Tonight’s episode of Mad Men – which was directed by Jon Hamm – put two of its main characters – Don and Pete into awkward situations, where they were forced to act one way, when internally they feared the truth would be spoken and their charade exposed. Both Draper and Campbell were reliant on the discretion of others – Sylvia and Brenda respectively – if they were to be able to maintain the illusion of the person they were pretending to be – only one of them was able to do so.
The hour opened with a dinner party hosted by Pete and Trudy Campbell, both of whom are having separate, flirtatious conversations with their guests from the neighborhood. Pete sets up a rendezvous in his Manhattan apartment with one of the women, Brenda, but from the outset it is obvious that she is not used to doing this type of thing, as she ignores all of Campbell’s suggestive cues about drinks and whether the temperature was too hot as he attempts to get things moving. Nevertheless, a direct approach works for the accounts man, but as they are getting dressed afterwards, Brenda has lots of “romantic” ideals about their triste, telling her lover that she will hang up the phone then call back so he knows it is her – prompting Pete to tell her “Don’t do that” – and will signal that she is thinking of him by the position of her car. While Campbell was himself besotted with Beth, whom he had an affair with last season, this time around, he was clearly only interested in a one-time meeting, then moving on to the next woman.
However, this proves impossible when Brenda bangs on his door late one evening, bloodied at the hands of her husband after she had confessed to him her infidelity, putting Pete in a position where he has to act like he does not know what is going on, yet fearing inside that his complicity in the events will be discovered by his wife. This concern proves to be well founded as Brenda tells Trudy the truth as she is being driven to a hotel, with Mrs. Campbell then informing her husband in the morning that she had tacitly granted permission to his philandering by allowing him to take an apartment in the city, but he had embarrassed her by sleeping with someone from their neighborhood. Trudy insists that she will not be a failure by getting a divorce, but that they are over and Pete should only return to the house when she informs him to come and she will destroy him if he so much as urinates in a 50 mile radius of their home.
Don Draper has grown accustomed to pretending to be somebody he is not and his storyline in this episode was bracketed by flashbacks of his arrival to live at his Aunt and “Uncle’s” whorehouse with his foster-mother, a point in time when he was still known by the name of Dick Whitman. In comparison to Pete, Don is much more adept at dealing with his affair with Dr. Rosen’s wife, Sylvia and dismisses her concern about how he can sit across from their spouses at dinner by telling her “I don’t even think about it” – the same claim he made to Ginsberg last season when the new recruit told Don he felt bad for him. For much of the episode, as he did last week, Don is able to look his friend, Dr. Rosen in the face and not feel bad when he makes an excuse to go back up in the elevator, not for cigarettes as he claims, but to have sex with Sylvia.
In contrast, Sylvia is not able to play along so well, as she walks in on Megan in the laundry room doing her best Betty impression – being upset about something else but taking it out on the maid and firing her. The latest Mrs. Draper then confides that she had a miscarriage a few days before and is feeling guilty for being willing to consider her options – for which Sylvia also admonishes her – but what is truly bothering Mrs. Rosen is that Don’s claim that they were drifting apart appears not to be true, since they are still obviously having a physical relationship. At the dinner, with neither spouse there, Sylvia confronts Don about this and he happily tells her that she can act jealous if she wants, but he is going to be taking her dress off later and having sex with her – a prognostication that proves to be accurate – so it is up to her whether or not to enjoy the dinner beforehand.
Nevertheless, all that bravado from Don is hiding some inner feelings of guilt he feels, perhaps stirred by Megan’s later revelation that she had a miscarriage, which leads to him repeatedly telling her that all he wants is whatever she wants. A second flashback to his childhood shows him witnessing his pregnant mother having sex with his “uncle” in the whorehouse and, as he returns home after setting up a meeting with Sylvia for the next morning, he is unable to immediately go through the door to act as if everything is perfect with his wife, echoing the sentiment he made last week that he wants to stop having affairs. Draper’s storyline through this episode and for much of the season, reminds me of the poem The Guy in the Glass by the American writer, Dale Wimbrow:
When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that guy has to say.
For it isn’t your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Who judgement upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.
He’s the feller to please, never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear up to the end,
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.
You may be like Jack Horner and “chisel” a plum,
And think you’re a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum
If you can’t look him straight in the eye.
You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.
Up until now, Don has been able to convince other people that he is somebody else, both literally by name and in his character, but the one person he can never fool is himself.
Elsewhere, two old clients returned in the form of Heinz – whose beans man, Raymond, did not want the agency to help out his colleague/rival Timmy, who works on ketchup – and Jaguar, which resulted in Joan being forced to face Herb, the man she slept with the bring Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce a client and herself a partnership. The Heinz storyline was short-lived from a SCDP perspective, but the relaying of the story by Stan to his phone confidant Peggy at CGC could be the root of her potential return to work for Don, as even someone as conniving as Draper would not go behind Raymond’s back as he had brought them business when they were on their knees, while Ted Choagh is willing to exploit a private conversation between friends to try to land a big client. Herb’s return brought about two great comedic moments – firstly from Joan, who when he claimed that there must be a part of her glad to see him, told the client that “there are parts of you that you have not seen for years”; then from Don, who supported yet ridiculed his idea of changing Jaguar’s campaign from an idealistic national one, to a boilerplate locally driven focused drive that would align them with all of the other car manufacturers.
A couple of other thoughts:
- Peggy continues to be harsh to her copywriting staff, who then get their own back by faking the arrival of a new client – Quest – along with product details that make fun of her, leading her to exclaim to Ted “Yet when I ask them to be funny, they are useless!”
- Bob Benson continues to be an intolerable kiss-ass and his downfall is the storyline I am rooting for most during this season.
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