In this week’s episode of Mad Men, several characters make their first appearances of the season. We’re happy to see some of them (Harry Crane, Bobby Draper), and some of them are Betty. Hopefully you have your permission slips signed, because it’s time for a “Field Trip”.
The episode opens with Don watching a movie because the best thing about not going to work is going to the movies in the afternoon. In this case, the movie is Model Shop, a movie just obscure enough to warrant only a three-line Wikipedia entry. And, in fact, the plot summaries I found online have very different takes on the movie – it might be about a wannabe photographer who rents a model for sex, but accounts vary. Since I’m unclear on what the movie is about, I can’t determine if we can learn anything from it.
Don travels to Los Angeles to help out Megan after her agent reports on a mini-breakdown. I’m honestly not sure what his game plan is when he gets on that plane – the clunky way he brings it up to her suggests that he hasn’t quite worked it out himself. He’s not bringing his A game, frankly. And that might be because he’s not clear on what it is he’s supposed to do. Is there a way that he can make Megan not freak out over a bad audition? The very fact that Alan Silver makes it Don’s problem is a weird little throwback to Betty’s therapist in the first season, calling Don to fill him in on just what’s wrong with his wife. (Of course, in this instance, I feel like there’s an implication on Alan’s part that maybe she wouldn’t be freaking out Rod Serling if she wasn’t trying to make a bicoastal marriage work.) I keep going back over his conversation with Megan, trying to figure out what he could have said or done that would lead to a different outcome. It was going to be a fight no matter what, because there’s no good way to say “Your agent tells me you’re acting crazy. Maybe dial that back.”
I can’t decide if Megan’s audition misfortunes are important to the story or just a MacGuffin to get Don to Los Angeles. For now, the main point is that it puts Don there with an agenda, and that’s where things blow up. It’s clear that Megan’s been suspicious of him for a long time, and apparently she assumed some sort of elaborate affair rather than the truth, that Don wasn’t welcome in the office. And I sort of love that Don thinks that the facts will come as some sort of relief to her. “I’m not cheating on you, I’ve just been deceiving you about my employment!” Also great is the way he asserts that he’s “been good”. On the one hand, Don not cheating on his wife brings to mind that famous Chris Rock bit and all I can think is “You want a cookie?” He’s supposed to not sleep around. But still, he really is being good. He is trying. It isn’t necessarily laudable to achieve the bare minimum expected in a marriage, but that’s actually huge for him. Not only is he not looking to cheat, he’s turning down offers! It’s reasonable that Megan isn’t necessarily impressed, but for the Don Draper we know, it’s a big deal. It’s him putting somebody ahead of his own needs. There’s still a long way to go on that front. Like the lying to his wife about work and the way he kept making demands of Dawn even though it really isn’t her job anymore. Don’s not winning any awards just yet, but we’re seeing genuine progress.
But all this time, poor Megan had to deal with the fact that SC&P has a perfectly good Los Angeles office where he would have been welcome, but he chose not to shift his professional life to live with her. That’s hard enough, but then to find out that he’s not even working and he’s choosing hanging around the house by himself over being with her – that’s pretty brutal. And I think Don is being honest when he says that he didn’t tell her because he didn’t want to admit failure. Don’s the sort of guy who’d equate unemployment with emasculation. And, you know, I think he’s trying to figure out who he is now. He once said “Pick a job and then become the person who does it”. When he doesn’t have a job, what kind of person does he become?
Jessica Pare is really good in this scene, and the way she tells him “This is how it ends” is just devastating. Later, when he calls her to talk about going back to work, Don clearly doesn’t understand what the problem is. For him, “fixing it” is getting a job. For her, it’s moving to LA to be with her. This is such a great exchange – he didn’t tell her because she “wouldn’t look at (him) in the same way”. Megan responds, “I can’t believe after all this time you don’t know me.” Don: “I know how I want you to see me.”
And that right there is the most honest Don Draper can be. There’s so much about who he is in there. How much time he’s spent creating the idea of Don Draper; his need for control; and, let’s be honest, why he loves working in advertising so much. He doesn’t know how you feel and he can’t control that. What’s important is how you see him. It’s selfish and weirdly compassionate at the same time. His image is more important than how she feels, but it’s so important to him because that’s the only way he knows to make her happy. In a way, it’s like some of those first season pitches – Don’s not responding to what the client wants but instead convincing him that what he has is what they want. It’s not a great way to live, but the fact that he’s conscious of it and is willing to admit it is amazing. You might as well put “I know how I want you to see me” on Don’s headstone because that is his mission statement.
But let’s put his marriage aide and look at his career. He invokes his old alias of “Clarence Birdseye” to set up a meeting with a rival firm, and I sort of feel like these guys feel the way about Don that the Pawnee accounting firm feels about Ben Wyatt. They’re already got the “Welcome, Don!” banner hanging up. What sinks them, though, is the woman who comes by to proposition Don. They don’t cop to it, but they’re clearly pulling the old Ken Cosgrove maneuver. And I don’t think Don likes being the mark – the guy you wine and dine and set him up with a hooker to win him over. He’s one of the guys for whom he once felt quiet contempt. That’s what sends him back to Roger Sterling.
Now, Roger genuinely likes Don. But the reason he’s so quick to welcome him back and doesn’t give anybody a heads-up is that he’s making a power move. There’s been a struggle between the original Sterling Cooper and the new partners, and Don is exactly the wild card he needs to be relevant again. At the very least, Don’s an ally against Cutler. And making the unilateral decision for him to come in is Roger letting the other partners know that he’s not out of the game yet.
Don’s return is awesome. I love the way that people are so happy to see him. Stan and Ginsberg treat him like a returning hero and people just can’t wait to catch up and get his input. I especially love Ken showing him pictures of the baby on the carousel – “always reminds me of you”. The Kodak Carousel pitch from the Season One finale is one of my very favorite scenes of all time, and it’s great to know that Ken Cosgrove carries it with him the same way I do.
Of course, Peggy is not nearly so welcoming. She straight out tells him he wasn’t missed, even though she’s quietly withering under the leadership of Lou Avery. Peggy still blames Don for “killing” Ted (the word she actually used, per the Previously On… segment). And even though Ted is fine and seems perfectly happy, Don still ruined things for him. Because if she’s mad at Don, then she doesn’t have to bear any blame for actually having an affair with Ted. Don’s the one who hurt Ted, not her. Don is perplexed by this, as well he should be.
Eventually, this gets into Office-level awkwardness as Don waits and waits. It had the potential to be so humiliating, and at this point I’m just squirming in my seat. I started to worry the janitor was going to have to lock up for the night. In the partners’ meeting, most everybody takes the stance that you would expect – Roger wants him back and doesn’t see why this is an issue. Bert wants whatever’s the least amount of trouble, and Cutler wants him gone. (Also, I really hope that they didn’t actually just offhandedly fire Harry Crane. That would be a sad day.) The real surprise is Joan – she’s so… cold. I would have expected her to advocate for Don. Their friendship is one of my favorite things on this show, and it really hurts to see her argue against him.
Myndi and I agreed that we’d each give our theories, so here’s mine. It’s exactly because of that friendship. He’s maybe the one man she could really consistently trust, and now she knows he was lying to her the whole time. He hurt her in a way that he didn’t really hurt anyone else – Bert and Pete already knew, Ted and Cutler don’t care one way or the other, and Roger doesn’t care as long as you’re a fun drinking buddy. Joan feels betrayed. And then, presumably, he made no effort to contact her over the months. Her friend hurt her.
And then that last scene – they are clearly imposing conditions on him that they don’t expect him to accept. It’s going to be easier if they make an offer and he turns them down, and I feel like Don is as surprised as they are when he says “OK”. (All the points go to Jon Hamm for that delivery. There’s such a great mix of emotions happening there.)
Finally, as much as I hate Lou Avery, Allan Havey’s performance is so good. I just adore whenever he comes out of his office to frown at things – he looks like he’s one step away from telling those kids to get off his lawn. I hope Don takes him down, but his combination of grumpiness and being terrible at his job cracks me up every time.
So, before we get to the other storylines this week, let me give you my take on Joan. I think there are a few things at work here. Notice that she initially voices her objection because “this is working.” She has had a crazy few months establishing herself in an AE role, trailblazing her own way once again, and she’s finally made her way up to the second floor. Don returning and shaking things up (not to mention pissing off her major ally, Jim Cutler)? So not what she was planning on right now. Folded into that is her lingering anger over Don firing Jaguar, the account that she physically degraded herself to insure the agency won and was furious that he would dump after all she’d endured. She still has no idea that he tried to stop her, no clue that he was always in her corner. As far as Joan is concerned, Don is a selfish prick and not good for business.
Moving on to Harry Crane, first of all, so glad to see him for the first time this season! As per usual, he is being completely undervalued by the higher ups in the agency. These guys have no idea the importance of a strong media department, especially when it comes to serving the automotive dealer groups that they have started to win with Pete’s recent acquistion of the SoCal Chevy Dealers. Harry is essentially ambushed in a client meeting by Jim Cutler, who calls on him to defend the agency against an article that talks about Grey Advertising’s computer, the mere notion of which was sort of mythical in 1969. Harry doesn’t miss a beat, however, and says the article is great PR for Grey, but nothing more. He says the same thing we media professionals tell our clients today; the computer doesn’t think, people do. The people who analyze the data from the computer are the important part. He even alludes to a program being developed that will integrate national and local market data. In short, he saves Jim’s bacon. Yet, he still gets yelled at when the clients leave, simply because Grey was brought up in the meeting. But Harry’s come a long way, and he refuses to even engage the man. He says he “not interested” and walks out.
Later, after Cutler tries to placate him with a call from the Wall Street Journal, ostensibly to discuss his innovative media plans for the future, Harry storms into his office, furious. He explains something one of the heads of the company should at least be aware of; they don’t actually have a computer, they use “someone else’s” and there is no local market program in development. He was bluffing with an idea he would begin working on if only he was given the tools, yet even though he asks for a computer every Christmas, the partners are so dismissive of him no one even bothers to say no. Harry telling Cutler to “fix it!” had to be one of the funniest things in the hour. Right now, my money is still on the disillusioned group of Don, Pete and Harry starting their own L.A. based agency and (fingers crossed!) hiring Sal as the Art Director. How great would that be?!
Betty made her first appearance of Season 7 as well, and she was up to her good old passive-aggressive tricks again. We first see her lunching with her old pal Francine, who now works three days a week in a travel agency. Betty is super judgey about her working at all, and when Francine said she needed a challenge, no, a reward, Betty’s barbed response is “I thought they were the reward. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned.” Francine agrees with her (it’s the ultimate backhanded compliment), so they’re really a bitchy match made in heaven. But this gets Betty’s wheels turning, and she offers to take Bobby on his class field trip when she gets home and find their maid helping the kids with their homework. Of course it’s more for her own edification than Bobby’s benefit, but he doesn’t know that. He’s just over the moon to get his mom’s undivided attention for the day.
Their trip to the farm reminded me of something out of Green Acres. Betty is in no way dressed for this trip; hair teased sky high, sensible suit and high heels…it’s like Jackie Kennedy heading out on the campaign trail through rural America. She also smokes the entire time, even opting to light one up right before the class heads into a barn to milk a cow, so she has to hang back with another mom until she finishes. (Are we foreshadowing some lung cancer, Weiner?) Then, once she joins the kids, she volunteers to sip the mother’s milk, still warm, straight from the pail. She admits that the mother’s milk “tastes sweet”, something that runs in sharp contrast to the type of mother she has turned out to be.
Then, it all goes to hell. Poor little Bobby is so very excited to be picnicking with his Mommy (it’s almost like they’re on a date: the awkward small talk about superheroes on the bus, their private picnic spot at the farm) that he makes a mistake. Betty has two sandwiches packed for lunch, one of which Bobby trades for gumdrops. He did this because he didn’t think his mother was planning to eat. He most likely thinks this because she never eats around the kids, or seemingly, at all. He did it because he’s a little boy and he messed up; it happens. If this was me, and my son traded away my sandwich, I might be angry for a few seconds (out of hunger) and then I’d get over it, because I love him. I mean, look at that sweet face…the boy knows he messed up, and continuing to punish him for the error isn’t going to help anything. But since Betty is still a spoiled child herself, she opts to take it out on Bobby for the rest of the day and night. She immediately takes out another cigarette to smoke in place of eating, lowers her sunglasses and turns away from her child, giving him the silent treatment. She’s so petulant and bitter. (Henry: “Did you eat?” Betty: “I’m not hungry. I was hungry, now I’m not.”) Henry gives Bobby some sympathy, not knowing what went on to cause the rift. Bobby’s reply to Henry’s “what happened?” is a sad, simple “I wish it was yesterday.”
When Henry goes to do recon with his wife, who is snuggled up with Gene and pouting, she tells him “it was a perfect day and he ruined it.” Henry smartly asks how that’s even possible. Then Betty asks him if she’s a good mother and wonders why her children don’t love her, which might be the most pathetic question I’ve ever heard. Your son adores you and you choose to ignore him! Your daughter’s angst is not all about you, which you might know if you’d taken the time to talk to her. But no, Betty doesn’t have time for that stuff. She’s just as selfish as her ex-husband, and obviously focusing her energy on becoming the wife of the attorney general rather than giving it to her children. She has everything at her fingertips now, and refuses to enjoy it, because she sucks. I know that wasn’t very eloquent, but Betty makes me angry.
That’s it for this week – let us know what you thought, and we’ll use our computer to compile the results Well, we don’t have a computer, but we use a computer – it’s semantics.