In an episode full of revelations, the main secret driving the the show’s central character gets kept under wraps - for everyone besides Faye, a new member of the Draper/Whitman inner circle. But let’s review everything we learned about the rest of the characters: Lane is involved with a “negro”! Joan is preggers with Roger’s baby! Joan gets a secret abortion! Roger loses 69% of SCDP’s revenue! Lane’s a victim of domestic violence!
This episode worked so well because it played on the central theme of the show: secrets and lies. And now that we’re four seasons in, the audience is getting a huge payoff for paying attention all these years. We see the resentment Pete harbors toward Don, as Pete has known the Dick Whitman secret since 1960 and now it’s coming back to ruin his business relationship. (Only the irony there is Don actually helped fix Pete’s big secret - the Peggy baby situation - all those years ago.) We see the marked difference between Betty’s reaction to learning Don’s secret and Faye’s reaction. Where Betty turned cold toward Don after learning the truth, Faye drew nearer to him. Faye’s actually Don’s type, of course. Instead of being a trophy wife who can cook and sew and such, Faye is that independent, headstrong woman who Don’s always actually been drawn to. (e.g. Rachel Menken, crazy Miss Farrell, Bobbie Barrett, Midge)
So one of my questions as we leave this episode is, if Don gets away with it again and gets to keep his fake identity, isn’t he still running? He really breaks down here and admits he’s sick of running, but Pete helping him keep things under wraps means he’s going to continue this lie… should the whole house of cards come tumbling down in order to save his sanity?
Finally, the change theme of the season’s really coming into full focus, as Roger loses the company’s golden egg (and, I think, the only real account he’s in charge of). As we’ve talked about in previous posts, his and the rest of the “old guard’s” influence is waning, if not dying a la Blankenship and that client he tried to reach by phone in this episode.
So we head an episode closer to the season finale with SCDP teetering on the edge, and Trudy about to pop out a tot. Methinks this season won’t end with as much caper-style fun and triumph as last season.
It’s quite a predicament for women at SCDP - and women in the workplace everywhere, isn’t it? You’re either just a sexy secretary or you’re an overzealous climber bitch. (Monica vs. Hillary, anyone?) As Joey the freelance art director becomes more and more misogynistic toward Joan, (because apparently his mother was the same way), Peggy steps into to save the day and show Joey the door.
Peggy thinks she’s done something magnanimous for Joan. But Joan knows better. Now Joan’s the damsel in distress, saved by a “humorless” chick with a dick. While we’re forty years forward and situations have gotten better for women, I can’t say I don’t understand the perception predicament Joan describes in the elevator.
And this episode really explored the show’s ladies, didn’t it? Bethany’s back, and willing to meet Don’s, uh, draper. She needs a more from him, and says it. “We really are from different generations,” Don replies. But now that we’re hearing his internal thoughts for the first time, a la Carrie Bradshaw, we know he doesn’t think much more of her than he did Betty Draper. She’s beautiful, charming, but not on his level.
The women on his level were traditionally Don’s mistresses - they tend to be the aggressive, modern, independent ladies who could take him or leave him. Midge, the hippie from season one, Rachel Menken, who headed her own stores, Bobby Barrett, who was responsible for the entire Jimmy Barrett machine, Miss Farrell, the enlightened teacher who worried how DON was doing after he ditched her in the car … and now, Faye. The ad doctor of persuasion is actually getting to hear Don’s actual thoughts and worries - he discusses Gene’s upcoming 2nd birthday with her, that he’s out of sorts, etc. etc. Where he keeps the dancer at arm’s length (and later muses that he already “knows her” - is that a reference to how similar she is to Betty?), he seems to let down the mask when he’s with Faye. What a contrast.
Speaking of contrast, I’m not sure how I feel about actually hearing Don’s internal monologue. The show opened with narration and immediately I thought of Sex and the City and wondered if we’d get a “I couldn’t help but wonder” moment. I’ve long believed the beauty of this show is the subtlety in the story and the acting WITHOUT getting into the characters’ heads and actually hearing what they think. While it’s helpful to know Don is now making a bucket list (yay Mount Kilimanjaro) and wants to “gain a modicum of control over” the way he feels, we could have figured that out without the exposition. (Okay, maybe not the mountain climbing part.)
-Henry Francis, God bless him. He looked like such a sad, lonely creature mowing that lawn. And he really is stuck with a child. I loved his line “Hate’s a strong word. I hate Nazis.”
-No Roger again!?! Arrrgh.
-Francine’s reminder to Betty is an important one. Who is Betty but a woman who has defined her life through men? And then she acts out with the men she’s with? I can’t decide if it’s bad acting or bad writing that’s making this woman so one-dimensional and irritating. Shouldn’t I feel bad for her a little - I swear I have before in earlier seasons.
Anyway, I’m anxious to hear what y’all think about the new use of narration and the issues about sexism that came up for the girls. And whatever else.
Friends, it is with a heavy heart I write this post knowing we’re now more than halfway through the season. These episodes keep building on each other so well; I expect we’ll be watching episodes 11 and 12 with our mouths agape.
Episode 7, aptly titled “Suitcase,” returns our main characters to the suitcase motif from the end of season two. (Remember the end of that season, when Don left his bags at the California hotel to go off with the Eurotrash, and his suitcase wound up on Betty’s doorstep?)
And what a fitting motif it is. As the SCDP team comes up with ways to describe a Samsonite’s toughness, we find the principals - Don and Peggy - struggling to keep their emotional baggage inside. It’s a test of toughness not only for their clients product, but for these way-too-similar characters, whose mental suitcases are constantly being tossed off the Empire state building.
“You’re not going to start giving me morality lessons, are you?”
Most of this episode was devoid of anyone but Don and Peggy, and the exploration of their relationship together was a huge payoff to viewers, if you ask me. We never really knew what Don knew about Peggy’s baby situation (clearly he still doesn’t know the father), or that her family thought Don was at fault, or that Don was the only person to visit, and how Peggy feels about dealing with it. Don shares with Peggy that he watched his father get killed by a horse when he was only 11; Peggy (in keeping with the reflexivity of their characters) reveals she too watched her father die in front of her when she was also a child. They both avoid what’s in their suitcases by giving everything they have to their work. I wonder, in fact, whether their personality types are somehow well-suited for advertising because of the way their brains can imagine another reality… or something… ? Anyway, Peggy said a lot come morning, when Don found out for certain that his beloved Anna died. “She was the only one who really knew me,” Don said, of Anna. “That’s not true,” Peggy replied. She may not know Dick Whitman, but she knows Don as well as anyone can.
Speaking of reflexivity, that Don versus Duck drunken wrestling scene was about as far away from that Cassius Clay boxing match as we could have gotten, I reckon.
-Good riddens, Mark. You were a loser. And Peggy’s right, who invites a girl’s family (that she hates) to her romantic birthday dinner?
-Loved that random pink paper crown the boys probably made for Peggy for her birthday. It seems like they have a nice motley crew going, even with that annoying Danny kid around.
-Really not missing Betty. This season is so much better with her absence.
Re: Tim’s question. I think the answer is, Duck wouldn’t bother to wipe his ass. Matt and I loved the Duck wanting to take a shit in their office scene so much that we kept rewinding the DVR to the moment he squats down and lets out a little fart. Did y’all notice that?
“A man is shamed by being openly ridiculed and rejected. It requires an audience.” -Don, quoting The Chrysanthemum and the Sword
I’m fascinated by the way this episode dealt with the concept of shame. Sally does something considered shameful, Don’s ashamed of Sally cutting her hair, Betty’s ashamed of her daughter masturbating, both parents are ashamed they have to take their daughter to the shrink, Don shames the Japanese into the future Honda account…
That Honda car account’s going to be huge though.
Tim also brought up another important theme - rivalry. Us versus them (the US versus the Japanese), SCDP versus the other ad agency, Sally versus her parents, Pete versus Roger… anything else?
“That woman will tell everyone.” -Betty, about the neighbor who caught Sally “playing with herself”
“I feel like Sally did this to punish me.” -Betty, being the ultimate child
Both Elise and I said out loud, after that line, “Oh of course, it’s all about you.” We could have jinxed each other. Sure, Don is an asshole, but Betty’s worse than Dina Lohan.
Anyway. What a fine episode. I found it to be just a breath of fresh air after last week’s contrived first half in California. This one injected so much more humor into dark situations:
Peggy peeking over the high window to get a look a Don, which aptly mirrored the focus group through-the-looking-glass situation
“You son of a bitch.” (After Pete again resorts to arm-twisting family members in order to get ahead at work.)
Peggy’s banging her head on the table (I can so relate)
Allison’s spectacularly dramatic globe-throwing
The return of Bert Cooper’s old hag, Mrs. Blankenship
The shot of Bert Cooper sitting in the lobby reading a newspaper or magazine
The bear head! FTW!
Funny moments aside, I thought this episode stood out thanks to solid pacing and character development (or in Don’s case, non-development) vis-a-vis their situations. Peggy gets introduced more deeply to the counterculture (“Did you know Malcolm X was SHOT last weekend?”) and it will be interesting to see how the pull of these “genuine” writers and artists affect her as she continues to work in an old-boys club; that final scene as she runs off with her new hip pals and the men-in-suits are all standing in the lobby really said it all.
And speaking of that moment, the baggage between Peggy and Pete clearly weighs Peggy down, despite Don’s mantra, as he presented to Peggy in the hospital after she delivered Pete’s child: “”It will shock you how much it never happened.” We still don’t know exactly what it was like for those two after Peggy revealed to Pete that she had his bastard baby and that she “could have shamed” him into being with her. But I’m doubting the two are going to hash out their feelings over a long lunch anytime soon.
Allison. Such a sad casualty of Don’s downward spiral. It was interesting she assumed Peggy went through the same experience, but it only highlighted how low Don’s stooped; he used to regard the secretary pool as off limits. (Remember the cold war Roger courting and marrying former secretary Jane?)
Part of Don’s outburst at Dr. Faye also hit on a common theme: “You can’t tell how people are going to behave based on how they have behaved.” OR CAN YOU? Do people have the capacity to change? (You’ll remember this was major theme of The Sopranos, also written by Matthew Weiner.) Faye advises that the Pond’s Cold Cream campaign play on young women’s desires to get married. Don thinks that’s too old-fashioned. Don is essentially arguing that new ideas, presented well, can change behavior. But Don, Peggy, Pete (especially in this episode) show their behavior hasn’t changed much at all since 1960.
I’m sure I’ll have more to say once I expose myself to other observations. But as usual, this is my initial brain dump, free of influence from the professional critics. What did y’all think?
I’ve read a few critiques of Sunday’s episode now, notably the TV Club on Slate, the Onion AV Club, and Alan Sepinwall from HitFix. They each mention how rotten Don was to his secretary Allison after their drunken couch tryst, and how deplorable and unlikable Don has become. But the truth is, he’s never been a protagonist we can collectively root for; we just WANT to because we’ve come to know him and empathize for his whore-child past. Even the characters who don’t get the benefit of dramatic irony find him endearing, in spite of his issues. Entertainment Weekly:
Don reminds me of the main character from the terrific novel The Irresistible Henry House about an orphaned practice baby that grows up in the care of rotating mothers as part of a college home economics program. He charms his caregivers as he takes from them, yet never learns how to attach as a child nor as a man. Don is a practice baby! Women want to care for him, patch him back together somehow.
Think about his actions in the past few seasons: Driving his half-brother Adam to suicide, being a general cad to his wife - from “listening in” on her conversations with the shrink to the occasional physical rough-up; the “you people” condemnation of Sal Romano after he didn’t give into the client’s gay advances, too many lash-outs on Pete and Peggy to count, and now, the cold dismissal (and cash exchange) of his secretary after she uh, opens up.
He’s not likable, but he never was. A lot of what we like in him may have been part of the narrative he wrote for himself, the one that (we’re painfully aware) is a sham. Stripped of all the construction, you have a man whose personal life is in free fall, who’s drinking more, scoring less and hurting people (Secretary Allison) who genuinely care for him.
That said, why all the disappointment in Don? Why should we expect anything more of someone who’s so obviously damaged? Those of us who naturally root for him - that means we’re against the interests of other characters, many who depend on him.