Last week’s season premiere of Mad Men left many viewers (including my mom) cold. We were asked to feel invested in brand new characters without any context, there was barely any acknowledgment of storylines from the previous season, and we barely saw some of the main characters. I didn’t mind it, but it certainly left me wanting more. This episode was the opposite – entirely satisfying and captivating.
I’m glad we got to see many of the main characters this week, even if it was only for a moment. Last week’s episode had strong themes of death, but the currents running through this episode were all about arrangements, loyalty, and appearances.
How Not To Sleep With Your Neighbor
For now, Don is successfully carrying on an affair with his neighbor. The same can’t be said for Pete. The episode opened with Pete and Trudy saying goodnight to some neighbors who’d been over for dinner. Trudy laughed off flirtations from the men, while Pete baited his. The next day, one of the wives – Brenda – meets Pete in the city to “pick up some theater tickets”. (To Hair, of course, the raunchiest show.) They go back to Pete’s apartment and have sex, but obviously aren’t on the same page about what that means. Pete rushes her out, as though it had been some kind of business transaction.
Brenda ends up in Pete’s kitchen with a bloodied face, and Trudy can no longer ignore what she always knew. Alison Brie did a fantastic job in her scenes this week. Trudy cares about appearances, and all she’d asked of Pete was discretion. She told him she refused to be “a failure” – she kicked him out of the house, but she will control when he appears by her side. Their marriage is now a business arrangement.
In many ways, Trudy reminds me of Don – and I find that interesting, because Trudy always seemed to be one of the few people Don genuinely liked. Both of them care more about things looking right than actually being right, and are willing to live with the consequences.
Don seems like more of a broken man than ever before, someone who has no idea what he wants. Last season he thought that would be Megan, but it didn’t stick. He’s playing with fire by sleeping with his neighbor and friend, and people are bound to get hurt.
Sylvia is more like some other women Don has gravitated towards in the past – closer to his age, smart, cultured, brunette. He thinks he wants her, but the way he dejectedly sat outside his apartment door at the end of the episode suggested to me that he has no idea.
Megan is also floundering. She confided first in Sylvia, and then to Don, that she’d had a miscarriage. She was feeling guilty for being “sloppy in Hawaii”, but more so because prior to the miscarriage she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do about it. The conversation between Sylvia and Megan was fascinating. Sylvia is sleeping with Megan’s husband, yet still can tell Megan that she would never consider the pregnancy a choice. The look on Don’s face when he walked in, and the look on Sylvia’s face when Don said “See you tomorrow” were both brilliant examples of wordless acting.
Don has always struggled with personal loyalty and fidelity – interestingly, this week we saw flashbacks to his childhood, when he and his mother moved to a brothel. But professionally, Don has always had a strong sense of loyalty, and what’s right.
First, there was the Jaguar thing. We still only got a short Joan scene, but she made the most of it. She was cold and sarcastic to Herb, the Jaguar executive she slept with last year as part of that deal. She fulfilled her end of the deal and got her reward. There’s no need to be even polite, let alone flirtatious. The moment when she walked into Don’s office and poured herself a drink said it all. I hope there’s more Joan next week.
We know Don hates Herb already, and Herb’s idea to take money out of the national campaign pot to promote local (his) dealerships was the kind of selfish, moronic thing Don can’t stand. It was brilliant to watch Don deftly manipulate the situation so that he technically did what Herb asked – pitch the idea to the Brits from Jaguar – while ensuring that the national campaign would stay in tact.
Then there was Heinz. Raymond, who has always worked with SCDP for beans, vinegar and sauces, brought in Timmy – a new hotshot in charge of ketchup. But he feels threatened by Timmy and told Don and Ken that there was no way he would want them to work with Timmy. Even though landing Heinz ketchup would be big, Don summed up the situation with “Sometimes, you gotta dance with the one that brung ya.” A sense of loyalty that Don seems to have no problem with at work, but can’t achieve at home.
Later, Stan told Peggy the store as part of a funny thing that happened at the office that day. Peggy told Ted, and Ted insisted they go for Heinz ketchup. Peggy would be pissing off Don and betraying Stan in doing so, but that’s what Teddy expects of someone in the business at Peggy’s level. I felt for Peggy, particularly because I work in a similar industry. (Digital marketing.) I have friends that work at other agencies, and while I’ve only been in the industry for six months, I get what that feels like. It’s normal for friends to gossip about work, and even for former co-workers who are pals to want to trade stories. But that’s how uncomfortable situations like that happen. Peggy could refuse to go after Heinz ketchup, but Ted would just go after them anyway and she’d look bad. No matter what, she betrayed her friend. She just didn’t know it was happening when she did it.
- I still don’t quite get Bob Benson. I assume he is a new accounts guy, working up on the second floor? Is he trying to be the new Pete? With Pete’s personal life spiraling out of control, it would be an interesting rivalry to watch.
- I briefly touched on the flashbacks, but what we saw was Don watch through a peephole as his very pregnant mother have sex with the guy who ran the brothel. It felt more like something you’d see on Dexter than Mad Men.
- History buffs might have enjoyed the tidbits of war talk courtesy of Dr. Rosen, but I had to Google the Vietnam War as it’s something I know very little about. This episode referenced the Tet Offensive, which represents a negative turn in public opinion on the war.
- The scenes from next week are a brilliant display of vagueness. From what I’ve read, Matthew Weiner doesn’t want to do them for AMC and, thus, they reveal nothing.