“The Summer Man” starts off with a narration from Don, a curious move for a character shrouded in mystery and hints, and a show that usually keeps things tucked behind its back. But as we’re reminded again and again in the episode, these are changing times, from Don to blacks to women and the world at large–and Mad Men is also moving along.
I’ve always wanted to dig into Don’s head, shifting through his daily routine to find out what makes him tick. A journal is probably the closest we’ll ever get. It contains his personal thoughts, an introspective look upon himself and the world, and sheds significant light on his character. However, a journal is not an instant answer to Don. A journal is what Don thinks about himself and no matter how truthful he’s being, we can never get the unvarnished truth, the essence of a human being, literally, without pulling his soul apart.
Don’s journal, the perception of himself and those around him, lays the groundwork for “The Summer Man,” an episode, which doles out a surprising amount of plot development based on the way the characters view others, and has a heady air of progress.
When Henry and Betty spot Don on a date with Bethany, the meeting sparks what seems to be a turnaround in the relationship between Don and Betty and positions Henry in a different light. Seeing Don on a date, Betty almost immediately breaks down, imagining that Don’s having a great time. Somehow she can’t get Don off her mind. Up until now, Henry has been a useless character, floating in the background when Betty is around. But as he’s pegged to prepare a mayoral candidate for the 1972 presidential race, he also plays politics with Don, obliquely telling him to avoid Gene’s birthday party and smashing a few of Don’s boxes, coming off as a major douchebag. Don’s journal narration sums up the problem: “We’re flawed because we want so much more. We’re ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had.”
Having rewatched the episode, I continue to be a little puzzled by the focus on Don’s alcohol problem at the beginning of the episode and its disappearance later on. It’s clear Don is trying to stop drinking as much, and we’re given a keen first-person perspective, as he blanks out in the middle watching others drink. He also goes on a date with Faye and opts not to bring her to his apartment. After last week’s episode, it looks like Don’s life is back on track or at least getting closer to where it was while Betty’s is crumbling.
Back at the office, trouble is afoot as Joey, a guy who only seemed a little mischievous turns out to be much worse, tells off Joan in the worst way with a comment about her dressing like she wants to be raped, and a lewd drawing about her and Price, actions which he attributes to Joan being like his mother. Joan has trouble keeping it together, with Greg, the person she’s closest to, leaving for basic training, and she manages to tell off the guys. Through all of this, Peggy stands by, not pleased with what’s going on, but not vocal either. Initially she consults Don, but he tells her to deal with the problem herself. Thinking Joan needs help, she fires Joey, but actually incurs the wrath of Joan, who doesn’t like what Peggy did, because it makes Joan look weak and Peggy humorless. It looks like Peggy misjudged Joan, but what could she have done?
Coming off last week’s stunner, “The Suitcase,” “The Summer Man” is notably different. Instead of the intense scenes between Don and Peggy dominating the scenes, we’ve given a relatively breezy episode with a bunch of different characters, especially the women.
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Tags: Jon Hamm, Mad Men