SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this, swipe a bottle of booze and watch Mad Men.
So I’ll admit it: I lost faith just for a second. I briefly thought Mad Men was going to start sucking. That moment when Don asks his long-lost brother whether any of their relatives are left surviving, finds out they’re gone, then reaches into his bag? What the hell is he going to pull out? He’s not–the show isn’t going to go there, is it? Is this Matthew Weiner’s Sopranos side taking over? Is Don going to off Adam? And call Pete over to help him saw off Adam’s head in the bathroom and put his head in a bowling bag? And then the rest of the series becomes about Don’s run from the law?
Of course it didn’t go there–in retrospect, a payoff or something similar was the only thing in Don’s character, making the tease unnecessary–and it was good to see the series finally turn over that rock vis-a-vis “Dick Whitman.” I especially liked the direction the show went with Adam (Jay Paulson), Don’s forsaken, good-hearted, needy and slightly creepy brother. (Did anyone else think of Mike White in Chuck and Buck here?) And Jon Hamm continues to impress as Don: Draper is a cold-hearted S.O.B.–it’s the only recourse his life choices have left him–but there was unmistakable sadness in his eyes as he forced the payoff on Adam (and himself).
I do think the series has to play it carefully with Don’s mystery past: it’s fascinating, but it’s also enough story in itself to carry a series, independent of the period ad-business story of Mad Men. It’s a melodramatic story, which is completely appropriate given the American-dream themes and the era the show is set in: it’s a little bit Great Gatsby and a little bit Douglas Sirk. But if it goes too far over the top, you could end up with two series in one: that one, and the more straight-ahead heightened realism at Sterling Cooper. But I’m going to have faith for now.
* The subplot of Kenneth’s publication hit on a universal theme of jealousy and just enough 1960-specific notes. This was a time when publishing short stories didn’t just carry prestige, but still paid real money: these are the kind of guys who both live John Cheever stories and want to be John Cheever. And the choice of magazine–the Atlantic, with its uppercrusty Boston heritage–was exactly the one to get under Pete’s skin (his old-money dad would take the magazine seriously, maybe even more than the relative upstart New Yorker) and send him pimping Trudy out to her old boyfriend. Enjoy Boy’s Life, Pete.
* Nice interplay between Peggy and the canny Joan. “Oh, God, I shouldn’t have told you.” “You shouldn’t have told me.”
* While it may have been a little too perfect to have Don come up with the “private executive” bank account idea in this episode, it was worth seeing the bank client’s reaction–revealing that, even if not everyone has Don’s secrets–plenty of the bank’s customers are already keeping their own hush-hush accounts. “It could start some uncomfortable conversations in a lot of homes. But it’s better than a calendar!”