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Mad Men: Episode 504 Mystery Date Commentary


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This week’s episode of Mad Men is titled Mystery Date, a callback to a board game from the 60’s and 70’s.  Matthew Weiner and Company connect this innocent board game to a grisly murder – the mass killing of eight nursing students by Richard Speck in July of 1966.  It’s a commentary, by way of odd couplings, on the traditional role of women in society at the threshold of great social change.  In the case of Don, we see how his relationship to women in general, and Megan in particular, is evolving in the midst of this.

The episode opens with Don and Megan on their way to work.  He has a horrible cough, but he’s not sick enough to tenderly flirt with his wife, who has moved to the other side of the car to avoid his germs.

This sets the stage for what has turned out to be a steady stream of awkward moments, with Don running into old flames.  Andrea, a former freelancer – and lover – from the old Sterling Cooper, steps onto the elevator, and seeing Don alone, steps up to him.  “Don, my bad penny,” she says.  Don immediately introduces Megan as his wife.  Andrea steps off at the next floor, leaving Don to deal with Megan’s embarrassment.

The conversation stretches into the first part of their day, with Don at first trying to justify himself, as in the days of old.  But this is Megan, not Betty, and soon he is doing the right thing, apologizing for the position these encounters put her in.  Finally, she nails Don, telling him “that kind of careless appetite, you can’t blame on Betty.”  She stops him in his tracks because he knows she’s right.  “I married you,” Don says.  “And I’m going to be with you until I die.”  Again with the death talk.

Upstairs, Peggy and Ginsburg and Stan are already working when Peggy’s old buddy Joyce shows up with some gruesome crime scene photos of the Chicago nursing student massacre, with one girl surviving by hiding under a bed until it was safe.

They pass around the photos and a loupe, with Joyce pointing out the grossest photos with a macabre commentary, speculating on whether one of them will make the cover of the latest issue of Time.  The contact sheet is passed around, and the gang looks at the photos like young kids at something naughty.  That is, except for Ginsburg.  He immediately pushes the sheet away, not wanting to see anymore of the violent images than his first glance.  He lashes out at them all, including Megan, accusing her of being excited by the photos.  He shames them by calling the photos what they are – pictures of a violent crime against women.  Joyce teases him, Stan laughs, Megan is stunned, but Peggy feels convicted.

Ginsburg’s bucket of cold water breaks up the party, and provides an interesting counter-point to Don’s earlier encounter with Andrea.  Each of this episode’s mystery dates are set against a backdrop of violence committed against women.

Which brings us to Joan and her creepy husband Greg, who’s due back from Viet Nam.  Her mom Gail is still in town, helping with baby Kevin, and together, they plot the homecoming celebration, leaving plenty of opportunity for the couple to get re-acquainted.  Gail is the Queen of Irony in this episode, and the first of her words of wisdom is a chilling callback to Greg’s past crimes.  “He’s not used to listening to a woman,” she says, reminding us of – as Joan will him later – the night he raped his beloved on the floor of Don’s office.

Things seem to be perfect between them until Greg announces that he is returning to Viet Nam – not for another 40 days, but for a year.  The peace is shattered by Joan’s disappointment.  Greg tries to calm her, but she’s having none of it, calling the military a bunch of liars.  The irony is, it’s Greg who is the liar.

A curious inclusion in this drama is Sally, who is paired with Henry’s mother Pauline in this episode.  Sally calls Don at the office, complaining about the tyranny of a strict Grandmother.  This season, we get perfect French from Megan and perfect Teenager from Sally.  Kiernan Shipka, who just gets better and better as the years pass by, strikes a perfect tone as the put-upon teen, with equal amounts of sarcasm, arrogance and victimhood.  But Don is having none of it.  Sick with his cold and busied with a full schedule, he has no time for her nonsense, but their conversation illustrates the tenderness and complexity of their relationship.  His barking of orders at her is done with a wink, and when he coughs, she interrupts her rant to ask how he’s feeling.  They genuinely love each other, these two.

Don drags himself to a meeting with Stan and Ginsburg in which he lets Ginsburg make the pitch on a campaign for women’s shoes.  Ginsburg knocks it out of the park, impressing the client.  Don seems content to let his newest protégé bask in the limelight…to a point.

After the client says, “Sold!” they start to pack up their boards and go.  The client calls Ginsburg a genius and says that Ginzo really knows women, that his campaign really gets inside their heads.  Ginsburg denies the compliment by confessing how confused he is by women and that they almost pitched a campaign about Cinderella.  He launches into a story about their “dark” pitch.  It’s a great telling of a story of a woman being pursued by a man.  It’s creepy and dark.  The woman is the prey – a victim.  And the conclusion by Ginsburg is that, in the end, the woman wants to be caught.  The client, mesmerized by the story, says, “let’s do that.”

This sends Don through the roof.  Why?  Is it because of a break in protocol?  Does Don not want to be surprised?  I don’t think he’s worried about being outshined, or he would’ve done the pitch himself.  So, what’s the deal?

Ginsburg, though he distances himself from the story by saying it’s “dark”, tells a story that Don would tell.  It’s a perfect Don moment, except that it’s not Don who is doing the telling.  In this moment, Ginsburg is Don’s surrogate, doing a perfect Don maneuver, the impromptu pitch-after-the-pitch that safely puts forward the edgy – dark – idea.  And the client loves it, just as they usually love Don’s.

But here’s the rub.  In this episode, as we will soon see, Don is trying to distance himself from himself.  He’s trying to rid himself of some baggage, like a surgeon zeroing in on a cancerous cell.  That part is the womanizing Don.  The Don who can’t help but hit on every halfway hot woman who stumbles across his path – like the predator in Ginsburg’s story, or in the extreme, like Richard Speck.  Don’s trying to kill-off that part of him, but I keep waiting for him to slip.

So.  While Don may be getting on Ginsburg for showboating, warning him to give Don his ideas back at the office and not off-the-cuff in a presentation, I think Don’s reaction has more to do with Don’s struggles against his predatory nature.  The client even says, just before Ginsburg’s story, that he’d like to see a French girl in the commercial.  Hello?  Megan?  So, perhaps Don had a flash of him stalking Megan as Ginsburg tells the story.

Once Don is finished reaming Ginsburg, he excuses himself to make a call.  As he walks off, Ginsburg turns to Ken and says, “He’s such a decent guy.”  Ken tells him he almost got fired, just then, but Ginsburg disagrees.  And though Ginsburg is right about not getting fired, it remains to be seen whether he’s right about Don being a decent guy.

One last thing on that pitch.  It’s interesting that the client, who was sold on a clever pitch for the shoes, ends up changing his mind and going for the idea that is more primitive, more crude.  Even though these guys wear suits and have receding hairlines, they still respond to the atavistic urge to stalk.  All men have some Richard Speck in them – or at least some Don Draper – the show seems to be saying.

Peggy’s mystery date is set-up by another move in the Pete Campbell/Roger Sterling chess match that Roger is losing badly.

Pete stops by Roger’s office on his way out the door on Friday afternoon, reminding him that they have a Monday campaign review with Mohawk.  Roger plays it cool, but he’s totally forgotten to deal with the campaign.  Once Pete’s gone, Roger frantically searches for Ginsburg, who’s left early, feeling the sting of Don’s disapproval.  He lands in Peggy’s office, where she and Stan are having an end of the week drink and laughing at Ginsburg’s expense.  Stan treats Roger like a peer, as does Peggy when Roger attempts to bribe her into covering his ass.  It’s another few notches down the power & respect meter for poor Roger Sterling.

After admitting his failure and agreeing to pay Peggy $410 to save him, Roger leaves Peggy to pull yet another all-nighter.  Hours later, Peggy hears a thump that freaks her out.  She gets her things and investigates, and ends up finding Don’s secretary Dawn sleeping in the couch in Don’s office.  She’s there because of some rioting in the city, and after a brief argument, she agrees to go home with Peggy for the night.

At Peggy’s, they drink a little and talk about their lives.  Peggy, drunk from the earlier rounds of drinking, topped off with additional drink as she worked on Roger’s campaign, is sloppy.  As they talk, Peggy lets Dawn know that she was once Don’s secretary.  After further thought, she tells Dawn that they are alike.  She likens her situation as the only female copywriter to that of being the only African American at SCDP.  “We have to stick together,” Peggy says.  She asks Dawn if she acts too much like a man.  Dawn answers neutrally, and Peggy goes on to confess that she doesn’t know if she has it in her to operate in a man’s world.

Finally, it’s time for bed, and as Peggy is about to turn in for the night, she spies her purse on the coffee table next to the couch where Dawn is going to sleep.  Peggy is paralyzed briefly as she contemplates what to do about all the cash left in the purse unguarded.  She glances up and sees Dawn watching her.  There’s a beat before Peggy goes for the beer bottles, but the damage has been done.  The next morning there’s a note – left on Peggy’s purse – thanking her for her hospitality and apologizing for putting her out.  Ouch.

Prior to all of this, Don decided to knock out early and get some rest.  He gets home in the mid-afternoon, while Megan is still at work, and falls into bed, only pausing to kick off his shoes.  This has been a season of dreams.  First, we had Betty’s death dream last week, and then we have Don’s fever dream.  It takes place in two installments, both involving Andrea the freelancer.  In the first, she shows up at his apartment, ready for action.  He pulls her in, worried that Megan will see her.  He threatens to toss her over the balcony before showing her to the service elevator entrance at the back of the apartment.

Later, she awakens Don from sleep, having snuck back in the unlocked back door.  After Don protests, telling her he’s done, she reminds him of an indiscretion at Lincoln Center while Betty waited.  That’s all it takes for Don to slide back into Don-mode and fall into the trap.  Afterwards, as she is getting dressed, she suggests a hotel the next time.  Don tells her there’ll be no next time.  When she calls him out, calling him sick, he snaps and strangles her to death.  Once finished, he simply pushes her body under his bed with his feet before crawling back in and collapsing in sweaty, coughing heap.

It was all a dream, of course, but I couldn’t help thinking of the way Don felt up Bobbie Barrett in that restaurant after she threatened him.  The way he pushes the corpse of Andrea under the bed links him to the real-life Richard Speck and the way he victimized his innocent victims.  It will be interesting to see what Don does with this experience.  He seems dedicated to Megan in a way that we never saw with Betty, but we also haven’t seen him out of town on business, where it’ll be harder to keep his demons at bay.

That same night, Greg and Joan and Kevin and Gail and Greg’s parents go out for Italian food, to celebrate.  Joan has come to grips with what she has to do and is putting on a happy face and standing behind her doctor.  The problem is, Greg’s mom knows that Greg has volunteered to return to Viet Nam.  He wants to go.  As the evening unfolds, Greg’s mom can’t hold her tongue any longer and implores Joan to talk some sense to her son.  Joan’s initial confusion turns to white-hot anger as she realizes what’s going on.  It’s at this moment that another call back to a Joanie humiliation at the hands of Greg takes place.  An old Italian accordion player steps up to the table and begins to play.  Gail drives the point home by telling Greg’s parents that Joan plays the accordion.  Indeed.

Joan holds it together in Joanie fashion until they get home, when she goes off on him.  Rather than stay and work out the problem, Greg runs off to “have a drink with the boys.”  Gail tells Joan to get some sleep, but instead, Joan sits up all night, plotting her next move, and in the morning, announces to Greg and Gail that she’s done.  She wants to never see him again.  And just like that, he leaves.

In the middle of all this Joan/Greg drama, we cut back and forth to Sally and Grandma Pauline, bonding over the grisly murder in Chicago.  Grandma is on the couch eating Betty’s Bugles, a large carving knife at her side for protection.  Meanwhile, Sally is upstairs, reading the paper – pulled from the garbage – with a flashlight, under the covers.  She freaks out, and in a fit of desperation, seeks comfort from Pauline.

Pauline must be freaked too because she softens her hard line, and the two discuss the murders, with Pauline slowly talking through the details voyeuristically.   This murder has stirred old memories in Pauline.  Earlier, as she was explaining Sally’s need for discipline, she gave as an example her own father who, when she was a child, once kicked her across the room and into some furniture – just to keep her on her toes.  “That was for nothing,” her father said.  “Watch out.”  After Sally declared it pure meanness, Pauline agreed, but said it was great advice.

It’s also a window into what Weiner wants us to see as the situation that women faced in that time – a paternalistic culture that devalued women, seeing them sex objects, house keepers, or secretaries – creatures who sometimes needed a whack to keep them in their place.  And there’s a sense that even as Peggy confesses that she doesn’t know if she has it in her to succeed in a man’s world, things are about to change.  We know what’s just around the corner – that the formidable WASP strongholds are not only under siege, but about to be taken by women, jews, blacks, gays and on and on.  It may not be a perfect world we live in now, but it’s certainly not as exclusive.

Unable to conceive of sleep, Pauline bites a seconal in two, and from the swell of music, we are led to believe that this is only the beginning for Sally.

Night gives way to morning, and Henry and Betty finally return from Buffalo, stranded by the airline strike that has benefitted Mohawk Airlines.  Pauline is asleep on the couch, and as the camera pans back, we see that Sally has taken refuge from the horrors of Richard Speck under the couch where Pauline is sleeping.  It’s a poignant moment that captures perfectly the sense we have of Sally as a survivor of the carnage of Don and Betty’s marriage, Betty’s dysfunctional second marriage, and let’s not mention Glenn.

As Joan is sending Greg packing and Peggy is reading Dawn’s thank you note, and Betty is looking for Sally, Don is awakened by Megan, who brings him breakfast in bed.  We get the same overhead angle, where in Don’s dream, Andrea’s foot and hand stuck out from under the bed.  In the light of morning, there is no body, and Don is confused, unable to distinguish the dream from reality.  So real was/is the struggle.  He asks Megan where she was, and she tells him she was with him through the night, worried over his fever.

“You don’t have to worry about me,” Don tells her, re-committing to the battle.

The episode ends on a pan of Gail, Kevin, and Joan in bed.  Gail and Kevin sleep, but Joan is dressed and alert.  I expect to see her back at SCDP in episode 505, most likely pretending that everything is fine with her and Greg.  What’s interesting is that with all the talk of and staging of women under beds, we see Joan laying ON her bed, not cowering beneath it.

Mad Men: Episode 503 Tea Leaves Commentary


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Last week, I wrote myself into liking the episode, after initial reservations.  Not so this week.  Episode 503: Tea Leaves was a strong return to form, well directed by John Hamm.  We catch up with Betty, who is more Shelly Winters than Grace Kelly this season, thanks to the real-life pregnancy of January Jones.  Death is hanging over this season thickly.  All that’s missing are vultures on the reception desk at Sterling Cooper Draper & Price.

The episode opens with contrasting scenes of Betty and Megan being zipped into dresses for separate social occasions.

It’s our first glimpse of Betty this season, and boy has she put on weight (this story line is out of necessity, due to January Jones’s pregnancy).  She has Sally and Bobby trying to pull the zipper of a powder blue June Cleaverish number, but they can’t get it.  It was Gone With the Wind meets John Waters.

Cut to Megan in a modish, loose-fitting dress unzipped to her butt.  She’s talking to her mother on the phone in French, and Don walks up and easily pulls the zipper.  No fuss, no muss.

And thus, one of the main themes of the episode is launched – middle-aged Betty, struggling with her weight…and her mortality.  More on that, later.

Next, Don and Megan have dinner with the guy from Heinz and his wife.  At first, we see how Megan handles the dog-and-pony show.  It’s bumpy, but it works.  It’s another contrast with Betty, who knew how to look pretty without interjecting her thoughts and opinions into the evening – she was very much be seen, but not heard.  Not so much with Megan, who just blurts out, when asked how they met, that Don was divorced.  You could almost see him wince.

But it’s the conversation that happens next that sets up the next big theme of the night – youth, and generation gap.  The Heinz guy and his wife have a laugh over The Rolling Stones and how much their daughter loves them.  But he wants to market his beans to the younger generation and comes up with a play on the song Time Is On My Side which doesn’t bear repeating.  Don’s not impressed, but humors the guy by saying he’ll check out their upcoming concert at Forest Hills.

A secondary, but hugely satisfying storyline is developed when we find Pete and Lane waiting in Pete’s office for Roger.  When Pete calls looking for him, he’s informed by a secretary that Roger thought it was in his office, forcing them to come to him.  It’s a passive-aggressive power play in their cold war that’s as silly as the old Spy vs. Spy cartoons of the same era.

The reason for the meeting?  Mohawk has been landed, and they will need a dedicated copywriter to deal with the load and make them feel special.  Both Roger and Pete seem to be vying to credit on bring them back.  Hmmm.

The new secretary, one of the African American candidates, ends up working for Don.  Her name is Dawn, and there’s much fun had with the punning possibilities.  Roger, predictably insensitive, refers to her once as the darkness before Don.  Sometimes, progress ain’t pretty.

Don and Roger bring Peggy in and give her the good news about Mohawk.  They compound the good news by putting her in charge of hiring the new copywriter.  The qualifications for the position are that this person must possess a penis.  “A good looking version of Don,” Roger tells her.

One last plotline – Harry comes up with the Stones tickets and takes advantage of the opportunity to impress Don by guiding him into the belly of the youth culture – to great comic effect.

It turns out Betty’s afternoons are spent on the couch eating Bugles and watching The Andy Griffith Show.  That is, when her mother-in-law isn’t dropping in and meddling.  The lady’s mission is to protect her baby, who’s none-too-happy about Betty’s constant refusal to join him at social functions.  It’s upsetting to him, and the mother-in-law thinks she knows why.  “You get comfortable.  You give up a little, then it gets out of control,” she says of the eating.  When Betty asks her if that’s what happened to her, she’s ready for her and explains that she no longer has a man to please.  “It’ll be easy for you.  You’re just one of those girls.”  Snap!

So Betty goes to the doctor and gets to the point.  The doctor points out that for middle-aged women (ouch!) it gets easier to pack on the pounds and harder to take them off.   When she presses for the recommended diet pills, he refuses to do it without an exam, explaining that rapid weight loss is usually psychological in nature, having to do with everything we’ve seen in Betty over the four previous seasons.

He starts feeling around her neck and finds something he doesn’t like and schedules her for a follow-up exam, sending Betty into a free-fall panic.

It’s at this point that I connected Betty’s mortality to the comments about Don from the season opener and saw the cloud of death hanging over this couple.  Two episodes in, and it’s getting pretty dark.

Betty gets home, but can’t find Henry.  She calls Don, who seems genuinely concerned for her welfare.  He does the typical ledge-talking until she finally tells him to “say the thing you always say.”  He tells her that everything’s going to be okay.  Even though she’s manufactured it, just hearing him say it is good enough for this middle-aged little girl, and she gets off the phone and goes about her business.  He, on the other hand, is haunted by the news.  Is it out of concern and some love for her, or is it a reminder of his own mortality?

Just as I was getting bummed out, Peggy and Stan rescued me with their banter.  She’s on the couch, pissed off at the mediocre portfolios wasting her time.  And then she finds one with “Judge not, lest ye be judged” printed on the outside.  She’s interested, then rewarded by some good work on the inside.  She shows it to Stan who’s also impressed, but tosses it on the reject pile.  The ensuing argument perfectly showcases not only their personality differences, but the difference between Peggy (and by extension Don) and the rest of the SCDP gang (and most of the world).  Stan advises her to stick with a mediocre candidate, lest she be working for him someday.  She rejects the advice, saying that she’s inspired by good work.  Stan tells her to suit herself, but that mediocrity makes for more restful sleep at night.  Technically, he’s right, which is why it’s a C- world that we live in.

Peggy brings in the clever guy, Michael Ginsburg, an obnoxiously neurotic striver, and he immediately sees through Peggy’s pretending to be the authority.  He knows of Don’s reputation, and asks about him often.  Peggy sounds like a 13 year old on her first babysitting gig, declaring her authority.  But there’s a weird chemistry between the two, an Abbott and Costello-ish quality about them that had me rooting for them immediately.

At the hospital, to have her tests done, Betty runs into an old friend who’s unaware of the divorce from Don or marriage to Henry.  After an awkward hello (the woman is in for her own cancer treatment), the old friend – Joyce – invites Betty to lunch.

At lunch, after some small talk, Betty makes a bold move for her.  She asks Joyce a personal question – what it’s like dealing with the cancer.  Joyce tells her it’s like being in the ocean alone, paddling, but getting further from the shore.  But rather than panicking, she says her mind goes to normal things.   She tells Betty “You get tired, and then you give in and you hope you go straight down.”

Betty shivers at the thought as a gypsy approaches them, asking to read their tea leaves.  Joyce laughs at the thought of having their futures read and gives the poor woman Betty’s cup.  The gypsy does her thing, looks into the cup, and declares that Betty possesses a “great soul.  You mean so much to the people around you.  You’re a rock.”  This declaration drives Betty to tears, and Joyce tips her and shoos her away.

Later, when Betty is in bed with Henry, who must have a lot of pent-up desire, she initiates intimacy, which shocks him.  This, after refusing to let him see her get out of the tub.

Later, she has a dream, which Henry later, unknowingly and perfectly links to Scrooge’s Christmas Eve journey, where she sees her family dealing with the aftermath of her death.  It’s cold, just as you’d expect from her, with Henry chanting “if, if, if….”  It’s a trippy experience that wakes her from her sleep.

As Betty’s dealing with the impending news from her side, Don is in a funk himself, but he keeps the news from Megan, still keeping lids on some of his compartments.

As Don leaves to pick up Harry for the Stones concert, Megan kisses him and tells him he looks so square that he has corners, to which he says that he has to look like a man.  Interesting.  This whole episode, I had Dylan’s “The Times They Are A’Changin’” running through my mind – the verse about moms and dads and getting out of the way if you don’t understand what’s going on.

The generation gap is further delineated when Don and Harry are backstage at the concert with groupies and other hangers-on.  It’s another odd couple pairing, with Harry contrasting Don’s studied cool with his painfully awkward attempt at trying to fit in with the kids with his turtleneck sweater and jacket and bushy hair.

As they wait for an audience with Allan Klein, the manager of the Stones, a couple of fourteen year old girls approach them, looking for cigarettes.  One of them teases the two, calling them Derwood and Mr. Kravitz from Bewitched.  Harry works and works to gain their acceptance, using references they don’t get until at last, one of the girls takes him off to find the band, leaving Don with the other.

I have to admit that I wondered where Don would go with this one.  Last season he would have bedded her, but this is another season, and Don’s got deep thoughts on his mind.  He’s paternal with this girl, and refuses to answer her flirts.  Instead, he first goes into clinical-always-working Don mode and asks her questions about why she likes the Stones and how she feels when she hears them.  On the one hand, I think “man, he doesn’t get it.  The Stones weren’t/aren’t a product being bought and sold.  They were part of a revolution – THE SIXTIES!”  But another part of me immediately responded “Oh, really?”

And this is where Don’s going to live, I guess, this season, in the gap of not understanding or dealing with the changes to the world at-large and his world that are happening.  By choosing Megan he seems to have instinctively put his chips all-in on the young, optimistic, new, and frightening reality, turning his back on the old.  But it doesn’t mean he gets it or is comfortable with it.

The young girl picks up on his line of questioning, seeing it for what it is, and asks him if he’s a psychiatrist.  When Don asks her what she knows about psychiatrists, she looks down, then asks for a business card, saying she’ll use it to get in to see the band.  Later, Don asks her what she expects to happen if she meets the band.  She gushes over Brian Jones.  Don pushes the point.  “Then what?”  He keeps on until she tells him that “None of you wants us to have any fun because you never did.”  Don snaps back, “No.  We’re worried about you.”  It’s both very touching and very much a dad kind of remark.

I don’t think we’ve seen the last of this 14 year old girl who has Don Draper’s business card.

The night ends a failure.  Harry comes back bragging that he met the band, but instead met and signed the Tradewinds.  They have a nice moment in Don’s car.  Harry’s been smoking pot, and now he’s eating a bag of hamburgers meant for his family.  Don can’t get rid of him.  Poor, sad Harry.

The next morning, Megan wakes Don so they can go to Fire Island and hang with her friends.  He’s hungover and doesn’t want to go.  He has her sit down in a dramatic fashion that freaks her out (she knows his reputation).  When he tells her that it’s only Betty maybe having cancer, you can see how relieved she is.  But she’s a little bit pissed that he hid it from her.  He confesses that he didn’t know how she’d react.  When she brushes away his concerns, which sound like Betty, she takes the Don position and tells him “Come on.  There’s nothing you can do.”  It’s her version of everything’s going to be okay.  She reaches out her hand, he takes it, and follows her – content to let her do the thinking and worrying for once.

This is huge.  Again, it’s Don letting go – if just a little – of the clamped-down Don Draper who controls everything and trusts no one.  It’s a glimpse, perhaps, of the new Don Draper…of Dick Whitman.

We find out the date when we see Betty and Henry sitting in Adirondack chairs in front of Henry’s marvelous Hudson Valley mansion in the evening as the kids play with sparklers – it’s the Fourth of July.  And though there may not be explosions, the fuse has been lit on some big changes in this world.

Peggy is nervous about Don meeting Ginsburg, but the meeting couldn’t have gone better, which shocks the hell out of Peggy.  The Ginsburg in the meeting seems almost normal, aside from his plaid sport coat.  Despite that, Peggy tries to answer all of Ginbsburg’s questions for him until Don finally shuts her up.  Ginsburg defers to Don, appealing to his ego by citing Don’s Lucky Strike letter as an inspiration to him, and after an eloquent appeal, Don welcomes him to the agency, keeping Peggy behind to congratulate her.

As Don and Peggy leave his office, they find Ginsburg kneeling on a sofa, looking out the window of their high-rise office building with Roger.  It’s a weird picture that Roger turns weirder when he says “it turns out we both have a dream of throwing something out this window.”  For Roger, it’s probably Pete Campbell.  I have no idea what Ginsburg’s deal was.  But I couldn’t help going back to my wife’s prediction that Don will eventually take the plunge himself one day.  We’ll see.

The next day, Pete makes the announcement to the entire agency that Mohawk is back in the fold.  It’s a big production that he must have carefully planned, and in it, he took credit for bringing Mohawk back, of hiring the new copywriter, and of handing off the busy-work to Roger.  It’s a public humiliation that was lost on everyone but Pete, Don, and Roger.  John Slattery should win an Emmy just for the look he gives Pete in that moment – combination of hurt, shame, hatred and realization that his days as an alpha are over.  It’s Pete’s world now, an echo of Don’s youth storyline, except that Roger won’t embrace the new.  Rather, he tried to co-opt it by marrying young, but ended up hating Trudy just like he hates Pete.

Don follows Roger and they go to Don’s office to drink.  Roger vents his spleen, confessing that he feels as if he’s hanging from a ledge with Pete stepping on his fingers.  He goes on until Don springs his surprise about Betty.  Leave it to Roger to have the bottom line tastelessly figured out: Don – “Betty has cancer.”  Roger – “That would solve everything.”  Don give him a look, then he goes to the clichés – “She’s a fighter.”  Don – “Come on.”  Don, with on male to turn to, goes to Roger, a kind of father or big brother, and gets bullshit.  But then, Roger gets serious.  “Actual life and death.  I’ve given up on that.”  To which Don replies that he can’t do that.  Roger, confused and resigned or resolved to carry-on, gets up and pauses at the door to ask when it’s all going to get back to normal.

When Betty finally learns that her tumor is benign, she isn’t as happy as one would expect.  Henry’s happy and makes the Scrooge connection – that she’s been given a second chance.  But all Betty can see is that she’s merely fat…like Henry’s mom.  There’s no resolution, and their marriage seems more doomed that hers to Don.  There’s nothing real, no connection, no intimacy.  It’s a sham, and they both seem to know it while they’re powerless to do anything about it.

Later, when Don calls to ask about the news, Henry answers and is surprised to learn that Don knows.  He gives Don the news then blows him off, then lies to Betty about who it was.

Don is relieved at the good news, which relieves him of having to consider all of the implications of a world with no Bets.  Megan walks in, which cheers him up.  He’s glad to see her, declaring that she’s so optimistic.

The episode ends with two very touching scenes.

In the first, Ginsburg arrives home at a cramped and dingy apartment.  His elderly father sits in his chair, reading the paper, lamenting the passing of an old Redsox player.  Ginsburg announces that he got the job.  His father rises, comes to the kitchen, and says a prayer, in Yiddish, I presume, over his son that moved me to tears.  It was so well written and executed – the bare minimum in terms of information/exposition, but loaded with story and meaning.  Beautiful.

Finally, we end on Betty.  She has made Sundaes for her and Sally, who can’t finish hers.  After Sally asks to be excused to watch TV, Betty pushes aside her empty glass, and finishes Sally’s, as the showtune “16 going on 17” plays to close the episode.

 

You wait little girl

On an empty stage

For fate to turn the light on

Your life little girl

is an empty page

that men will want to write on

 

Will Betty take advantage of her second chance and take control of her life, at long last, or will she retire to the couch and give up?