time to get the production factory going. Pete’s feelings about whether or not he wants children or is prepared for them? Not even mentioned. No one even takes them into account. And Pete doesn’t even protest, is the thing–how could he? It’s hard to say no to someone to whom you feel indebted and who paid for the apartment he lives in? He is used to being steamrollered which might be the big clue as to his manipulative tactics at work. In his experience, the only way to get something you want is to manipulate others.

    This whole conversation about money and control reminds me of a scene from The Sopranos in which Tony is at a restaurant with Meadow and her boyfriend. The bill comes and it turns out the boyfriend paid. Tony becomes livid and tells the boyfriend that whenever they go out, HE pays. Maybe in that case it makes more sense, though, since he’s Italian.

  15. Tom (thanks Deb) to Pete, who says he’s lying down:

    “Sure. Rest up. But make sure you’re awake later. (laugh laugh laugh laugh laugh!)”

    Trudy is pissed at him, her mother looks uncomfortable. Pete might just puke.

    Look at the posture. In the first scene and in this later one, the women are off on the side working on designs for the apartment, and Tom (thanks again Deb) is sitting as if on a throne. He clearly thinks he rules this roost.

  16. Pete is smart enough to know that even generous offers from family members mean that one is then beholden. In “New Ampsterdam”, after Trudy has secured the downpayment for the apartment from her father, Pete asks, “Are they going to tell us where to put the furniture?” He may feel a little less beholden to his own family because, “It’s my money. I’ll get it eventually.” And that sense of entitlement might have contributed to his own father’s denial of his request.

    His hesitancy in receiving Tom’s offer of fatherly affection is loaded with the anticipation of what will be expected of him in return. What strikes me is that there is no depiction of true generosity, giving without expecting anything in return. The silent score-keeping goes on and on.

  17. Max, “silent score-keeping” is excellent.

  18. By the way, Pete’s family may not be as wealthy as they were back in the day, but they are by no means “impoverished”. Pete’s gone to prep school, his family vacations in a posh spot every summer, Pete has an inheritance coming to him–not exactly headed for the trailer park, you know.

  19. And they had enough money to get Pete’s brother out of whatever trouble he was in.

  20. Maybe I’ll go back and view some of these episodes with Trudy’s parents … Silent score-keeping I see, definitely. Almost no long-term relationship exists without that on some level.

    But that’s not the same as manipulation.

    I’ll take another look …

  21. Hello, just watched all of Mad Men in the last month (Tivo’d it over several months and then watched it all in 2 weeks.) What a great show! I recently discovered this blog and this is my first comment!

    I thought of a couple of other examples of Family Values in The Wheel.

    -Don calling the hotel to ask about a forwarding address for Adam. What do you think his motivation for doing this was? To ease his own anxiety about Adam showing up again, so just checking to see if he actually did leave town? Or was Don merely curious to know where Adam had gone? Or was Don actually contemplating reconciling with Adam?

    -Peggy being in denial about her pregnancy and her rejection of her newborn baby.

  22. Welcome, wisefish!

    I think Don genuinely regretted rejecting Adam and wanted to connect to him.

  23. wisefish, glad you’re on board and thanks for the comment.

    I also think that the ‘Who Cares’ moment allowed for a whole lot of decompression and some new perspective.

  24. “Who knows why people do the things they do?”

    Agree w. Deb …

  25. “By the way, Pete’s family may not be as wealthy as they were back in the day, but they are by no means “impoverished”. Pete’s gone to prep school, his family vacations in a posh spot every summer, Pete has an inheritance coming to him–not exactly headed for the trailer park, you know.”

    Excellent point. Which makes me wonder why Pete’s Dad is so withholding with money when Pete asks him for it yet is willing to bail out his other son financially. Dad didn’t look like he liked Pete much, did he?

  26. My husband made the suggestion that Pete could be adopted. His dad said to him at the time he was asking for money for the apartment, “We’ve given you everything, including your name.” That seems an odd thing to say to a biological child. Could the other son be a biological son, and therefore receive more support from the family???

    Or the other son could be taking a more negative path to getting the parents’ attention (in contrast to Pete who is trying to succeed in business to earn his father’s approval). If the family name is so important, they’d probably be willing to spend precious family resources to cover up any scandal the brother might have potentially created!

  27. When Bert Cooper told Pete “Who cares” it, for me, culminated a whole season’s worth of Pete’s ideas being overlooked. The biggest reason, IMHO, is that Pete always managed to say his ideas at the wrong time, so nobody cared if he was forward-thinking or not. He just sounded rude and inappropriate. I can’t recall if Pete’s family business was mentioned, but I gather his father had a particular disdain for advertising. And I never got why Pete’s dad essentially called Pete a “pimp,” which turned out to be freakily accurate with trying to “pimp out” Trudy for a silly story to be published….

  28. The above comment was posted in the wrong area….Oops!

  29. Kay, repost in the right place, and we can delete this one. It’s too good to get lost in the shuffle!

  30. Btw, was I the only one who got nervous when Pete was aiming that rifle at the others in the office? I kept thinking they were gonna go the “homicidal disgruntled coworker” route. Totally dumb, of course but it was really scary.

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