Three episodes in, and this season of Mad Men has been so good that it’s killing me. I don’t want to watch it once a week, I want it all now. I loved last week’s episode, with Peggy and the flowers and Don and Sally finally having an honest conversation.
This week took it up a notch yet again. These three episodes slowly built into what I hope has set the stage for the rest of the series. (This “half” season, and another “half” season next year.)
Don was riding high for so long, with no consequences. And then it was all over. He screwed up big and paid the price, and now we’re getting to see him try and exist in the world in a different way.
The first part of the episode mostly involved Don going to visit Megan (at the request of her agent, who says Megan’s desperation will ruin her career) and almost destroying his marriage. Megan discovered that he’d been lying, and was of course disgusted. He’d lied, and he’d chosen not to live with her in California when he had very little keeping him in New York. But instead of just moving on and sleeping with the first hot blond to hit on him, Don called Megan. He spoke to her. He handled it differently than the old Don would have.
After getting a lowball offer from another agency, Don went to Roger to find out whether he’d ever be returning to SC&P. Their conversation was so wrapped up in awkwardness and old friendship and regret. Roger misses Don. So he invited him back.
Cut to Monday morning, when Don arrives at the office and no one is expecting him. So much of the episode made me cringe with awkwardness. Poor Don had to sit around the office all day, making small talk and trying to look natural while his colleagues gawked at him. It was horrible. Eventually, the other partners gave him a humiliating offer: come back to work, but report to Lou, spend no time alone with clients, stick to a pre-approved script in meetings and drink at the office only when entertaining clients.
Don responded with “okay” and the episode was over. An offer that would have made the old Don Draper sneer and storm out was just accepted, because Don now knows he probably can’t do better.
It was fascinating to see how everyone reacted t Don. I expected Peggy’s behavior – she blames Don for Ted leaving, and resents him for how poorly things have gone for her since she left. I wasn’t surprised by Jim or event Bert, really. But I was surprised by Joan. Yes, she’s pragmatic, but they’ve always been in each others’ corner. I thought she’d stick up for him more.
The only real reason Don got to stick around is that it would cost too much to fire him. And he knows it. Don Draper was always a cool guy, and he’s never looked more pathetic. Jon Hamm is really giving an incredible performance here.
- As liars go, Don Draper/Dick Whitman has been a pretty big one. But Harry Crane takes the title as the most dishonest man Jim Cutler has ever worked with.
- Side note: I am loving Harry Hamlin this season.
- Joan was wearing boots, complicating her ability to speak privately to Bert. Amazing.
- We go our first scenes with Betty this week. First she haughtily told her friend Francine that the children themselves are the reward for being a mother, not the fun travel agent job you get to take when they’re older. Then to prove it, she accompanied Bobby on a field trip to a farm. He was delighted and surprised to see her behave like a fun, happy person – having a conversation on the bus! Drinking milk! Picnicking! Then he traded her sandwich (which he did not expect her to eat) for some gumdrops, and Betty declared the day ruined. It was classic Betty – created drama because she hates her life – and I felt so sad for Bobby when he glumly told his stepfather “I wish it was yesterday.” The poor kid thought he blew his chance to have a nice day with his mom, when she was the one who really ruined things. This isn’t a new beat for Betty, and after seeing so much progress elsewhere in the show, I hope we’ll see some growth in her storyline this year.