Sorry, I’m distracted by the sirens. Lately it seems like sirens go off every time we try to speak. I do mean actual sirens. There is crime everywhere. We can try to build new homes in new towns—Abe and Peggy’s bohemian flat, Megan and Don’s modernist penthouse, Pete’s bachelor pad, Roger’s patriarchal bedroom, a cabin in the woods—but violence intrudes, and there are always people caught in the crossfire. Summers should be sweeter. There should always be afternoons at the beach and canteen sing-alongs, scary movies that make it hard to go to bed and porch-lit conversations to ease us into sleep. And yet. There’s a kind of loneliness to the beginning of summer, maybe because we know it’s going to end. All of this is going to end. Whether in blood or heartbreak or teenagers in revolt: these days are numbered.
Fresh from calling his colleagues whores and mooning over Sylvia, the increasingly emo Don eggs on Peggy to choose between his idea and Ted’s in the never ending margarine controversy. He somewhat randomly decides to deign acknowledgment of his son’s existence by heading upstate to visit Bobby’s summer camp for parents’ weekend. When he finds Betty looking as lithe and blond as a teenager, he treats her like one by sleeping with her and getting upset when she thinks it might mean something, though to her, all it means is confirmation she’s hot again. Back in the city, Megan’s waiting for him on the balcony, sirens going off everywhere because New York in the ’60s was A Dangerous Place, apparently full of predatory bisexual soap co-stars. He acknowledges his disappearing act to this current wife, but to what end? At this point, Don’s love-them-because-you-leave-them shtick has exhausted its sociopolitical metaphorical power, and the pseudo-Freudian claptrap about prostitution and consumerism is less satisfying than a menthol cigarette after sex. I mean, what if Don Draper isn’t the 20th century hard-boiled into an inscrutably handsome man? What if he’s just Dabney Coleman in 9 to 5 a few decades earlier?
It’s good to see Betty finally get some attention, and if it took months of chain-smoking, not eating and peroxiding to get it, well, people do worse every week. Yes, everybody wants a piece of Skinny Betty now: Henry’s initial flirtation with her is re-enacted by one of his colleagues, an imbroglio she helpfully recounts in the town car home as Henry holds fast to her chin, then the rest of her. Bobby jumps up and down and sings and dances just so she’ll puff smoke in his general direction and is so evidently pleased by said puff that his mother does one better and joins in the song. And then actually dances, as best she could, though Bobby’s choreography of “Left Hand Up, Right Hand Up” is briefly more than she can manage. Don wants her again, finally. Even the mosquitoes take a bite, after she claims they don’t actually want her and then offers up the rare Betty delicacy of a human emotion: anger, of course. We leave her basking in the afterglow, the aura of attention from her silver fox of a husband radiating around her like light from a metallic UV reflector.
There is so much of Joan and so little of her in our story these days. The tease of her absence is starting to feel cruel. Joan deserves all the lazy beach frolicking with boy toy Bob Benson her warm heart might desire, but good heavens, let’s please see it! And let’s also please see her operate as a partner. Duck’s right, and so is Pete. SCDPCGC is full of dead men and dead men walking and, while misogyny’s gravity is tough to shrug off, it’s hard to believe a woman with Joan’s gravitas wouldn’t start to fill all that empty space.
She had a tough week. Don rejected her, Ted rejected her, she stabbed Abe, and then he rejected her and called her the Enemy with that kind of sneer that works only when surrounded by a stingy walrus mustache and a mouth full of undergraduate Marxism. Bye, Abe. But if her ex–old man were right, and Peggy’s essentially a person made of fear, it’s not hard to see why. When she acts without fear, she’s rarely rewarded. Striking out on her own just brought her back into the Sterling et al. fold, only caught between two strutting boss men instead of one. Her attempts at homesteading could hardly have gone worse. Peggy’s gifted but perhaps not brilliant, ambitious but perhaps not driven, empathetic and sympathizing but not all that warm, a quick wit but not funny, brave but not bold. She’s scared these characteristics will keep her from realizing her potential, and wouldn’t you be? I mean, aren’t you? Here come the sirens again.
Let’s open the floor with a few questions.
How good of an actress is Megan, actually? Are we to expect her star to rise, or did your heart sink as she sank to the floor in a Blond Betty wig, acting as if she really thought every mess needed to be cleaned up?
Who will save the Chevy account? Will it be Don, in a dazzle of Kodak carousel-pitch brilliance? Will it be Ted, who can fly with the greatest of ease but seems itchy and sweaty when pressed for a tagline? Peggy, newly redevoted to her work after every last man in her life disappoints her? The up-and-coming Ginsberg, whose peers are more likely moving to San Francisco with flowers in their hair than seeking an American collective consciousness and manipulating it to sell a car? Or Burt Cooper? Hey, what if it were shoes-off Burt Cooper?
It will be Sally. Or maybe Bobby. His “No, he went home” retort to Betty’s bizarre Bobby Kennedy reference was pretty darn quick. The kid’s got a future … in something.