Last night’s episode of Mad Men, the sixth of season five, was complicated, fascinating, uncomfortable and, I thought, fantastic.
We’re nearing the halfway point in this thirteen episode season and so far, I think it’s been an outstanding season. I loved this episode. I loved how we watched the same several hours play out for three major character – first Peggy, then Roger, and finally Don.
We began with Peggy, who was feeling very nervous about making a big pitch to Heinz, who’ve been pretty difficult clients. They hated the bean ballet idea, remember? The stress Peggy was feeling about work was getting to her boyfriend Abe because, as progressive as he might seem, he still can’t stand having a girlfriend who puts her career above all else. This is still the 1960s.
Things only got worse for Peggy. When Don arrived at the office he bailed on the pitch, taking Megan with him. I loved how we got a sense of how uncomfortable Megan was with this decision as we watched it happen this time, but didn’t fully see how angry she was until we later visited Don’s thread.
Peggy’s idea was really good, built upon the feelings of nostalgia that come with comfort food. “Home is where the Heinz is” really is the most poetic one can get about beans. But Heinz wasn’t sold and Don wasn’t there to sell them on it, so Peggy put on her bullying pants and tried to do the dirty work herself. It’s a skill Don had mastered so well, but I’m not sure Peggy will ever be able to do that. Sexist corporate executives don’t want to be told what to think or how to feel by a woman. Coming from Don, the argument would have been suave, persuasive, even charming. Coming from Peggy it was aggressive and jarring. And with that, Peggy was pulled off the account.
Distraught, Pegs downed a scotch in Don’s office and hit the movies. Pretty soon she was indulging in marijuana with a fellow lone moviegoer, and when he made a move on her she removed his hand from her thigh, refused to kiss him, and instead gave him a hand job. It was a bizarre, fascinating, complex move for a character like Peggy, who I think has always kind of struggled with her own sexuality.
Peggy went back to the office, passed out for a while, took a frantic and weird phone call from Don and then went back to work. She worked late into the night, side by side with Ginsburg. She’d only just found out about Ginsburg’s dad that day, and they had a lovely and strange conversation. Ginsburg told her that his father was not really his father. The truth is that he was born in a concentration camp, and his mother died there. The coping mechanism Ginsburg uses is that he’s from Mars. It was odd, yet somehow suited his strange character.
The story had a strange effect on Peggy’s relationship with Abe, a relationship that I don’t expect to last.
We’ve known for a while that Roger is miserable in his new marriage with Jane, but this was the first real glimpse we’ve gotten into his life in quite some time.
Roger reluctantly accompanied Jane to a dinner party with some friends – including her shrink – after Don blew off Roger’s suggestion to go check out the Howard Johnson hotel and took Megan instead. However it turned out that the reason Jane wanted to have dinner with her pretentious, intellectual friends was because they were all going to be trying LSD. Roger Sterling on LSD? Count me in. What a storyline this was.
The stuff relating to the actual experience of being on drugs was quite funny and you could spend an entire blog post describing it. But raw truths were exposed, too. Both Jane and Roger admitted that they knew the marriage was over, each had been waiting for the other to say it first. The most painful moment came the next morning though, when Roger prepared to move into a hotel and Jane hadn’t yet realized that they’d broken up their marriage during their experimental trip.
“It’s going to be very expensive,” she told him. Uh-oh. Looks like Roger’s problems have just gotten even more complicated.
And then we were at Don’s part of the story. As much as I loved Roger’s foray into the world of psychedelic drugs, this final thread was even more captivating. I’ve always loved the character of Don Draper because of how complicated and layered he is. Yes, he’s handsome and charming and can make a woman swoon. I won’t deny finding Don Draper attractive. But he’s also damaged and narcissistic and violent. And you can’t blame that on Betty, and who she was as a person and a wife. It’s who he is, it’s a facet of his damaged and flawed character.
Don, continuing in his pattern of putting absolutely no effort into his work life anymore, took off to Plattsburgh with Megan to visit the Howard Johnson hotel – a new client, I presume. Megan told Don – twice, actually – that she didn’t want to miss the presentation and let the team down. But Don just can’t fathom the idea of Megan caring about her job, or preferring to stick around the office rather than going on a trip with him. So he played the boss card and demanded she go. To Don, he was letting her off the hook. To Megan, he was belittling her role in the office.
Things were tense on the ride to the hotel, and they boiled over when the couple sat down to eat at the diner. Don shifted so quickly from his excitement for Megan to try orange sherbet for the first time, to working on the campaign for the hotel. Don doesn’t understand that Megan likes to work, and he doesn’t understand that she doesn’t like orange sherbet. He thinks she fakes distaste for his favorite dessert just to embarrass him in front of the waitress.
That is something that Betty would have done, but Megan isn’t Betty. Megan is more independent, savvier, and wittier too. So when Don ruffles her feathers by suggesting that she’s pretending not to life the ice cream, like some kind of child, she reacts by sarcastically shoveling it into her mouth. The fight blew up from there – Don complained that Megan says bad things about him to her mother in French, and when she retorted “Why don’t you call your mother?” (likely without thinking) Don had it. He left – he pulled away in the car, leaving her in the parking lot. It was awful.
When Don finally returned, Megan had left – apparently with a group of young boys, according to the waitress. Her sunglasses were in the parking lot, she wasn’t anywhere to be found and she never returned. Don waited until 2 a.m. He was worried sick, but I was never sure if he really acknowledged to himself that this was all his fault.
When Don finally came home, Megan was there. She hadn’t been answering his phone calls because, obviously, she was furious. She’d taken a six and a half hour long bus ride home, she’d had to try and get a cab, all alone, home from the bus station at 5:00 a.m. Because her husband had left her in the parking lot of a Howard Johnson. Of course she was mad. She’d chained the condo door shut, and when she wouldn’t open it Don kicked it in. What followed was absolutely sickening – a furious husband chasing his furious wife through their apartment. What was he going to do when he caught her? Hit her?
They eventually stumbled and fell onto the floor, Megan sobbing. Don tried to write it off as just a fight, that it was over. But Megan knew better. Even though the line “Every time we fight, it just diminishes us a little bit,” didn’t roll off her tongue in the most natural of ways, it was an important sentiment. This wasn’t just any fight, and they couldn’t just go back to normal. Those kinds of fights leave scars on a relationship.
Don had thought Megan was dead, and so a lot of his anger was born out of fear. But even as he clutched her and sobbed about how he’d thought he’d lost her, you had to wonder: Does Don understand yet that this was his fault? Is that why he’s so angry? Because he’s angry at himself, because he acted like a pig and realized he could ruin his second marriage too?
The couple walked into the office like nothing had happened, and Don was greeted with a rude awakening. Bert Cooper wanted him to redo an ad mock up. And when he went to discuss it, Bert told Don that he’s been on love leave, that Don has a “little girl running everything”, that it’s amazing the company is doing as well as it is with as little as Don himself has been doing. It was a cold dose of truth for Don, and I’m glad it came from Bert. We’ve seen so little of him this season, but it was nice to see Bert still has a handle on what’s going on.
I think this was a big episode for changes, and a turning point of sorts. Roger has been miserable, but now he’s happy – he barged into the conference room after Bert left to announce “It’s going to be a beautiful day!” Don was happy, but now he’s realizing that it comes at a price. And Peggy, she’s discovering that she’s not invincible when it comes to her work. I can’t wait to see where the season goes from here.
Tags: Mad Men