Fellow Sterling Cooper….wait, who are we again? Are we still the real thing, or a sunnier substitute? Who belongs here and who doesn’t? Let’s pilot this rickety vessel through a stormy week, into the calmer air above.
It’s morning. We know because we hear married couples fighting. A surgeon’s wife poses her body around a lush hotel bed, unzips the dress Don’s bought her to reveal the darkest-black negligee, a few domestic anecdotes, a quickening competence for role-playing. Bourbon pours, and a smile comes over their adulterous faces.
Two things: Sylvia’s a heart surgeon’s wife. (It’ll never work, because Don’s heartless.) And Don will want fresh meat in the bed, eventually. That’s not up for debate. Don’s product launch—his passion, more or less—receives the ultimate tagline from Sylvia: “I Need You. And Nothing Else Will Do.” Give her an Andy. That copy’s pure genius. But Sylvia doesn’t want an Andy, or (eventually) even the sex games, and while her character isn’t written fully enough to clue us into what she does want, apart, perhaps, from her husband, it seems this 50 Shades of Gray Flannel Don Draper is an artificial substitute for Arnie. It’s a major swap in a week full of comparison shopping.
Because for Don, Sylvia’s just a new-model Megan, aka I Can’t Believe It’s Not Betty. Load-bearing column Peggy may have thought Ted was a healthier version of Don, but they do both leave a bad taste in her mouth. Pete thinks of himself as a more respectable Don, but soon melts under the pressure of a Mother whose ingredients are mostly gin and dementia (and Happy Mother’s Day to all you matriarchs; you can go to hell and Ted Chaough can fly you there). The less said of Margarine Moira, the better, particularly in this taste test comparison with Joan, who, to her complete surprise, might share her mother’s newfound appetite for young Bobby Benson, a sweeter, riper version of rapist Greg. Convincing a nurse that someone’s blindly chugged poison is what passes for romance, these days. Who doesn’t have a taste for it?
Now that we’ve dispensed with the gallantry, as Roger put it, let’s try to put the rest of this office in order. Pick up a box and help, as clients and secretaries and offices are disappearing and reappearing in other people’s hands at alarming speeds. Did Ted get Roger’s office, or just the Bridget Reily-esque wall-warp? Does anyone’s office have room for the old casting couches anymore? Will we actually get to the power Peggy alleges “Black Dawn” has developed, or just listen to a bunch of white people complain about it?
There were three Bobby’s in the Mad Men universe, and as of this week there are now only two. The two sets of copy teams will surely either come together as one or get reduced into a skeletal, singular staff—particularly if, as with this margarine pitch, they can free-associate till the cows come home but really only ever see the bread, not the circuses. Sure, it’s May 1968, but for these guys, there’s only a subway ride home under the paving stones—no beach here. And, oh, to hear the Calvert mere et pere opine on the occupation and strikes. And while we’re dreaming, a subplot of Sal at Stonewall—it’s only a year away. But that hope might be oleo, a poor substitute. “It took forty minutes to find out no one knows shit about margarine,” Ted says, nauseated. Why would they, when most mornings, real life’s hard enough to swallow?