Mad Men, Week 11: Here There Be Monsters
“But he just couldn’t understand/That his father was not a man/And it all was just a game”
— Harry Nilsson, 1968 (“Daddy’s Song,” The Monkees’ Head soundtrack)
Happy Father’s Day Don Draper! You’re a monster! During the penultimate episode of Mad Men‘s sixth season, Don celebrated the joys of parenting by curling up in the fetal position as often as he could get away with. I might do a supercut of this episode that’s just 50 minutes of Don lying in the fetal position interspersed with the part where he pretends to be a crying baby. WAHHHHH! WAHHHHH! I WANT A SUNKIST WITH VODKA! Just like a baby. Don’s schedule is always jam-packed with drinks and naps, broken up by the occasional window-rattling tantrum.
If there was any doubt in your mind that Matt Weiner wants us to suffer when we watch his show, he tortured us with the possible death of butterscotch prince of all that is good Ken Cosgrove at the slippery triggered hands of some Dick Cheney–channeling car execs in Detroit. Ken is as beloved in his fandom as Arya Stark is in hers, so dangling the threat of Ken meeting an untimely end while Harry Crane lives to screw another day felt especially cruel. Ken is the secret hero of Mad Men, the only good guy still left standing from the early days of Sterling Cooper. Even his former ally in moral behavior Peggy has almost crossed over into evil by now, although her dark side is merely shaded gray.
Don has discovered that television is a better tool than books for totally blocking out the people around you. Today he would be that guy who’s always staring into his phone when you’re trying to talk to him. “Megan be quiet! I’m researching the entire history of fruit-flavored drinks on my iPad!” Sunkist and Ocean Spray each have their own history and strong coastal affiliations. California has the citrus game on lock, but New England is the spiritual home of cranberry bogs. The internal juice war at SC&P functions as an analogue to the leadership struggles between Don and Ted. Peggy might choose to enjoy a cold glass of either cranberry cocktail or orange juice, depending on her mood, but which one does she like MORE?
Consumer preferences sprang up repeatedly. It’s impossible to select two contradictory choices at once. Glen Bishop chose a blonder, more “worldly” and developed looking girl with an awful personality named Mandy over good old adorable Sally, whose Coke he should once have been so lucky as to hold. Perhaps it was easier to pretend to be his groovy new boarding school self around someone who had never known him as a creepy hair-snipping child. Megan’s soap opera character competes with her own fair-haired twin on color television, while Patty Lane and Cathy Lane duke it out in black-and-white reruns of The Patty Duke Show. Sally the former child fights it out with Sally the burgeoning adult for ownership of her heart and mind.
Ever since he cheated on Megan with her, Don and Betty’s relationship has become much smoother, almost pleasant. Betty ought to know that being married to Don is nothing to be jealous of. And for all his supposed sexual dynamism, he has never looked so pathetic and vile as he did while plowing Sylvia with his pants around his ankles last week. With the formerly private door of his miserable psyche flung open for his traumatized daughter to see, all the passion and high drama of Don and Sylvia’s secret affair was sucked out, leaving only a drab airless guest room with two sad, guilty people sliding into each other for dear life. It’s about as romantic as it will be when Harry’s wife investigates his cryptic traveler’s checks.
At first Ted Chaough and Peggy did a decent job of concealing their feelings from the rest of the office, but at some point they got too comfortable. Now you’d have to be blind not to notice them making googly eyes across their sample glasses of cran-prune juice. They might not have gone to second base yet in a physical sense, but their blatant emotional affair keeps driving in runs. They’re both basically honest people, which makes them terrible at disguising their obvious feelings. No one cares about the potential adultery (or SC&P would have almost no employees), but it’s affecting the work. Stifled whiz kid Michael Ginsberg has no beef with Peggy, but he’s flustered that his ideas now go chronically unheard, so blinded by Peggy’s beautiful eyes is Ted Chaough. Where was Stan Rizzo to say something mean and funny that could potentially snap Peggy out of it?
Peggy and Don should both know by now that if you’re going to skip work to see a movie, you should really go somewhere outside Manhattan. The dark can only conceal so much, and Peggy’s pulsating pheromones act like a scent trail for Don. Peggy tries desperately not to make eye contact with Don, who gives her a sly look showing that he sees her. Megan and Ted’s casually racist small talk about the “Japanese” is not enough to pave over the giant chasm between the two odd couples that threatens to swallow them into the ground. Peggy can kid herself that what she and Ted are doing is wholly innocent, but as soon as there’s an informed spectator it becomes obvious what’s going on. She tries to cover her tracks claiming she’s headed to a date, but we all know the second engagement of her evening is at her place with an orange cat.
Don is wrong about a lot of things, but he has a point that referencing Rosemary’s Baby for the St. Joseph’s Aspirin ad might be a totally dumb idea. Most brands probably don’t want to be connected with Satanism, even in jest. But then again Ted could be right to take a gamble on Peggy’s instincts since they rarely fail, and what brand wouldn’t want to be associated with something extremely popular? Don can’t help but feel hurt that covert movie matinees are no longer his special thing. Megan tries to bond with him by prying into Ted and Peggy’s romantic friendship but Don acts horrified, because his theatrical disgust with the messiness of other people’s private relationships helps keep Megan from looking too deeply into his.
Stan’s poster of Moshe Dayan was foreshadowing for Ken’s new eye patch, which somehow just makes him look even more handsome. Don cries when he gets caught doing something really terrible he shouldn’t have been doing, but Ken’s tears are dignifying. Unlike most of the SC&P team, Ken cares more about his home life than his work life. He can see that sometimes the two are bound to interfere, but when it comes down to choosing he always picks the personal life. There is no work victory worth risking his family over, and no account so prestigious that landing it could be more important than his own future child. Pete’s home life is much less fulfilling, probably because he invests so little into it. He’ll take having one less eyeball if that’s the asking price for a respectable account.
Bob Benson’s alliterative name should have been the first clue that he was hiding a few secrets in those shorty shorts. Nobody looks that good and has such great initials without there being a few bodies buried underneath the floorboards. Bob may be an opportunistic grifter with an assumed name and a secret backstory possibly involving some whoring, but look how far that took Dick Whitman! Pete knows by now that it’s better to blackmail someone than rat them out — and while he might barely be able to contain his repulsion at Bob Benson’s history as a European-jaunting manservant, there is a thick fog of sexual tension in their scenes.
Rather than paying for decades of therapy, Don agrees to foot the bill for Sally to go to tony boarding school Miss Porter’s. Sally makes the rookie mistake of assuming that students with a high-class pedigree will be more grown-up, rather than a bunch of entitled little shits. Sally could learn a lot at boarding school, but it likely would be less about European history than about how to manipulate people. She might have thought leaving home was her ticket to instant maturity and an attractive new set of friends, but it’s really a portal to a different sort of hellish teen social hierarchy ruled by privileged preppy mean girls with incredibly shiny hair where the core curriculum is sussing out your tolerance for different substances.
Joan and Don, no strangers to secret love affairs, can see the hearts in Ted and Peggy’s eyes even before Ted shows his hand when grabbing Peggy by the waist. It’s hard not to roll your eyes at their displays of corny puppy love, but it’s also hard not to feel for them, the dumb kids. You can see why Peggy loves Ted. He has a youth pastor earnestness that plays right into her daddy issues. He cares about her, which makes him confused about how he can express that compassion without accidentally ruining his own marriage and relationship with his children in the process. While Joan or Don would shoot first and ask questions later, Ted and Peggy keep asking questions but their fingers are still planted firmly on the trigger.
The whole issue of overpaying to cast the St. Joseph’s ad is reminiscent of Weiner’s struggles with AMC brass a few years ago, when they tried to force him to cut cast members and he claimed he simply could not tell the story he wanted to unless he was allowed to keep whomever he wanted. Sure you could do Mad Men without all the minor characters, but it would be a completely different show. Real life is full of one-off guest shots and characters who only show up every once in a while, not even always to serve a purpose. Having lots of characters fills out the universe and locates SC&P in a semi-realistic version of New York. The St. Joseph’s ad just wouldn’t be the same without a host of invasive relatives crowding around the demon baby’s bassinet. You need more than one witch for a coven.
When Don begins his pitch to the St. Joseph’s folks it’s unclear whether his speech is extemporaneous, premeditated, or some hybrid of the two. He may not have sold out Peggy personally by exposing her intimate connection with Ted, but he sold her out professionally by crediting her idea to a dead man. If Frank Gleason wins a posthumous Clio for Peggy’s work, it’s just another one of Don’s cute little ways of reminding Peggy that he made her in his image and owns her immortal soul. Don sure has a funny way of going about trying to make women fall in love with him. For her part, Peggy prefers Ted’s patronizing pats on the head to Don’s choke hold. Don turns absolutely everything into a dick-measuring contest that he refuses to lose.
Sally isn’t frigid, she doesn’t want to make out with a lame guy in leather sandals named Rolo. AND WHO CAN BLAME HER? What’s terrible is that she might have actually been gunning to make out with creepy Glen, who uses the Westermarck effect as his excuse for choosing “the good one” at the Day-Glo daisy-plastered dorm sleepover. Emboldened by his sideburns, Glen doesn’t get too upset that Sally blocked his path to sex and boarding-school glory, probably because he wants to make it look like this is something that happens to him all the time. Childhood eagerness to experience real adult life is soon enough tempered with the realization that being a grown-up can be just as disappointing, if not more so, than being a powerless child. Sally should trust her own feelings, even if it means not fitting in with the teens all around her, who are so eager to have tried everything. She doesn’t want new experiences just to have had them. She wants them to mean something too.