SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, throw your dinner off the balcony and watch last night’s Mad Men.
Maybe I’m just feeling sorry for myself with the end of another mad Men season in sight, but: do we really have to stop after 13 episodes? More to the point, can one more episode possibly, satisfyingly handle all the balls the series has in the air at this point? Busy busy busy! There were a good half-dozen major storylines at work in this episode, and the only way I can think to structure this post is to take them one at a time.
DON: This was a really disorienting episode from the standpoint of trying to figure out where the protagonist is, both figuratively in his mind and literally in space-time. At least part of that, I suspect, was intentional. Maybe I’m just dense, but it took me a minute or so into several of his scenes before I realized whether he was with Anna—the former Mrs. Real Don Draper—in the present or in the California past. But the process of getting my bearings helped illustrate how Don changed in the years between when he came home from Korea and when we first met him. Jon Hamm looks much the same today and in the flashbacks, but you come too see how gradually Dick Whitman grew into the armored carapace that is his Don Draper persona. The younger Don/Dick is far less assured, and also more naive and open; it’s hard to imagine the 1962 Don talking about anything in the dreamy way in which he told Anna about meeting Betty, the girl of his dreams, while it still was a dream. I’m still curious, though, how he and Anna evolved the curious relationship they have now: if she didn’t out-and-out blackmail him upon learning his secret, she at least got a big payoff, and yet they carry themselves around each other like old lovers.
PEGGY: Peggy right now is like the lighter weight at the end of a pulley: as those around her (Freddy, Don, Pete, Joan) fall lower, she’s rising like a rocket. If it was maybe a little too perfect that she would so directly be able to draw on her Catholic experience (prompted by Sal) to devise that subliminal pitch for the Popsicle as communion (in other words, to borrow a phrase, it is actually Jesus Christ on a Popsicle stick), it was still a damn good pitch. The way she built to “You take it, break it, share it and love it. This act of sharing; it’s what a Popsicle is”—that was 100% Don. And the cut to the poster was brilliant and hilarious, with the Mom as Christ figure, complete with orange logo-halo. (“The mom—she reminds me of something.”) Parlaying that sale into taking Freddy’s office was an office-politics blitzkrieg, as you could see in the scene in which her male colleagues realize what a force they’re dealing with. “Why don’t you just put on Draper”s pants?” asks a superseded Kinsey. How do you know she hasn’t already?
JOAN: This engagement did not look like it was going to go well, and apparently it’s not. Watching her raped by her fiance on the floor of Don’s office was disturbing enough, but even more so was her reaction, before and after it happened. Her fiance, threatened by her sexual experience, needs her somehow broken, made less powerful. Thus he loses wood when she offer do “do the driving” in bed, and gets turned on by forcing himself on her in her workplace, where (probably prompted by the run-in with Roger) he suspects other men have had her before. Joan, on the other hand, cannot admit to losing control even when she is. She first admonishes him as if he’s not violating her but annoying her—”This is not fun”—and rather than fight or raise her voice (which would require recognizing that she’s being attacked), goes silent and looks away. When she later talks to Peggy, whom she’s tried to put in her place so many times before, her need to impress Peggy says as much about Joan’s problems as it does about Peggy’s new status. “We’re getting married at Christmas.” I wouldn’t write it down in pen.
PETE: I owe Mrs. Tuned In for this insight, but the relationship between Pete and Peggy is one of the most interesting developments in Mad Men this season. Last year, after they’d slept together, it was important to Pete that she be meek and insecure. (Recall him saying that he hated seeing her like this when she was dancing with coworkers after hours.) Now, though, they’ve reached an odd kind of understanding. They recognize that they don’t necessarily share the same values (as when she admonished him for ratting out Freddy), but they’re not entirely different, either (she did take Freddy’s office, after all that). Pete is not exactly Mr. Lovable now, but he’s learned to respect Peggy, and they both seem to realize, without their encounters being sexually charged anymore, that they’re the ones in the office who actually get each other. Peggy, meanwhile, no longer seems to need to prove herself to him, but treats him like a peer. “How the hell did you swing this?” “I’m sleeping with Don. It’s really working out.” Meanwhile, with daddy-in-law taking the Clearasil away, sleeping with Trudy is not working out so well for Pete.
STERLING COOP: The potential sale of SC to Duck’s Brit allies may be the most foreboding development on the show, but in this episode, it was pure comedy gold, especially as it intersected Roger’s love life. In no particular order: “Let Roger Sterling have what he always wanted: to die in the arms of a 20 year old”; Roger’s staredown with Alice’s two-headed mink stole; and her farewell to him: “You have your children to think of.” “I just have the one.” “Really?” Also, maybe Robert Morse’s best performance yet in his undervalued supporting role, as Bert faces rendering himself a figurehead.
BETTY: Oh my Lord, let us count the ways in which Betty is screwed up. Excellent performance from Hanuary Jones in an episode in which she was only peripheral. Was she scarier judging her friend for the hookup with the riding instructor that Betty all but threw at her? Or giving Sally the gift of riding boots, followed by the “big girl” news that her daddy had moved out of the house? (Now I can always associate horse riding with the disaster of your parents’ marriage! Thank you, Mommy! And yet it was notable that Sally, though she tried to use Don”s absence to manipulate Betty earlier, actually did not seem mature enough to process the information.) Not that Betty is solely to blame for her situation, but she clearly learned a thing or two about mind games in all those shrink sessions.
One week left. What do you imagine coming up, besides the Cuban Missile Crisis?