“Thought I knew where I stood with you, I was mistaken. I thought I knew where your head was, I was wrong. I do all of the giving, you’re just taking. And a one-way conversation can’t last long. Communication, baby, what went wrong?” —Paul Revere & The Raiders, 1968 (“Communication Part 1 & 2”)
Well, now we finally have the answer to this season’s big mystery; Sally is an ass man! Don Draper’s daughter has inherited both his eye for detail and his awesome coping skills, which involve dealing with trauma by lying face-down and feebly trying to block out the world. Not all surprises are bad, but tragedy usually happens unexpectedly. Things were going almost swimmingly until the episode’s life-altering last few moments, which somehow didn’t culminate in one of Mad Men‘s patented stress vomits, although Sylvia Rosen’s punching the bed came close. Megan’s chipper demeanor after the irrevocably disturbing incident made it all the more surreal as Sally found herself with a flash understanding of why Betty was so miserable in her marriage to Don.
It was incredibly bold of Don to try to talk to Sally through the door after she had just inadvertently caught him waist-deep in the downstairs neighbor lady. His excuse that he was comforting Mrs. Rosen is about as believable as if Roger had informed her that Megan’s mother was only on her knees to look for a contact lens. Sally thought the worst thing that could happen to her was her mixxy friend Julie slipping their teenage love list under Mitchell Rosen’s door, but that’s because she would never have thought that she might walk in on her dad pitching Sylvia. For all their eye rolling and affected cynicism, most teenagers are much more naive than they know.
Julie is even more of an Eddie Haskell than Sally’s violin-playing teen runaway friend Sandy, annoying the would-be hip Megan for sport by reminding her that no matter how short her miniskirts get, Megan will always be older and squarer than two teenage girls. Julie aggressively goads Sally to compete with her for Mitchell Rosen so he’ll be able to judge which one of them he finds more sexually desirable, therefore proving that one or the other is superior. Sally doesn’t much seem to want to fight with her friend over a boy, but Julie pressures her by reminding her of her relative inexperience. Despite Betty’s paranoia that all of Sally’s activities will lead to making out, it’s just as likely that Sally would have spent her night in the Model United Nations ordering room service, making prank calls, and being disappointed at the lack of cute boys with tight pants and long hair.
Don tries to salvage his relationship with Sylvia under the guise of helping her son dodge the draft, but it works too well and ends up ruining his relationship with Sally, probably forever. Sally’s discovery of Don and Sylvia’s indiscretion unintentionally racks up several other casualties, including Sally’s crush on Mitchell, her friendship with Julie, and the odds of Megan and Sally ever having a genuine bond. Sally’s interactions with the opposite sex will now be tainted with her father’s filth no matter what, and the odds of her trusting men ever again have shot down to subzero levels. Now that she knows why her father is always elsewhere, she will always be mourning the loss of her ignorance. Getting the hell out of the Draper family will take on the urgency for Sally that escaping the Whitman clan did for Don.
Friendly talking isn’t always tantamount to flirting, but one easily blurs into the other, particularly when there are contracts involved. The contract can be social, familial, or an official work document signed in blood. You might not even know where the boundaries are until you bump up against them. The limits of Pete Campbell’s fondness for Bob Benson were sussed out with one ill-advised knee graze. Don’t weep too hard for Joan’s crush on Bob. Joan is pragmatic above all else, which means she doesn’t let herself get too attached even when she really wants to. She was already entertaining the prospect of other suitors last week when she went to lunch with the divorced Avon executive. If she bought Bob as a young alpha male on the make, she probably assumed from experience that he was not interested in serious monogamy with a divorced single mom. She didn’t seem too hung up on it after their beach day, so maybe their tryst mysteriously lacked sexual chemistry. Now we know that Joan and Bob Benson were probably doomed from the start, because Bob was saving his love for Pete “Chip ‘n’ Dip” Campbell, of all people.
Stan and Peggy’s relationship floats somewhere in the interzone between platonic and romantic, and it tips in either direction depending on the circumstances. Peggy picks up that Stan is using his sexy voice instead of his disgruntled stoner voice and realizes that her promise of sexual favors won’t trick him into killing her rat. Plus, you know that if he’d taken her up on it, Peggy would have passed out on the couch instead of consummating their bond once he’d disposed of the rodent. Peggy and Stan’s relationship remains so pleasantly tender because they have never taken it to the next level. They have as much real intimacy as two people who’ve never knocked boots possibly can. The big blockade to a lifetime of this closeness is that inevitably, they’re both bound to start dating other people and the idealism of their heterosexual friendship will crumble in the face of actual sex.
Honest efforts at forging real communication lead to unforeseen static. The more memos (or e-mails) you send out in a row, the less of them end up getting read. Peggy turns cranberry-juice red when Pete’s mom mistakes her for Trudy Campbell and refers to a child with her son. Pete is thrilled with his mother’s new ward, Manolo, until he realizes she’s either reading too much into his caretaking or he’s been slipping it in. Bob Benson assures Pete that professional nurse Manolo would never dare to do such a thing, but he doesn’t see the harm in Pete’s mom’s sudden happiness. Pete believes nothing is free, especially favors. He thought Bob was just trying to get in his good graces, for the normal professional reasons, not in his pants. He’s too uptight to be flattered that Bob finds him ravishingly wonderful, even though his own mother has just called him “a sour little man” and “unlovable” to his face.
Dorothy Campbell and Manolo had settled into a compensated pseudo-romantic relationship outside the confines of polite society, much like Lucille and Buster Bluth. Pete’s secondhand embarrassment that his mother mistook service work heavy on the emotional labor quotient for genuine affection sure would have been useful back when he forced himself on Gudrun the au pair. Sometimes plastering on that big fake service-work smile isn’t really worth the wage it earns you, and there’s no telling how much damage faking it off the clock out of habit will do. Other times, faking it at first can turn into really feeling it, like when Ted takes Nan’s warning and makes himself interact with his sons instead of just checking out.
Despite last week’s conspiracy-stoking bad trip to the West Coast, Megan is neither dead nor with child. There was a Sharon Tate type of murder of an innocent pregnant woman the other Sunday night, but it was actually on Game of Thrones as the fate cruelly dealt out to Talisa Maegyr Stark at the Red Wedding. The actual Manson family murders don’t occur until next year in 1969, but don’t count out the possibility that Glen Bishop will kill Megan by accident when he tries to take out Sally after hearing that she’s upgraded from him to long-haired Semitic stud Mitchell Rosen. Preserving one alliance often means sacrificing another, even if both are equally important. SC&P can’t have Sunkist and Ocean Spray at the same time, even though orange juice and cranberry juice are as wildly different as the fruits they are pressed from.
Ted Chaough’s crush on Peggy hasn’t dissipated, but he renews the connection to his family instead of sacrificing it for her, and both of them are decent enough people to realize that it’s the correct thing to do. Ted’s wife, Nan, reminds him that she is not the only person he’d be betraying if he blew up his marriage, and Ted makes good on his promise to spend more time at home with their sons. Don always goes for two prizes at once, even though it’s been repeatedly proven to him that he can’t have the stability he needs to function as well as the unpredictability he craves. Whenever he tries to juggle them both, he always ends up dropping all the balls. Sally, like Peggy and Anna Draper, is one of a scant few women on whom Don cannot use his seduction techniques when he needs to get out of trouble. Sans his arsenal of smoldering glares and unanticipated fingerbangs, Don is impotent. He tries to convince Sally she didn’t see what she saw, which works less well than when he used to gaslight Betty into denying that he was constantly lying to her.
Any desire to keep a secret is undermined by the way people’s faces, voices, and bodies are constantly acting as billboards for their subconscious thoughts. Ted, Peggy, and Pete are an odd throuple whose banal words are undone by their obvious secret histories. Pete picks up on Ted and Peggy’s illicit infatuation first, but shortly after that Ted notices how Pete and Peggy look at each other knowingly, the way old lovers do. Peggy is so charming and quick that every man who takes an interest in her thinks they are the first person to notice her semi-secret sex appeal. She leads with her personality, not her looks, which downplays how cute she really is. She has the ability to make anyone feel like they are the only person in the room, and to do so in a way that doesn’t feel manipulative, even when it is. Her curiosity about other human beings and what exactly makes them tick is genuine. People get the sense that Peggy might be able to understand them in a way no one ever has before or possibly could. She’s always surprised when it sparks attraction.
If Don is reluctant to assist Mitchell at first, it’s because he knows that any interaction with the Rosen family, no matter how friendly, is only going to lead him right back into the inferno. Arnold Rosen realizes instinctively that his wife is hiding something, but he would figure out immediately what it was if he witnessed Don and Sylvia make eye contact just once. It’s of course possible that Arnold doesn’t care because he has his own side piece stashed away somewhere more discreet than the same damn building, just like it’s plausible that Megan is so cheerful and unsuspicious of Don because she’s overcompensating for banging her still-unseen but much-mentioned television agent. Maybe Manolo swings both ways and actually has been schtupping Pete’s mom into a rapture just like she claims.
Yo, Pete looked GOOD this episode. No wonder Bob Benson wanted to crank that. It must be all the weed Pete’s been smoking since he first hit the bong last week that has enabled him to let down his defenses as well as his hair, in the form of one flirty little forelock. His interactions with Peggy last time gave no hint that he still had stored feelings for her, but alcohol and a business trip outside the office’s confines enabled him to get loose and show the side of Pete Campbell that makes Pete impossible to hate even at his worst. Sometimes I think Pete just needs a good cry, but you could say that about pretty much every guy on Mad Men except Stan. Stan seems good. He’s got a babe in his bed and a poster above it of Moshe Dayan.
I wonder who comes next after Stan on Peggy’s call list for favors. Ken Cosgrove? Joyce Ramsay? That random guy she gave an anonymous movie theater handjob to? How desperate do things have to get before she calls Don? Would Don even be able to kill the rat in Peggy’s apartment, or would he just steal the rat’s identity and desert the scene? After all that cheap talk with Arnold Rosen about duty and service and honoring a larger cause, Don almost sacrifices General Motors on the pyre of his own interests, and it’s hardly the first time he gambled the company for a personal cause. Is Don capable of doing something that doesn’t benefit him directly in some way, even if it’s just to stoke his sense of self? Is anyone? Or do we all secretly expect that our favors will be returned, our contracts honored, and our affections requited? How, then, to accept a reality where the world is always unpredictably shifting between loving attachment and utter indifference with regard to what we want from it? Get a cat.