Category Archives: TV

Mad Men Recap: episodes 601 & 602 The Doorway

mad-men-logoThe premiere episode of season six of Mad Men opens with a man being resuscitated.  A woman – Megan, it turns out – screams in the background as CPR is performed.  We see this from the point-of-view of the one being ministered to.  Who is dying?  Is it Don, we wonder as the season opens.

Cut to a shot of Don on a beach in Hawaii, reading Dante’s Inferno.  A voiceover of Don reading connects the opening of this season to the conclusion of season five:

“Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and awoke to find myself alone in a dark wood…”

Inferno – literally Hell – is a curious book to read in a paradise like Hawaii, but this is Mad Men, and so it is that we find Don reading a book about the acknowledgement of and turning away from sin.

At the end of last season, Don gave Megan what she wanted – a leg up in her acting career – perhaps to assuage any guilt that may accompany his future actions, and as he wanders into a bar and orders his customary Old Fashioned, he is propositioned by a pretty young woman – “Are you alone?” he is asked.

But Don is not literally alone.  Megan is with him on the beach, and as she chats him up, he notices that his watch has stopped working.  Has time stopped?  Is Don dead?  Is time running out?

Aside from the voiceover, Don says almost nothing for the first few scenes of the episode.  Hawaii seems surreal and strange, and Don seems off kilter.  He and Megan smoke pot.  They go to a touristy luau.  Megan is now a recognizable TV star, having landed a spot on a soap opera called To Have and to Hold – she signs an autograph for an elderly fan as Don watches.

Later, Don can’t sleep and goes down to the hotel bar, where he is befriended by a drunken GI who is about to get married (the kid looks a lot like a young Roger Sterling).  Don tries to blow the kid off, especially when the GI asks him to give the bride away.  The GI – PFC Dinkins – tells Don, “I believe in what goes around comes around.  One day I’m going to be a veteran in paradise.  I’m going to be the man who can’t sleep and talks to strangers.”  This does something do Don, and he agrees to give away the bride, whose family is back in San Diego.

A few hours later, Megan wakes-up alone, and ends up finding Don with Dinkins, the bride, the best man, and a minister.

Meanwhile, back in New York on the upper Hudson River, Betty and her mother-in-law Pauline, and Sally and a girlfriend named Sandy attend a performance of The Nutcracker.  It’s Christmas 1968.

Later, back at the stately Francis home, Sally lets everyone know that Sandy, a gifted 15-year-old violinist, will be starting Julliard in the coming spring semester.  The family encourages Sandy to play, and as she does, Betty notices that everyone, including snotty little Bobby, is transfixed by the beauty of the music.

As Betty and Henry get ready for bed, they talk about Sandy.  Betty suggests that Henry go into her room and rape her, reminding him that he’s been wanting to spice things up.  She says she’ll even hold her arms down.  Henry’s shocked response causes Betty to offer to take Sally and leave, if her presence might ruin the mood for him.  “You can stick a rag in her mouth, and you won’t wake the boys.” she says.

It’s such a weird thing to say for many reasons, the least of which is that it’s totally out of character for Betty to joke around like this.  What’s going on with Betty? Is she finally going off the deep end?

Later, Betty comes down to the kitchen, presumably to get a late-night snack, and finds Sandy there alone.  Betty comments on her efforts to slim down, and Sandy encourages to be happy with the way she is.  “You’re beautiful,” she tells Betty, who likes the flattery.

Betty tries to connect with Sandy through the fact they are both motherless, telling Sandy she’s happy to include her in the Francis family.  Sandy confides in Betty, telling her that she didn’t get accepted to Julliard, but hasn’t told Sally.  Behaving like the teenage girl she is – and sounding not unlike Betty – Sandy laments the ruination of her life, letting Betty know that at 15, she’s old for a prodigy.

Betty tries to cheer her up by telling her that there are other colleges.  “Sure,” Sandy says.  “You go to college.  You meet a boy.  You drop out.  You get married, struggle for a year in New York while he learns to tie a tie.  Then you move out to the country and start the disaster all over.”  It’s a ten second summation of Betty’s life, and she asks Sandy why she keeps insulting her.

Sandy shifts gears and talks about Greenwich Village, and how the people there are different.  This is just after the Summer of Love, and she references articles she’s read, as well as a visit she made to the Village alone.  She tries to pull Betty into her idyll by letting her know that Sally has told her about Betty’s experience as a model, living in the Village herself.  “It was different back then,” Betty says, the generation gap opening up.  “People are naturally democratic if you give them the chance,” Sandy says, opening Betty up for the best joke of the episode.  “Are you on dope?”

This exchange fuels a strange connection between Betty and Sandy, and though Betty is old enough to be Sandy’s mother, and behaves like one, there’s more of a peer-to-peer feeling about them.

Don and Megan arrive home from Hawaii, and we learn that the man being resuscitated at the beginning of the episode may have been Jonesy, the doorman at Don’s building.  As they enter the building, there’s a flashback to Jonesy having a heart attack at their feet just before the holidays.  A neighbor, Dr. Arnold Rosen, happens upon the scene and saves Jonesy’s life.  Don does next to nothing, and watches the scene in shock.

The flashback over, Jonesy presents himself as a good-natured, gregarious man, familiar with the tenants’ private lives.  He hands Megan an envelope containing a new script for her TV show.  Megan gripes about only being included in one scene, as Don grouses about the way the apartment has been kept by the maid in their absence.  Rather than coming home from paradise relaxed, these two are agitated and restless.

Next, we catch up with Peggy.  As Don and Megan arrive home from Hawaii, Peggy and Abe arrive home from a night out at vegetarian restaurant, which sends Abe running to the bathroom with the runs.

The phone rings.  It’s Bert Peterson, a co-worker at the agency informing Peggy that a client – Koss Headphones – is worried about a set a comedian performed on The Tonight Show.  Peggy wrote an ad that plays on the Shakespeare line from Julius Caesar, “…lend me your ears.”  As this campaign is building steam, a controversy in Vietnam erupts over an American soldier making a necklace of the ears of killed North Vietnamese soldiers.  The client is terrified of the connection between the ad and the scandal, and wants something done about it.

The conversation ends with Bert urging Peggy to reach out to Ted, the head of the agency, who is on a religious retreat in Colorado with his wife.

This conflict puts Peggy in the spotlight where her progress is contrasted against Don, who will have troubles of his own.  Ted is unreachable, and Peggy will have to call the shots on how to solve the problem with the client.

The next morning, Don runs into the doctor – Arnold Rosen – who saved Jonesy.  They are neighbors, and we quickly get the sense that they are friendly acquaintances when Don invites Arnie over to the office to pick up a free Leica camera.

A fourth storyline involves Roger’s mortality.  We find him on a couch in his psychologist’s office, mid-conversation, discussing a woman who is not a natural blonde.  The first thing that struck me about the scene was that it was over-acted.  Was this on purpose?  Was it meant to show that Roger is performing for his doctor, or was it just a rare misstep by John Slattery?  I’ll go with the former, since there are some delightful exchanges between the two men, with Roger’s doctor reminding him that he can’t laugh at all his jokes.  It’s a wonderful picture of how humor is often a defense against pain – in this case, Roger’s frustration with the way his life is going.

“What are the events of life?” Roger asks.  “You see a door, and the first time you come to it you say, ‘Oh, what’s on the other side?’  You open a few and say, ‘I’m going to go over a bridge.  I’m tired of doors.’  Finally, you come out the other side and you realize that’s all there is – doors and windows and bridges and gates.  And they all open the same way.  And they all close behind you.  Look, life is supposed to be a path, and you go along and thee things happen and they are supposed to change you.  Change your direction.  But it turns out it’s not true.  It turns out the experiences are nothing.  They’re just some pennies you pick off the floor and put them in your pocket, and you’re going in a straight line to you-know-where.”  This marvelous confession reads like the book of Ecclesisates – that life without God/higher purpose – i.e. Roger’s hedonistic way of living – is meaningless.  The doctor asks Roger what he’s afraid of, but Roger won’t cop to any fear – only that he’s numb and can feel nothing.  He hates where he’s ended up, and there’s a sense that what he calls numbness is really emptiness.

Don has another elevator encounter, this time with a new character – Bob Benson.  With Pete and Ken and Harry ten years into their careers, Bob is the new them.  He’s fresh out of the Wharton School of Business and as ambitious as Lucifer – a better looking Pete Campbell.  He follows Don off the elevator, schmoozing and butt-kissing all the way into the writer’s room where Stan and Ginsberg and a couple new copywriters are already at work.  After he’s ignored, Bob slinks off to wherever he came from, leaving Don to face the teasing and well wishes of his admiring team.

Stan is bearded now and looks like Zach Galifianakis.  Ginsberg has longer hair and a hideous moustache that reminds me of Schnieder on One Day At A Time.  The other copywriters, a man and a woman, are on familiar terms with Don.  In the background, a man in a blue sweater vest sleeps on a couch.  It seems like the work-loving Don has stuck around, having won the Jaguar account, and his team seems motivated and close-knit in the way that hard work and success will make unlikely friendships possible.

Stan asks Don if he has anything for him that he can use for the Sheraton pitch, which is coming up later in the week.  Don has nothing substantive.  “I had an experience,” Don tells him.  “I don’t know how to put it into words.”

Don leaves the team to their work, and as he approaches the desk of Ms. Chambers, his secretary, we notice the staircase to the upper floor, another symbol of the success of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.  Additionally, a photographer is taking publicity shots of the executive team, with Pete Campbell posing mid-way up the staircase.  Pete is sideburned, and his hairline has receded, giving him an older, more mature look.  A mini-skirted secretary completes the picture, letting us know that we are far removed from the 1950’s feel that accompanied the premiere of the show.  Even Roger has a slightly shaggier appearance, leaving Don and Joan stuck in their old-school uniforms.

Don catches up with bunch.  Pete whines, Joan flirts, and Roger gets in his quips, referring to Don as Don Ho.  Harry arrives in the middle of this exchange, modish and crabby, and climbs the stairs to his office, bitching and complaining.

Don moves on to his office, where he’s irritated by an impromptu rearrangement of his office furniture by the photographer.  Despite everything going like gangbusters, Don is ill at ease, and as he stares out his office window, we get a clue to where his mind is when we hear the sound of waves crashing.

Peggy meets with Bert Peterson and the executive from Koss.  She tries to dance around the controversy, hoping to stay the course, but the client won’t be swayed.  He wants a new ad that won’t remind prospects of the Vietnam controversy.  It’s a tense meeting, but the client likes Peggy and the work the agency has done, and gives her time to come up with a solution.

Bert again urges Peggy to do whatever she has to do to get Ted involved.  We can feel Peggy’s pressure, and when she does try to get through to Ted, it calls back other times when Don was there to solve her problems for her.  Ted’s absence forces Peggy to go it alone, to do what she’s been trained by Don to do.

Back at SCDP, Don is immersed in a meeting with his team, reviewing work they’ve done in his absence.  Ever the stern taskmaster, Don applies his high standards unsentimentally, ripping the substandard work to shreds.

Side Note: The difference between Don and Peggy, at this point, is that Don’s hectoring comes across as tough love, where Peggy’s is detached and impersonal, alienating her from her team.  She still has a long way to go.

Arnie Rosen shows up in the middle of Don lecturing the team and hangs back to watch him work.  It’s Don being Don, and Rosen seems to relish the moment he’s stumbled upon.  When Don notices Rosen, he concludes his meeting and shows Rosen around the office, obviously trying to impress.  “Welcome to my hospital,” he tells him.  Rose is impressed, too, telling Don, “If I talked like you and looked like that, I wouldn’t have had to go to medical school.”  Don shrugs off the compliment, but Rosen goes on, confessing that he had hoped that Don didn’t have brains to go along with his good looks.  It’s a mutual admiration society – a rare instance where Don is vulnerable with another man, a guy who could be a friend, something we haven’t really seen with Don.

Don gives Rosen the promised Leica, and they discuss upcoming New Year’s Eve plans their wives are making.  Don invites Rosen to lunch, but Rosen has surgery that afternoon.  Rosen parts, thanking Don for the toy.

Roger’s morning (and a phone call to one of his girl friends) is blown apart by an interruption from Caroline, his secretary, who bursts in to tell him that his mother has passed away.  Upon delivering this news, Caroline falls to pieces, leaving Roger to console her, explaining that at 91 years old, it was hardly a shock.  “For 20 years she’s been saying it’s her last Christmas,” he tells her.  When she asks him what to do, he tells her to take it to Joan, who will know what to do about the arrangements.  Caroline takes a drink that Roger has poured for her and drinks it in one gulp before drying her tears and returning to her desk.  Once she’s gone, Roger raises his glass, looks heavenward, and says “Cheers.”

Finally, it’s time for Don’s photo.  The photographer, enamored with Don, decides to abandon his usual approach and go for an action-oriented shot.  He has Don leave his sleeves rolled up and tells him to be himself, which for Don Draper is always a loaded remark.  Don lights a cigarette, and as he snaps the lighter shut, he looks down and notices that the lighter isn’t his, but PFC Dinkins’s, the soldier he met in Hawaii.  An inscription on it reads, “In life we often have to do things that just aren’t our bag.”  This discovery catches Don off guard and sends him into a tailspin.  While this is happening, the photographer tells Don to be himself.  Don’s having picked up another soldier’s lighter is an echo of Don having assumed another soldier’s identity and then building another new identity on top of that, so that when Don is urged to be himself, it’s a complicated matter.

The following day, Betty finds Sally eating in the kitchen, and when she reminds her that Sandy is coming for lunch, Sally informs Betty that Sandy won’t be coming.  She’s left early for Julliard.  Kiernan Shipka continues to deliver wonderful performances as the put-upon Sally Draper, making you want to wring her neck at her over-dramatic responses to every comment uttered by her family.

This news sends Betty into a tailspin, and she goes to Sally’s room, takes a photo of Sally and Sandy, and leaves to go looking for her – a journey that takes her to the East Village.

Betty on St. Mark’s Place is a study in contrasts.  The neighborhood is bombed out and populated by scruffy young people.  She looks every bit the suburban housewife, and sticks out like a sore thumb.  She asks passersby if they’ve seen Sandy, but no one will talk to her.

Finally, a couple of guys stop and look at the photo, but deny having seen Sandy.  They enter an abandoned building.  When Betty asks if she can come in, they tell her the door is always open.

Betty is shocked at the squalor of the living conditions of the flophouse, but over time, offers to help the boys cook goulash with pilfered groceries.  Again, even though Betty could be their mother, it’s as if she, like Sandy, is the fresh-faced kid, experiencing something wondrous and new.

Finally, the leader of this band of dropouts – Zow – shows up with Sandy’s violin case, and when Betty confronts him, he attacks her middle-class values, accusing her of casting kids like him and Sandy off, treating them like garbage.  This angers Betty, and she fights back, telling Zow that what he doesn’t understand is that she’s on a reclamation mission.  She wants Sandy.

Unswayed, Zow lands a solid punch when he calls Betty a bottled blonde and tells her he doesn’t like her life any more than she does.  This said, Betty takes the violin case and leaves, except that just before she walks out of the house, she puts the case down, abandoning it.

Back home, Betty attempts to talk to Sally, who is on the phone and shuts her bedroom door to get some privacy.  She then goes to Henry, who is in bed and curious about where she’s been.  She keeps her adventure a secret.

On the day of Roger’s mother’s funeral, Don sleeps in.  Megan wakes him to let him know she’s leaving for the studio.  After she is gone, Don sits up and sees the lighter on his nightstand.  He picks it up, then walks over and drops it in a wastebasket.

At the funeral, held in Roger’s mother’s house, Roger is fawned over by friends of his mother and relatives – spectral old women not far from the grave themselves.  Ex-wives Mona and Jane show up.  Roger welcomes Jane warmly, rejecting her offer to return his mother’s wedding ring.  Mona’s arrival is marred by the presence of a new man, whom Roger doesn’t like.

SCDP is represented by Pete, Ken, and Harry…and Bob Benson.  Benson’s presence is announced by caterers, who show up with a big spread that is accompanied by a card of condolence by the scheming newcomer.  The card is read aloud, and not knowing who Benson is, Roger tells the caterers to take the food to the kitchen.

Ken attempts to break the tension with small talk, asking Pete and Harry if their mothers are still alive.  It’s in the middle of this conversation that Don shows up drunk.  Pete, already annoyed at Harry’s horniness, chastises Don by asking him how many funerals he’s already been to that day.  Ken, ever the peace-maker, asks Don about whether his mother is still alive.  This unwelcome reminder of who he really is causes Don to retreat to the other side of the room to watch the proceedings.

Before Roger can begin the service, a friend of his mother’s butts-in and demands to speak.  She reads a prepared statement that testifies to the love Roger’s mother had for him, how he was the center of her universe.  Right on cue, Don throws up in the corner, disrupting the eulogy.  Pete and Ken and Harry whisk Don away, but the spell has been broken and Roger uses the incident as an excuse to behave like the spoiled little boy he really is and berate Mona for daring to bring this rival to “my funeral.”

That said, Roger tells everyone the party is over and demands that they all leave immediately.  When no one makes a move to do so, he runs out of the parlor and upstairs to his old room.

Later, Mona comes to Roger, who is feeling sorry for himself, and tries to comfort him, assuring him that everyone there loved him and worried about how he felt about them.  This cheers him up, and he makes a pass, which Mona brushes aside.  She encourages him to spend more time with their daughter Margaret.

Later, Roger goes back downstairs to find Margaret sitting alone in the parlor.  He sits with her, and they have a good talk.  Roger shows her a jar containing water from the River Jordan, which his father brought home from  one of his trips.  Roger was baptized with this water, as was Margaret.  He’s feeling nostalgic.  Sensing an opportunity, Margaret makes a pitch for Roger to invest in a company that her husband Brooks is backing.  The company has made an advancement in refrigeration technology, making it possible to ship produce cross-country so that folks on the east coast can have fresh fruit and vegetables from the west coast.  Roger agrees to take a look, provided Brooks can put something in writing for him.  Margaret happily agrees, and gives him a big, happy kiss.  Once again, Roger is buying happiness.  He can’t help himself.

Pete and Ken and Harry get Don back to his building, where they meet Jonesy, who asks if Don is okay.  Don asks Jonesy about the day he nearly died, wanting to know if he saw anything.  Jonesy’s cheerful mask melts away, and he tries to avoid Don’s line of questioning, telling Don that the doctor said he wasn’t really dead.  “I saw it,” Don says.  “You were dead.  What did you see?”

“I don’t like to think about it,” Jonesy says.

“You must’ve seen something.”

“I don’t know…there was a light.”

“Was it hot, tropical sunshine?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did you hear the ocean?”

Finally, the guys get him into an elevator and apologize to a bewildered Jonesy, who has probably never seen Mr. Draper out of control.

Later, Megan returns to find Don as she left him, except for the suit and shoes which are strewn all over the bedroom floor.  She tells him that they have expanded her role on the soap opera, except that she’ll be playing a villain.  Don congratulates her.  “So, you’ll love me if I’m a lying, cheatin, whore?” she asks.

As she gets up to get something to eat, she hands Don the lighter, which the maid found in the garbage.  This lighter has become like a ghost – a reminder of what?  His inauthenticity?  His paradise lost in Hawaii?

Peggy works late, as usual, and Abe shows up with food.  When he asks what she’s working on, she explains that it’s a trick Don taught her – she’s writing a letter to a fictitious friend, telling her how good the Koss headphones are.  Her writers bring her some new ideas, and after she dresses them down for bringing her work that “looks like cowardice,” Abe calls her out for being mean.  When he puts on the headphones and starts rocking out to whatever music he hears, Peggy is inspired by an idea.

At the office the next day, Pete reminds Don of the Sheraton pitch, and when Don tries to postpone it, Pete won’t let him.  Don then finds Ms. Chambers and asks her to locate PFC Dinkins and send him the lighter.  When she asks if she should send a note, he tells her not to, that it was something he found and wants to return to its rightful owner.  Nothing more.

Roger returns to his shrink, and complains about Mona and Margaret, that all they do is guilt him and take his money.  But that’s not his real gripe.  He explains to his doctor that “all I’m going to be doing from here on is losing everything.”  His doctor tells him he feels lost.  “I don’t feel anything,” Roger says.  “Life will eventually end, and someone else’ll get the bill.”  It’s a bleak outlook.

As Ken shows up at the office, he notices Bob Benson sitting on a couch at the receptionist’s desk.  At first, Ken ignores him, and he thinks better of it.  He turns to Bob, who immediately goes into suck-up mode.  Ken asks him how his catering business is going.  When Bob expresses confusion, Ken calls him out on his stunt with the funeral – sending the food.  “It was too much,” Ken tells him.  “Almost like you were invited.  You weren’t.”  He does Bob a favor by telling him exactly what he’s doing wrong.  It’ll be interesting to see if Bob takes the advice.

It’s interesting to see Pete and Harry and Ken as they assume more senior roles within the company.  Pete looks older.  Harry seems curmudgeonly, despite the trendy looks.  And Ken seems to be taking his career more seriously.  Is he still writing?  What about Corning?  Is he over that?  Gone are the frat-house antics.  These guys are approaching 30, and are dealing with the pressures of family, homeownership, and fighting off a younger generation of hungry upstarts like Bob Benson.  As Mad Men is primarily about identity, it will be interesting to see how these guys adjust to this new phase of their lives and careers.

At the Sheraton pitch, there are two representatives from Sheraton.  From SCDP it’s Don, Roger, Pete, and Stan.  Don leads the pitch, as usual, and he begins by describing the feeling that has stayed with him since returning from Hawaii.  It’s vague, and he tells the Sheraton guys they aren’t selling a location, but an experience.  An experience that makes you glad to be away from home.  That doesn’t cause you to be the least bit homesick.  He nails it with the tagline – “Hawaii, the jumping off point.”

Stan reveals the artwork – a suit and tie and shoes lying on the beach; a pair of bare footprints trailing off to the water.  He goes on to explain that Hawaiian legend has it that the soul can enter and leave the body, but that it usually happens from a leeward point into the waves.

This confuses the clients, who want to know where the man went, did he commit suicide, and why there aren’t any photos of the hotel or Diamond Head in the ad.  It’s a rare whiff by Don, and perhaps the reason has to do with how he’s been affected by the trip, by PFC Dinkins, and what it reminds him of.  This ad seems to be more about Don that it does Sheraton.

The more Don tries to justify the ad, the worse the situation gets until Pete whisks the clients away with promises to make a second try at getting it right.

After Pete and the clients leave, Roger gets in a zinger on Don.  “What’s the matter?  You didn’t get all your vomiting done at my mother’s funeral?”  Don apologizes again for the gaffe, and Roger waves him off, telling him he didn’t miss anything.

Don turns to Stand and asks him if the ad reminds him of suicide.  “Of course,” Stan tells him.  “That’s what’s so great about it.”

“You know, we sold actual death with Lucky Strike for 25 years,” Roger says.  “You know how we did it?  We ignored it.”  It’s a statement that applies to their lives as well as Lucky Strike.

Sally complains to Henry that she wants to go somewhere for New Year’s Eve.  As Henry is punting on a decision, Betty enters, a newly minted brunette.  Henry gasps.  Sally laughs.  Bobby tells her he hates it and that she’s ugly.  Henry collects himself, and hugs her and asks Elizabeth Taylor what she’s done with his wife.  The bottled blonde comment by Zow must have really hit home.  But where is Betty going with this change?  Is she giving up on being Princess Grace, or is she truly going au natural and strive to be the real Betty, whoever that is?

Roger receives one more bit of bad news from Caroline.  It turns out that Giorgio, the shoeshine guy Roger was looking for on the day of the photo shoot, has died.  His family sent Giorgio’s shoeshine kit to Roger because he was the only person to ask about him.  Caroline hands him the shoeshine kit, and he takes it to his office.  Alone, he opens the kit and looks at the meager possessions – the tools of one man’s trade that are all that is left behind in the wake of his death.  Something about them breaks through that numb façade Roger’s been hiding behind, and he breaks down in tears.

On New Year’s Eve, Peggy and her team work as though it’s any other night.  Peggy and Stan are on the phone, having their usual late-night chats while each burns the midnight oil at their respective offices.  They gossip and bitch, and in the middle of this conversation, Ted walks in, dressed for a party.  Peggy sets the receiver down on her desk without hanging up, allowing Stan to hear the conversation that follows.

Ted says that since he heard four people were working on New Year’s Eve, he felt like he needed to make an appearance.  He apologizes for not being available for Peggy during her Koss crisis, explaining that it turns out her works too much.  Peggy lets him know that she figured out the problem, and that everything will be okay.  Ted asks why her underlings are still there on New Year’s Eve if the big crisis has been averted.  It’s a gentle admonishment, but a criticism that isn’t new to her.

Peggy shows Ted the work. It’s from an outtake of a commercial shoot that was inspired by Abe’s visit.  Ted loves the new commercial, pronouncing it even better than the first.  “It always takes a crisis to make work this good,” he says.  He piles on the praise by telling Peggy that she’s always good in a crisis.

Appearance made, Ted wishes Peggy a happy New Year then leaves for his party.  When Peggy picks up the receiver, Stan is still there.  “He likes you,” he says, laughing.

Don and Megan host a party to ring in 1969.  Arnold and Sylvia Rosen are there, as is another couple from the building – Dave and Kathy.  The couples obviously don’t know each other very well, and ask basic getting-to-know-you kinds of questions.  It’s a setting that has never suited Don very well.

As Megan switches fondue courses, she has Don get out the slides from their vacation.  It’s such a 1960’s move, and one that calls back the chilling conclusion to season one – Don’s Carousel pitch to Kodak – except that Don is mute during this presentation.

Later, after Dave and Kathy have gone home, the Drapers and Rosens enjoy themselves so much fun they miss midnight altogether.  While they do a round of celebratory shots, the phone rings.  It’s Arnold’s service, calling him in for emergency surgery.  Don offers to walk him downstairs, saying he needs to buy a pack of cigarettes.

Don and Arnold end up in the storage area of the building, looking for Arnold’s cross-country skis.  Don asks Arnold what it’s like having someone’s life in his hands.  Arnold tells him it’s an honor and privilege to be trusted with that responsibility.  He also tells Don to quit smoking.

As Arnold makes his way to the door to leave, he turns and tells Don, “The whole life and death thing doesn’t bother me.  Never has.  Guys like us, that’s why we get paid…people will go anything to alleviate their anxiety.”  Don watches him ski into a driving snow.

Don seems to really like and respect Arnold, which makes the next scene difficult to reconcile.  Instead of returning to his apartment, Don goes to the back entrance of Arnold’s apartment, where Arnold’s wife Sylvia waits and leads him to bed.

In the bedroom, Sylvia asks Don if he read her Dante. He tells her that it reminded him of her, a comment that she doesn’t quite know how to take.  Don tells her it’s beautiful.  After a quiet moment, she asks him what he wants in the new year.  “I want to stop doing this,” he tells her.  It’s a flat statement, nearly whispered.  “I know,” she tells him, not understanding that Don’s statement isn’t about them leaving their spouses for each other, but something much deeper.  Don’s statement seems to be more about that jumping off place, and this season promises to take us there.

Early the next morning, Don goes back to his place and slips into bed with Megan, who has a script in bed with her.  They wish each other a happy new year as Don Ho sings.

Don and Betty and Roger and Peggy are at a jumping off point.  Who else will join them?  Who will follow-through, and who will chicken out or not make it?

Mad Men Commentary: episode 513 The Phantom

For the past few weeks, as season 5 of Mad Men has approached its conclusion, I’ve wondered about the Big Theme of this season.  I should have just waited because the season finale made it abundantly clear.

As Megan lays in bed despairing over the lack of progress in her acting career, her mother Marie tells her to stop feeling sorry for herself.  When Megan asks Marie why she isn’t more encouraging, Marie tells her that she is chasing a phantom.

It’s true for Megan, just as it is for Don and Pete, and to a lesser degree Peggy and Roger, who don’t get as much screen time this week.  Each of these characters is chasing after something elusive, beyond their reach.  The final episode is a microcosm of what the entire season has been about.  Next week I’ll apply this idea to the entire season, but for now, let’s look at episode 513, The Phantom.

The episode opens with Don doctoring a toothache with cotton balls and liquor.  Don will refuse to see a dentist until the pain becomes unbearable.

While Don gets ready for work, Megan gets the paper and the mail, which contains a film reel that she hides until after Don leaves.  Megan’s mother Marie, visiting for the Easter holiday, notices this and calls her out on it, ironically telling her she shouldn’t keep things from her husband (what about Roger Sterling?  Does Emille know about him?).  Megan is embarrassed because she realizes she’s been tricked by a company promising, for a fee, to shoot a film reel and shop it around to agents and other casting types.  Her resolve to make it as an actress is starting to fade, even though she’s only been at it a few months.  Marie refers to Megan as hopeless, but covers the slight by claiming bad English.  Marie, who cloaks her cynicism in a stoic realism, refuses to view her daughter through rose-colored glasses, a position that will lead to conflict later.

On the train to work, Pete gets a surprise when Howard and Beth Dawes sit with him.  Robert re-introduces them and explains that Beth is going to visit her sister.  When Pete asks where that is, Beth excuses herself to the smoking car.  Howard follows, explaining under he breath that she’s in a mood.  As Howard makes his way down the aisle, Pete reaches out and touches a scarf of Beth’s that hangs from one of her bags.  It’s as if he’s caressing the mist the way it glides past him.

At the office, Harry shares an elevator ride with Joan, noticing that she’s hit 38 instead of 37.  She claims a mistake.  He asks if the rumors of additional space are true, but she gives him nothing.  As they exit the car, Harry asks for an office with a window, claiming scurvy.

Behind them is Don, and as he leaves his car he sees a familiar face – his dead brother Adam dressed in a suit and coat.  Don calls his name, but the man stares back at him blankly until the door slides shut, leaving Don bewildered.  In the wake of Lane’s death, it’s interesting that the ghost, or phantom, that haunts Don is not the Englishman, but his own brother, who also hanged himself.  I think this is significant because it points to Don’s deeper guilt and deeper shame – his stolen identity and what it has cost him.

In a pitch for Topaz, we get the first glimpse of wobble in the orbit of SCDP, post-Peggy, as Stan and Ginsburg strike out.  Art, from Topaz, hates the tagline, and makes reference to an obvious lack of a female point-of-view.  Ken sees Don out in the hallway, and waves him in to save the day, which he more-or-less does.  But the most interesting thing about this scene is Stan’s line at the end, as they are cleaning up.  Stan and Ginsburg are alone, bitching, and Stan says, “I tell you, I’m so bored of this dynamic.”  How’s that?  Is he referring to Peggy, his onetime nemesis?  It’s the first we’ve heard of anyone at SCDP bemoaning the absence of Peggy, and it makes sense that it’s Stan, who worked more closely with her than anyone.  It’s a nice, subtle touch.

Later, Pete gets a page from his secretary saying his sister-in-law is on the phone.  He takes the call, only to find that it’s Beth.  Pete doesn’t want to take a chance on his secretary eavesdropping on the call, and sends her to the lobby for a pack of Life Savers.  Her response provides another nice touch.  She annoyingly asks him what’s wrong with the machine, providing another point of contrast between Pete’s make-believe version of himself and the person the rest of the world sees.

Beth asks Pete to meet her at the Hotel Pennsylvania, the same place he waited for her in vain.  He’s a jerk to her, but when she tells him it could be their last chance, it’s more than he can take.  She tells him she’ll be checked in under Mrs. Campbell, underscoring a fantasy he’s most certainly played out in his mind and will even suggest when he’s with her.

We catch up with Peggy in her new office chewing out a couple of copywriters who look like they could still be writing for their high school paper.  “Why is this so hard,” she asks, sounding like Don.  “It has to be 125 words, and 15 of them have to be Ajax.”  They are saved by Ted Chaough, who brings Peggy a challenge.  He tosses a plain white cigarette carton filled with plain white packs of cigarettes to Peggy, explaining that it’s Phillip Morris’ new top-secret women’s cigarette that Leo Burnett considered too small to fight for.  Ted makes it Peggy’s job to make Leo Burnett regret the decision.  When Peggy asks for information, Ted has 3 cartons of research and tells her, “smoke it, name it, sell it.”

Cigarette companies were big billers in the sixties, so this innocuous looking cigarette carton comes loaded with pressure.  It’s an early litmus test of Peggy’s ability to live up to the reputation she earned while working under Don’s tutelage.

Joan conducts the partner’s meeting, reporting a huge profit – the best quarter in SCDP’s history.  Despite this good news, the mood is anything but jubilant.  Pete is distracted by the call from Beth, Don is hurting from his toothache, and Joan is still nursing guilt from the way she rejected Lane the Friday before his suicide.  Joan adopts Lane’s role as the group’s contrarian, the balancer of his salesmen partners, trained to always point out the sunny side of any disaster.  “I’m sorry, but I feel someone has to voice the negatives,” tells them, suggesting that they should wait for another positive quarter before going on a spending spree with added space.  It turns out Peggy isn’t the only one missed at SCDP.  The meeting falls into confusion, with Joan trying to reinforce Robert’s Rules of Order.  Pete fires off a crack – “What is this, Parliament?” – that seems aimed at Lane, but before anyone can answer, he gives his proxy to Don and excuses himself, citing other business.  End of meeting.

Pete goes to Beth and treats her coldly until he finds out she isn’t going to her sister’s, but to the hospital, where Howard has checked her in for electroshock therapy.  This news alarms Pete.  He tells he she’s not crazy, but as she explains what shock treatment does (she’s done it before), he’s repulsed.  She tells him that it erases chunks of memory, and she doesn’t want to forget him or what they’ve done.  She asks him for one last fling, as though an insurance policy against forgetting.  Her confession and request obliterate the fantasy he’s created, and at first he’s angry.  But as she repeats her request, his resistance gives way to desire, and sleep together once more.  Afterwards, as Beth dresses to return to the hospital, Pete concocts a new fantasy – escape.  “Let’s go to Los Angeles.  I’ve been there.  It’s filled with sunshine.”  He seems to believe that she’s only sad because she lives with an oaf like Howard, and that a change of venue, and husbands, will change everything.  He aims the fantasy at her, but it’s as much for him.  It’s also an eerie echo of Don’s earlier experiences: begging Rachel Menken to escape with him, his trippy sojourn in LA and the desert, and his trip there with Megan and the kids.  Los Angeles represents, like it did in the 19th century, a place to go and start over, to re-invent oneself.  Beth says she can’t do it.  When Pete asks why, she tells him, “it’s so dark, Pete.  I get to this place, and I see this door open and I want to walk through it.”  “That’s for weak people,” he tells her.  “People who can’t solve a problem.”

When she asks him to zip her dress, he grabs her playfully.  “And then you’ll leave,” he says.  “And what if you forget you love me?”  “Oh Peter,” she says.  “I don’t you, and you don’t me.  We just happen to have the same problem.”  She sees what’s really going on, referring not to love, but to their emptiness or even mental illness.  “I know,” Pete says, misunderstanding her point.  “But we’re only sad because we’re apart.”  “Oh.  Then I was wrong,” she says, underplaying the moment.  She says she needs to go, and when Pete asks why, she tells him the shock treatment works.

As this plays out, Megan and a new girlfriend, Emily, read through the casting notices at Megan’s place.  They gossip about Julia, jealously dismissing her short stint on Dark Shadows that ended up with her getting fired after three episodes, then edited out of the show.

After Marie makes an appearance, Emily asks Megan for a favor – to ask Don to secure an audition for a commercial for Butler shoes.  Megan tries to sidestep the request, but Emily is determined.  Finally, Megan promises to ask.

Later, when Don arrives home from work, Megan makes her move, but instead of asking Don to help Emily, Megan asks him to audition HER.  In her desperation, she betrays her friend and asks Don to do something that puts him in a tricky spot.

Don reacts predictably, torturing her until she asks if he realizes how hard it was for her to even ask.  He responds by asking if she knows how hard it would be to ask the owner of the shoe company to hire his wife.  Further, Ken, Stan, and Ginsburg will be there, and they know who she is.

These reasons Don gives Megan for not hiring her are curious when you consider that he had no problem with nepotism when he was trotting her into work every day, leapfrogging her over people with more time on the job, if not more talent.  He proudly promoted her fledgling copywriting skills at the American Cancer Society gala.   But that’s when it served his purposes.  Now that she’s moved on, this is something he can withhold.

She gives up, telling him to forget she ever asked.  But she tosses in a line that you wonder whether it was said as one last ploy.  “It’s just been…so hard,” she tells Don.  Is this good acting, or is she sincere?  Don says he does know, but tells her she doesn’t want to make it this way.  She wants to be the discovered one, not the boss’s wife.  She agrees with the logic, but you don’t sense she really buys what he’s saying.

The phone rings, and Don answers as Megan goes to fix him a drink.  It’s Roger, faking a French accent, asking for Marie.  Marie picks up the living room extension, and quickly shoos Megan out of the living room and back to Don.  Don takes the drink and tells Megan he’d hire her if he could, but he can’t.  She agrees and excuses herself to take a bath.  Once the bath water is on, she breaks down in tears.

Roger invites Marie to have dinner with him at his hotel.  She knows what he wants, and makes him promise to lower his expectations before she agrees to the offer.  Roger promises, of course, and they make a date.

This sequence ends with a shot of Don alone on the bed, the same as before, with a drink in hand.  The sound of bathwater can be heard behind the shut bathroom door.  It’s a picture of isolation.  Could it be trouble?

The next morning, Don arrives to a crowded office.  People are everywhere.  As he walks down the hall, he glances into an office and his brother Adam glances back at him, sitting at a typewriter.

Don gets no time to consider the image because Joan is waiting for him in his office.  When Don asks what he can do for her, she beats around the bush, citing the space issue as the reason for her visit.  She quickly abandons office space, and gets into money.  First, she tells Don that she has been trying to be the cautious one, but it doesn’t seem to matter because money is falling from the skies right now.  “That’s the idea, isn’t it?” Don asks, sensing there’s more.

Next, she presents Don with an envelope containing Lane’s death benefit, which proves just how wonderfully sneaky Matthew Weiner is.  In episode 508, Lady Lazarus, Pete is presented as a red herring when his company life insurance policy is used to get closer to Beth Dawes.  At the time, I saw it as some foreshadowing of Pete’s mortality, but it was Lane.

Joan tells Don the check is for $175,000.  ‘What’s your question?” he asks.  “Why would he do this?”  “You’ll never get an answer,” Don says.  “You can’t think about that.”  “But I do, and then I can’t stop it.  What could I have done?”  “Nothing,” Don says, displaying his trademark detachment that allows him to reinvent and move on.  Joan confesses her guilt, thinking that if she’d just slept with him, he’d still be alive.  “And now there’s this, this profit,” she says, waving the check.

Don moves into problem solving mode, asking Joan how much Lane had to put up after Lucky Strike left.  She tells him $50,000.  He tells her to cut a check for that amount to Rebecca, Lane’s wife.  He’ll deliver it.  She asks if they should put it to a vote, and he says no.  She seems relieved to have shared her guilt and to have a man taking care of her.

Meanwhile, Megan can’t drag herself out of bed.  She’s too sad to get up.  I’m sorry, but isn’t acting supposed to be tough?  She just quit SCDP and went back to school a few months ago.  What does she expect?  Marie comes in to get her up, thinking these same thoughts.  She tells Megan to get out of bed and stop feeling sorry for herself.  She even seems to take Don’s side, accusing Megan of withholding children from him.  When Megan asks why she isn’t more encouraging, Marie tells her she’s chasing a phantom.  “Not every little girl gets to do what they want,” Marie says.  “The world could not support that many ballerinas.”  “Is that what you tell yourself?” Megan asks, getting her dig in.  Marie calls her an ungrateful little bitch and leaves her to her self-pity.

Don goes to see Rebecca Pryce, and we learn that no one from the agency flew to England for the funeral and Rebecca refused the offer of a company memorial service.  She’s bitter, and she has no money, but she maintains a polite façade, asking Don to sit.  When he presents her with the check, she rises to signal that the meeting is over.  Don won’t let it go, telling her it’s enough money to really help.  But Rebecca sees the money for what it is, a guilt offering, and tells Don he had no right to fill a man like Lane with ambition.  She really lays it on Don, accusing him of frequenting brothels, and to his credit, he takes it, never telling her the truth about her husband.  She leaves him with a cryptic farewell, telling him that “It was more than $50,000 that already belonged to him.  So don’t leave here thinking you’ve done anything for anybody but yourself.”

That evening, Pete arrives home to find Trudy feeding Tammy in the kitchen.  She shows him plans for an in-ground pool that they’ve considered.  Pete cracks open a beer and stares at the rendering, commenting on how permanent it is.  Trudy agrees, pointing out the family in the drawing.  Pete looks at the little girl, who stands at the edge of the pool, and says, “Tammy could drown.”  As if on cue, the baby cries and Trudy scoops her up and takes her out of the kitchen, telling Pete she’s tired of his somber mood.

Marie finally makes it to Roger’s hotel, and they end up in bed.  Roger uncharacteristically breaks the mood by bringing up Lane.  “One of my partners, he ended it all,” he says.  “You’d have to be so sure you were going someplace better, wouldn’t you?  I think maybe that place is here.”  “Why are you saying this?” Marie asks.  “Would you take LSD with me?”  Marie says no, and asks Roger not to ask her to take care of him.  She, like he usually is, is only in it for the sex.  But Roger is chasing a phantom of his own – he wants to replicate that great experience he had with Jane.  LSD gives him temporary relief from the pain of regret that must surely dog his steps.

While Roger pitches LSD to Marie, Megan is home getting drunk.  This is how Don finds her when he gets home from work – sprawled out on the couch in the clothes she wore to bed the night before.  She tries to get up, but falls on the floor.  He helps her up, and gets her to bed.  On the bed, she pulls him to her, but he holds back.  She tells him that sex is all she’s good for.  “This is what you want, for me to be waiting for you,” she says.  “It’s why you won’t give me a chance.”  She’s referring to the audition for Butler shoes.  He tells her that’s not true.  “I know, I know,” she says.  “It’s either that, or I’m terrible.  But how the hell would you know?”  He tells her to sleep off her drunk, and leaves her in bed, where she falls into crying.

If there’s a false note in this episode, it’s how quickly Megan has fallen into despair over not making it as an actress.  A couple of episodes ago, she was lecturing Don about how she wasn’t giving up, no matter what.  And now she’s in a tailspin of depression and boozing?  I think the key is Emille, who seems to have encouraged her dream of being an artist.  The tensions between Emille and Marie were likely played out with their children, as though the kids were chess pieces in a lifelong game of marital chess.  Megan seems like a spoiled child in this episode, and spoiled beauties aren’t used to having to grind things out.  They’re used to being given what they want when they want it.  So, Megan’s behavior in this episode might best be viewed as a sophisticated temper tantrum.

Don encounters Marie in the living room.  She’s just returned from Roger’s.  He accuses her of negligence, for leaving Megan alone and drunk.  Marie shrugs off the comment.  “She’s married to you. That’s your job.  She left my house a happy girl.”  “And you show up, she’s miserable,” Don counters.  “I know it’s hard to watch, but this is what happens when you have the artistic temperament but you are not an artist,” Marie tells him, referring to both Megan and Emille.  “Take my advice.  Nurse her through this defeat, and you shall have the life you desire.”

Based on the evidence we’ve been given, Emille appears to be an impractical dreamer.  Living with him has taught Marie, by necessity, to be practical, if not a little cold.  It’s interesting advice she gives Don, and his application of nursing Megan through this defeat in order to have the life he desires may not match up with what Marie implies.

The next day, Don goes to the dentist, where he is scolded for waiting so long to get attention.  As the dentist numbs the area around the soon-to-be-extracted tooth, he tells Don he’s lucky he didn’t lose his jaw.  A mask is fitted over Don’s nose, and he’s told to breathe.  The dentist leaves the room, and Don closes his eyes.  A shadow passes by Don’s face, and when he opens his eyes, he sees Adam standing there, dressed in his workman’s clothes with a rope burn around his neck.  Don’s shock is muffled by the drugs.  “You’re in bad shape, Dick,” Adam says, calling him by his real name.  “What are you doing here?” Don asks.  “I lost my job when I died,” Adam says.  “I’m gonna do you a favor and take it out, but it’s not your tooth that’s rotten.”  Don can hardly keep his eyes open.  He begs Adam not to leave him.  “I’ll hang around,” Adam says with a straight face before breaking into a smile and asking Don if he gets the joke.

It’s interesting that Don asks Adam not to go away.  With Don, you’d expect him to cuss out the phantom and tell him to beat it, that he has better things to do than wallow in the past.  Could this signal a change in Don, brought on by the shock and guilt of Lane’s suicide?  Might this be a cue to another level of change that Don will go through next season?  It seems to.  This season, Don has seemed like a model for a catalog, posing as a husband and father, rather than actually being one.  The first half of the season was Don desperately trying to emulate a happy, domesticated husband, but when Megan left, the façade began to crumble and fall apart.  Their fights became more frequent.  Don nearly shacked up with Joan.  Lane’s suicide seems to have tightened the downward spiral of Don’s marriage.

Later, Don wakes from the drugs, dried blood on his lips, missing one tooth.  The dentist tells him to take it easy the rest of the day and lay off the cigarettes for 24 hours.

The saddest moment in this somber episode may be the encounter with Pete and Beth.

Pete bluffs his way into the hospital, claiming to be Beth’s brother.  He’s brought to her room, and quickly finds that what Beth feared about the effects of shock treatment have come to pass.  She doesn’t know him.  This realization is a shocking blow to Pete, who had found one person who seemed to know him for who he was, and yet didn’t reject him.

Pete Campbell is an easy guy not to like, but this scene is so beautifully written and performed by Vincent Kartheiser that your heart can’t help but break for the guy, despite the circumstances he describes.

Beth, eager for company, asks Pete to stay and talk to her.  He has told her that he’s there to visit a sick friend. When she asks about the friend, Pete tells her a story – his story.

“He got involved with another man’s wife,” Pete says.  “Is that what put him in the hospital?”  “No…the complications.”  “Why did he do it?”  “Well, all the regular reasons, I guess.  He needed to let off some steam.  He needed adventure.  He needed to feel handsome again.  He needed to feel that knew something, that all this aging was worth something because he knew things young people don’t know yet.”  He pauses.  “He probably thought it would be like having a few tall drinks, feeling very, very good, and then he would go back to his life and say, ‘That was nice.’”  “But then he got sick?” Beth asks.  “When it went away, he was heart-broken.  And then he realized everything he had was not right, either, and that was why it had happened at all.  And that his life with his family was some temporary bandage on a permanent wound.”

It’s a story much better than anything we got from Ken, his rival, but Pete, like Don, isn’t in the business of dealing with his deepest motives unless forced to.

Beth tells Pete not to worry.  “They’ll fix him up, here.  They’re very good.”  Pete tells her he’ll be fine, and then excuses himself.

With doctor’s orders to take it easy, Don goes to the movies, an old habit.  As he makes his way down the aisle, he spies a familiar person – Peggy.  When the scene cuts to her, it’s interesting that she sits with her left arm across the top of the seat next to her, a cigarette dangling from her hand – an inversion of the Mad Men logo that shows Don seated in a similar pose.  Peggy has so modeled her life on Don that she apes the tiniest gestures.  At this point in her development, she is still figuring out who she is.  She’s still laboring under the shadow of her mentor.  The decision to move was a healthy one, and time will be the best shaper of her true identity – the further she gets away from Don, time-wise, the better chance she’ll have of becoming the person she wants to be.

Don and Peggy share a warm hug, and he sits with her.  It’s awkward, but they both seem genuinely happy to see the other.  After Don gets settled, he asks Peggy if she’s lost her job.  “No. Did you?” she asks, flipping the joke.  They share some small talk before he comments that she hasn’t been on the new job long enough to need to avoid the office.  “Just knocking out the cobwebs,” she says.  “Someone told me this works.”  She’s referring to Don, of course.  “So, it’s going well?” Don asks.  “Yeah.  Is that okay?”  Don pauses.  “That’s what happens when you help someone.  They succeed and move on.”  “Don’t you want them to?” Peggy asks.  Don looks at her and smiled.  “I’m proud of you.  I just didn’t know it would be without me.”  This must be huge for Peggy to hear.  Don’s like a father to her.  “Well, put me on your call list,” she tells him, attempting to normalize their relationship.

Pleasantries aside, they get to what they love – the work.  “What are you working on?” Don asks.  “We’re trying to get that women’s cigarette you were after.”  “God, I miss that easy money,” Don says.  “It’s easy to have,” Peggy says.  “It’s not easy to win.”  Don looks at her again as if seeing her anew.  “You’ll beat it,” he says.  It’s as if he’s acknowledged her as an equal, fellow soldiers who have shared the same battles.  It’s a beautiful scene, sure to set up future encounters between these two.

On the train home, Pete is awakened from sleep by Howard, who is happy to be free to do as he pleases for a few days.  He invites Pete to go back to the city with him, to get into trouble.  “You’re the most disgusting person I’ve ever seen,” Pete tells him, not caring about hiding his secret.  “How could you do that to that woman?  You just couldn’t wait to get her in the hospital and erase her brain.”  The cat out of the bag, Howard tells Pete, “she always spreads her legs for the first chump she can find.”  At this, Pete lunges and Howard and they roll around the car, fighting, until Pete ends up on the floor with Howard over him.  Howard lands a punch to Pete’s face before being pulled back by other passengers.

The conductor banishes Howard to another car.  He tells Pete to calm down, then go and apologize to Howard.  Pete refuses.  The conductor reminds Pete that they are fellow commuters and that there must be peace on his train.  Pete loses all control and winds up insulting the conductor in a fit of blue-blooded.  Pete shoves the conductor, reminding the man that he works for the commuters.  At this, the man punches Pete in the eye and kicks him off the train.  It’s been a bad day for Pete.

At home, Trudy waits for him, dressed as usual in a long gown.  She gasps at the sight of him.  “Were you in another car accident?” she asks.  It’s a wonderful moment that brings a much needed dose of humor to his bleak situation.  He improvises a lie about a an accident.  Trudy cradles Pete in her arms.  He’s a pitiful sight.  “I can’t live like this,” she tells him.  Just when it seems like he’s going from the frying pan into the fire, she tells him that first thing in the morning, they’re going to find him an apartment in the city.  She’s under the illusion that his frequent “accidents” are a result of falling asleep at the wheel.  This is surely a set-up for next season.

Back at the office, Don watches Megan’s audition reel.  It’s dated 3/20/67.  She’s stunningly beautiful, and as Don watches, it’s hard to gauge his feelings.  His look appears to be tender.  What is he thinking?

Later, The partners go up to the 38th floor to look at their new office space.  It’s an empty shell of a space, and Joan marks the location of a stairway to their current offices, a floor below, with a can of red spray paint.  Pete, recovered from his beating, feels well enough to crow about his soon-to-be office.  “I’m going to have the same view as you, Don.”  It’s a brief scene that ends with a shot of the five partners fanned out in single file with their backs to the camera – at the beginning of a new chapter.

The episode ends with a brilliantly constructed sequence of events that begins with Don and Megan on the soundstage of the commercial for Butler shoes.  Megan has the role of the Beauty in their take-off on Beauty and the Beast – a fairytale princess.  A gaggle of costumers and make-up artists attend to her, and even Charles Butler Jr. takes a moment to compliment her on how perfect she is for the role.  It’s like a dream come true, and Megan glows like a kid on Christmas who got everything her wildest dreams could concoct.  Don watches all of this with a smile.  He’s the author of this fantasy, and as a voice calls out for a rehearsal, the camera pulls back to reveal the immensity of the soundstage on which this scene is constructed.  The illusion of happy fantasy is broken.  The set grows smaller, as through receding in a rear-view mirror, until finally, Don turns and walks away, leaving Megan to her attendants, never pausing to look back.

As he walks away, the first notes of Nancy Sinatra singing You Only Live Twice play.  It’s a great choice of music, dramatic and evocative of an earlier version of Don Draper – the womanizing playboy, not too unlike James Bond.  Don enters a bar, and for the first time this season, he orders a neat Old Fashioned and lights a cigarette.  As he sits at the bar, a montage of images appears – Peggy, alone in a hotel room in Richmond, Virginia, happy at having the opportunity to score big with Phillip Morris; Pete alone in his living room, listening to music on a pair of headphones, so as not to disturb his sleeping family; Roger, naked and presumably tripping on LSD, standing on a chair in front of his hotel window, spreading his arms what might be an attempt at flight.

And then we’re back to Don.  A pretty blonde asks him for a light.  She engages him.   “I’m sorry, but my friend down there, she was wondering…are you alone?”  There’s a pause, and then Don turns to her and flashes a look we haven’t seen at all this season – that predatory Don Draper leer that confirms what I’d suspected.  He is alone, now.

With that, the scene cuts to black, and the season is over.

Mad Men Commentary: episode 512 Commissions and Fees

Sorry for the delay in getting this up.  Sickness and travel prevented me from getting it up earlier.  Enjoy.

Early in this week’s episode of Mad Men, the partners have a meeting in which they discuss what Pete calls a confusing request from Jaguar.  The car maker wants to discuss the possibility of changing the way they pay SCDP, moving away from the traditional commission structure of taking a 15% commission on media purchases and marking up creative work to a leaner plan of paying only for the work that is being done, with a 1-2% fee paid to the agency.

The partners are all confused.  It’s never been done before.  Don senses that since the client is asking for it, it can’t be good for the agency.  He says “No” on the spot, but Bert moves to look into it, which they all agree to do.

And thus, this week’s episode is titled “Commissions and Fees,” which gets to the heart of the three main storylines, where Don, Lane, and Sally and Glen will view a stretch of life as blessed, but find it to be cursed.

The episode opens with Don getting a haircut.  It’s just him and his barber until another man walks in.  It turns out to be Jed Covington, an executive from an agency that lost out on Jaguar.  Jed recognizes Don, and lavishes backhanded praise on him for winning the account (calling a Jaguar and “expensive, unreliable Dodge”).  Don shrugs off Jed’s comments until Jed singles out Pete Campbell for the good impression he made on the Jaguar executives.  The final insult comes when Jed tells Don that Jaguar is a “big win for your little agency.”

Lane is having breakfast with a friend from the 4A’s (the American Association of Advertising Agencies), who also lavishes praise on the agency in general, but Lane specifically, hitting the core of Lane’s ego by calling him quintessentially American.  This pleases Lane to no end, and when an offer of chairing the Association’s Fiscal Control Committee is presented, Lane accepts after a bit of false modesty.  It’s a welcome bit of good news for Lane, but we all know it can’t last.

As Betty’s kids eat breakfast, she sorts through a box of ski gear, preparing for a weekend getaway to the slopes.  Sally is having none of it, refusing to even consider wearing hand-me-down ski boots.  It’s another tour de force for Kiernan Shipka, who continues to shine as the put upon adolescent.  She’s so good that I got pissed off just watching her.

Sally is smart, and she stays on the attack, refusing to go, until Betty finally relents and calls Don at work to inform him of his unexpected weekend visit.  When Don objects, Betty gets in a dig, telling him it’s his “child bride” Sally really wants to see.  Way to keep it classy, Betty.

Bert walks in on Betty’s call, impatient to bring Don a bit of bad news.  After the partner’s meeting, he took it upon himself to investigate the fee vs. commission issue, and as he examined the company files, he found a cancelled check – THE cancelled check – made out to Lane for $7,500.  Because it has Don’s signature on it, Bert assumes that Don has gone behind the partners’ backs to give Lane his bonus, the bonus he wouldn’t shut up about.  Don looks at the check, knowing of course that he never signed it, but says nothing of this to Bert.  He absorbs Bert’s chiding (“You can’t keep being the good little boy while the adults run this business”) and tells him he’ll take care of it.

The moment Bert leaves the office, Don has Lane summoned to his office.  Don’s “close the door” should have been warning enough for Lane, who surely must have been expecting the other shoe to drop, but after his morning glory with the 4A’s, Lane was drunk with hubris.  He asks Don if he’s heard the good news, but Don cuts to the chase, showing him the check.

What follows is a fascinating sequence where we see Lane come undone.  It’s painful to watch.

Lane denies the charge, accusing Don of being too busy to remember signing it.  “You want me to play detective?” Don asks.  Lane tries another dodge, but Don knows.  “Is this the only one?”  Another dodge.  “I’m giving you a chance to come clean.”  Finally, Lane admits only that it was only a 13 day loan, where the bonus would have washed it clean.  The problem is, bonuses were never an issue until Lane brought them up, and even then, they were never delivered..AND Lane never asked permission to give himself the loan.  When Don is unmoved by this ploy, Lane reminds Don of the dirty deal with Joan, in which the firm was all too willing to be her pimp and surrender much more money that Lane’s “loan.”  He tags it by saying, “And I’m the one committing a crime?”  This is odd, since Don was the lone partner who stood against it, and only points to Lane’s growing desperation.  Don is unmoved, and finally, Lane admits that he took the money, but does that thing that so many guilty parties do – he turns the tables and makes himself out as the victim.  Lane points to the $50,000 he put into the agency, having to liquidate his assets to do so.  He accuses Don and the other partners of lining their pockets in the wake of the defection from the old firm, while he was never fairly compensated for being the one person who was able to make that maneuver possible.  Finally, in fit of self-righteous anger, he yells at Don, saying that it was HIS money.  “Who would’ve ever dreamt of the word ‘Jaguar’, huh?” he asks.

Don asks for Lane’s resignation.  It’s a sad ending for Lane, and he seems shocked that this request is made.  When he balks, Don points out that he’s embezzled money from the agency, forging Don’s signature in the process.  It comes down to trust, and Don can’t trust Lane anymore.  He’s done.  Lane’s last attempt at saving himself is to accuse Don of acting harshly, which Don brushes aside.  Don is giving Lane a chance to save face – to leave with dignity.

But what there was of Lane’s dignity is gone.  He begs for mercy.  “I’m sorry,” Don says.  “But I can’t trust you.”  When Don pours him a drink and says he’ll cover the check, Lane says, “Seven thousand five hundred is nothing to you.  Do you know how the rest of us live?  And in the end, who’s being harmed, really?”  As the finality of Don’s decision sinks in, Lane looks ahead, and what he sees is bleak.  “I’ll lose my visa.  I can’t go back to England.  Not like this.  What will I tell my wife?  What will I tell my son?”  “You’ll tell them that it didn’t work out,” Don says.  “Because it didn’t.  You’ll tell them the next thing will be better, because it always is.”

It would have been easy for Don to give in and show mercy, but he sticks to his guns, exhibiting the weird duality between his professional life, which is governed by a strict code of honor, and his after-hours/private life, a swirling chaos of virtue and vice.

When Lane tells Don he feels lightheaded, Don tells him it’s relief.  “I’ve started over a lot, Lane.  This is the worst part.”  Don stands to cue the end of the meeting, and tells Lane to take the weekend to think of an elegant exit strategy, write a resignation letter, and deliver it on Monday.  Nobody knows about this but them.  He assures Lane that everything will be all right, but unlike Betty, Lane isn’t buying it.

Lane takes his drink and shuffles into Joan’s office.  She suspects they’ve been celebrating his 4A’s success, and asks where he thinks she should spend her Easter holiday – Bermuda or Hawaii.  “Neither are suitable for commemorating the death and resurrection of our Lord,” he says, momentarily pushing aside his impending doom to flirt with Joan.  When he makes a rude comment about seeing her bouncing around “in an obscene bikini,” she tells him to take his party somewhere else.  That line will come back to haunt her later.

Lane ends up back in his office, where he sits alone, surrounded by his American symbols, about to be sent packing back to England in humiliation.

Like he often does after a stressful encounter, Don goes to Roger’s office to work out his feelings, albeit cryptically, asking Roger, “Why do we do this?”  “For the sex,” Roger says.  “But it’s always disappointing.  For me, anyway.”  And with that, Roger Sterling sums up Roger Sterling in fewer syllables than would fill a haiku.

“I don’t like what we’re doing,” Don says, fueled not only by the Lane business, but also by the reminder that her received from Jed Covington at the barber shop that they are just a little agency – and that Pete is getting all the credit.  “I’m tired of this piddly shit.  I’m tired of living the delusion that we’re going somewhere when we can’t even give Christmas bonuses.”  Roger asks Don about the rah rah speech he gave to the company about having arrived.  “So, you feel different since Jaguar?” Don asks.  “We’re getting incoming calls.”  “Pete is,” Don says, getting at one of the things that’s eating him.  Competition has brought Don out of his slump this season – first, with Ginsberg, and now with Pete Campbell.  “Look, I don’t like him, but he’s kind of turned things around,” Roger says, giving the devil his due.  Don accuses Pete of thinking small.

“So you don’t want [Jaguar]?” Roger asks.  “No.  I don’t want Jaguar.  I want Chevy.  I don’t want Mohawk.  I want American.  I don’t want Dunlop.  I want Firestone.”  Roger reminds Don that he warned Roger away from the Firestone executive at the American Cancer Society gala, telling him he was wasting his time.  “That’s because Ed Baxter told me the Lucky Strike letter poisoned us with those companies.”

Roger laughs at Don, incredulous at the thought of Don being intimidated by a guy like Ed Baxter.  “You used to love ‘no’,” Roger says.  “Whether you admit it or not, things have changed.  You just beat out two huge firms for that shitty car account.”

When Roger pages his secretary to get Firestone on the phone, Don tells him to get Ed Baxter instead.  Roger tells him to forget about it, sensing that this is a personal vendetta.  Don points out that Dow Chemical bills 20 million a year, about the same as Lucky Strike, Roger’s old account.  They go back and forth until Roger reminds Don about Ken Cosgrove, Ed’s son-in-law, and how reluctant Ken is to do business with family.  “Then fire him,” Don says, leaving.

It’s a fascinating scene in that it shows us Don’s motivational process at work.  All season long, he’s all but ignored the office in favor of chasing after Megan.  The combination of trying to top Ginsberg for Sno Ball account and being chastised by Megan over his spaghetti dinner have nudged him back into the arena.  Don loves competition and proving his doubters wrong.  His chivalrous stand in Joan’s defense was as much for his own sense of self-worth as it was for Joan’s honor, and with the Jaguar win tainted by the added influence of Joan’s liaison with Herb Rennet, not to mention Jed Covington’s remarks, Don is eager for the next mountain to climb.  Who better than Ed Baxter, the man who took the wind out of his sails at the American Cancer Society gala?

While this is going on, Sally drops in on Megan, whom Don was too busy to notify.  When Sally picks up on Megan’s lack of enthusiasm, she tells her she thought she’d be excited to see her, then puts Megan to work making tea.  Megan’s look equals a rough night for Don.

After work, Roger has drinks with Ken, to let him know that they are going after his father-in-law.  When Ken says that he won’t be any help, Roger tells him that they are counting on that.  This catches Ken off-guard, but when he regains his footing, he makes a thinly veiled threat of being capable of messing up the whole deal that gives him leverage with Roger (who hasn’t gotten leverage with Roger this season?).  Roger asks him if he’s looking for a partnership, but Ken declines, implying that he’s not willing to make the compromises that come with the job.  What he does get is a promise from Roger that Pete will never be involved with the account, and that once it’s landed, they will “force” him to work it.  This will give him clean hands with his wife.

Don catches Roger on the elevator, after the meeting, and Roger informs him that he’s secured a meeting for Don first thing Monday morning.  Don balks at only having 48 hours to prepare.  “Don’t lose your nerve,” Roger says.  “I liked that guy I saw today.  I’ve missed him.”  It’s a challenge, which means that Don will be unavailable to Megan or Sally until after that meeting.

When he gets home, Don has to deal with a pissed-off Megan, who’s understandably not happy at having Sally dumped on her.  After Megan makes her point, Don plays his get-out-of-jail-free card – he tells her he had to fire Lane.  This takes the starch out of her argument and sends her into nurturing mode.  She even gets him to agree to have dinner with Sally before disappearing into his work.

Things go from worse to worser for Lane.  When he gets home, his wife has learned about the 4A’s coup, and refuses his objections of going out for a celebratory dinner.  He’s been drinking, but she doesn’t care.  It’s not just a dinner.  She wants him to drive (a ridiculous notion in Manhattan), but it’s really a ruse to show him the real surprise – she bought him a brand new Jaguar XKE earlier that day.  She just went out and wrote a check.  With money that she thinks is there, but isn’t.

Lane’s reaction is to vomit.  His wife thinks it’s the booze, of course.  That Jaguar is the final straw, a tangible reminder of his failure.

Megan helps Don by keeping Sally busy over the weekend, taking her out with her actress friend Julia.  They go to a café, where Sally clearly enjoys playing at being a grown-up.  She even tells the other girls that she has a boyfriend.  Megan explains to Sally that a boyfriend is someone “who makes you feel special – who knows you.”  This seems to give Sally a new insight into her relationship with Glen.

On Sunday night, Sally sneaks a call to Glen to invite him to the city.  Megan has an audition, and Don can’t get her to school, so she has the day off.  After Glen balks, Sally applies pressure, telling him she thought he couldn’t wait to see her.  He figures out a way, telling her he’ll be at her place in the morning.  Sally must be envisioning a romantic date as she hangs up the phone.  Her night ends on a hopeful note.

Lane’s night, he decides, will be his last.  He gets up from bed, where his wife sleeps, and dresses, as for work.  He carries a bag of supplies down to his new Jaguar, the symbol of his failure, and rigs it to finish him off.  He runs a hose to the driver’s side window, closes the gap with a towel, then chugs a bottle of liquor.  His final act of defiance is to break his eyeglasses in two.  After a pause, he hits the ignition button.  Nothing.  The car cranks, but won’t turn over.  He tries again and again, but the English lemon won’t start.  He takes a stab at looking at the motor, but it’s Greek to him.

Cut to the office, where he shows up alone in the middle of the night.  The last we see of him, he’s typing in the dark.

The next morning, Megan leaves for her audition, giving Sally strict instructions on how not to waste her day watching TV.  As soon as Megan leaves, Sally shuts of the TV and prepares for Glen.

Roger and Don sit in the waiting room at Dow, waiting for Ed Baxter to see them.  They smoke in silence, obviously tense, like an actor about to go onstage.  Roger breaks the silence.  “Are you going to tell me what you’re going to talk about, or is my look of surprise part of the pitch?”  “I don’t want it to sound rehearsed,” Don says.  “No danger of that,” Roger says, stubbing out his cigarette.  “I want you to go in there, and keep your cool,” Roger continues.  “But if he baits you, I want you to punch him in the balls.”  “What happened to your enlightenment?” Don asks.  “I don’t know.  It wore off.”

Glen shows up, and Sally lets him into Don and Megan’s apartment, asking him what he thinks.  She’s wearing the Go Go boots that Don wouldn’t let her wear to the American Cancer Society gala.  She’s trying to impress.  Glen looks around and declares the place nice, but says that a kid at his school has one with a second floor.  She shifts gears, asking him what he would like to do.  “Are you kidding?  The museum is right across the park.”  It’s not what Sally was hoping for, and she tells Glen they don’t go across the park – “There’s bums on the other side.”  Glen presses the point, offering to pay for a cab ride, and she gives in.  It’s probably not what she dreamed about last night.

At the museum, the exchange between Glen and Sally has a Salingeresque ring to it as they shift gears from commenting on the diaramas (Sally asks how they go the animals and Glen tells her that Teddy Roosevelt shot them all) to griping about their parents (Sally tells Glen that she wishes Henry would leave her mom, which she admits is a terrible thought).

Glen confesses to Sally that he’s frequently picked on by the boys at Hotchkiss, and told them he was coming to New York to deflower Sally so his stock would rise.  She tells him he can say what he likes, but doesn’t like to think of him that way.  He misses the meaning and tells her he feels the same way, that he thinks of her as a sister.  After this, Sally comments on Glen’s moustache.  When he tells her that he didn’t shave for her, she tells him coldly that she doesn’t like it.

A moment later, she tells him her stomach is bothering her.  When it doesn’t get better, she excuses herself to the bathroom.  She races to a stall, and when she gets her panties down, she sees blood.  It’s her first period, and she freaks out, not knowing what to do.

After being kept waiting an hour and 45 minutes, Roger and Don are finally called into Ed Baxter’s office.  It’s a power move, and they can’t do anything but roll with the punches.

Ed guides them to their seats, flanked by his heads of marketing and operations.  The atmosphere is more like a street fight than a business meeting.  When the marketing guy asks Ed where Ed’s brother-in-law is, Ed tells him that Ken has more sense than to show up at a meeting like this.

Ed cuts to the chase and asks Roger and Don what they want.  Don rolls with it and tells Ed his advertising needs help.  “And you’re the guy who can do it,” Ed says, laughing.  “I am,” Don says, showing no emotion.  “Are you the same guy who wrote that letter?” Ed says.  “I don’t want to hear about that letter again,” Don says.  It’s a complete reversal from when Ed first gave him that news at the gala over drinks.  Roger jumps in and after some give and take between him and Ed, Ed backs off and tells them that he knew that was what this meeting was about.  But Don jumps back in and tells Ed that he’s wrong, that he wants to talk about his advertising.  That’s all.

The marketing guy tells Don they’re happy with their advertising, and Don’s ready for him.  First, he undercuts the current agency by pointing out that Dow’s billing is what is fueling all of the efforts at winning new business from other companies – business lunches, flashy creative, and half-assed work for Dow.

The marketing guy fires back that they have 50% market share in every category they’re in, and Don is ready for this one, too.  “Because you have a big line of diverse and charismatic products.  And you keep making more…And why do you do that?  Because even though success is a reality, it’s effects are temporary.  You get hungry even though you’ve just eaten.  At the old firm, we had London Fog raincoats.  We had year where we sold 81% of the raincoats in the USA.”  “Name another rain coat,” Roger adds.

“Tell me about Napalm,” the operations head demands.  Don turns this trap into a patriotic commercial for Dow, how they are there, ready to dependably equip our fighting men whenever and wherever they’re in need.

“But it doesn’t change the fact that we’re happy with the other agency,” Ed says, unimpressed.  And here’s where Don springs HIS trap.  “Are you?  You’re happy with 50%?  You’re on top, but you don’t have enough.  You’re happy because you’re successful now.  But what is happiness?  It’s a moment before you need more happiness.  I won’t settle for 50% of anything.  I want 100%.  You’re happy with your agency?  You’re not happy with anything.  You don’t want most of it.  You want all of it, and I won’t stop until you get all of it.”

It’s another Don Draper home run.  We don’t get the reaction shot of Ed and his henchmen, but we don’t need to.  After the meeting, Roger tells Don he’ll buy him a drink as soon as Don wipes the blood from his mouth.  It’s a mountain top moment that won’t last very long.

Megan gets home from her audition only to find Glen’s duffle bag on a table.  Before she can get too freaked out, Glen knocks at the door, looking for Sally.  After a brief introduction, Megan invites Glen to stay with her until it’s time to catch his train home.

Meanwhile, Betty, Henry, and the boys are unpacking when Sally runs through the house and up to her room.  Henry follows, griping about a 25$ cab fare.  Betty follows Sally to her room, where she gets the story and a big hug.  Betty seems not to know how to handle the show of tenderness, but Sally melts some of the frostiness.  But not enough to prevent Betty from making a triumphant phone call to Megan to let her know that Sally was safe…and needed her mother.  Touche.

Roll back the clock a few hours.

As Joan gets settled for the day, Scarlett brings the company books to her.  They were left there by Lane.  Puzzled, Joan takes them and walks to Lane’s office.  She unlocks the door, but can’t get it opened.  She sticks her face to the crack, but a foul odor drives her back.  Next door, there’s laughter coming from Pete’s office.  Joan barges in and tells them she thinks something’s wrong with Lane’s office.

Pete climbs on the back of his sofa and looks through the glass window at the top of the ceiling to see a horrible sight.  Harry and Ken follow, and they react the same way.  Joan breaks down, knowing it’s what she’d feared.

Roger and Don enter the offices laughing, but the silence baffles them.  They make their way to the break room, where Bert, Pete, and Joan wait.  They look beat.  Roger asks what’s going on, and Bert tells them that Lane hanged himself.  This sends Joan back into tears, guilt-ridden at her reaction to his remarks of the Friday before.  Don sags under the weight of this announcement, knowing what none of them know.

When he learns that Lane is still hanging in his office, waiting for the coroner, Don demands they cut him down.  The others try to stop him, but he insists, and he, Roger, and Pete push their way in and cut him down and compose him on his sofa, a blue and bloated facsimile.  Don is deeply shaken, but Pete and Roger get him to leave the office.

In the hallway, they all gather to read the letter Lane left, but it’s only a form rejection letter, addressed to the partners.  To all but Don, it’s a mystery.

At home, Don arrives to find Glen, whom he doesn’t remember.  Once Glen reintroduces himself, Don asks what’s going on.  Megan says she’ll give Don the details later, and that Glen’s about to leave for his train.  She can tell that something is up with Don, but he avoids the questions by offering to drive Glen back to Hotchkiss.

In the elevator, on the way down, they are both world-weary.  Glen breaks the silence by asking why everything turns to crap.  “What do you mean?” Don asks, giving him a sideways glance.  “Everything you want to do.  Everything you think’ll make you happy turns to crap,” Glen says.  “You’re too young to talk that way,” Don says, not knowing what we viewers know about Glen.  “But it’s true,” Glen says, not backing down.  “What do you want to do?” Don asks.  “If you could do anything, what would you do?”

Cut to the final scene.  Don sits in the passenger seat of his car, staring at the road ahead.  As the camera pulls back, we see his left hand on the wheel, helping Glen stay on course.  Glen is driving, and he has a smile on his face.

Don has temporarily eased his guilt and complicity by helping on person get something they want.  And with the ride back, he’ll have time to build a new compartment for the guilt that will likely haunt him for a very long time.

Mad Men Commentary: episode 511 The Other Woman

Joan and Peggy.  These two have been the subject of much contrasting over five seasons of Mad Men, and this week’s episode, titled The Other Woman, casts their differences in the sharpest relief yet.

That title – The Other Woman – refers to a mistress, which is how Don and his creative team think of Jaguar.  As he explains it to Megan, “The Jaguar is beautiful, but unreliable.  It comes with a toolkit the size of a typewriter.  You basically have to have another car to go places.  What we’re saying is it’s your gorgeous mistress.”  Megan is not impressed.  “So, a wife is like a Buick in the garage?”  “We’re trying to make a weakness into a strength.  We’re selling to men,” Don explains.  “No, I get it.  Doesn’t being a mistress make the car immoral?” Megan asks.  “The word ‘mistress’ won’t be in the ad,” Don says.  To Don, this is simply a metaphor, but for Megan, it’s a reminder of Don’s past, and it stirs her insecurities.

The episode gives us other mistresses, second-place women who are looking to make it in a man’s world and are thus making the weakness of femininity into a strength.  We’re talking about Joan and Peggy and the wildly diverging paths that each takes to a better position and what they’re wiling to trade to get there.  And though each is able to leverage herself to a new plateau, in the end, one will feel like a trap, while the other, though terrifyingly unknown, will feel like flying.

And in the middle of all of this is Don Draper, whose great victory will be tinged with bitterness and loss.

The episode opens with Don, Stan, Ginsberg, and some freelancers huddled up in the conference room, struggling to come up with a big idea for the Jaguar campaign.  They’ve decorated one wall of the room with various photos and icons, designed to inspire.  But it’s not working.

Peggy catches Don in hallway, and asks him to approve some copy for Secor Laxatives, but he’s in a rotten mood and brushes her off, telling her she’s in charge of everything other than Jaguar and to make a decision.  It’s a great vote of confidence, but in life it’s not so much the message, but how it’s delivered that counts.

As this exchange is wrapping, Joan shows up with a fancy lunch – lobster – that is wheeled into the conference room courtesy of Roger Sterling.  The men applaud as the covers are removed from the trays.  Peggy watches this from the other side of the glass wall that separates her from the big time action.

While Don and the creatives tackle the look and feel of the campaign, Pete and Ken work on the politics of the campaign, securing it against some formidable competition.  This includes wining and dining guys like Herb Rennet (Gary Basaraba), the president of the Jaguar dealer’s association.  Herb plays his cards close to the chest, until the end of the meal, when Pete assures him that SCDP will do whatever it takes to make him happy.  Seeing his opportunity, Herb tells them that there is one thing that will certainly help them win his vote – a night with Joan Harris.  A night in bed with Joan Harris.  In a show filled with slimy guys and shady deals, this is a new depth.  Luckily, Ken Cosgrove is at the table, but just as he’s about to inform Herb that Joan is married, Pete cuts him off.

Herb excuses himself for a moment, and while he’s away, Ken asks Pete why he didn’t tell Herb the truth about Joan, rather than lead him on.  Pete says that Herb himself is married, knows that Joan is married, and doesn’t care about either.  Ken is disgusted at this.  “Well, we wanted to be in the car business,” he says, lighting a cigarette.

Don arrives home from work to learn that Megan has a big audition the next day.  She’s nervous and needing support, but she shifts the attention to Don, asking him what he planned on doing.  “I was just going to watch Carson and cry myself to sleep,” he says, giving her a hangdog look.  She tells him not to worry, that he’ll think of something.  He says that maybe she’ll think of something, inviting her to help.  She goes along, and asks for the strategy.  That’s when he tells her about the Jaguar being like a beautiful, high-maintenance mistress.

These two have been tiptoeing through a minefield these last few episodes, each always on the verge of saying or doing the wrong thing to set off an argument.  This time it’s Don who gets under Megan’s skin, but rather than fight, she simply retreats to the living room, leaving him with Johnny Carson and his drink.

The next morning, Pete shows up early and corners Joan in her office.  “I got bad news last night,” he tells her.  “And I hoped you’d help me deliver it.”  Like it was her responsibility.

Joan, being the gossip she is, is all ears, and Pete takes his time building up to the ask.  “I don’t know what to do,” he says.  “It turns out he wanted something we’re not prepared to give.  Something very unorthodox.”  “What does he want?” Joan asks.  “We’re going to lose Jaguar unless an arrangement is made between you and him,” Pete says.  Joan is shocked, but Pete piles insult on top of insult.  “If you can think of some way to break this to the company, I’d appreciate it.”

This launches Joan on the offensive, and she reminds Pete of her marital status and what an asshole he is.  He simply throws up his hands, saying it’s Herb bringing this up and not him – the don’t-shoot-the-messenger defense.

The scene is like a boxing match, and Pete counters Joan’s moral outrage by being the amoral pragmatist.  He brings up the idea that we all make mistakes in life – mistakes that don’t get us anything.  They’re free.  Well, this is a mistake that could help her tremendously.  She could get paid from this mistake.

“You’re talking prostitution,” Joan says.  “I’m talking about business at a very high level,” Pete counters, sounding like the devil himself.

Pete goes for his knockout punch – the offer of power.  “Do you think Cleopatra was a prositute?” he asks.  “She was a queen,” he continues.  “What would it take to make you a queen?”  “I don’t think you could afford it,” Joan says.

Round 1 goes to Joan Harris.

Next, we find Peggy and Ken in Harry’s office.  They’re about to get on a conference call with Chevalier Blanc, who wants to pull their Beatles-inspired campaign.  Harry asks if Peggy will pose as Ginsberg’s assistant (Ginsberg can’t be pulled away from Jaguar), but Peggy absolutely refuses, making Harry introduce her as Ginsberg’s supervisor, which he does.

When they get on the call, Harry and Ken start off talking, but soon the hot potato is tossed in Peggy’s lap, and she improvises a compelling new campaign, set in France with a Lady Godiva theme that the buyer from Chevalier Blanc loves.

Score one for Peggy – she maintains her dignity and saves the account in one call.

Pete gathers the partners together to tell them the news about the dinner with Herb Rennet and his demand.  At first blush, all the men are shocked by this news and make a show of being outraged, but after Pete does the math for them, their moral outrage elasticizes, allowing for the proper rationalizations to be made that will allow them to sleep at night.

Bert simply gives way.  Roger says he’ll go along, but he won’t pay for it.  Lane makes a weak stand, telling Pete he has some nerve.  “that’s right,” Pete says.  “We’ve gone too far to walk away…over what?”  It’s a chilling remark, but Lane folds.  It comes down to Don, who is no stranger to misogyny.  He’s against the proposal, but for mixed reasons.  He’s disgusted by the blatant filth and arrogance of the demand, but he also has his pride mixed up in his reasons.  He thinks they can win despite Herb, based on the strength of his and his team’s ideas.  He wants to win the business fair and square or not at all.  But Pete won’t back down.  Don states his position, and leaves to return to his work.

With Don gone, Pete does the math for the remaining partners, reminding them that they don’t need Don’s blessing to do this.  “So, we’re 75% of this company.  There’s no need to create a conspiracy by having a vote, is there?”  Like Pontius Pilate, they wash their hands of Pete while giving him their blessing to pursue Joan for the deal.  One by one, they slink out of the office.

Back in the writer’s room, Don tells the guys to abandon the mistress concept.  “It’s vulgar.  We’re going back to racing heritage,” he informs them, feeling not only the weight of what he’s just witnessed, but the sting of Megan’s judgment from before – that this is immoral.

So, just when Don is looking like Mr. Sensitive, in walks Harry, Ken, and Peggy, to tell him of the good news about Chevalier Blanc.  It’s interesting that so much of the time, Don’s miscommunications with Peggy and even Pete come when they approach him right after some stress-inducing incident.  Such is the case here.

They tell Don that Peggy has saved the day with a brilliant idea.  Peggy plays the humble card, but there’s no need.  Don doesn’t really hear a word they say, until Peggy gets snippy with him.  He bursts her bubble by reminding her that it’s Ginsberg’s account, which causes her to fire back with “I guess I’m not in charge of everything else after all,” which is a call-back to his earlier sarcasm.  This causes him to explode on her, in front of Harry and Ken.  “You want to go to France?” he asks, yelling and pulling a wad of money from his pocket.  “Here!  Go to France!” he says, throwing the money in her face.  It’s an unconscionable move, and it sends her out of the office, followed closely by Ken and then Harry.

But ain’t that the way life is?  One minute, you’re the hero, and then you turn around and you’re the world’s biggest asshole.

And the same goes for Peggy.  Ken follows her to her office, where she assures him that she’s not crying.  When he tells her he didn’t think that she was, she gets nasty with him, asking “What?  Suddenly, we’re all interested in each other’s lives?”  Megan was right about them.  They’re SO jaded.

Ken ignores the insult and tries to soften the blow by telling her that Jaguar is slipping away, and that Don is feeling the pinch.  Peggy says she doesn’t care.  Ken, who’s turned into one of the only decent men on the show, tells her he’ll get her to France, and if he doesn’t then they’ll leave together.  She fixes him with a condescending look.  “You and your stupid pact,” she says.  “Save the fiction for your stories.”  Ken says nothing.  He just turns and leaves her there.  Alone.

Lane may have given up in front of the partners, but he decides to pay Joan a visit, to give her an idea.  When he brings up the demand, she is offended by the intrusion, misinterpreting his motives.  Of course, his motives are as much self-serving as they are altruistic, but he does show her a way to become a queen.  He points out that a payoff will not do much for her or her son’s future, but if she were to push for a partnership and 5% of the company, then she’d be looking out for their future for a very long time.

There’s a moment of great irony in the scene.  When Joan still thinks that Lane is in it only for the company, she points out that she makes around $13,000 a year.  “I guess you wouldn’t even be tempted,” she tells him, not realizing, of course, that he’s been tempted and seduced by $8,000.

That night, as Don and his team pull a late-night writing session, they are visited by Megan and her friend Julia, the redhead whom Megan was helping audition for Dark Shadows a couple of episodes ago.

As Megan takes Don back to his office, for a little pre-audition hanky-panky to boost her confidence, Julia entertains the writers by climbing on the conference room table and crawling across it on all fours, growling and clawing at the men like a jaguar.  I couldn’t help but feel that, with her red hair, and the way she was shot from behind, with her butt hanging out of her panties, she was meant to be a stand-in for Joan, that it was a commentary on her role in this ecosystem – the sex kitten.

At home, Pete reads to his daughter before retreating to his hi-fi system, where he listens to classical music under a pair of headphones.  Trudy comes to him, once their daughter is in bed, and he starts griping about how he was in a good mood when he left work, but the long trip home exhausts him.  He informs her that once the Jaguar account is landed, he’ll have to get an apartment in the city, to which she says absolutely not.

“It’s an epic poem to get home, and you’re dressed for bed at dinner,” he complains.  She tells him that his love affair with Manhattan has to end.  “How can you stand living out in this cemetery?” he asks her.  “There’s not any good night noises anywhere.”  She ends the argument by telling him that she wants to raise her children in the fresh air.

It’s funny how at work, he can get people to do the most immoral acts, but at home, he wields none of that influence.

Another fruitless domestic argument takes place at the Draper residence when Megan tells Don that she’s gotten a call back for Little Murders, the play she needed the confidence for.  At first, Don is happy, but when he learns that Megan will be traveling to Boston for out of town tryouts for a few months, he tells her to forget it.  This lights the fuse to a big fight that ends with her telling Don that she’s doing it anyway and storming off.

The next morning, Joan meets with Pete to discuss the arrangement.  She wears a stunning brown dress with a collar done in a print – tiger…or jaguar – that provides a call-back to Megan’s friend Julia.

Joan is all business with Pete.  She gives him her terms, exactly as Lane advised, and when he starts to protest, she cuts him off.  After a beat, he agrees.

As she gets up to leave, she pauses at the door to ask which one he is.  “He’s not bad,” Pete assures her.  “He’s doing this,” she says, then leaves.

Later, Ginsberg interrupts Don in his office to bounce an idea off him.  “I know I’m not a manager,” Ginsberg says.  “But it’s hard to get things done with you in another room.”  “Well, I obviously have the opposite feeling,” Don says.  “Permission to speak freely,” Ginsberg says.  “What?”  Don is frustrated by him, but it’s a funny scene that builds to a breakthrough.

Ginsberg can’t quit thinking about the mistress angle, and he drops a line on Don.  “Jaguar, at last, something beautiful you can truly own.”  Don takes a beat, closes his eyes, and sighs a sigh of relief, signifying that at last, the words have been found on which the campaign will be built.  Don’s relief is palpable.

At about the same time, Peggy is having lunch with Freddie Rumsen, always a welcome sight.  She vents to one who knows about the peculiarities of working for Don Draper.  “I can never tell, Ballerina, if you’re ambitious or if you like to complain,” he tells her.  She wonders why she can’t do both.

During the course of their conversation, Freddie gives her a ton of sound advice, reminding her finally that if Don were sitting where he sits, and he wasn’t the subject of the conversation, he’d tell her the same thing – make your move.

This is hard for Peggy to digest, and as she backs away from the idea, he gets her.  “You let him know you’re not some secretary from Brooklyn who’s dying to help out.”    It’s that line that seals the deal because it’s so true, at least from Peggy’s perspective.  He tags the scene by reminding Peggy that she can’t get mad if he goes after he job, once it’s vacant.

That night, the night before the pitch, Pete pays a visit to Don as he’s wrapping up at the office.  Pete compliments Don on the tagline.  Pete being Pete, he’s got a hidden agenda, and we soon see what it is when he tells Don that all impediments have been removed, that it will all boil down to the pitch.  What Pete means is that, “Hey Don, I’ve Don the hard work, now you just go in there and say your magic words.”

This doesn’t sit well with Don, and as he leaves, he tells Pete that he doesn’t want it this way.  Pete couldn’t be happier.

Don races to Joan’s apartment, where her mother answers the door.  After a short wait, Joan appears in an emerald green kimono.  The mother disappears.  “I wanted to tell you that it’s not worth it,” Don says.  “And if we don’t get Jaguar, so what?  Who wants to be in business with people like that?”  Joan seems surprised.  “I was told everyone was on board.”  Don explains that he said no, but that they voted after he left the room.  “You’re a good one, aren’t you?” she says.  “So, you understand what I’m saying?”  “Yes I do,” Joan says.  “I’m all right.  And thank you.”

As Don leaves, Joan sends him off with a tender touch to the cheek.  He goes home to prepare, feeling as though he’s saved Joan and preserved his chance to win fair and square.

The next day is the pitch, and this is where the show hit another level, putting on par with some of the best episodes in the entire five season run.

Don shows up at the Jaguar showroom, flanked by Roger, Pete, Ken, and the creative team, and as they stride down the middle of the showroom, a competing agency walks past, going in the opposite direction.  It’s like an old west showdown.

As Don gets into his pitch, he’s in old form.  But there’s a twist.

“You must get tired of hearing what a beautiful thing this car is, but I’ve met a lot of beautiful women in my life, and despite their protestations, they never tire of hear it,” he says.  “But when deep beauty is encountered, it arouses deep emotions, because it creates a desire.”

At this moment, there’s a cut to the night before, as Joan shows up at Herb Rennet’s place.  It turns out that she did go to him.  But why?

Don continues the pitch, and as he does, Joan’s night with Herb is intercut, a contrast to the words Don uses, the mistress metaphor.

Finally, as Don closes his pitch, he ends with these words.  “Gentlemen, what price would we pay?  What behavior would we forgive?  If they weren’t pretty, if they weren’t temperamental, if they weren’t beyond our reach, and a little out of our control, would we love them like we do?  Jaguar.  At last, something truly beautiful you can truly own.”

And here, we get the twist.  The moment of brilliance.  It turns out that Don showed up at Joan’s just after she returned from Herb’s hotel.  It turns out Don was too late.

The pitch was a beautifully constructed scene that reminded me of the end of the Godfather 1, when Michael settles family business as he becomes godfather to his nephew.  Don’s words, used to sell a car, are perverted by the offer of the man who sits in judgment of him.  Don thinks nothing of the metaphor, but Megan was right – the car has become immoral because it was bought with dirty money.

Fade to Don’s triumphant return to the office.  He’s exultant, and as he sees Joan, he asks if she wants to have a drink with the rest of the team.  She declines.

At Megan’s meeting with the producers and playwright (Jules Pfeiffer), she is asked to turn around in her short dress, so they can look at her.  It’s a brief moment, but one that is meant, I think, to level the playing field a little.  Megan doesn’t get off unscathed either.

Next, it’s Peggy’s turn.  She’s at a diner, dressed up and waiting.  After a moment, Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm) shows up.  He’s a nemesis of Don, a hated rival, and he’s eager to win Peggy over to his agency – Cutler Gleason and Chaough.  Ted praises Peggy to the moon, and asks her what it will take to get her away from Don.  Peggy pulls out a SCDP note pad and writes “Copy Chief $18,000/year” on it.  Ted takes the pad, crosses out SCDP and $18,000 and writes $19,000 and checks the words “Copy Chief” and pushes the pad back to Peggy.  “If this is your last meeting,” he offers as his only condition.  Peggy starts doing that nervous Peggy thing, where she jerks her head like a bird and says she needs a chocolate shake.

That night, Don returns home, surprised to find Megan there.  He learns that she didn’t win the role, and tries to console her.  She asks about the pitch, and he keeps it low key.  She knows better, and says she bets he was great.  He says the same about her.  “The difference is, I want you to get it,” Megan says.  Like Betty never would, she calls out his bad behavior, pointing out the reasons why it has to change if their marriage is to work.  She reaffirms her love for him, telling him that if it came to acting or him, she’s choose him – but she’d hate him for being put in the position to choose.  He pulls her to him, telling her that he doesn’t want her to fail.

Things seem okay for now.

The next morning, Don shows up for work to learn that Peggy is looking for him.  As he calls her to his office, all hell breaks loose, as the word begins to reach SCDP of the agencies who didn’t get the Jaguar business.  As it becomes clear that Don won the account, Peggy fades into the background.

Roger calls for all the partners to gather in his office, and as they do, Don is shocked to see Joan enter in an emerald green dress – the same color as the emerald in the necklace that was a gift from Herb.

Finally, the official call comes.  Roger takes it and thanks Jaguar for making the right choice.  As he hangs up the phone, a cheer goes through the room.  But Don’s not celebrating.  After a pause, Pete looks to Joan.  “Shall we address the men?” Pete asks.

Don follows the partners to the conference room, where the rest of the company has gathered to celebrate.  Peggy is in the hallway.  “You wanted to talk to me?” Don asks.  “Aren’t you busy?” Peggy asks.  “I’m not in the mood,” Don says, referring to the celebrating.  “You really have no idea when things are good, do you?”  Again, Peggy catches him at one of those bad moments.

Don gestures that they go to his office, where he asks her to have a drink with him.  Peggy goes into her windup.  She takes her time, and remains standing as he sits.

“I want you to know that the day you saw something in me, well my whole life changed.  And since then, it’s been my privilege to not only be at your side, but to be treated like a protégé and for you to be my mentor.  And my champion.”

Don shifts uncomfortably.  “But…” he says.

“But, I think I’ve reached a point where it’s time for me to have a new experience.”  “Really?” Don says, not taking her seriously.  “I’m giving my notice.  I’ve accepted another offer.”

Don tries to buy her back with an extravagant raise, but she’s made up her mind.  Unlike Joan, she won’t be bought.  And once Don gets it, the look on his face is devastating – the realization that she’s really leaving.  He asks where she’s going, and when she tells him, his reaction is visceral.  He tells her to forget about the notice, that she can leave immediately.  It’s a painful goodbye, and when she offers her hand, rather than shake it, he gives it a long kiss, causing her to tear up.  “Don’t be a stranger,” she says, choking back tears.

She leaves him there, and returns to her office, where she gets her coat, her purse, a thermos, and a mug.  The rest she leaves behind.  As she leaves SCDP one final time, she passes the celebration that carries on in the conference room, and as she disappears to the lobby, Joan catches a glimpse of her.  The look on Joan’s face provided the final contrast between these two women.  As Peggy leaves on her own terms, a free woman, Joan is left behind, trapped by the bargain she’s made.  Yes, Joan made partner, but is she truly free?

The episode ends as Peggy takes a final look back.  It’s a heartbreaking moment.  But as the elevator pings and the door opens, Peggy smiles as she steps into the future.  And as she does, the opening riff of the Kinks’ You Really Got Me sends her on her way.

Mad Men Commentary: episode 510 Christmas Waltz

This week, Christmas comes to Mad Men, courtesy of Doris Day and Charles Dickens.  After a run of groundbreaking episodes, the series seems to be catching its breath for the final sprint.  But even in the midst of some table setting, there are a few bombshells.

The season started out with the youngsters at the agency overtaking the old folks.  Roger was seen wandering aimlessly around the office with little purpose, other than to write checks to keep the operation afloat.  Don went from too much womanizing to too much napping this season, checked out and aloof, content to let Peggy, Stan, and young Ginsberg do the heavy lifting.

But this week’s episode, Christmas Waltz, marks a return of sorts of the old luminaries at SCDP.  This week we hear the old lions roar.

The episode opens on Lane, who’s been missing of late.  He receives an early morning call from his lawyer in England, who is trying to keep in out of prison on tax evasion charges.  Lane can remain free so long as he can pay an $8,000 penalty within two days.  This is 1966, and that’s a large sum of money, as we will soon see.  The rest of the episode answers the question “What will Lane do to maintain his freedom?”

Lane pays a visit to SCDP’s accountant to get a $50,000 extension to the agency’s line of credit.  This deal is done old school, over a bottle.  After a couple of questions, the accountant agrees to give Lane what he wants.  With this meeting, it looks like we’re witnessing the beginning of the end of Lane Pryce.

Meanwhile, Harry gets a call from an old colleague – Paul Kinsey (Michael Gladis), the former copywriter for the old Sterling Cooper – who wants to have lunch.  The last we saw of Kinsey, he was among the ones left behind after the midnight defection of Don and the gang.  Time hasn’t been kind to Kinsey.  He worked his way down the ad agency ladder until he ended up as an in-house writer at A&P, the supermarket chain.  Harry senses he wants something and agrees only to grab a cup of coffee.

A third story line is opened when Pete calls a meeting of the partners in order to make a big announcement.  It’s first thing in the morning, and as Pete walks by each office, he runs into Roger in the hall – as Don emerges from the bathroom – and calls him out on his drunkenness.  “It’s Pearl Harbor Day,” Roger says.  “Show respect.”  He looks at Don, and without skipping a beat says, “You’re done with your bombing.”  Best line of the episode.

Pete can’t help himself and spills the beans right there, telling the guys that Jaguar is back up for grabs.  Pete stayed close to the account, cultivating relationships with other prospective buyers expecting a crash from Edwin, Lane’s countryman.  The crash came when Edwin got drunk and vomited all over the senior dealer at a convention.

Now, the business is back up for grabs, and SCDP has 6 weeks to prepare for a pitch.  “Sounds like a lot of work,” Don whines, not sounding like himself.  “Yes,” Pete says.  “You may have to stay past 5:30.”  Don flashes him a nasty look and tells him he’d live at the office if he thought Pete’s words were more than a pipe dream.  Really?  Don’s on-the-job performance, this season, would suggest otherwise.  Why is the tension between the office and home a zero sum game for this guy?  Can’t a guy have a career and a family?  Can’t a guy have it all?

As they move into the conference room (minus Roger, whom Pete describes as being “on Battleship Row”, aka drunk), Lane takes center stage to announce that the company will end the year with a $50,000 surplus.  To celebrate this, and reward the employees who have worked so hard, he announces SCDP’s first Christmas bonus for all employees, to be paid in tiers according to hierarchy.  “God bless us, everyone,” Bert cheers.  The guys are happy, but there’s disagreement over when to distribute the monies.  In the midst of this, Pete slips in his Jaguar opportunity, advocating for a delay in the bonuses, like Don has suggested.  Frustrated and panicky, Lane pounds his fist on the table in a rare display of emotion, causing Pete to ask, “What ghost visited you, Ebenezer?”  As tempers flare, Don reminds Pete that he wanted Don to step in the last time he baited Lane.  Pete backs down, saying that no one has given him the response he desires.  Pete looks to Bert.  “They’re lemons,” Bert says.  “They never start.”  Pete adjourns the meeting and stomps off like a disappointed little boy.  Add another tick mark to the Pete-got-humiliated column.  What’s the over/under on how many it’ll take before he snaps?

Harry shows up at a storefront, presumably in the Village, where a Hare Krishna meeting is taking place.  Based on Hindu beliefs, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness was founded in New York in 1966, and in Mad Men, Paul Kinsey is an early convert and champion recruiter.  Harry is both tickled and freaked-out at Kinsey’s appearance.  He tries to leave, but Kinsey urges him to stay a while.  Harry can’t figure out why Kinsey would get involve with something so incongruent to the guy he knew until he meets Mother Lakshmi (Anna Wood), an earthy, attractive young woman.  Harry does the math and decides to stick around for the meeting.  Before you can sing the first verse of My Sweet Lord, Harry is chanting enthusiastically, having been enchanted by Lakshmi.

Later, as Harry and Kinsey go to eat, Kinsey confesses that, even though he sincerely believes in the Movement, he wants to break away with Lakshmi and start a family with her.  They both hit bottom, and somehow cleaned up their acts, though it seems Lakshmi has done a better job of restoring her confidence.  Kinsey has a hangdog quality about him.  Nothing’s really changed, except he’s even more pathetic than in season 3.

At dinner, the two pass the time with small talk.  Harry talks about a vision he had as he chanted, which impresses Kinsey who’s too self-conscious to let go.  Finally, Kinsey gets to the real reason he wanted to meet with Harry.  This being Mad Men, a Hare Krishna is never JUST a Hare Krishna.  Kinsey pulls a tattered script from a bag he carries and hands it to Harry.  It’s a spec script for Star Trek.  He wants Harry to pass it along to NBC and, if possible, to Gene Roddenberry, the show’s creator and runner.

Harry protests, citing the impropriety of making such a demand, but Kinsey calls BS, knowing full well that ethics fly out the window when self-interest is involved.  Harry tries another approach, doubting that Star Trek will even be on next season, slotted as it is against My Three Sons and Bewitched, two popular shows.

Kinsey digs in, showing why he’s such a good closer for the Movement, generating self-pity from Harry by disclosing just how desperate and alone he really is.  In a world where displaying one’s emotions, particularly the vulnerable ones, is frowned upon, Kinsey’s admission is significant.  And Harry, despite being a colossal douche bag, is a softy at heart (remember him leaving Don’s Carousel pitch in tears?) and agrees to do what he can.

Seeing Kinsey in his Hare Krishna robes and shaved head, I couldn’t help but think of Vincent D’Onofrio in Full Metal Jacket, the recruit who goes haywire during basic training and murders his drill sergeant.  The likeness is uncanny, and I fear that Kinsey might have an equally tragic fate awaiting him. But with so many characters and a season making the final turn down the home stretch, why is he here?

Along the way, there’s a set-up for later when drunken Roger engages Joan in a discussion about their son Kevin.  She wants nothing to do with him or his money, and warns him that if he doesn’t behave, he won’t even get to be a family friend.

Now that she’s back taking acting classes, Megan seems to have shaken her negative feelings towards the theatre; so much so that she and Don travel downtown to see America Hurrah, an actual play which premiered on November 7, 1966 and was directed by Jacques Levy and Joseph Chaikin, a close collaborator with Sam Shepard.  It was notable for being the first dramatic critique of the Viet Nam war, but Don took offense for its take on the emptiness of advertising and how it drives one to mindless consumption.

After the play, as Don and Megan return home, Don’s answers to her questions are clipped, one-word responses, like a pissed-off Gary Cooper – “Yep.”  “Nope.”  Megan playfully calls Don out on his aggression, saying his responses should’ve been their wedding vows.  Don admits to feeling attacked by the play and her actor friends, and Megan reminds him that he regularly says harsher things about advertising himself.  It’s the ugly-sister conundrum – I can say my sister is ugly, but you’d better not chime in unless you want a fight.

Shifting gears, Megan re-frames the nature of the play, saying that it wasn’t so much a strong stand on advertising as it was an attack on the emptiness of consumerism.  “Well, no one’s mad a stronger stand against advertising than you,” Don says.  It’s a pointed comment that Megan chooses to ignore.  He’s still hurt over her rejection of The Life…and by extension, him.  At least, that’s the way Don sees it.  Further, he doesn’t have any more excuses for not working a full day.

Lane shows up at the offices around the same time that Don and Megan bicker over the play and sets to work forging a check for $8,000.  SCDP’s checks require two signatures, and Lane traces Don’s at a light table in the art department.  Problem solved…for now.

The next day, Harry goes to Peggy, asking why she didn’t hire Kinsey when they needed a new writer.  After Peggy walks Harry through Kinsey’s downward spiral, he asks her to read the Star Trek script, titled The Negron Complex, which Harry says is horrible.  Peggy realizes that Harry wants to help Kinsey, which strikes her as bizarre.  “I think it was really hard for him,” Harry says.  “Then he shouldn’t be doing it,” Peggy says, handing the script back to him.  She won’t waste her time with it, and advises Harry to tell Kinsey the truth, if she really wants to help him.

Mid-morning finds Don napping on the couch in his office, something we’ve seen an awful lot of this season.  Dawn buzzes him, announcing Pete’s arrival.  Don sits up, grabs a legal pad and a pen, and tells her to send him in.  Say what you will about Pete, but he’s not fooled by Don.  He’s confused and disgusted at Don’s lack of effort.  Despite this, he’s there to ask for help.  He went to the Jaguar dealership, but all the cars have manual transmission and he can’t drive a stick.  Don’s blasé attitude toward the prospective account – a CAR – is more than Pete can take.  “If I’d of told you, last December, that we’d be in the running for a car, you’d of kissed me on the mouth,” Pete says.  He leaves a sleepy Don to consider the admonition.

Out in the lobby there’s commotion.  The ditzy new receptionist has paged Joan to see a visitor, a nervous looking guy serving a summons.  It turns out that Greg is divorcing Joan.  This news catches Joan completely off guard, and she takes out her rage on the hapless receptionist, first screaming at her and then throwing Pete’s model plane from the Mohawk announcement at her.  Joan may have climbed over the desk and bludgeoned the poor girl to death with a stapler if it hadn’t been for Don, who managed to drag himself off the couch to pay a visit to the Jaguar dealership.

Don drags Joan out of the office, and when she won’t be consoled, takes her with him to visit the Jaguar dealership.  Soon, the Don Draper charm kicks in – that ability to make women feel like he’s in control, that everything is going to be all right – causing Joan to forget her troubles and take on the role of Don’s accomplice.  Together, they commandeer a shiny, red XKE, with Don leaving behind a $6,000 check to cover the cost of the $5,600 car.  “If we don’t come back, consider it paid for,” Don tells the salesman, relishing the role of Big Shot.

Later, at a bar, it’s early afternoon and they share a few drinks together.  A Christmas tree decorates one corner, and Doris Day sings Christmas Waltz.  Don confesses that the XKE does nothing for him.  “That’s because you don’t need it,” Joan says.  “You’re happy.”  She’s nailed a common motivation for why men buy cars like this, but she’s misjudged Don’s budding discontentment.  “Okay,” he says, meaning, “If you say so.”  She shifts gears, hinting at her troubles until Don tells her that she’s going to have to explain her pronouns if she wants to keep him interested.  She gives it to him straight.

She realizes that she was unfair to the receptionist admitting that when me wanted to see her in the lobby, it was to deliver flowers.  Don comments on the quantity of flowers, saying that it looked like she was dating Ali Khan.  “My mother raised me to be admired, but there were no flowers from you.”  She’s flirting, fishing for a compliment.  “You scared the shit out of me,” he admits, side-stepping (for now) an opening he would have exploited without a moment’s thought before Megan.  Instead, he talks around her sexuality, choosing instead to relate the backhanded tribute that was paid her by guys like Freddie Rumsen – not exactly flattering talk, but it reminds Joan of her unique place in the office firmament.

Don congratulates Joan on her divorce, explaining that she’s been given an opportunity to start over, to find someone better.  She shifts the conversation back on him by reminding him that he did exactly that.  “You found someone perfect,” she says, making it sound as much like an indictment as a curse, harkening back to Peggy’s observation that Megan is one of those girls who can do it all and should therefore, according to Joan, be hated.  Or at least hazed.  Don agrees with Joan’s statement, feeling that the office misses her, which is an odd remark.  She was tolerated because she was his wife, and now that she’s out of site, she seems to be out of mind with everyone but Don, and maybe Harry.

Speaking of Harry, the Don/Joan date is broken up by a strange happening at Harry’s office.  Lakshmi shows up, unannounced, and Harry has her brought to his office.  Alone, She comes onto him, explaining that in the Movement, men and women aren’t possessions to be hoarded.  Harry tries to resist, but she won’t be refused, explaining that she burns for him.  “Does your wife burn for you?” she asks.  Harry can’t resist, and they have sex in his office.

When we get back to Don and Joan, it’s later and the bar has filled up with folks having an after work cocktail.  They’re both drunk, and now Don is flirting, striking Sinatra-esque poses in his fedora.  It’s like a date.  When Joan observes people dancing to the songs she’s played on the jukebox, Don asks her to dance, but she says they probably shouldn’t.  It’s a weird dance where first one, then the other moves in, making a pass at the other.  Joan wants to give in, but knows that it would be a huge mistake (hello? Roger?).  Don is teetering on the edge of control.

“You know what this woman said to me, once?” he asks.  “I like being bad, and going home and being good.”  He’s talking about Bobbie Barret.  “I bet that stuck to your ribs,” Joan says.  “It was a disaster.”  “And you enjoyed every minute of it,” she says.  After a pause, she says that she misses those days.  Again with the dancing around the subject.

Don notices that a gentleman down the bar looks like he’d like to dance.  “What do you think is waiting at home?” Joan asks.  “I bet she’s not ugly.  The only sin she’s committed is being familiar.”  She could be talking about Betty…or Megan at this point.

“So you think it’s all him?” Don asks.  “Because she doesn’t know what he wants?” Joan says, talking about her situation more than she maybe realizes.  “Because he doesn’t KNOW what he wants.  But he’s wanting,” Don says.  “He knows,” she says.  “It’s just the way he is…”

Don collects his thoughts and decides it’s time to go.  Joan offers to drive, but Don cuts her off, meaning he doesn’t want to take any chance on them ending up in bed.  He leaves her at the bar with car fare, since she has no purse or coat.  “Goodnight, sweetheart” he says as he squares his hat.

Cut to Don driving the car, working through what he and Joan have been talking around.  It’s tempting to grade Don on a curve, commending him for not giving into what would have been a slam dunk just a year or two before, but his performance with Joan amounts to a progression, a true act of devotion to his wife, even though he came very close to crossing that line.  It’s also worth noting that, aside from Megan, Joan is the one woman with whom Don has had a respectful, respectable relationship.

Not so much with Harry and Lakshmi.  After their tryst, Lakshmi cleans herself at Harry’s desk as he marvels at what’s just taken place.  She breaks the spell by telling Harry what she really wants – for him to leave Kinsey alone and to dispel his fantasy of writing for television.  Harry accuses her of being the worst girlfriend in the world, to which she reminds him of his role in that truth.  Harry pleads for Kinsey, telling her of Kinsey’s dream to run off and start a family together.  Lakshmi tells Harry that it’s not possible.  When Harry asks why she doesn’t just let Kinsey go, she explains that he’s the best recruiter the young organization has.  She goes on to explain that she’s trading the only thing she has to get her way, and when Harry points out that she’s already given it away, she punches him in the face, resorting to intimidation.  He kind of agrees.

Megan sits at the dinner table, fuming over a plate of plain spaghetti, as Don stumbles into the apartment.  He’s hammered.  She points out that he’s not only drunk, but that he left work at lunch and never returned. She throws her plate of spaghetti against the wall, but since it’s only noodles, it’s no harm, other than a busted plate.  She demands to know where he’s been, and he actually tells the truth, only hedging where the flirting was concerned.  “Sit down,” Megan yells.  “You’re going to eat dinner with me.”  He does.  After a pause she asks if he wants cheese.  He shakes his head. “You used to love your work,” she says.  He says it’s different now, but she won’t let him blame it on her.  “You loved your work before you ever met me,” she says.  He doesn’t answer.  There’s nothing to say to this.  It’s true.  So, what’s happened to Don?  Is it the old Hemingway thing about money corrupting talent and drive?

Lane’s wife is after him to go to England for Christmas, and like the Grinch, he makes up a lie and he makes it up quick, telling her that Edwin was sacked from Jaguar, and that being so, Jaguar has come crawling back to him, wanting him to shepherd them into SCDP.  His wife accepts the life without question, fawning him with praise and assurances that she’s happy to spend Christmas in New York.  Once again, Lane has bought some time with a lie, but how long can it last?

The next morning at the office, Roger delivers flowers from the front desk, where the receptionist is too afraid to call Joan out to get them.  Joan shoos Roger away, and opens the card.  “Your Mother did a good job.  Ali Khan.”  It’s from Don, and once Roger is safely gone, Joan indulges a wistful smile.

Harry meets Kinsey for breakfast.  He returns the script to Kinsey along with an elaborate lie designed to build up Kinsey’s hope enough that he’ll take a gift of $500 and a one-way ticket to Los Angeles.  Harry wants to help Kinsey.  He also wants to ease his guilty conscience.  Kinsey is reluctant to follow Harry’s advice – to leave now, without talking to Lakshmi, and get on a bus to the west coast.  Harry tells Kinsey that if he calls Lakshmi, she’ll talk him out of it.  Harry lies through his teeth, telling Kinsey he has too great a gift to squander, and that California is a place for second chances. “This failure. This life. It’ll all seem like it happened to someone else,” Harry tells him, taking a page out of the Don Draper playbook.

They stand to part, and Kinsey hugs Harry, telling him that of all his friends, he’s the only one to follow-through on his offer to help.  Kinsey’s on the verge of tears.  He’s a wreck, and Harry can’t hardly seem to be able to take the guilt and pity.  Finally, he walks off, telling Kinsey to break a leg.

Just before the partners are to gather the office for an announcement of the Christmas bonuses, Pete brings a bit of bad news.  Mohawk is going on strike, which means an indefinite cancellation of all advertising.  Bert says there’ll be no bonuses.  Lane looks like he’s about to die from the stress.  After some haggling, the partners decide to defer their bonuses so that the employees can receive theirs.  As they head to the conference room, Pete asks Don sarcastically if he’s up for joining them.

Lane fumbles through the announcement of the bonuses, giving an incomprehensibly difficult explanation that is saved on when Roger steps in and tells everyone that they are getting bonuses and the partners aren’t.  This leads to some cheering, which motivates Pete to ride the wave of good will and make his Jaguar announcement public.  The cheering dies down as soon as he starts talking.  He cuts his announcement short, much to the relief of SCDP.

But Don steps forward, asking for a word.  “Last year, whether you knew it or not, the survival of this company was on the line.  I look at the faces in this room who’ve given their all to this tenuous recovery, and I say prepare to take a great leap forward.  Prepare to swim the English Channel and drown in Champagne.”  Roger and Pete exchange knowing looks as he warms up to his subject.  “There are six weekends between now and the pitch.  We are going to spend them all here.  We will celebrate Christmas here.  We’ll ring in the New Year together, and in the end, we WILL represent Jaguar, and it will be worth it.  Every agency on Madison Avenue is defined by when they got their car.  When we land Jaguar, the world will know we’ve arrived.”

It’s a rousing speech, and just like that, Don seems to have that old fire in his belly.  What happened?  Was it Megan and her magic spaghetti?  First, it provided the inspiration for Heinz, and has it now provided the inspiration for Don’s renewed vigor?

The employees cheer, and as though marching onto the field of battle, Don calls his creative team to his office.  If Don is back, it could be better than any 2% Christmas bonus, because a focused Don means life to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

With only a few episodes remaining, Christmas Waltz seems to be setting the table for the final plot twists, one of which has to be the flame-out of a SCDP luminary.  Will it be Lane Pryce, hauled off to jail?  Will it be Pete Campbell, the victim of a nervous breakdown?  What about Harry?  Will Kinsey snap and go Full Metal Jacket on him, once he finds out what Harry did to Lakshmi?  Don’t forget Roger’s bad ticker, either.

It may sound like As The World Turns, but go back and watch those two scenes at the bar with Don and Joan and tell me if any episode of that soap opera was ever as well written or acted.  I doubt it.

Mad Men Commentary: episode 509 Dark Shadows

Mad Men has always been, at heart, about identity, and this week’s episode, called Dark Shadows, dramatizes how Betty, Sally, Don, and Roger deal with their specific identity issues, as well as the personal demons that lurk in the dark shadows of their personalities, alert to any opportunity to drag them down.

The episode opens on Betty, as she weighs her food.  She’s taken her mother-in-law’s advice and joined Weight Watchers.  Betty is not a disciplined woman, and she’s taking out her frustration on her family by being moody and serving meals that don’t fill the belly.

When she and Henry drive down to the city to pick up the kids one Sunday, she goes up to Don and Megan’s apartment.  Sally opens the door and lets her in.  Megan is dressing, so Betty lets herself in the apartment and does some snooping around.  As she does, she gets a glimpse of Megan’s putting on a blouse – her body trim and desirable.  Betty’s combination is a mixture of surprise, appreciation, and jealousy, and as the episode plays out, the jealousy will overtake the other two.

Sally is working on a family tree for school.  It’s complicated work for her, with the blended families.  She works on it, one day, in the kitchen with Betty, who is obsessing over Don and Megan, probably comparing their chic apartment to her Victorian era mansion that, with it’s pea-green walls, looks like a school or an insane asylum.

As Betty goes through Bobby’s school work, she finds a picture drawn at Don’s place.  On the back is a note to Megan from Don – “Lovely Megan, I went to buy a light bulb.  When I get back, I’ll see you better.  Love Don.”  Not exactly a Shakespearean sonnet, but that, combined with the image of a half-dressed Megan, drives her as close to rage as she’s capable.

Sally asks questions about the family, and very innocently, Betty tells her to be sure to remember Don’s first wife.  Sally assures Betty that she is included, but Betty drops the A-bomb on Sally – Anna, Don’s confidant and wife of the real Don Draper.  It maybe the most childish thing she’s done, which is saying a lot.  When Sally asks for more details, Betty blows her off, telling her to take the matter up with Megan.

This news confuses Sally, of course, and when she returns to visit Don and Megan, she gives them the full brunt of her put-upon teen angst.  Kiernan Shipka is doing great work this season as Sally, perfectly capturing that phase in a teenager’s life where everything is a painfully unbearable annoyance, and their poor parents fantasize of drowning them.  Or so I’m told.

Meanwhile, Don is adjusting to life at the office PM – Post Megan.  He and Roger and Bert show up for work at the same time, one morning, and Don impatiently holds the elevator for Pete, yelling for him to hurry up.  Pete joins them, a goofy grin pasted across his face.  He has the best kind of good news in the world for a Pete Campbell – something that is both good for SCDP and, most important, elevates his status above the rest, especially Don.

It turns out that a friendship he’s been cultivating with a guy named Victor from The New York Times (the real-life Victor Navasky) is about to pay off with the agency being included in a big piece about the city’s hippest agencies.  The kicker – Victor doesn’t want to talk to Don.  “He only seemed to be interested in talking to me,” Pete says, innocently.  Uh huh.

The news is enough to stir Don into action.  He has Joan gather up the artwork on all of the agency’s recent work, and as he evaluates which campaigns to include as most representative of hip agency’s signature, he notices that his name is not listed on the legend of a single campaign.  Rather, it’s Michael Ginsberg who’s doing all the heavy lifting, these days.  Jon Hamm conveys the sting of that realization in a slight wince that the ever-perceptive Joan picks up on.  “Look at all the work you’ve done as Creative Director,” she says.  “Look at all the voices; all this talent.”  It’s good work from Joan, but it fails to do much for Don.  It’s as if Bert’s admonishment at the end of the Far Away Places episode has come home to roost, and Don finally gets what the Old Lion was getting at.

Joan suggests that he include “The Letter” – the kiss-off he did to Lucky Strike that both grabbed attention and repelled many potential clients.  Don reasons that if they’re going to suffer from it, they might as well revel in it.

And with this, Don is poked half-awake from his Love Leave.  He’s not all the way back, but he’s no longer sleepwalking.

Speaking of the Old Lion, Bert storms into Roger’s office, one morning.  “Get Max Rosenberg on the phone,” he says to Roger.  “I thought your tailor was Italian,” Roger says, the first of many such jokes.  Bert goes on to explain that they have an opportunity to land an account – Manishewitz wine.  When Roger asks why Bert doesn’t just bring it up in the New Business meeting, Bert chides him.  “Don’t you think we’re capable of doing this on our own?”  He goes on.  “Mr. Campbell is very good for our business, but this requires your finesse.  Frankly, your Semitic wife.” He has no clue that Roger and Jane are divorcing, but Roger sees an opportunity to stick it to Pete and agrees to the plan, but not before getting off another bon mot.  “How Jewish are they?” he asks of the Rosenbergs.  “Think Fiddler on the Roof.  Are they the audience or the cast?”

Bert and Roger are to SCDP what the two old men in the balcony are to The Muppet Show, and this is a chance for them to show that they’ve still got it – especially after Pete lorded the Times story over them.

While Bert and Roger are hatching their scheme, Don’s working on re-discovering his inner-Don.  He leaves the kids with Megan one Sunday afternoon (the same one that Betty got her peek at Megan’s boobies), and heads into the office to work on some stuff.  He looks good in his open neck shirt and sweater vest, but he’s got nothing.  He’s marking time, but unlike Betty, he’s a disciplined man, and he makes himself stay at his desk for hours, waiting.

Just when it looks like inspiration won’t arrive, Don packs up to leave.  As he walks to the elevator, he notices a light left on at Ginsberg’s desk and walks in to turn it off.  He looks down, and sees a folder with “Shit I Gotta Do” written across it.  He opens it to find some doodling that Ginsberg has been doing on an account – Sno Ball snow cones.  Don is delighted by the work.  He’s surprised by it.  He laughs at the audacity of Ginsberg’s work.  It reminded me of Peggy’s comment to Stan, when she was considering whether to interview Ginsberg, that she is stimulated by great work.  I think Don is the same.  Good work inspires him, and in this unlikely place, Don gets his drive back.

He goes back to his office, gets out the Dictaphone, and goes to work on brainstorming his own ideas for Sno Ball.  There’s a lot of fumbling, but along the way, he hits upon a vein that seems to hold promise.

Don is like the addict who trades one addiction for another.  Workaholism gave way to a clingy devotion to Megan, and now that she’s gone, he’s scrambling to regain his sense of purpose at work.  And though there may be something to what Joan says of him overseeing the good work that goes on at SCDP, he seems to take little satisfaction in being a manager of talent.

On Monday, Don gathers his creative team to review their various projects, and when it comes time to talk about Sno Ball, Don goes last, giving his Devil pitch, with the snowball’s-chance-in-hell implication.  “Wow, that’s actually good,” Ginsberg says.  Don gives a sarcastic thanks, and Ginsberg explains that what he meant was that after a long layoff from writing, it’s impressive that Don can just flip the switch and produce something so good.  Peggy doesn’t seem quite so enthused.

There’s some interesting stuff going on with Ginsberg this week.  As his list of credits grows, so too does his sense of importance.  He’s getting a little full of himself.

When Roger calls him into his office to help with the Manishewitz account, the exchange is comical.  Roger – “Can you keep a secret?”  Ginsberg – “No.”  (and he’s true to his word)  Roger – “I need you to do some work on a prospective account.  It’ll involve a client dinner.”  Ginsberg – [making a funny face] “And murder!”  Roger – “You’re not going to dinner.”  Erin Levy, who wrote this week’s episode, seems to have taken fiendish delight in feeding Roger one anti-Semitic crack after another – “[Manishewitz] makes wine for Jews, and now they make one they want to sell to normal people…like me.”  Roger wants Ginsberg to sketch out some potential campaign ideas that Roger can toss out over dinner.  He gives Ginsberg until sundown Friday to come up with his ideas.  Ginsberg shrugs off the ethnic slurs, and like Peggy, senses an opportunity to shake Roger down, extracting $200 from Roger’s pocket.  “I’ve got to start carrying less cash,” Roger cracks as the scene ends.

At Weight Watchers, Betty shows up for her meeting and weigh-in.  Betty has the opportunity to give a testimonial on her week, whether it was good or bad.  She stands and tells the other women that she had a trying experience, that she was in an unfamiliar place that caused her to have feelings she wishes she hadn’t felt.  Talk about understatements.  What she left out was that little part about using her adolescent daughter as a pawn in her cold war against Don.

It’s interesting that despite all that has happened to Betty, she remains a little princess.  As other characters have evolved, she stubbornly clings to an identity that causes her nothing but disappointment, especially as she gets older and her physical beauty begins to fade (not to mention the sexual and social revolution that is taking place all around her).  Betty has pretty much banished herself to an isolated castle on the Hudson River, an anachronistic time capsule designed to keep the world at bay.

Contrast Betty to Megan, who at 26 has tried and rejected a career as a copywriter, and has decided to actively pursue a career in the theatre.  Megan could have taken the easy route, with Don to shepherd her through any tough stretches in her career, but instead, she has chosen to go it alone and do what she feels like she was born to do, what she’s dreamed of since she was a little girl.  Megan is perhaps the only character in Mad Men not consumed with cynicism and ruthless ambition.  It’s easy to see what attracts Don.

Even when Megan gets grief from Julia, a fellow actress, she is fair-minded about dealing with the conflict, which really amounts to jealousy.  Julia is uptight about an audition for a new soap opera called Dark Shadows.  When Megan laughs at the bizarre stuff going on in the scene, Julia goes off on her, saying that life at 73rd and Park Avenue must be so easy.  It’s a cheap shot, and Megan calls her out on it.  Julia apologizes, explaining the comment away as a by-product of nerves.  Megan accepts the apology, but the comment seems to have her thinking.

Later, Betty finds Henry frying a steak in the middle of the night.  She apologizes for not feeding him properly, but he’s got other things on his mind as well.  Henry left Nelson Rockefeller to work for John Lindsay, thinking he’d be a gubernatorial candidate, but things haven’t panned out the way he’d hoped.  He shares this with Betty, who is ill equipped to be much help.  “It’s so easy to blame our problems on others,” she tells him, sounding like Chauncey the gardener in Being There, surely parroting some lecture from her Weight Watchers coordinator.  “But really, we’re in charge of ourselves.  And I’m here to help you, as you’re here to help me.”  Again, this is the same woman who uses her daughter to drag her husband down to her level of misery.  But hey, whatever, right?  Henry seems to dig it.

I like the juxtaposing of scenes, because right after this remark from Betty, we get a different kind of usury from Roger.  He calls Jane to ask a favor.  He wants her to accompany him to dinner with the Rosenbergs.  Why?  Because she’s Jewish and needs all the help he can get.  Roger’s a hard guy to stay too mad at, and after some haggling that includes an agreement from Roger to buy Jane an apartment that his family doesn’t own, she agrees to be his wife for the night.

Just as Betty doesn’t think twice about using Sally to do her bidding, Roger thinks nothing of charming or buying anyone who gets in the way of what he wants.  At least with Roger, he makes very little pretense about what he’s doing, which is part of the charm.  He’s as naked as the day he was born, and you either go along (and make a few bucks or get a new apartment) or get left behind.  Either way, he’s getting what he wants.  Remember the 1919 World Series?  The one he saw when he was having his LSD experience?  That’s Roger’s life – one Big Fix after another.

But Roger becomes painfully aware of the Fix, and the big shadow that it casts, during this episode.  First, Peggy lashes out at him for choosing Ginsberg over her for his clandestine account work.  Roger tries to explain that Ginsberg is perfect for the job, which makes her even madder, reminding her of the boy’s club mentality that she’s always up against.  Finally, she tells Roger that he’s not loyal; that he only thinks of himself.  “Were we married?” he asks, not believing what he’s hearing.  He goes on to tell her that in this world, it’s every man for himself.

Fast-forward to the dinner.  Roger charms the Rosenbergs, and their son/heir, Bernie, is infatuated with Jane.  All goes well, and on the cab ride home, Roger reverts to a little boy, asking Jane if she’s going to go out with Bernie.  When she tells him he had his chance, he makes at least promise to continue with the married charade until the account is secure.  His competitive juices seem to be cooking against Bernie, because he gets Jane to take him by her new apartment.  They end up in bed.  The next morning, Roger is dressing for work and confesses to having used Jane’s toothbrush.  She’s downcast.  When he asks what’s wrong, she explains that he’s ruined this place, just like he ruined the last one.  She keeps trying to make fresh starts, but he traipses in and messes everything up, not thinking about her or anything but him.  She doesn’t say it with any malice.  It’s a simple statement of fact.  It hits Roger as an elemental truth, and he cops to the accusation, saying he doesn’t know why he does these things, that he feels terrible.  For once, there’s no funny quip to end the scene on.  Rather, he slinks out of the apartment that will soon be vacant, ashamed of what he’s done.

Pete, meanwhile, is drunk with the anticipation of his crowning glory.  When the Times piece hits the Sunday Magazine, he’ll be officially conferred as one of The Club, the Movers and Shakers, the Big Shots.  He fantasizes about Beth Dawes showing up at the office, wearing only a black fur coat and matching panties, looking for him.  She explains that she’d forgotten all about him until she saw his photo in the magazine and decided that she just had to have him.  Talk about juvenile.  Of course, he wakes up on his couch, but the smile remains.  It’s only a matter of time…

After Pete dreams victory, Don fights for his.  Preliminary art work has been prepared for the two ideas for Sno Ball – Don’s and Ginsberg’s.  Ken, Harry, Pete, Peggy, Stan, Ginsberg, and Don gather to evaluate them.  Ginsberg’s campaign eges out Don, but they decide to pitch them both and let the client decide.  Don agrees and gives the order to move forward, leaving Ginsberg, Peggy, and Stan to gather the boards.  “Look at my works, ye mighty, and despair,” Ginsberg says in a mock heroic voice.  He’s feeling his oats, but Stan brings him back down to earth by telling him to read the rest of Ozymandias, a commentary on the inevitable decline of leaders who, though mighty in their time, wind up just as dead as the most wretched peasant.  The quote is more caution than boast, though Ginsberg gets it wrong.

The day of Sally’s return visit to Manhattan is eventful.  She’s nasty to Don and Megan, and when Don leaves to take the two boys out for some man-time, Megan is left alone with a vengeful Sally, who doesn’t take long to bring up Anna.  This catches Megan completely by surprise.  To make matters worse, Sally accuses Megan of betrayal and lying, topping the insults by telling Megan she’s not special; nor was Anna.  Megan senses Betty’s part in this, and explains that Sally is a little girl and Don’s first marriage was complicated.  “Go ahead.  Dig yourself deeper,” Sally says, hating being called a little girl.  Sally goes on.  “Why did he marry you,” she asks Megan.  “And don’t tell him I asked.  I mean it.”  Megan protests, but Sally cuts her off.  “Ware you going to make yourself cry?” she asks, referring to an exercise Megan taught her earlier.  Hell hath no fury like a disillusioned teenaged girl.

Meanwhile, Betty goes for another weigh-in.  She’s neither lost nor gained weight.  A friend tries to cheer her up, but it’s no use.  The coordinator lectures them.  “The food is just a symbol of all the other things,” she says.  “We should fill ourselves with our children, our homes, our husbands, our health and happiness.”  There’ll be a great callback to this quote later.

That evening, once the kids are in bed, Megan tells Don what happened earlier.  He loses his cool and goes for the phone, ready to read Betty the riot act.  Megan tries to stop him, and he snaps at her.  “And let her keep sticking her fat nose in my business?” he says, answering the question as to whether he’s seen the new Betty.  Megan won’t give in.  “Let it go,” she tells him.  “If you call her, you’re giving her exactly what she wanted – the thrill of having poisoned us from 50 miles away.”  Megan’s truth hits Don, and he calms down enough to hang up the phone and exhale.  Megan apologizes for getting in the middle, though she did a great job in the face of a blind-side.  Don realizes this, and apologizes for his part.  It’s a sweet, healthy end to what could have been yet another ugly chapter in the Don/Betty saga.

As Don and Megan are yelling about Betty, Sally is awakened and hears the commotion.  Snippets of dialogue drift down the hall, letting her know that this is a mess authored by her, by way of Betty.

The next morning, Don is awakened by an early morning phone call from Pete.  It’s the Sunday morning of the big Times piece, but SCDP has been left out.  Instead, the story compares the big-time ad agency execs of the day – folks like David Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach, and Mary Wells – as philosophers.  The story is taken from an actual story that appeared in the 11/20/66 edition of The New York Times.  Pete is freaking out.  What will Beth think?  Don goes to the living room and finds the paper, left there by Megan, who has gone out for bagels.  He finds the story and thumbs through it.  “Why are they picking them?” Pete asks.  “I don’t know and I don’t care,” Don says.  “Maybe that’s the problem,” Pete says with the beginnings of sneer.  “You’re the one who talked to them for an hour,” Don says.  “I thought he was your best friend?  You obviously made no impression.”  Don warms up to his attack, with a little residual Betty anger probably tossed in for good measure.  “You know what?  Don’t wake me up and throw your failures in my face.  It’s Sunday, for Christ’s sake.”  And then he hangs up.

It’s another humiliation for Pete.  How many more can he take before he snaps?

After the call, Don calls Sally to come and deal with the trouble she’s caused.  Don is doing some things that for him, are amazing.  With Sally, he confronts her bad behavior, then apologizes for his part in the secrecy.  He also tells Sally that Betty is only trying to hurt him, which may cross the line, but he doesn’t take any cheap shots.  Instead, when Sally asks if this Anna is the same person from California who called him Dick, Don admits that that was Anna.  He expresses his regret, and tells Sally that he wishes she’d of met Anna.  Sally seems sincerely sorry, and puts up no resistance to Don’s suggestion that she apologize to Megan.

Sally is so chastened that when she gets home and is questioned by Betty, digging for the payoff to her A-bomb, she makes up a lie.  She tells her mom that Don showed her photos of Anna and spoke fondly of her.  Betty excuses her to watch TV, then throws some food on the floor.

On the day of the Sno Ball pitch, Ken, Harry, and Don take a cab to see the client.  As they go through the artwork and get their roles nailed down, Don makes a decision to go with his idea and leaves Ginsberg’s art in the cab.

Later, when Harry returns to the office to wrap up some loose ends, he runs into Peggy, Stan, and Gisnberg.  He tells them that Don landed the account.  When Ginsberg asks which idea was chosen, Harry tells him that Don only pitched one idea – his.  This pisses Ginsberg off, but Peggy and Stan enjoy Ginsberg’s comeuppance.

The next day, Ginsberg catches Don on the elevator as they head into work.  He confronts Don on the pitch, but Don plays it cool.  “I’ve got a million [ideas].  A million,” Ginsberg says.  “I guess I’m lucky you work for me,” Don says.  This gets Ginsberg.  “I feel bad for you,” he tells Don.  The elevator door opens on their floor.  “I don’t think about you at all,” Don says, then leaves Ginsberg alone in the elevator.  It’s a total lie, but it puts Ginsberg in his place.  At least for now.

On the train ride into the city, Howard sits with Pete, as usual.  Howard confesses that he’s only coming to the city on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving so he can spend time with his mistress.  Pete, still smarting from his Times debacle, blurts out that he might just go over to Howard’s and screw his wife.  “Good luck with that,” Howard says.  Then, after a pause, he says more than he knows.  “I guess the grass is always greener, right?”

On Thanksgiving at Don and Megan’s, Don wakes to find Megan getting ready to have friends over for dinner.  The parade is on TV, and it’s unseasonably warm.  When Don makes a move to open the terrace door, Megan stops him, saying there’s a smog emergency.  “The air’s toxic,” she says.  “I don’t want that in here.”

It would be easy to draw parallels to Betty and the near miss from her attempted poisoning, but sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar, right?

Finally, the episode ends at the Francis household.  Just as they are about to eat, Bobby says that they have to all say what they’re thankful for.  Sally gets in a subtle dig by telling him that Betty’s hungry.  Bobby expresses gratitude for his stuff.  Sally scores points by expresses thanks for doing better at school.  Betty lands somewhere between Bobby and Sally by being “thankful that I have everything I want.  And that no one has anything better.”  Please.  Henry echoes her words with a heartfelt “Me too!”

Remember that quote from the Weight Watchers lady?  The one about food symbolizing all the other things in a woman’s life?  Catch Betty’s plate.  While Thanksgiving has come to be associated with gluttony, Betty’s plate is nearly empty.

And with that, Mad Men continues a winning streak of strong episodes.  There’s a sense of both anticipation and dread as the final few episodes of the season loom – anticipation at the thought of seeing how dark shadows are overcome, but dread at the knowledge that another season is nearly over.

Mad Men Commentary: episode 508 Lady Lazarus

Sylvia Plath makes a cameo appearance in this week’s episode of Mad Men, if only obliquely – contributing the title, Lady Lazarus, from a posthumously published poem.  Plath died at 30, a contemporary of the younger set at SCDP, separated from her husband, the poet Ted Hughes.  At first glance, the title seems to merely point to Pete Campbell’s state of mind, thwarted once again by an unavailable woman.  But the title may also reference Megan Draper’s resurrection from the despair of office work, liberated to once again pursue a career in the theatre.

The episode opens with Pete on his way to work, reading on the train.  His friend Howard Dawes (Jeff Clarke) takes the seat opposite him and flops down, complaining about a slow month of insurance sales.  Pete has been bracing for a pitch from this guy and cuts him off at the pass, letting Howard know that SCDP has taken a policy out on him that pays six times his salary.  He tags this with a curious bit of specificity.  “After two years, it covers suicide.”  Howard assures Pete that the policy isn’t what he thinks, but backs off, leaving Pete to sort it out over some sleepless nights.

Insurance aside, Howard brags about his new mistress, whom he shacks up with in an apartment he keeps in the city for nights when he has to “work late.”  Pete, scandalized, asks if he isn’t afraid of getting caught.  Howard brushes off the concern.  He’s providing a good life for his wife.  Shouldn’t that be enough?

Howard has lit the fuse to two of Pete’s major insecurities: a) a feeling of not being treated with respect at work and b) jealousy over not getting what everyone else is getting (in this case, a girl on the side).  It’s odd how, on the surface, Pete has everything in the world going his way: an ascendant career, a beautiful wife, healthy child, a nice home in the suburbs.  But it’s not enough.  Something is missing.  Like Don in his new role as happy husband, Pete is doing all the right things, but they don’t satisfy.  There’s no authenticity – nothing deep – and thus no real satisfaction.

At the office, Megan receives a mysterious call and sneaks out to talk on a pay phone.  On the way out, she passes the conference room, where Don and Ginsberg and Stan are pitching Chevalier Blanc, a men’s cologne.  Ginsberg is doing the presentation, a take on The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night.

There’s an interesting conversation at the end of the pitch.  The client loves the concept, but worries about the music.  The Beatles are impossible to get, he’s been told, but Stan says not to worry, that there are a million bands that sound like the Beatles.  Matthew Weiner has run into the same issues in clearing music for Mad Men, and in fact, The New York Times reported that Weiner paid $250,000 for the use of the Beatles song Tomorrow Never Knows.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After the client leaves, Don and Ginsberg and Stan talk about the music.  Don’s worried about finding the right piece of music, but doesn’t speak that language.  He asks the guys what they think, and they start listing a string of bands that, to Don’s ears, was as comprehensible as Megan’s mother’s French.  He cuts them off and tells them that Megan will tell him what to do.

The sight of Roger Sterling is always a good thing, and he brings a welcome bit of levity to the episode, summoning Pete to his office to offer a gift – two sets of brand new skis, courtesy of Head, a potential new account.  Pete doesn’t trust the gesture, and pauses at the door, cautiously testing Roger.  “Do they explode?” he asks.  Roger explains that the head of the company asked for Pete by name over lunch.  “You’re building quite a name for yourself,” Roger says.  Still not trusting Roger, Pete asks him why he’s telling him these things.  Roger says he’s happy to sit back and count the money as Pete brings in the business.  Satisfied, Pete helps himself to Roger’s gift, taking both pairs of skis.  Roger, as always, tags the scene.  “And I got to see that,” he says, as Pete fumbles with two sets of skis and poles.

Is Roger up to something?  Why has he paired Pete up with this “Schmoe from Lutherville, Maryland”?  If nothing else, the scene is a perfect illustration of Pete’s infantile nature, and how easily he is swayed from one emotional state (fear & mistrust) to another (pleasure & self-entitlement).  It was the great poet John Cougar Mellencamp who once wrote that a man who doesn’t stand for something is “gonna fall for anything.”  Indeed.

At day’s end, Megan pops into Don’s office as he’s leaving for a client dinner.  He asks her to join him, but she declines, saying she has work to do.  “When did music become so important?” he asks.  “It’s always been important,” she says.  “I mean, jingles, yeah, but everybody keeps coming in, looking for some song.  And they’re so specific.”  He’s so confused by the cultural shifts that are taking place, exclaiming finally that he has no idea what’s going on out there.  Megan shoos him off to his dinner, and as soon as she closes his office door, a worried expression replaces her smile.  What else does Don not know about?

Pete is working late.  Well, not exactly.  He has a drink at his desk, and though it’s never identified, the folio on his desk looks like the details of an insurance policy.  I’m betting that Howard was right about Pete’s insurance – that it does more for the SCDP family than the Campbell family.  Finally, he gathers his things, as well as his skis, and runs into Peggy on his way out.  She teases him about his skis, and he explains that they’re a gift from a client.  When Peggy comments that it’s good that a client is giving “us” a present, Pete corrects her.  “They’re giving me gifts, and they haven’t even met me.”  He’s so insecure.

The moment Pete disappears, Megan strolls into the break room, wearing a different dress from the one she wore at work.  “I thought we were working?” Peggy asks.  Megan lies, telling her that Don called her away to his dinner.  The scene is a small, nearly throw-away moment, but it’s another example of how intricately the pieces of each episode fit together.  This moment between Peggy and Megan hits on many dynamics that drive them and the themes of the episode and season.  When Megan explains her summons from Don, Peggy snaps back – “There’s nothing I can do about that, I guess.”  Megan tells her she can go home, but Peggy is unsatisfied with some copy they’ve been working on.  When Peggy complains about it, Megan reminds her that it’s exactly as Peggy dictated.  In that exchange, we get Megan’s unhappiness with her job, Peggy’s jealousy/annoyance with Megan’s favored-nation-status with Don, as well as Peggy’s need to overcompensate for any lack of talent with workaholism.  It’s well written and well played.

Pete nearly makes it home with his skis when a woman in the parking lot of the train station approaches him.  It’s Beth Dawes (Alexis Bledel, from Gilmore Girls), Howard’s wife.  She’s there to pick him up, but he’s not coming home.  She’s locked herself out of the car, and asks Pete for a ride home.

Pete finds himself in the position of having to cover for his friend, and he does a poor job of it.  He also does a poor job of driving, calling back to another awkward encounter with a pretty young lady.  Beth figures him to be from the city, and launches into a mopey diatribe about how sad it is, with all the hobos, etc. (Pete’s response to the hobos – “There’s not that many” – is hilariously out of touch).

This scene is intercut with a scene between Don and Peggy.  He’s home alone, drunkish, and he calls the office, looking for Megan.  Peggy answers the phone and quickly realizes that Megan has lied to them both and brushes Don off.

Back at the Dawes residence, Beth confronts Pete, asking him if it’s harder to lie to her now that he knows her.  She says that Howard doesn’t care whether she’s alive or dead, and gets out of the car.  Rather than warning him away, the red flags that pop-up around this girl only serve to inflame Pete’s passion.  They’re a lot alike, these two.  He follows her to the house, and they end up doing it on the living room floor.

Cut to Peggy, typing copy.  The phone rings.  She knows it’s Don.  She picks up the phone.  Yep, it’s Don, but she says nothing.  “Peggy?” Don asks.  After a beat, Peggy shouts “Pizza House” is a bad accent and hangs up on him.  When he calls back, she ignores the phone and packs up for the night, unable to lie for Megan the way Pete did for Howard.

Pete and Beth lie on the floor, breathing heavily.  They are flushed.  This is the only way Pete can feel anything, it seems.  Pete asks her to say something, and she says that she’s been getting attention from men since before it was appropriate and that no one has ever been interested in hearing what she has to say about anything.  It’s a sad admission that must have struck a nerve with Pete, whose father treated him much the same way.  She tells him that the irises of his eyes remind her of photographs of the earth, taken from outer space.  Pete, ever looking for validation, says he’ll take the remark as a compliment, but she bursts his bubble by going on to say that those photographs make her feel unprotected and surrounded by darkness.  Pete’s only response to this is, “So, you don’t like my eyes?”

The spell broken, Beth buttons her blouse and tells Pete he has to leave and that this can never happen again.  He’s confused, but he leaves.

When Megan finally makes it home, Don’s waiting for her, slurred by drink.  He tells her about the conversation with Peggy, and Megan explains that she had to lie to her to get away for drinks with friends.  Good story, but she’s changed back into her work dress.  She’s lying.  She’s not a good liar, either.  It’s written all over her face, but Don either doesn’t notice or doesn’t want to know the truth.

The next morning, Don and Megan and Peggy ride up on the elevator together.  Peggy nearly squirms from the discomfort she feels, and when they get to the office, she follows Megan into the ladies and laces into her for putting her in a bad position.  Peggy lists two cardinal sins committed by Megan. The first is the lost night of work, due to the stress and worry of having to lie to Don.  The second, and more important of the sins, is the position of having to lie to Don.  Peggy just can’t do it.  Regardless of how jacked-up their relationship may be, she reveres him like a father and hates to disappoint or betray him.  And she deeply resents being put in a position to do just that.

Megan cuts her off and tells her the truth – that she wants to return to the theatre.  Megan explains that she fantasizes about quitting.  If she’s looking for sympathy, she’s barking up the wrong tree.  Peggy’s expression, once she realizes what Megan is saying is priceless.  She can’t fathom the idea that she wouldn’t want to do this job.  She reminds Megan that there are people dying for the opportunity to work there, bottom-lining it for her succinctly – “You’re taking up a spot, and you don’t even want to do it?”  Peggy is beside herself.  She wisely tells Megan that she can’t keep lying to Don, but Megan, cornered and judged, insults her.  Peggy tells her she doesn’t care what she does and leaves.

Right after that, there’s a meeting with Don, Ken, Stan, and Peggy.  Don asks about Megan, and Peggy says she won’t be there.  Right after she says those words, Megan walks in, and they start the meeting – a skull session about how to pitch Cool Whip.  Don and Megan have made up a scene, where she’s a wife trying to get her husband to try this new dessert topping – Cool Whip.  After some coaxing, Don and Megan do the scene for the gang.  Don loves doing it, and the chemistry between him and Megan is undeniable.  It’s very cute, but Peggy is annoyed and jealous, blurting out the tagline “Just taste it,” but saying “Just taste it, already” in a put-upon tone.  She asks if Megan and Don are going to be in the commercial.  Ken says no.  Peggy pushes the point, asking who’s not interested.  Megan jumps in, saying she and Don aren’t interested.  Don has that dopey smile on his face, pleased with himself, but he senses Peggy’s negativity and asks if she liked it.  She admits that it’s a good ad, but says she’s still digesting it.

Pete can’t shake this Beth Dawes.  He calls her one morning from the pay phone outside the SCDP offices, demanding that the meet him in the city.  She won’t have anything to do with him, encouraging him to hang onto the fantasy but to stop calling her.

Nighttime at the Draper’s finds Megan unable to sleep.  Don is out cold.  She wakes him, and confesses to her lie.  It’s a tender gesture, and rather than using the lie against her, Don asks a series of questions, trying to understand where she’s going with this news.  As Megan gets closer to the big question, Don tells her, “sometimes we don’t’ get to choose where our talents lie.  What you did with Heinz, it took me years to think that way.”  She bats away this response.  “Okay.  So what do you want to do?” Don asks.  She tells him that advertising will never be to her what it is for him.  He offers to help her get on with another agency, to get around any kind of nepotism thing she’s dealing with.  Finally, she tells him.  “I don’t want to do it.”  Like Peggy, Don is taken aback.  “You don’t want to do it?” he asks, stunned and probably hurt.  She apologizes, explaining that since she was a little girl, this has been her dream.  “I don’t want to keep you from your dream,” Don tells her, offering to get her out of SCDP after one more day.  She can’t believe her luck – or Don’s response – and showers Don with affection.

It’s a tender scene, shot in darkness and whispers, giving it a conspiratorial air.  It’s superbly acted.  Jessica Pare convincingly conveys Megan’s sense of expecting something horrible from Don, and when it doesn’t happen, her sense of relief is palpable.  Similarly, Jon Hamm’s growing sense of clarity about what is taking place is heartbreaking.  He really seems to need her at the office.  Thinking of the joy with which he acted out the Cool Whip skit, it’s not hard to imagine the disappointment and hurt that will accompany her absence at the office.

But Don is a champ…for now.  He does it all right, saying the right words, even if he doesn’t mean them.  The scene ends with her climbing into the bed and snuggling up to Don. The shot is nearly identical to the one of them in bed at the end of season 4, with Don wide awake and thinking while she slips off into happy slumber.  Am I the only one waiting for the other shoe to drop?

The next morning, Don slips into Joan’s office, looking for advice on the protocol of Megan’s departure.  Joan fishes for gossip, but Don assures her there is none.  Satisfied, she tells Don she’ll handle it with a lunch with just the girls.

Megan attempts to tell Peggy, Ginsberg, and Stan the news, but breaks down crying, melting away Peggy’s hard-assed façade.  Ginsberg and Stan ignore her, as usual, and Peggy yells at them to get their attention.  Sobbing, she apologizes and tells them she won’t be working there anymore.  The reactions are great.  Ginsberg: “Did her fire you?  The son-of-a-bitch!”  Megan laughs and says it’s not that.  She explains her desire to return to acting.  Stan: [laughing] “Are you kidding me?”  Peggy cuts him off before anymore insults escape his mouth.  Chastened, the guys wish her the best, but not before Ginsberg goes on a jag of questions about whether actors wear their own clothing and shoes.

Megan thanks Peggy for all she’s done for her, including the tough-love from the day before, which was what motivated her to overcome her fear of Don and confess the lie.  Megan leaves, and the guys fall into wrong-headed speculation about the real reason she’s leaving.  They don’t get it.  Peggy can only say that it took a lot of guts for her to leave.  Was remark inwardly directed?  Peggy has had at least one opportunity to leave the agency and make her own mark, out from under Don’s shadow.  As ambitious as she is, she must wonder how she’d do without his tutelage and protection…and persecution.

Harry drops in on Pete, having been told the news by Joan.  Pete’s reaction disappoints Harry.  He asks Pete if he’s shocked.  “No.”  “What about Don?” Harry asks.  Pete launches into a rant that seems to be about the Drapers, but is really about Beth and her treatment of Pete.  He bitches about how “they” turn it off and on, how “they” keep one waiting at attention.  He’s gotten himself all balled up over this woman.

Pete asks Harry about the photographs of earth, taken from outer space.  “Do they make you feel small and insignificant?”  “No.  Jennifer does that,” Harry says, a classic remark aimed at this long-suffering wife.  Pete continues: “Why don’t they give you a glimmer of hope in the midst of rejection?  A little thread to hang onto.  A suggestion of the future.  In a court of law, it would look like an accident, but it’s not.”  It’s a cryptic remark.  Harry, confused, confirms that Pete’s not talking about Trudy or Megan Draper.  “Why do they get to decide what’s going to happen?” Pete asks.  Harry shrugs and tells Pete that they just do, that’s all.  And he leaves.

What’s Pete getting at with that comment about accidents and courts of law?  The level of desperation Pete is feeling reminds me of Don’s, way back in season 1, when Pete was threatening to blow the lid on his true identity.  Don was fooling around with Rachel Menken, and when Pete made his threat, Don ran to Rachel, begging her to run off with him.  He wanted to flee from his life, his problems.  Similarly, Pete seeks escape from the life he has built for himself, and he’s pinning his escape fantasy on a hurt, mixed-up housewife who is also stuck in the burbs.  But Beth Dawes is no Rachel Menken, as we’ll soon see.

Don walks Megan to the elevator, as she prepares to meet the girls from the office for her farewell luncheon.  When she says she’ll be back to pick up her box of personal possessions, he tells her he’ll take care of it, sparing her the discomfort of another tearful goodbye.  He’s making all the right moves, and she rewards him with a long, sincere kiss.  As the door closes, she gives him a girlish wave.  Standing there, he hits the button to call another car.  The bell rings, and he walks to the open door, and something weird happens.  There’s no car.  It’s just an empty elevator shaft.  Don steps to the threshold and peers into the shaft.  It was a malfunction.  Did Don nearly step over the edge to his death?  What’s the metaphor?  Is it symbolic of her leaving and him stuck?  Foreshadowing?  If so, then what?  Does it go back to my wife’s prediction that the guy falling in the show titles is actually Don committing his last act in the show?  Who knows?  But it’s a chilling moment, one that sends Don to his mini-bar.

Don’s drink is interrupted by Ken, Stan, and Ginsberg.  Rick, from Chevalier Blanc, found a song that is Beatlesy enough for the commercial – September In The Rain.  Don can’t distinguish it from The Beatles, but Ginsberg has a violent reaction to the song, demanding that it be turned off.  Ken asks Stan and Ginsberg to give him and Don a moment.  Alone, Ken asks Don about the Cool Whip pitch.  Now that Megan is no longer with the firm, Ken wants to know how to proceed with the skit.  Don says that Peggy will fill in for Megan.

On the train ride home, Pete sits with Howard and finagles a visit to Howard’s house, pretending to be interested in buying insurance.  Howard is all for it, sure that his wife won’t mind the intrusion.  Once they arrive, Pete seizes a brief moment when he’s alone with Beth to slip her a note and steal a kiss.  She’s overwhelmed, and disappears to the kitchen at her first opportunity.  She calls Howard in to talk.  Pete goes for his coat as Howard comes back from the kitchen.  He’s in trouble, he says, and that Pete owes it to him to stay and eat.  Howard hasn’t a clue.

As Joan is leaving, she runs into Peggy and tells her they missed her at lunch.  Peggy explains that she’d like to do her own lunch with Megan.  Joan slips into gossip-mode, but Peggy’s feeling guilty and confesses to feeling as though she’s run Megan off.  Joan brushes aside her worry, explaining that Megan is a typical second wife for a man like Don – a failing artist married to a rich man.  Peggy defends Megan, saying she thinks she’s one of those girls who does everything well.  Joan’s response is classic – “Then you had every right to be hard on her.”  She goes on to compare Megan to Betty – the model and the actress.  “That’s the kind of girl Don marries,” she explains.  I re-watched that last line by Joan many times, trying to decide whether she was aiming that line at Peggy, somehow.  I don’t think she was.  I guess it’s aimed at Don, and what he’s after.

Don arrives home from work to find Megan cooking in the kitchen, barefooted.  She’s surprised at his graciousness, and he assures her that he’s fine.  She tells him she loves him, and that he’s everything she hoped he’d be.  His response?  “You too.”  Hmmm.  Really?

The next day, Don and Peggy and Ken go to the General Foods laboratory and stink up the joint with their Cool Whip skit.  Peggy keeps flubbing her lines, screwing up the slogan.  Don corrects her, mid-skit, but they never come close to the chemistry Don shares with Megan.  Afterwards, as their contact tries to salvage things with the decision-maker, Don and Peggy erupt into a fight.  It’s there that we see what’s really going on inside Don’s head.  He takes out his disappointment on her, blaming her for screwing up the skit and being, basically, a bad influence (too cynical) on his poor, sweet wife.  It’s a childish argument that ends when Peggy calls Don out.  She tells him that she’s not the one he’s mad at and to shut up.  He does.

At Howard and Beth’s, Pete handed Beth instructions to meet him at a hotel in the city.  He holds up his end of the bargain, but she never shows, and he leaves the hotel defeated and angry.

Roger shows up at Don’s office to find Don on the couch, having a drink.  Roger has heard the news.  He’s probably also heard about Cool Whip.  Like Don, he can’t understand this younger generation and their dreams.  Don underscores the generation gap by referring to his depression-era upbringing, where his dream was of indoor plumbing.  Finally, Don gets philosophical, asking Roger why she shouldn’t do what she wants.  He says he doesn’t want her to end up like Betty, or worse, like Megan’s mom.  Ouch.  “You’ve got to go home,” Roger says.  “Let her know there’s a routine.  It’ll keep you both out of trouble…Mona’s dad told me that.”  Ah, Roger.

Don does go home, in time to catch her as she’s leaving for class.  She’s picked up a copy of Revolver for him, a lesson on what’s going on in this world of his that’s being overrun by young people with dreams and messages.  They kiss, and she leaves him to The Beatles.

He puts the album on, cues the song, kicks off his shoes, then takes his drink and sits in his easy chair as Tomorrow Never Knows plays.  It’s so odd to see Don Draper, a guy who would have felt comfortable with the Rat Pack, lounging with Revolver.

Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream…

As the song plays, the show closes with a montage of Peggy, Pete, and Megan.

Peggy is working late, as usual, with Stan, who hands her a joint.  She takes a drag and inhales.

…That you may see the meaning of within…

Pete walks to his car, parked at the train station.  Next to him, Howard gets into the driver’s side of his car.  Beth scoots over to the passenger side.  She glances over at Pete, who looks shell-shocked.  And this is where she’s different from Rachel Menken.  Rachel drove Don from her life, once she saw his true colors.  Beth, on the other hand, looks at Pete, and as she does, she draws a heart in the steam on her window.  Once

she sees that he’s seen it, she rolls down her window, then rolls it back up, erasing this token that will surely string him along a little longer – but to what effect?

…that love is all and love is everyone…

Megan lies on the floor at school, participating in an exercise with other students.  Her eyes closed, her body relaxed.

Next, we see the album spinning.  Don picks up the needle and shuts off the music, either not liking or not understanding what he’s heard.  He shuffles off to the bedroom, and as soon as he disappears, the episode fades to black.  And as soon as it does, the music resumes.  Don can ignore The Beatles, but the change they symbolize can’t be stopped.

In Plath’s Lady Lazarus, a reference is made to the mythological Phoenix, who rose from the ashes.  Who will roll with the change and be transformed, and who will fall by the wayside, unable or unwilling to adapt to a world that’s been turned upside down?

Mad Men Commentary: episode 507 At the Codfish Ball

Death has hung over season 5 of Man Men, like Charles Whitman up in that bell tower, and this week the first, unexpected victim was taken – Sally’s childhood. The episode title, At the Codfish Ball, refers to a song and dance number performed by Shirley Temple and Buddy Ebsen (that’s right – Jed Clampett) in Captain January, one of Temple’s best-known films. Released in 1936, the film caused a bit of controversy when an English critic protested Temple’s over-sexualized performance. She was eight years old.
That tension between childhood innocence and adult cynicism – or more simply, the perspective of children vs. the perspective of parents – is a theme that plays out through the entire episode.
The action opens on Sally, on the phone with her old friend Glen Bishop, who now attends Hotchkiss, a prep school in Connecticut. She’s lonely and bored, having been left at home, once again, with Henry’s mother Pauline. This is 1966, the old days when phones had cords, and Sally has pulled the phone into her bedroom, creating a Wile-E-Coyote-like snare for poor Pauline, who shuffles down the hall, drink in hand, to call her to dinner. Pauline falls and breaks an ankle, too drunk to know better when Sally concocts a story of a misplaced toy belonging to Gene as the culprit.
Back in Manhattan, the Drapers entertain Megan’s parents, Emile (Ronald Guttman) and Marie Calvet (Julia Ormond), French Canadians who are more French and less Canadian. Emile is a college professor, struggling author, and impassioned Marxist who disapproves of his daughter’s new lifestyle. He treats Don with a barely disguised disdain that puts Don on edge. Marie is bored and narcotized, and flirts with every man who crosses her path.
With these four living together, Don and Megan’s apartment doesn’t seem so big and fancy, and when Sally calls, needing a new place for her and Bobby to stay, it gets even smaller.
Roger, as predicted, has discovered ambition. He invites ex-wife Mona out for drinks so he can enlist her help in getting the guest list for an upcoming American Cancer Society gala where Don is to receive an award for his infamous Lucky Strike letter. It’s a tender meeting, with the passage of time and Roger’s fresh insights paving the way to honest communication between old lovers.
Roger describes his acid trip and how he was able to experience the 1919 World Series, the Black Sox Series. He has realized that the significance of his playing in that World Series is that it was fixed, just as his life was fixed. Mona is confused, and Roger explains that nothing in his life is his because he’s earned none of it. It’s a realization that he seems determined to correct, listing Firestone as a fresh target. Mona succumbs to his charm, agreeing to dig up whatever she can.
It’s good to see Roger returning to center stage, not as a sad clown (at least for now), but as an active participant in the day-to-day battle to keep SCDP afloat. That said, I can’t help but think that his newfound vigor will be short-lived. Roger himself referenced his heart attack when talking to Mona. She has a good insight, as well, telling Roger that at first, she thought Jane was a response to her getting old. Now she sees that Jane was a response to him getting old. I sense a shoe about to drop, but until that time comes, I’ll enjoy all the Roger I can get. He’s a delightful cad.
When Don does show up at home with Sally and Bobby, he brags on how Sally handled the situation with Pauline – how she made Pauline comfortable and called the ambulance, and then him. There’s no doubt who Don’s favorite is. Bobby announces that Sally doesn’t like fish, a funny line that will have an echo later in the episode. It also prompts Megan to offer spaghetti, which reminds Marie of making it for Megan when she was a child.
Later, in bed, Don reads The Fixer, Bernard Malamud’s latest novel, which won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize – highbrow stuff.  Megan teases Don, telling him that her father won’t mind that he normally reads James Bond, popular page-turners. Don fears there’s nothing he can do to make Emile like him. Megan explains that she is her father’s favorite, which also explains why her mom is so competitive with her. Megan watched her mom closely, counting six times that she touched Don throughout the evening.  Don plays dumb.  They end the night on a friendly, but sexless note.
The next day, Megan stops by Don’s office to share an idea. He’s on his couch reading a Berlitz book on French, another sign that he’s trying hard to win over the in-laws (an effort he never made with Gene, Betty’s father). Megan is excited about the idea, which involves a series of vignettes of moms throughout the ages, serving beans to their children. The story pauses at the present before moving into the future, where we see an intergalactic mom serving beans to her space-helmeted son. The tag? “Heinz Beans – some things never change.”
Don loves the idea and brings Stan and Ginsberg in to cancel the idea they were working on – something called the Human Cannonball. They had nothing, and Megan’s idea is the first time we’ve seen Don excited about work all season long.
Stan and Ginsberg slink back to the office, where Peggy is finishing a call with Abe. They tell her the news as Stan rips apart a board from the Human Cannonball presentation. Peggy asks if the idea is any good, and Stan admits that it’s better than anything they’ve had thus far.
Peggy pays a visit to Joan’s office, pretending to be there on official business. Joan figures out that something’s bothering Peggy and has her shut the door. Peggy confides that something is up with her and Abe, and that the phone call she received earlier was a testy Abe, insisting that they have dinner at a nice place in the Village. She’s worried that Abe intends to break-up with her, but Joan sets her straight, explaining that “men don’t take the time to end things. They ignore you until you insist on a declaration of hate.”  Great line.  Peggy is blown away by this, but only because she can’t fathom the possibility that Joan has ever been dumped. Peggy is grateful for the advice, and leaves Joan’s office hopeful.
Don and Megan are hard at work on the Heinz pitch when Roger stops by. “Oh, you two are actually working,” he says, surprised. Megan takes the cue, and leaves the two men alone. Roger informs Don that he’s been working, too, and seems proud to be able to say that. He wants to talk about the upcoming gala and the business opportunities that will be present in the form of dozens of high-powered executives who are either on the American Cancer Society board, or their wives are. Roger is eager to charm the wallets out of a few pockets, but Don doesn’t see it as a good networking opportunity. They get into a debate over this. “Did you forget why you wrote that letter?” Roger asks. “Did you forget that you said it would kill our business?” Don fires back. “Do you think cigarettes are bad, and the people who sell them?” Roger asks. “It’s what [the American Cancer Society] thinks. They know it’s the truth. It doesn’t matter why I wrote it” Don says, badly misjudging the lay of the land, as we’ll see later. “You’re right. Who knows why people in history did good things. For all we know, Jesus was trying to get the fishes and loaves account.” Roger always gets the good lines – especially the sacrilegious ones. Don is downplaying the business potential of this award, while Roger sees Don as an Italian bride on her wedding day, raking in a pillow case full of envelopes stuffed with money – with Roger leading the guests to the bride, of course.
Peggy goes home to change before her dinner with Abe, and she shows up looking beautiful and nervous. Abe is nervous too. His wind-up is slow and clumsy, and Peggy, armed with Joan’s inside tip, helps him along. He finally gets to the point, and suggests that they move in together. At first, Peggy is confused, thinking he is proposing marriage, but she recovers and accepts his plan, the most unromantic shack-up proposal ever. Still, she’s elated – he wants her – and when he asks if she still wants to eat, she says “I do,” perhaps as close as she’ll ever come to uttering those words.
At about the same time, Don and Megan are out with Ken and Cynthia Cosgrove, entertaining Raymond and Alice Geiger. Raymond is the buyer from Heinz, and as his wife excuses herself to the powder room, Megan and Cynthia join her. It’s there that Megan learns that her husband intends to fire SCDP from the account. Cynthia likes Megan, and asks if they can still be friends. Megan plays it straight.
When the women return to the table, Megan whispers the news to Don. It’s like something out of The Godfather. The Cosgroves have no idea. As the conversation progresses, Megan sees an opportunity to set-up Don to make an impromptu pitch of her idea. He gets off to a rocky start, not expecting Megan’s ploy, but the ol’ Don Draper muscle memory kicks in, and he hits his stride. Aside from a few clumsy interjections from Ken, who can’t be blamed, the pitch goes off flawlessly. Raymond is intrigued. His wife, euphoric. Ken, who’s gotten swept up in the pitch himself – to the point of shushing his wife – suggests a celebratory bottle of champagne, which Raymond agrees to.
Afterwards, in a cab, Don can’t keep his hands off Megan. He praises her to the point of worship, replaying the high points as if he’s just seen a great ballgame. The only thing that dampens their ardor is the realization that their house is filled with guests. Megan suggests they go to Don’s office to finish their celebration. It’s a sweet moment, a victory that brings a moment of escape from all the other problems they face.
The next morning, it’s more champagne at the office, with Don and Megan the center of attention. Peggy comes to work in a blah kind of mood. It’s an unexpected attitude, based on the way her dinner with Abe ended. She runs into Joan at the coffee machine, and we realize what’s going on. Peggy’s afraid of Joan’s judgment on her, that Joan will be disappointed with the result of the dinner. It’s a sign that Peggy is ambivalent about her feelings for Abe (another sign? How about the tryst during Born Free?). Joan surprises Peggy with her gracious response to Peggy’s news that they are merely moving in together. Joan spins it well, seeing it as evidence that Abe wants to be with Peggy, no matter what. Peggy seems happy with this pronouncement and thanks Joan for the gift.
Peggy bumps into Megan on her way to the party. Megan’s also not as happy as one would expect, given her role in the big victory, and Peggy picks up on it. Megan feared Peggy’s disappointment, and Peggy gets to pay forward Joan’s grace by bestowing her own on Don’s wife. She tells Megan to enjoy this day, confessing that this feeling – temporary as it is – is as good as the job gets. Megan says she will, but Peggy doesn’t seem to buy it.
The following morning is Saturday, and Don stumbles out of bed to find Emile alone with Bobby. The girls have gone shopping. Emile, in an act of passive aggression, has put Bobby to work, filling his fountain pen…on Don’s white carpet. Nice.
The women return, arms filled with boxes and bags, and Sally asks if she can go with them to the gala. When Marie supports Sally by saying that every daughter should be able to see her father as a success, it sets Emile off, and he storms off to his bedroom with Marie on his heels. Don and Sally and Bobby are confused.
Don and Megan sneak up to the door of the room where Emile and Marie fight, and Megan explains that Marie caught her father on the phone with a female grad student, crying. It turns out he met with a publisher that morning and got bad news on his book. Don tries to soften the news saying that Emile had a lot wrapped up in the book. “He should be crying to my Mother, Don.” Don has a duh moment, and lets out a weak, “Oh. Right.”  Don never confided in Betty, and is still figuring out the dynamics of letting Megan into his working life.
Don asks if Emile and Marie will be okay for the night, and Megan explains that they do this all the time, that they’ll recover in time for the party. Those words reminded me of last week’s episode. After Don chases Megan around the apartment, knocking them down into their submerged living room, they recover. A little while later, they show up for work, all smiles and happy faces. Are they destined to become like Emile and Marie?
At Peggy’s apartment, she and Abe make the final preparations for dinner. The guest of honor is Peggy’s mom Katherine, who has made the trip from Brooklyn. The purpose of the dinner is to spring the news that they are living together. Katherine has brought a cake, and suspects nothing. The meal eaten, Katherine tells them she must be going. The lovers can wait no longer, and after the news is broken, Katherine excuses herself to leave. Peggy is indignant, and cannot understand why Katherine isn’t happy for her. Katherine calls it as she sees it – they are living in sin, and she refuses to condone it. Abe excuses himself to hail a cab, and with him gone, Peggy says she expected her mom to be relieved that she wasn’t marrying the Jew. Katherine doesn’t bite on the insult. Instead, she gives her reasoning for being disappointed. She sees Peggy as selling herself short to a man whom she suspects is merely looking for “practice” until he’s ready to start an actual family. There’s no meanness from Katherine. This is simply a clash of worldviews – young vs. old, if you will. Katherine thanks her daughter, takes her cake, then leaves.
By the time we get back to Don and Megan’s, everyone is happy again. Roger shows up with his bowtie undone. He explains that he’s going stag to the party and has no one to help him. This triggers a response from Marie, who’s all too happy to oblige Roger.
Just before they leave, Sally emerges from her room, dressed in her new clothes. First, we get a reaction shot from the adults, who all gasp at her transformation. Then we get a glimpse. She looks like a miniature Nancy Sinatra, dressed in tall, white boots, short skirt, and makeup. Sally is on the brink of being a young lady. Don lets out a “wow” before sending her back to wipe off the makeup and switch out her shoes. Sally protests, but Don wins.  For now.
At the gala, Sally is disappointed in what she finds, expecting there to be a winding staircase, like in the fairy tales (showing that she’s still got one foot in the kiddie camp). Roger picks up on her disappointment, and, seeing Pete Campbell approaching says, “but here’s a handsome prince…nah!” Pete’s day is coming, but for now, he wants to take Don to meet Ken Cosgrove’s father-in-law, Ed Baxter (Ray Wise, from Twin Peaks fame), an executive with Dow-Corning who helped make the award possible. Don takes Megan with him, introducing her as a talented copywriter, like him. Megan seems very uncomfortable with this praise.
With no date to vent his insecurities to, Roger adopts Sally as his partner in crime, instructing her to tell him, “Go get ‘em, Tiger,” each time he brings back a business card for her to drop into her purse. He’s hitting her with his full charm, and she loves the attention.
One of the best moments of the episode occurs as Emile and Pete get to know one another. Emile, doing that smiling insult thing again, asks Pete exactly what he does all day at work. Pete acknowledges the question, but asks if he can ask Emile a question first. “Is it true that you are a scholar and an intellectual?” Pete asks his interrogator. “That’s right,” Emile says. “I hear you’re somewhat of a trailblazer,” Pete says, feeding the ego of the man who just received some bad news. Emile plays at false modesty, but Pete goes on. “The world should know about your accomplishments.” Emile tells Pete that he’s being very kind. He’s taken the bait. At that moment, Pete cuts him off. “That, Emile, is what I do every day.” Emile smiles, realizing he’s fallen into the crass capitalist’s trap. Well done.
Roger works the room, leaving Sally alone with a Shirley Temple. She picks at her fish until the plates are cleared away and the awards are passed out. Marie flirts with Roger, getting his attention just as Don receives his award. Roger catches her at the bar, where they bring their intentions out in the open. “I’ve been watching you all night,” Marie tells Roger. “You’re so full of life and ambition.” Wow! When was the last time someone said that to Roger? When Roger flirts a little more brazenly, Marie calls him a little boy beneath the tuxedo. They disappear together.
Don is called away from the table, and after Sally excuses herself to the bathroom, it’s just Megan and Emile. He can see that something’s not right with her, but she doesn’t want to discuss it. He presses in, asking if she’s all right, if all this is her passion. When she asks why he’s speaking to her in English, he tells her she’s changed. She denies this, but he goes on, accusing her of having skipped from the beginning of her life to the end, leaving out the struggle in the middle. This conversation is a weird bookend to Peggy’s ill-fated dinner with her mother. Both parents only want the best for their children, but can’t force-feed it to them. Of course, the children don’t want to hear it. Emile can only beg his daughter, “Don’t let your love of this man cause you give up what you wanted to do.”
“What thing she wanted to do?” I asked myself, wondering if I’d missed something. All episode long, she seemed to be disappointed, but it was never spelled out, as far as I could see. It started after she gave Don the idea. It’s as if, she feels like she hasn’t earned her place at the table, or maybe she doesn’t like the table. Or maybe she’s still smarting from the fight with Don from the last episode. Whatever it is, it’s big enough that she can’t fully engage.
After Sally goes to the bathroom, she decides to explore the place a little. She ends up walking in on Roger and Marie as Marie is performing oral sex on Roger. Freaked out, she silently backpedals from the room and returns to the table, shaken by what she’s just seen.
Don ends up at the bar with Ed Baxter, sharing a drink. “I’ve been telling Ken you should get out of the business altogether,” Ed says to Don. “Why’s that?” Don asks, sneaking a glance at another executive. “I’d introduce you to him,” Ed says, gesturing to the guy, “But I don’t want you to waste your time.” Don’s confused. “He’s on the board. He obviously likes my work,” he says. “He loves your work. They all do. But they don’t like you.” Don looks like he’s been kicked in the groin. “What?” “This crowd. They bury your desk in awards, but they’ll never work with you. Not after that letter. How could they after you bit the hand?” Ed sees Don’s look, and gives a weak apology before buying them another round. Don is devastated at this news.
Back at the table, it’s Emile, Marie, Don, Megan, and Sally – all disillusioned for different reasons. It’s a great shot of three generations of disappointed people. Nothing is said. Nothing needs to be said. The picture says it all. A waiter tags the scene when he asks Sally if she’s finished with her Shirley Temple. Indeed she is. She’s also done with being an innocent little girl. Those days are gone forever.
Later, Sally calls Glen once more. She needs to talk, but can’t really explain or understand what has just happened to her. She ends up telling him she’s in Manhattan at her Dad’s. When Glen asks how the city is, Sally only says, “Dirty.”
End of episode.
Between Sally, Megan, Peggy, Marie, and Joan, there are a lot of disappointed women in this episode. What’s next? How does Sally process this jarring discovery? What’s eating Megan? Will Peggy get her mojo back, or at least Don, to insulate, inspire and educate.
Roger seems poised to engage Pete in a no-holds-barred battle for account supremacy, a fight that should be as fun to watch as Lane’s thrashing of Pete.
For the second week in a row, Don has received a career wake-up call. Will he get up and replicate his Heinz performance, or continue to hit the snooze button and nap while everything collapses around him? Based on what Ed Baxter has told him, does it even matter?

Mad Men Commentary: Episode 506 Far Away Places

Towards the end of season two of Mad Men, Don Draper joined Pete Campbell for a business trip to Los Angeles that saw Don going AWOL and ending up in the desert with a bunch of aristocratic oddballs.  It was the weirdest episode of the series…until this week.

Far Away Places, the title of this week’s adventure with Don and the SCDP gang, could have been directed by David Lynch, with its jumbled narrative, trippy themes, and general sense of unease.  It’s an installment where great distances are explored – from feelings of alienation to the bridging of great relational chasms to the literal separation of two people over a great distance.  It’s hypnotically fascinating, and like every other twist and turn in this wonderful series, I saw none of it coming.

The episode opens with a half-dressed Peggy, at home, frantically looking for a good luck charm pack of candy that Don gave her.  She’s preparing for work and a big presentation for Heinz, the bane of her existence.  Her boyfriend Abe has spent the night, but worry about the Heinz presentation has made her aloof.  He puts on a happy face and tries to distract her, but she’s having none of it.

As the conversation shifts to Abe’s frustration at Peggy’s emotional distance, she tells him, sounding more than a little like Don when he was married to Betty, “I need a second when I walk in the door.”  “You sound like my father,” he snaps, going on to explain that he’s a boyfriend, not a focus group before storming off.  This conversation will play out again, like an echo, but with a different man.

At the office, Peggy and her office-mates are all uptight and crabby.  Ginsberg, who’s been nothing but agitated since being hired (except for when Don pops-in for a rare appearance), is annoyed at Peggy when she walks in on a private phone call.  Stan blows in late and pissy because he couldn’t find a place to…piss on the way to work.  The one ray of hope for Peggy comes when she finds her lucky pack of candy, but it’s short-lived.  Just as Megan says “hello,” Don takes her away, for a last-minute trip to see a prospective client.  Peggy is stunned at this news, and Don downplays his absence, asking what good he would do just sitting there watching her do all the heavy lifting.  She sees it as bad news, as does Ginsberg (who’s been right 100% of the time since showing up).  Stan tries to boost her by telling her it’s a supreme vote of confidence from their hero.

The scene is an example of how good Mad Men is.  In that brief moment, we get so much information, but it comes in the form of behavior, not clunky, expository dialogue to telegraph the dynamics at work.  This is a two-part set-up that is paid off first in the conference room with Heinz, and more significantly, at the end of the episode, between Don and Bert Cooper.

The Heinz presentation appears to be going well, with Peggy giving a Don-like presentation of the proposed campaign.  The problem is, she’s not Don.  While Don Draper can tell a story about baked beans that gives it the gravitas of a Russian novel, Peggy can’t quite pull it off.  Not yet.  Instead, the guy from Heinz is frustrated, much like Peggy’s boyfriend Abe.

When the Heinz guy complains about the pitch, Peggy reminds him that they’ve done exactly what he asked for.  And then the Heinz guy nails her to the wall by telling her to stop writing down what he asks for and start giving him what he wants – the classic client lament.  Peggy’s instincts are right.  She turns the tables on the client, as she’s seen Don do dozens of times.  She accuses the client of liking the campaign, but liking a good fight even more.  She insults the guy in front of the room, giving him little room to save face.  Ken Cosgrove tries to ease the blow, but only manages a stalemate, and the client agrees to let them try again.

Stan and Peggy are left alone, to gather the boards and pick up the pieces, and Stan, who was once Peggy’s adversary, bucks her up with a back-handed compliment, telling her that he respects her “suicidal move.”  Stan’s own insecurities have surfaced today, and he seems to admire Peggy’s hard work and incremental progress at winning a foothold in a man’s world.  “Women usually want to please,” he tells her, not finishing the thought, the damning part where she did the opposite of pleasing her man with her words.  Right after that, Pete sticks his head in the conference room and tells her she’s off the account, and then disappears.  Nice.

So, why did Peggy fail?  Being a woman didn’t help, that’s for sure.  Mr. Heinz guy even told her that it was lucky he had a daughter, or he wouldn’t be so understanding, meaning he has experience with temperamental little girls.  Peggy has given a Don-like speech – both the pitch and the attempts at salvaging it – but like Pete, Peggy is missing that X-factor, that charisma that Don possesses, that gets him over the top, that allows him to sometimes insult clients who don’t get it.  Don understands the power game.  Peggy can’t blame it all on being a woman.  She’s missing that power dynamic that Don has cultivated and honed to a razor sharp edge.  And it costs her a spot on this account, at least until Don can get in front of the client and hopefully save the day.

Peggy retreats to Don’s office to lick her wounds and wash down this temporary setback with some booze.  She has a cry, then packs up and leaves for the movies passing Bert Cooper, who reads a paper in the lobby.  “Everybody has someplace to go, today,” he says as she leaves.

Peggy ends up in a nearly deserted theatre, where Born Free is playing, and yells at a guy smoking a joint.  She takes a hit, though, when it’s offered, with a shrug and a “What the hell.”  Following the rules has gotten her nowhere on this day.  The young guy moves to her side, and they finish the joint.  As she gets high, Peggy talks to the movie, saying, “she’s not going to make it out there on her own,” speaking of a lioness in the movie, but maybe about herself.  The joint smoked, the young guy puts his hand on Peggy’s thigh, but she removes it.  When he puts her hand on his crotch, she does him one better, getting him off as she watches the movie.  It’s a bizarre moment that plays off the earlier conversation with Abe, who accused her of not being present with him.  It’s another echo.  It’s also another Don move – going to the movies in the middle of the day.  But with a difference.

Rather than go home, Peggy goes back to the office, where she runs into Ginsberg and his father, who flirts and introduces himself as the original before his embarrassed son shoos him away.  The father wants access to the copier. He says it’s for his case, whatever that means.  More agitation from young Ginsberg.

Peggy crashes on the couch in Don’s office.  Don so dominates her life, and his office seems womb-like to her.  She’s completely dedicated herself to following in his footsteps, no matter the cost, and in this episode, we get a fresh look at how isolated she is from everything but the finite space of the SCDP offices.

Peggy is awakened from her sleep by Dawn, who is also working late.  It’s 8:30, and Don is on the phone.  He’s frantic, and asks if Peggy has received a call.  She launches into a mea culpa over the Heinz debacle, but that’s not why he’s calling, and he hangs up on her, mid-apology.

With nowhere else to go, Peggy retreats to her office to busy herself with work.  Ginsberg is also there, burning the midnight oil himself.  When Peggy comments on Ginsberg’s father and how nice he seemed, he tells her that the man is not his real father.  His real parents are from a far away place – Mars.  Peggy laughs at this admission, and from Ginsberg’s reaction, you sense that he’s told the story before, to similar reactions.  He assures Peggy that his Martians aren’t the earth-destroying kinds, like the ones depicted in HG Wells.  He refers to himself as being displaced.  He goes on to say that the truth was hidden from him, that his so-called father, the man Peggy met, told him that he was born in a concentration camp, and that his mother died giving birth to him in the camp.  He says that the man who raised him found him in an orphanage and tried to hide his Martian heritage from him.  He says that he received one communication from home.  It was a simple message – “Stay where you are.”

Peggy waits for a punchline that never arrives, and when she realizes this, her attitude towards his fantastic tale changes.  Finally, she asks him if there’s others like him.  He looks at her and says that he doesn’t know, that he’s never been able to find any.  Ginsberg seems to have found his actual origin story so hard to swallow and painful that he’s traded it for one even more fantastic, but more benign.  Sound familiar?

This is the kind of thing that really gets Peggy going.  He’s someone like her, someone like the oddball outsider she was trying to convey to Dawn.  Even though she’s only from Brooklyn, as far as Peggy – and most of Manhattan – is concerned, she might as well be from Mars.  There’s a future with these two, though it’s anybody’s guess what it will look like.  I’m still trying to decide whether young Mr. Ginsberg is a genius or a madman.

Peggy goes home and calls Abe.  She’s spooked and needs company.  Luckily for her, Abe’s a mensch, and he obliges her need.

 

It’s at this point that Peggy fades to background of the story, and the episode starts over.  Literally.

It’s the morning of the Heinz presentation, before Don steals Megan and Peggy blows it.  Roger arrives at work before Don (who doesn’t, these days?) and hides in Don’s office with some scheme up his sleeve.

Don arrives, and Roger hatches the plan.  It turns out that Roger’s old buddy from Double Sided Aluminum (remember the night of Roger’s heart attack with the twins?) has moved over to Howard Johnson, and works up in Plattsburgh, NY, near the Canadian Border.  Roger even has a road map.  He’s thinking debauched road trip.

When Don balks at the plan, Roger entices him.  “Ever hear the one about the farmer’s daughter?” he asks.  “This is where it all takes place.”  Roger’s forgotten who he’s talking to – the new Don.  And before Roger can say “howdy,” Don is inviting Megan and Jane along for the fun.  Roger pleads for Don’s help.  “Alone, I’m like an escapee from an expensive mental institution,” Roger explains.  “Together, we’re a couple of rich bachelor perverts.”

Don takes the map and hatches his own scheme, involving Megan, a room at HoJo’s, and a three-day weekend.  Ah, Roger.  You tried.

Instead, Roger ends up at a party with Jane’s friends, a bunch of upper middle-class intellectuals – like the guy Woody Allen skewered in Annie Hall in the Marshall McLuhan scene at the movies.  The host is an ascot-wearing professor who has the party engaged in a deep discussion over the meaning and definition of truth.  Another guest is a psychiatrist (Jane’s, it turns out) who suggests that “it’s a myth that tracing logic down to the truth is a cure for neurosis.”  When another guest asks if there is a cure for neurosis, another woman giggles and says “Love.”  It’s a Manhattan version of Pete and Trudy’s dinner out in Cos Cob, where Ken’s science fiction story would never be discussed.

Roger seems to be having a good time, despite himself, peppering the back and forth with his own witty commentary on who is scoring points, but when he sees an opportunity to bail, he goes for it.

The opportunity, as it turns out, is a transition.  The host is gathering everyone to his living room, where they will drop acid under his guidance.  Jane has told Roger about this, but he never listens.  He tries to get her to leave, but she talks him into staying, promising a beautiful evening together.  She tags her argument with, “it’ll be good for us.”

The host has everyone fill out a postcard, to be carried the remainder of the evening.  Roger’s reads, “My name is Roger Sterling.  I have taken LSD.  I live at 31 E. 66th street, #14A, NY NY.  Please help me.”  Nice address.  A tray of sugar cubes are passed around, and just before Jane and Roger eat theirs, he tells her, “You always say I never take you anywhere.”

And with the melting of the sugar cubes on their tongues, Roger and Jane embark on an evening that does something weirder than taking them on a journey.  Rather, the LSD serves as a bridge between a chasm that’s become as unbridgeable as the Grand Canyon.  They return from their far away places, and for a night, become as one.

The scene of the party guests tripping is, to coin a phrase, trippy.  Roger’s cigarette shrinks when he inhales, a bottle of Russian vodka, when opened, unleashes a deafening Russian symphony.  Bert Cooper’s picture is on the dollar bill.

The blow-hard professor explains, in the midst of all this that “only awareness can make reality.  And only what’s real can become a dream.  Only from a dream can you wake to the light.”  Jane’s doctor explains that the quote is from the Tibetan Book of the Damned, a nice joke.

As Roger gets deep into the experience, Don appears to him, assuring him that “everything is okay.  Now go to your wife.  She wants to be alone in the truth with you.”  Roger takes Jane, and they go home and share a bath in which Roger sees the 1919 World Series, the scandalous Black Sox series that was fixed.

After their bath, they end up on the floor of their bedroom, dressed in robes, with towels wrapped around their heads.  With their inhibitions and loathing put on hold, they have what may be the first truthful conversation in their relationship.  Jane confesses that the doctor is her shrink.  Roger asks if he wants to know what they discuss.  Jane hedges.  “Because it’s over?” he asks.  “She’s just waiting for me to say it is,” Jane says.  “What does she think of me?” Roger asks, predictably.  “She thinks I’m waiting for you to say it.”  They continue to explore their eventual demise.  Jane is reluctant, still clinging to the hope that they can maybe patch up their differences, but Roger is liking this.  Finally, he asks her if she’s as relieved as he is at this revelation.  She’s not.  And when he asks her what is wrong with them, she tells him that he doesn’t like her.  His response is heartbreaking.  “I did….  I really did.”  And like that, the bridge has been destroyed.  Kind of.

The next morning, Jane wakes to find Roger dressing for work.  He’s happy.  She’s discombobulated and remembers little from the night before.  As Roger recounts their admissions, she is horrified.  “Are you leaving me?” she asks.  He tenderly confirms that he is, and when she matter-of-factly states that it’ll be expensive, he says, “I know.”

 

The story re-winds one final time, to see the same passage of time from Don’s point-of-view.

Don enters his office, to find Roger in wait.  He takes the map and Megan, and lights out for the territories. The problem is, she doesn’t seem so eager to want to abandon the team.  As much as she loves Don, she feels the pressure of being the boss’s wife – the looks, the comments, the guilt.  But her protests are weak.  She’s a semi-willing co-conspirator with Don.

In the car, Don lays it on thick, building up the weekend.  This new-Don is something to behold.  He’s almost clingy, the way he seems to always be looking for an excuse to leave work early with Megan, not wanting her out of his sight (flu aside).  As they make their small-talk, the cracks begin to show.  Megan’s frustration is simmering just below the surface.

They arrive at the Howard Johnson, a place all aqua and orange, and are greeted by a cartoonish manager.  It’s almost like they are in Roger’s LSD-induced trip – with Don’s behavior, the garish colors, the goofy manager, and a hint of danger.

That danger arrives when Megan’s frustration spills over the top.  As she and Don eat a gluttonous meal – a sampler of everything on the menu.  When Megan rejects the over-hyped orange sherbet, Don can’t take it anymore, and the fight is on.

Megan keeps her comments restricted to her central beef – being pulled off the team – but when Don brings her mother into it, bitching about how she complains to her mom in French, Megan fires off a low-blow, asking Don why he doesn’t call his mother.  He winces as if she’s punched him, and storms out of the restaurant with her right behind him.

Out in the parking lot, she goes back on the offensive, and when she refuses to get in the car, Don leaves her in the parking lot.

A few miles down the road, he cools down and turns around.  Back at the Howard Johnson, he can’t find her.  She’s disappeared, and no one can tell him anything substantive about where she might be.  This sends Don into a panic.  He hangs around the restaurant the rest of the afternoon, hoping she’ll return.  As day turns to night, he comes unglued.

It’s at this point that Don calls Peggy, who wants to talk about the Heinz presentation.  But he can’t think about that – he’s freaking out.  He calls Megan’s mother next, but she hasn’t heard anything.  Don ends up falling asleep in the restaurant, until a state trooper wakes him at 1:45 in the morning.  With nothing else to do, Don starts the long drive home, and as he drives alone, he thinks back to happier times, recalling a moment on a drive upstate to return the kids to Betty after the California vacation.  It’s hard to know whether Don is actually in love with Megan or the idea of being happily married.

At home, he’s relieved to find the door chained, but Megan wants nothing to do with him.  She’s taken a bus home, and is hurt and furious.  His relief at finding her alive quickly turns to anger, and he chases her through the house until they fall into a heap on the living room floor, with her crying and him looking crazed.

“Every time we fight it just diminishes us a little bit,” Megan tells him, seeming to understand, for the first time, the long odds against a happy marriage with this guy.  But Don, whether afraid that she’s right or genuinely relieved to have found her alive, clings to her and confesses that he thought he’d lost her.  He seems truly desperate as he holds onto her.

A little later, they stroll into work, looking perfect and happy – a great show for the gang.  But the spell is broken when Don finds some art with “DO OVER” scribbled across it.  He finds out it’s from Bert, who is hanging out in the conference room (he has no office, remember?).  Don confronts him in a disrespectful tone.  Bert informs him that “a client left here unhappy, hesterday, because you have a little girl [Peggy] running everything.”  Don tries to defend Peggy and himself, but Bert sees right through him, accusing him of being on “Love Leave.”  Don tells him it’s none of his business, but Bert counters – “This IS my business.”  And then he leaves Don to think about that.  Don leans against the table and sags under the weight of Bert’s truth.  As he does, a parade of his underlings marches past – Peggy, looking morose, and Stand, Ginsberg, and Megan having a normal day.

Roger, as usual, gets the best line.  It’s also the final word.  “I have an announcement to make,” he yells, bursting into the conference room.  “It’s going to be a wonderful day!”  And then he’s off.

What in the world will a rejuvenated Roger Sterling look like?  Is Pete destined for yet another fight, this one a wrestling match for sales supremacy at the agency?  And what about Joan?  Will Roger pursue her and the son he’s so far ignored?  Will she have him?  And finally, what about Don?  Will he come back from love leave and take the weight off Peggy’ shoulders?

So many questions.

Mad Men Commentary: Episode 505 Signal 30

This week’s episode of Mad Men opens with Pete Campbell in driving school, watching one of those gruesome crash scene movies with real-life footage of the busted-up cars and broken people.  It’s Pete, a housewife, some pimply-faced boys, and a young girl who turns and smiles at Mr. Campbell.

Signal 30 is both the title of the episode and the driver’s ed film Pete and his class watch.  Not much of the old film is shown, so I found it on YouTube.  The narrator, sounding like Jack Webb from Dragnet, describes Signal 30 as “the code that has morbid meaning to the men of the Ohio State Patrol.  Signal 30 is the phrase that means another violent death on the highway.”  We don’t hear this quote in the episode, but it could have clues as to whose death Signal 30 refers.

As Pete ogles the young girl in front of him, his eyes go from head to toe, stopping at her crossed legs, with a sandal bouncing against the sole of her foot like the second hand on a clock.  Cut to Pete lying in bed, later that night, a dripping faucet keeping the same time as the sandal in a slick dissolve.

The dripping – like Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart – keeps him awake, so he gets his toolbox, and after some time under the sink, fixes the leak and is able to sleep.

The next day, Lane and his wife Rebecca prepare for a day out with fellow expats and friends to watch England play West Germany in the 1966 World Cup finals (England won).  Lane’s heart belongs to his new country, but his wife clings to their English past, appalled at the social changes that are taking root, seemingly convinced “the sixties” are purely an American phenomenon.

Lane gives in to Rebecca’s prodding, and puts on a good show of whooping it up at some Manhattan pub, filled to capacity with rowdy Brits ecstatic over their team’s victory.  Afterwards, they share a meal with a couple – the Bakers, fellow expats.  Edwin, the husband, is Senior VP of Public Relations at Jaguar, and as they eat, he tells Lane that he is looking for a new ad agency to help Jaguar break into the US market.  Lane, a little drunk and full of himself, offers to handle the business himself.

A third storyline develops the following Monday when Peggy, eating alone at a diner, is brushed-off by Ken Cosgrove, who shows up with a man she doesn’t recognize.  She gets her feelings hurt, assuming it’s a client.  If so, this is a breach of a pact the two have made, promising to help one another whenever possible.  Ken hasn’t broken their pact.  Rather, the meeting was with an editor interested in buying some of Ken’s science fiction stories.  It turns out he’s still writing, but keeping it a secret.

Back at the office, Joan officiates a partner’s meeting in which each of the revenue producing partners – Pete, Roger, Don & Bert – quickly say no when asked if they have any new business.  As Joan is about to dismiss them, Lane stuns them all with his good news about Jaguar.  They are equally stunned when he declines multiple offers to help close the deal.  After Lane is allowed to leave first, the others enlist Roger’s help in averting disaster.  With nothing else to do, Roger is happy to help.

Somewhere along the line, Megan and Trudy Campbell became BFF’s, determined to get their husbands together for some after work socializing.  Don had no problem avoiding Pete’s invitations when Betty was safely hidden away out in the burbs, but young Megan presents some interesting problems for the Garboesque Draper.  She and Trudy refuse to take Don’s repeated no’s for an answer, Trudy going so far as to tell Don that the whole dinner party is being designed around him.  It turns out that Peggy was right when she told him, last season, that they all wanted to please him.

In the middle of Don’s maneuvering with Megan, he gets one good line in that could end up prophetic.  “Saturday night in the suburbs is when you really want to blow your brains out,” he says.

Roger insinuates himself into Lane’s preparations for the meeting with Edwin Baker, giving the Englishman tips on how to ferret out the information needed to successfully win the upcoming RFP.  Roger loves feeling like he’s needed, referring to himself as the Professor Emeritus of Accounts at SCDP.  At this point he’s resigned to the fact that the game has passed him by.  Roger’s advice has less to do with the finer points of advertising than with the subtle nuances of a seduction – both of which Lane hasn’t a clue.

After Roger’s lesson on seduction, we get to see a clumsy application of the said principles as Pete hits on his young female classmate.  During their exchange we get some interesting information.  The girl is spooked because earlier that day, Charles Whitman went on a killing rampage at the University of Texas, killing his wife, mother-in-law, and fourteen other people (and wounding nearly three-dozen others) before being shot and killed by the police.  This, on the heels of the Richard Speck rape and murder of eight nursing students in Chicago, has the girl feeling uneasy about going away to college in the fall.  Her destination?  Ohio State University.

The Signal 30 film they’ve been watching was made by the Ohio State Patrol.  Is this merely a coincidence?  Impossible.  So, what does it mean?  Is this girl to be the victim of a violent death?  If so, will it be at the hands of Pete?  Let’s press on.

Later, we find Pete and Ken in Pete’s suburban living room, admiring Pete’s new console stereo, long enough for Wilt Chamberlain to crawl in, with the sound of a miniature orchestra.  Pete is in his element, playing the big shot.

Don and Megan arrive late, creating a Brangelina kind of buzz with the Campbells, who are giddy at the arrival of the guests of honor.  It’s as if they feel validated by Don’s agreeing to come.  Luckily, there’s Ken to even things out with his aw shucks humility.  The girls disappear to the kitchen to devil some eggs, leaving the men alone to drink and compare gaudy sport coats.

Just as the Campbells are about to serve dinner, we get to peek in on Lane and his ham fisted attempts at working Roger’s system on Edwin Baker.  The dinner conversation is like a parody of something on Masterpiece Theatre – My Dinner With A Boring Englishman.

Fortunately, things are saucier out in Cos Cob, which Pete jokes is Algonquian for briefcase.  After a few rounds of drinks, Don appears to have loosened up a bit and may even be having some fun.

They make the usual small talk about neighborhoods, kids, and grown-up stuff.  When Pete complains about the “varmints” out in the burbs, Ken jokes that he should bring his rifle (remember season one’s returned Chip and Dip?) home and shoot them.  This gets Trudy going, and she forbids the gun from her home.  Pete calms her down explaining that, “one rifle for shooting gophers is not the same as a frustrated ex-Marine shooting at pregnant ladies.”

With the conversation turned to the Whitman murders, it’s funny when someone mispronounces the name of the killer and it’s Don – Dick Whitman – who corrects the blunder.  Ken’s wife Cynthia brags that her husband predicted this type of thing in one of his stories.  This slip worries Ken and gets the attention of the guests, who prod for details.  Cynthia tells them the basic plot as Ken squirms uncomfortably.

The story – The Punishment of X4 – is about a robot that does repairs on a bridge connecting two planets. One day, the robot removes the bolt and the bridge collapses, killing thousands of people.

Everyone looks around, confused, but Don is engaged and asks why.  Ken jumps in and explains.  “He’s a robot.  He doesn’t have any power to make decisions, except he can decide whether the bolt is on or off.”

“Or else he hates commuters,” Pete says, adding his own button to the story.

It’s a buzz-kill kind of moment, as far as the party goes, but in terms of the night’s episode and ratcheting-up of the tension on the season, it seemed very significant, especially the way Pete attached himself at the end, and on the heels of the talk of the rifle.  There’s a Chekhovian sense of Pete’s rifle about to go off hanging in the air at this point.

The women head to the kitchen, and just as they disappear, there’s a shriek accompanied by the sound of spraying water.

The guys run into the kitchen to find the girls huddled and laughing at the geyser shooting out of the faucet Pete fixed just a few nights earlier.  Pete runs off to get his toolbox as Don springs into action.  He grabs a pan and puts it over the spray, getting Ken to hold it as he pulls off his tie, removes his white dress shirt, and dives under the sink.  Someone calls him Superman.  He gets the problem fixed as Pete fumbles with the tools just like Fredo in The Godfather when Marlon Brando is shot at the fruit stand.

Pete and Don are very similar in their faults, very nearly mirrors of one another, except that Pete is a cruder, uglier version of the two.  When you lay out Pete’s weaknesses: he’s a liar, selfish, immoral, no identity, unfaithful, etc., you could be describing Don Draper/Dick Whitman.  But there is a difference.  As similar as they are, we see Pete as fundamentally bad and Don as fundamentally good – they’re like opposite sides of the same coin.

On the way home, with Megan driving, I was afraid of a car wreck.  Instead, Don convinces her to pull over so they can fool around, causing her to confess that she found it incredibly sexy when he saved the day with the sink.  It’s not the usual Don Draper picture.  In the past, it’s been Don doing all the driving, forever in control.  Now, he’s content to give up his stranglehold on control, content to share power with Megan.

The next day, Pete and Roger check in with Lane and find out that he couldn’t close the deal with Edwin.  They take the account away from him, promising to safely land the plane for him.

Between work and home, Pete attends his drivers ed class, but he’s lost the high school girl to a new student called Handsome.  He’s a clean-cut, well-muscled kid named Hanson, but the nickname is apt, and the girl goes for him immediately, making Pete a third wheel.

That night, Pete, Roger, and Don take Edwin out for dinner.  The scene opens with them talking with silly lobster bibs tied around their necks.  Edwin recognizes what’s going on, and tells them that the deal is nearly theirs.  All he wants is a night of fun – something his countryman can’t deliver.  After Pete fumbles the first suggestion of a good time, he turns things over to Roger.

They head to a nearby brothel where everyone finds companionships except for Don, who strikes up a conversation with the madam – two old whores talking.

Later, in the cab, Pete and Don drop Edwin off at his place.  It was a huge success for SCDP, but alone in the cab, Pete is feeling judged by Don’s abstinence, and calls Don out on it.  “I can’t believe I have to explain that I was doing my job to a man who just pulled his pants up on the world,” Pete says.  Don tries to blow off Pete’s guilt-ridden rant.  “There were no stern looks for Roger,” Pete says.  “Roger’s miserable,” Don says.  “I didn’t think you were.”

But Pete won’t let it go.  “I have it all,” he says sarcastically.  “Wait until the honeymoon’s over.”  Don’s had enough.  “Because I am what I am and I’ve been where I’ve been, I know that you don’t get another chance at what you have.”  He goes on to tell Pete that if he’d of met Megan first, he would’ve known enough not to throw it away.

It’s a moment that flirts with being a little too on-the-nose, but it’s what we do when we’re cornered the way Pete has cornered Don.  Perhaps Don sees himself in what Pete is doing with his marriage.  Don leaves Pete to his whining and his long cab ride back to Cos Cob.

The next day, Roger calls Ken into his office and reads him the riot act for distracting himself with his writing, warning him to knock it off.  “When this job is good, it satisfies every need,” Roger tells him.  “Believe me.  I remember.”  It’s another admission of Roger’s new position as has-been, but rather than feeling sorry for himself, like Pete, Roger has taken to his new role as office sage.  It’s also a bit ironic, given Roger’s admittedly failed attempts at being a writer himself.

Roger is called away to a partner’s meeting, where the boys have planned to pat themselves on the back for a job well done with Edwin Baker and Jaguar, but it’s not to be.

Lane gets a call from his wife just as he’s about to leave for the meeting, and he interrupts their premature celebrating to let them know that the deal is off.  Edwin’s wife called Rebecca, complaining of his night of debauchery with the SCDP boys.  It turns out she found chewing gum in her husband’s pubes.  Lane is beside himself with anger, but the Americans can only laugh at the black humor.  This infuriates Lane even more, causing Pete to lash out at him, telling Lane that they stopped needing him the day after he fired them from the old Sterling Cooper.

This is too much for Lane to bear.  Having his honor called into action by Pete Campbell of all people sends him into what passes for a blind rage.  He challenges Pete to a fistfight.

Roger, always the man with the best lines says, “I know cooler heads should prevail, but am I the only one who wants to see this?”  Don answers by pulling the conference room drapes.

The fight is comical, and after they trade a few blows, Lane bloodies Pete’s nose and knocks him down, ending the fight.  It’s yet another humiliation for Pete.

Though he’s won the fight, Lane retreats to his office feeling like a loser.  Joan shows up with a bucket of ice to console him.  With his bloody hand soaking in ice, Lane kisses Joan, who is slow to pull away.  She rises and opens the office door, but returns.  When he apologizes, wallowing in self-pity, she cuts him off saying that everyone in the office has dreamed of doing what he just did to Pete.  Is her encouragement more than a collegial boost to a comrade’s bruised ego?  I doubt it.

Finally, Pete slinks out of the office, tail between his legs, only to find Don holding an elevator for him.  They share some small talk before Pete does what Pete always does. He goes to self-pity.  “I’m not as virtuous as you,” he tells Don.  “So you just cut me loose.”  Don shrugs off the comment.  “What were we doing fighting at work?” Pete asks.  “This is an office.  We’re supposed to be friends.”  It’s an odd thing to say, and there’s an uncomfortable pause.  Finally, “I have nothing, Don.”  He tears up, but Don has no capacity to help this man.  Pete has come to him on numerous occasions, and each time, Don has been completely unable to help him.  Instead, they finish their ride in awkward silence, Pete choking back tears as we hear the narration of a new story by Ken.  There’s a cut to him sitting up in bed, writing compulsively as his wife sleeps…

The Man With The Miniature Orchestra, by Dave Algonquian.  There were phrases of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that still made Coe cry.  He always thought it had to do with the circumstances of the composition itself.  He imagined Beethoven, deaf and soul sick, his heart broken, scribbling furiously while death stood in the doorway, clipping his nails.  Still, Coe thought, it might’ve been living in the country that was making him cry.  It was killing him with its silence and loneliness.  Making everything ordinary too beautiful to bear.”

The episode ends on Pete, in the darkened room, watching drivers ed films and watching Handsome feel-up the young girl as Ken’s narration ends.  Finally, we are left with Pete staring at the screen.  The sound of dripping water returns as the image fades to black, leaving a beat of silence before Ode to Joy plays softly.

How disturbing.

Does Pete come completely unhinged?  Does he bring the rifle home from work, only to use it on the girl and maybe Handsome?  Or was this more of an psychological bottoming out, a death to some part of Pete’s spirit?

What bolt will Pete remove?