— Richard Lawson, on Mad Men’s uneven season 6
What does it say about my upbringing that I can’t understand Don Draper as anything other than an alcoholic? This isn’t a narrative arch we’re seeing. We’re watching him bottom out.
— Matt Zoller Seitz, on Bob Benson, in NYMag (Y’all know I’ve been having this real sense of impending doom since the arrival of Benson.)
Ah, nostalgia. What did Draper say about it in Season One’s “The Wheel”? It is “the pain from an old wound.” What a deeply felt episode, then, as we longtime viewers revisited our characters’ early pain. That moment when Mrs. Campbell brought up to Peggy “the child you have between you.” The rich shared understanding between she and Pete. The theme of war and what it does to you. Sally’s complicated relationship with her father. Pete and the notion he’s unloveable.
We’ve written many times before about how Sally, while just a child, serves as an emotional heart of this show, since the pain of her father and the consequential effects on her mother get revisited on her life and her innocence again and again. She has run away to her father before, only to come crashing to floor in disappointment. (She literally fell on her face when she ran down the SCDP hall in Season Four’s “The Beautiful Girls,” and then-secretary Megan comforted her. Megan said, “It’s going to be all right,” and Sally said, quite presciently, “No, it’s not.”) And we already know she was experimenting with masturbation when quite young, driving her mom to a child psychiatrist’s couch. I’m curious how the writers will deal with Sally’s daddy issues and her burgeoning womanhood now.
- Ever since I started reading Tom & Lorenzo’s stunningly spot-on, richly detailed fashion analyses of Mad Men, I’ve been particularly sensitive to instances in which characters wear blue and green. Blue and green costumes signify adultery. And once Peggy appeared in that green suit, and Ted Chaough in the blue tie, I figured something was going to go down. But I didn’t expect it to be between Bob and Pete.
So Bob Benson is gay. Is that his only secret?
- In other personal life musings, is Megan pregnant? I was curious about that call she had to make to “her agent” away from Sally’s friend. Maybe that’s just what’s on my mind since many of my friends are expecting, but given her recent miscarriage, it wouldn’t be a total shocker if she was pregnant again.
- The conversation between the once-cuckolded Dr. Rosen and Don about men and war echoed some themes from an excellent HBO documentary about war photographer Tim Hetherington. Check out Which Way Is The Front Line From Here? if you have HBO.
- Sunkist, Ocean Spray, Sunkist… What is juice? Hehe.
Diplomacy club is just another excuse to make out,
"Poor girl. She doesn’t know that loving you is the worst way to get to you." -Betty Draper, to Don, in the afterglow
Credit January Jones — and Jon Hamm — for that heart-wrenching scene of the two Drapers in bed, reunited for a night five years after the first Kennedy brother was shot, which was the last time they were together as husband and wife. They spoke with the honesty that only two people who loved each other, hurt each other and learned about each other really could. I was glad for their fleeting moment of shared understanding after all they’d been through.
Betty Draper must have been doing lots of sit-ups in 1968, and on the one hand I congratulate her for finding peace in her family — “the wellspring of her confidence” — as Duck Phillips described, and on the other I wonder if she has regressed. She always knew the secret to her power (and cynically, perhaps the power of all women) is linked to beauty. Now that she’s hot to men again, she’s wielding it with Henry, by making him jealous and turned on. She’s wielding it with Don, by making him look at her the way he did before it “decayed.” The scene where she’s standing there waiting for Henry and getting hit on by another guy was, a few seasons ago, the exact same shot but Henry was the other guy, and Don was the one who she was waiting for.
And timely for Mad Men that this Betty episode is coming on the heels of a week of news about how women are the ones who have trouble with monogamy. The New York Times Magazine cover piece out yesterday:
“Women are far more likely to lose interest in sex with their partners. This doesn’t necessarily translate into infidelity—a choice many reject because it’s so hurtful—but, Bergner reports, spouse-weary women often just avoid sex altogether.
Add to that the study Bergner cites showing women respond to novelty in pornographic fantasies, and another showing that women are much more turned on by fantasies of sex with strangers than friends. You’d be forgiven for concluding that the gender most interested in mixing it up might be…women.”
We got a clue that Betty was getting more confident about her sexuality in the season opener, when she suggested to Henry (jokingly) that he should creep on Sally’s teenage friend. She admits she’s not guilty because the monogamy ship had sailed a long time ago, and she seems genuinely happy with Henry. Good for her, she’s come a long way, baby.
So sex doesn’t mean that much to Don. That’s both a big revelation and yet totally in line with his character. Obviously he likes sex as an activity, but his past taught him it was transactional and almost always linked to power, not intimacy. It makes sense his need for intimacy is fulfilled separately. Can he regain it with Megan? By the episode’s end, it seemed like he was recommitting to her after being distant and banging the downstairs neighbor for months, but commitment would require real character growth, so I’m not hopeful. Phillip, as y’all know, has been wondering and waiting for Don’s version of going electric a la Bob Dylan.
Read what co-blogger Phillip wrote about this at the beginning of Season 5, and how prescient it seems in the wake of this Don/Betty/Family episode as we come to the end of Season 6:
The first season ended on Thanksgiving Day 1960, with Don’s marriage in tatters and the soundtrack blaring Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”, a song that didn’t come out until 1963. “I didn’t know if the show would be picked up,” Matthew Weiner explained. “I was saying: ‘Here’s this song. This is what’s coming.’”
Watching the closing credits to Season 1, it’s hard for me not to draw parallels between Dylan and Draper. How easy is it to imagine Don singing of Betty, “I once loved a woman, a child I am told / I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul.”
Peggy spears her boyfriend and he finally admits she is everything soulless that he is fighting against… that random bloodshed was almost as surprising and great as the lawnmower taking off Guy’s foot back in the old office.
And she’s in love with Ted. But he’s too decent a guy to do anything about their charged situation. Wah wah.
Sirens in the background of the Don Megan scenes seemed too intentional, but as we saw in Peggy’s storyline, New York is getting rough. Too bad she’s selling that apartment though, it would be a fortune by now.
Duck Phillips is back. Hopefully that’s all we’ll see of him.
Still no office name, eh? “There’s still a lot of chiefs and only a couple of Indians,” says Duck.
Can’t wait to read what y’all thought. There was a lot to unpack this week.
I’m Bobby 5,
"I am feeling a lot of emotions…" -Don Draper
In the episode’s outset, sickness and death reign all over the place. Ken Cosgrove took the GM guys to dinner at 80 mph and nearly died. Enter an ass-injection of HGH and meth (or some concoction like that), and suddenly there’s warm lighting, questions about a broken heart from a gypsy girl (that later turned out to be the dearly departed Gleason’s daughter, whoops) and absolutely no sense of time or space. “It’s Saturday?”
Don Reverts to Dick. Who loved Don Draper? Not his mother, who died during childbirth. Not his step-mother, who used him as a whipping boy. A hobo gave him the most lasting advice of his life. When he was sick, a prostitute cared for him. And took his cherry. (Incidentally, I think this is similar to Deadwood anti-hero Al Swearengen’s history — he was abandoned by abandoned by his prostitute mother at a workhouse in Chicago.)
Showrunner Matt Weiner is famously an alumnus of The Sopranos, in which dreamy episodes became a regular occurrence toward the latter half of the series. Weiner actually wrote two of them: “The Test Dream” and “Mayham,” according to a Twitter friend of mine. Mad Men has similarly ventured into more mystical “Did-It-Happen-Or-Was-It-A-Dream” forays, notably in Season 2, Episode 11, “The Jet Set,” when Don went to California and got with the traveling Europhiles.
Just as he did back then, he uses the dreamy atmospherics to give us a little more detail about Don’s upbringing as we watch the small, pleading, desperate version of himself — Dick Whitman — come coughing out. It’s not pleasing to watch. The desperation was so not hot. It never is, and Dick/Don knows that.
And Sally got to deliver the ultimate verdict on her mysterious dad, telling him she realized she didn’t really know him at all. As a viewer, we know a lot more about him as season six winds down, but as we blogged about before, I’m not sure I’m that interested in this guy anymore. We get it: he’s lost. He’s incapable of change. Now what?
- The Cutler/Sterling mirror images continue to provide delight, though those weren’t as wonderful as Ken Cosgrove’s tap dancing.
- John F. Kennedy famously got injections of various substances in his ass, by a Doctor Feelgood, Max Jacobson. Jacobson ended up hooked on his own amphetamine mixtures, possibly killing a patient and losing his license. No doubt Jim Cutler’s doctor is in the same business.
- Grandma Ida, eh? Casting directors: did the elderly woman thief have to be black? Though, it made for that funny Bobby line: “Are we Negroes?”
- Betty goes blonde again. We saw the foreshadowing of this in the previous episode, when Henry announced he was going to run for office and we saw Betty hold up her skinny dress in front of her not-as-skinny self. She’s lost a lot of weight and is back to being blonde, but I am longing for the Betty who went to the bohemian homeless co-op in the Village earlier this season to search for Sally’s wandering friend. I’d love to see Betty challenge all the convention that’s kept her comfortable her entire life.
Dad has four watches,
A circus can be a great best place to hide the sadness. "The Crash" was a zany, fast-pace episode that opens with Ken Cosgrove blinded while speeding as a gun is pointed out his window. "The Crash" was also a very slow, Don Draper emotional vehicle that ends with him turning loss he can’t cover up into a middle finger about Chevy.
I want to write about loss and theft and leaving the door open and identity. I also want to know what the show’s characters are creating, and if the show is entertainment or just a really damn good seven-season commercial. Is churning out crap for Chevy every few months until the 70’s come (and the show ends) what Don wants, or does he want to create an ad? Does he have time for art or not - and is he ever going to go rock?
A lot of those questions need to be set aside for future posts. I’ll try and get into some of that while I work through my five favorite quotes of the episode. First, some bonus quotes:
- "I earned it." "On what street corner?"
- "When you start something like this it takes a lot of convincing. It’s all about whether or not the other person has as much to lose as you do, because you need to trust them when it’s over."
- "You just flushed the toilet in my head."
- "You’re pretentious, you know that. I love that."
- "Are we Negros?"
Now, my five favorites…
5. ”I’m going to get everybody fixed up.”
It could be reasonably well-argued that this whole episode was a drug-fueled mess that contributed little to character development and and even less to plot progress. But really, it was an energy syrum - a complex vitamin superdose of b-vitamins and a mild stimulant that provided a highly focused script for a weekend where, ultimately, very little work happened.
Don’s first flashback is cued when he sees Peggy comforting Ted. (Flashback to Season 4’s ‘The Suitcase’ for compare/contrast). But it’s more than that - it cues him to the whorehouse where he grew up, and he’s sick. A prostitute tells Don his mother doesn’t know how to care for him, and young still-virgin Don says, “she ain’t my mother.”
For 6 seasons, Don has been slowly trying to fix all the layers of pain in his life. His identity. His past life. His first marriage. His professional ambition. His love affairs. His role as a father. It takes plunges into hell for Draper to shed the baggage - whether induced by alcohol and a fight with Duck, or by the sight of Peggy’s mother-like touch for a new superior who found her attractive when Don never did.
Don’s never really all fixed up. Not yet, anyway.
4. “Sally, I left the door open…it was my fault.”
The season began w/ the episode “The Doorway” and the motif remains front and center in this episode. The following are the doors we have to deal with:
- Don standing at the Rosens back door
- Don leaving his door open so a fake grandmother can rob him while only his kids are home
- Don - on drugs - telling the creative team, “There is an answer that will open that door” and that “this is a test of our patience and commitment”
- Don telling Peggy and Ginsberg that the key to everything - in advertising and in life - is to get a foot in the door, even when you’re not entertained
The door motif is shaped around breaking-and-entering throughout this episode. The drugs are meant as a back-way into discovering the key that will unlock Chevy’s love for an ad. Don thinks he’s finally barging into the Rosen’s apartment at the end - even muttering, “don’t shut the door on me” - only to realize it’s his home that he’s walked into - as did another woman, through a door he left open.
How do we assign fault for doors left open? Are open doors a path for redemption or a reminder of temptation? When we walk through those doors, is something lost or something stolen? So many ideas to unpack…
3. “Because you know what he needs” - or “Does someone love me?”
Don, drugged up, believes he’s found the perfect answer. It’s from an oatmeal (not soup) ad that shows a kid brightly smiling, looking up at his mother. The mother has made her son happy, which is all a good mother ever wants. The ad caption reads, “Because you know what he needs.”
And Don needs love. His mother was a prostitute who died immediately. The woman who raises him cares little for him - it’s in the arms of a prostitute with a disguised name that he finds motherly affection, which immediately becomes his first experience with sexual affection. It hearkens back to last episode, when Don was drawn to his power/control of Sylvia’s cry of, “I need you and nothing else will do.”
Need and love are the same, and comfort and sex are the same. Don’s perceived question he asks - “Does someone love me?”, which we all ask according to Wendy - can be a question a mother can answer by fixing a bowl of oatmeal. But as Peggy tells us, it’s not one that can easily be dealt with when there’s loss.
2. “I’ve had loss in my life. you have to let yourself feel it. you can’t dampen it with drugs and sex. it won’t get you through.”
In the episode, we have:
—lost a man who can’t be replaced
—lost a cousin to war
—lost the love of an affair
—lost a child’s virginity
—lost a few watches
The drugs didn’t help. Neither does the sex. Pretty much says it all, Don. We need to a whole breakdown of the Peggy-Don dynamic again after this one. Lots of throw-backs to the Suitcase episode from Season 4.
1. “What are you going to call this place?”
This is the last question the doctor asks Don before he injects him with the drug vitamin - and the last time drugs are not impacting his behavior until the final scenes of the show. One thing is certain: Don does not want the place to be called a whorehouse. For a post-motorcycle accident, not-going-rock Bob Dylan/Don Draper (will discuss in future post), selling out to get a quick fix or pleasure can no longer be the answer…
Well, the moral of the story, the moral of the song
Is simply that one should never be where ones does not belong
So when you see your neighbor carrying something, help him with his load
And don’t go mistaking Paradise for that home across the road
—”The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest”
…until he’s tempted again by the next woman?
We still don’t have a name for the newly merged company, which is now down one piece that cannot be replaced and has secured a landmark client whose Creative Director wants no part of until they get serious. It’s tough to come up with a name without clarity of purpose. What do all the partners want? Do they even know? Don sure doesn’t.
This episode rejuvenated my interest in the show, that’s for sure.
Much like Dan, I like Mad Men best when our characters are in the office and doing whatever is considered “work” in the booze-and-weed-filled advertising world of the 1960’s. And while we ventured out to see Joan and Pete’s deteriorating domestic situations, it fit in the context of their unsteady situation at work, so this follow up to last week’s reset felt satisfying, and fun to watch. (Sometimes we get satisfying episodes that are no fun at all.)
On with Episode Seven. So many opening and closing doors. The offices of SCDPCCG (or whatever it’s called now). Elevators. Room 503.
And so many death references. A season that opened heavy on the death theme continues, with its symbolism is too on-the-nose: Those nervous moments with Ted Chaough piloting a plane, Gleason on his death bed, Pete’s mom has dementia or Alzheimers, Joan is wondering what will happen to Kevin when she’s “gone.” The more I watch this show, the more I wonder when, not if, someone is going to jump out the window. (No, I haven’t forgotten they already dealt with a suicide in the office last season.)
And since this season takes place in the bloody, chaotic confusion that was 1968, it does seem at times that the ailing Mrs. Dyckman, Pete’s mother, is making the most sense. “I don’t understand what’s going on. They’re shooting everybody,” she says. Not a bad sum-up of 1968. And winter 2012/2013, for that matter.
I’m still waiting for Bob to cut someone from the back. Contrary to what Joanie’s mother said, every good deed of Bob the Kiss Ass Benson IS part of a plan. We knew Bob was a fraud way back when he was introduced carrying two coffees and said he always had an “extra” one. (The first one went to Don, the second, to Pete.) But the writers made his lying explicit when he helped Joan get into see the doctor. And as we saw by the episode’s end, his Machiavellian games saved his ass when he almost lost his job in the merger.
My husband thought Don turned a creepy, dark corner, locking Sylvia up and turning her into his whore for a few days. But this is just a more explicit expression of Don’s ongoing power issues with women, right? No one can forget that scene with Bobbi Barrett in the lobby of that restaurant while her husband and Betty Draper in the next room. But there was something tender about Don’s affair with Sylvia: that it was quite literally under Megan’s nose, that it was his first (and maybe only) extramarital affair during his second (technically third) marriage, that he respects and admires Dr. Rosen, that he started to care for her in a more real way. His brief desperation at the end actually took me back to Season 1, when he wanted Rachel Menken to run away with him. Don didn’t display the same kind of tenderness at the end of his affairs with Midge, Sally’s teacher, Bobbi, and definitely not when he dumped his actual girlfriend, Faye, in order to run off with Megan.
Poor Peterson. Remember when Burt Peterson last got fired from Sterling Cooper in the wake of its takeover by the British agency? His wigging out was one for the ages. (Something about “YOU’RE the dying empire!” to the Englishman Lane Pryce.) And just when I was thinking of that moment while watching the beginning of this episode, he walks into Roger’s office and Roger says, “I’m letting you go again.” That scene was amazing.
So much to look forward to now that we’re in. The competitive frenemy situation between Don and Teddy. Watching Peggy reorient herself and stand up for herself while working with her mentor again. Bob the kiss ass revealing himself as a secret agent man for the Russians… ??? I’m TORMENTED by the surprise that Bob will shock and awe us with. Y’all know it’s coming. You know it.
Plot! Creative agency capers! Hilarious non sequitirs! ("Each one with its own nipple! // Gosh, I love puppies.") This episode had all my favorite Mad Men episode elements, plus the awkward — and layered — reunion of Don and Peggy.
It’s not quite believable that suddenly these longtime rivals — and polar opposite personalities — would decide on a whim to combine agencies and that it would be THAT easy, but it does extend the theme that Joan so poignantly hit on when learning that Don told Jaguar to pack it up: It’s Don’s world, and everyone else is just living in it.
Even the-one-we-thought-broke-through, Megan, has become a bit player in the great lie of Don’s life, her short dresses and feminine wiles not withstanding. But it’s Don’s true partner, Peggy, who is most affected (again) by Don’s desperate and clever maneuver to keep his agency relevant. I can’t say I’m not excited about the dramatic consequences of this rather implausible merger. For a season that some of us found plodding, we get a reset halfway through. Where are our central relationships? Let’s assess:
Don and Megan: To borrow from Magic 8 Ball, “Cannot predict now”
Don and Joan: Probably repairable
Pete and Trudie: Dunzo
SCDP and Vicks: Dunzo
On running into your father-in-law-at-a- brothel: Stiles said, “It’s like when you’re a kid, and you saw someone you knew from school at Walmart. Same thing.” We thought it was mutually assured destruction, when in reality, Trudy’s dad didn’t see much downside in dropping the son-in-law he never did like.
Marie and Roger: Dunzo
That woman was hilarious — hilarious — during the awful dinner with Herb and his wife. But for her to punish Roger for it and foreclose his chance to communicate an important business matter, even more awesome.
Roger and powerful flight attendants: Flying High
That whole storyline made me long for the days of the old first class airport lounges. Because in today’s “lounges,” unless you’re in Tokyo or Dubai, you’re lucky to get some free yogurt covered peanuts and individually wrapped cheeses. On Roger, he seems to have renewed interest in closing deals. All last season and into this one, we saw Roger basically become a more dapper and glib version of Bert Cooper: Office furniture with an important title. I’d love to see what’s responsible for his interest in work again, and it sets up a promising tension now that both agencies’ accounts sides are gonna have to merge.
- So many animated gifs are going to emerge from this episode. There’s Peggy’s boyfriend Abe and whatever happened with him and the wall, Pete slipping down the stairs (great physical comedy from Vincent Kartheiser), and maybe brown nose Bob with his two coffees again. I feel like I’m forgetting an obvious Peggy-related gif… help me out, folks.
- We’re heading for a reckoning with that kiss-ass Bob. Is he gonna turn out to be a Russian or Chinese spy?
- Pancreatic cancer doesn’t have a good survival rate even today. I can’t imagine ol’ Gleason is gonna be around much longer. What are the business implications with the buyout of Gleason plus merger?
Everyone loves astronauts,
Just last week we were lamenting how this show emphasized a stagnant Don Draper over the other compelling characters. This week, not only did Don immediately get more compelling when placed against the backdrop of the MLK assassination and paired with his young son, Bobby, but the other characters got some important screen time, as well.
I have been wanting Mad Men to tackle the riveting racial flashpoints in the late 1960s, and finally the show got to it. The reactions:
Joan: “We are all so sorry,” to Don’s black secretary, Dawn, followed by an awkward side hug.
Don: Here’s a man who pretends everything, even his “love” for his children. But in the aftermath of the assassination, when he takes Bobby to his favorite sanctuary, the movies, Don feels real love for his son. His heart is gonna explode. He has to drink through it. An amazing monologue performed by Jon Hamm, as a new parent I “got” what he was saying even without having a “difficult childhood” like Don’s. If love were plotted on a line chart of your child’s life, the moment he or she is born is not likely the point where the line is at its highest. You do find your love grows deeper and fuller even though you can’t imagine it getting any more intense. And it’s wonderful. Don’s issue, of course, is that feeling anything at all, especially something so authentic and powerful, nearly wrecks him.
Pete: As slimy as he is, has long been the most socially progressive of the account men. Even in the halcyon days of Season 2, it was Pete who was pushing the agency to do work in “the Negro markets.” The argument between “old” world mentality (represented by a different-kind-of-slimy Harry) and Pete’s worldview seemed a little heavy handed in the way the director framed that shot. But how about that Bert Cooper stepping in to broker peace, eh?
In general, I thought the writers handled the sense of tension and the rush to find out more information in a time way before Twitter quite well, in that it didn’t totally overtake the episode. It originally got laid out much as they depicted the Kennedy assassination, but obviously the reactions to MLK were and continue to be far more complex.
- We were treated with more Michael Ginsberg, whose own position as a bridge between old world (his dad, devout Judaism) and new world (the Mad Ave life, creative bohos) creates a real point of friction for him as he wrestles with growing up and — who knew — virginity. More Michael, please.
- Don’s so great at exploiting loopholes. Young Bobby is not allowed to watch TV for a week, but Betty didn’t mention movies. Planet of the Apes. “Jesus.”
- “I was trying to communicate without words, but it’s not working.” That was one of many gems from Randy the creepy insurance guy (and also the crazy guy from Lost). Roger mentioned Randy “talked me off a roof once,” which leads me to believe Roger has continued his LSD trips.
- What was going on in Washington? The killing of MLK led to a series of dark, dangerous riots in the U Street neighborhood, which finally started revitalizing around the 2008 election of Barack Obama. Read more about the riots from The Washingtonian magazine, which did a look back.
- Harry Hamlin is a long way from his days on LA Law.
Megan winning the award for advertising after all, Betty’s identity crisis and Peggy’s effort to buy her own apartment as a single woman, are additional themes I also want to explore but this episode was so packed that I hope one of you other bloggers can take on those stories.
As Tecumseh said, Heya ho, ho, ho, heya huh huh ho,