“I’m changing everything everything around me / The world is a bad place, a bad place / A terrible place to live / Oh but I don’t wanna die”
—Marmalade, “Reflections of My Life” (1969)
Working from home has begun to drive Don Draper insane. It’s one thing to take a long, boozy lunch every day following a long, boozy breakfast and preceding a long, boozy dinner meeting for which you have to cut out early from work. It’s another to be banned forever from the very clubhouse you helped build. On his never-ending cut day, Don has time to hit the movies more often. He sees Jacques Demy’s 1969 movie Model Shop, which stars Gary Lockwood (the year after 2001) as a playboy caught between two women. It excels at making Los Angeles look extremely beautiful. Gorgeous long shots of the late-’60s Sunset Strip serve as the backdrop as Lockwood’s character roams around Los Angeles in pursuit of Anouk Aimée. It’s very stylish if a little slight, kind of like Megan and Don’s marriage. Don smokes his cigarette down to the stub, which makes the theater feel squalid. Everywhere unemployed Don goes, he blocks out the sunlight so he can pretend the days aren’t really passing. Don drinks to forget how much he hates that his wife is an actress, and he sees movies to remind him how much he hates that his wife is an actress.
The experience of rejection was explored at length on “Field Trip,” but it is one of Mad Men’s biggest themes. Why do people get rejected? And why does it feel so incredibly different to be the person who does the rejecting? Some people get into directing just so they’ll be able to line up pretty girls in a room and watch them compete against each other for validation. Megan was rejected by a director who knows ROD SERLING (swoon), and then had to reject Don for being a garbage island of falsehoods yet again. Megan is an opportunist, just like Don. She pretended to be unaware of her own motives when she seduced Don away from Dr. Faye in the first place. Of course she’ll be able to make it seem plausible when she coincidentally runs into the director at lunch with Rod Serling. Faking naturalism is her whole thing; she’s an actress. She knows she has only a short window in which to capitalize on being “the new girl in town” before she is replaced by the next new girl in town.
Peggy’s work was rejected from the Clios because it predated the Lou Avery era, but that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t have lost to Ginsberg anyway. She knows she shouldn’t be competing with Ginsberg anymore because she’s now technically his boss. It’s her job to mentor him, not butt heads. But as the new Don, Peggy hates it when someone is better than she is, even (especially?) someone on her own team. And she is absolutely terrible at hiding it. Of course Ginsberg is perfect for Mountain Dew. He’s a human energy drink. Ginsberg’s new macho streak is gross; he tells Peggy that she didn’t know how to “work” Playtex while squeezing some ghost tits. Peggy, forever a Lisa Simpson, might have been too practical with her campaign, telling women they may not need a product but that they could want it anyway. What if it’s really more effective to hire Michael “Bay” Ginsberg to yell at a bunch of busty supermodels while they stomp through the desert in push-up bras, and then run the ads constantly until women get the message loud and clear: “IF YOU DON’T LOOK LIKE THIS, YOU’RE WORTHLESS. Better rush out to the store and buy some new padded bras right the fuck now!”? The bonus punch line being that even if you do look like that, you can still be considered worthless.
As if that’s not chill enough, Lou Avery asks Peggy, “Who put a knot in your panty hose?” Will Lou ever get a redeemable character trait? Or is he a straw boss to endear us back to Don? Maybe he genuinely loves his wife and kids or something. So far, we know that he is a dick, that he has a tiki bar in his office, and that he rides for Joey Heatherton. Peggy keeps trying to assert her authority and she keeps getting undermined. It’s a rigged game. If she gets upset about a little offensive comment here and there, they’ll think she’s humorless. If she doesn’t get upset, they’ll keep pushing at her until they land on something that does upset her. Sure, they could just not say insulting shit, but where’s the fun in that? The new order might not be ideal, but she’s sure as hell not going back to the old one. Don was extremely Don in this episode, in that he seemingly expected his coworkers to receive his return by falling to their knees and fanning him with palm fronds, rather than being pissed. He has never thought through anything beyond the first few steps.
Not only is Betty Draper back, she brought Francine Hanson! The ladies who lunch are having melon and coffee cake. Against all odds, Francine and Carlton are still married. Francine works three days a week at a travel agency, which she tries to make sound elegant but sounds pretty shitty the more she describes it. She smilingly shades Betty for still being a stay-at-home mom; “being alone in the house all that time” is no longer glamorous, but something to be mocked. Betty flips it back on Francine, and both women go overboard to make each other think they love the lifestyle they not-so-secretly truly loathe. Betty lies that she finds meaning through raising her children, and then hastily attempts to make this lie a reality.
Calling her own bluff means Betty must go on a farm field trip with Bobby and his class. For seemingly the first time ever, Betty tries to take an interest in her son. She learns all about him. He likes the Wolfman (he’s got nards). He says things like, “Bees. They live in drawers.” Bobby Draper is the dopiest kid on TV named Bobby since Bobby Hill. Betty drinks the milk from the bucket to wash the taste of cigarettes out of her mouth. The farmer’s braless daughter has no clue that milking will soon be obsolete, as farm robotics will make it possible for cows to be milked on machines. Bobby the idiot trades Betty’s sandwich for gumdrops. He doesn’t know how to share, and Betty doesn’t know how to conceal her anger and hurt that he couldn’t think of her needs, too, after she arbitrarily picked one day out of the year to play at being a loving, involved mom. She is too much of a child herself to deal with the problems of genuine children. Her childlike enthusiasm is overtaken by the kind of childlike exhaustion that usually accompanies the end of a field trip. Bobby knew what the other sandwich was for. He has inherited/learned his dad’s sense of honesty as well as his mother’s generosity of spirit. Bobby blew his chance at his mother’s love, and now she will never let him forget it.
SC&P’s social media manager, Harry Crane, is wearing a green, checked blazer, Henry Kissinger glasses, and mutton chops that are starting to take over his face. He also made a convincing argument for my brand-new theory that Silicon Valley is a Mad Men sidequel. Harry’s line of bullshit may be temporarily effective, but it can really go only so far. Promising clients data that does not yet exist is effective only until they ask to see the data. Cutler straight up does not like Harry Crane, and can you blame him? He wasn’t there to watch Harry evolve from a weaselly nerd into a weaselly nerd with terrible taste in fashion. He thinks Harry’s open self-pity is “distasteful,” and he’s correct. Harry asked to be taken more seriously, and then balked when he got what he asked for. While Peggy only wants her best work to be acknowledged, or at least deemed eligible to compete, Harry wants to be honored for work he literally didn’t even do. It’s important to be able to B.S. sometimes on the fly, but it’s even more important to follow through afterward. Harry lucked into the TV department and fucked over Joan; who’s to say he won’t unluck out of it? His insisting that he should get what he really deserves could backfire.
Don Draper, ikebana master, anticipates his wife’s return to her Hollywood Hills cabin of horrors. “Did you get fired?” Megan jokes, accidentally brushing up against the truth in her go-go boots. Megan’s agent, Alan, calling Don is like when Betty’s shrink used to call Don. A woman never wants to hear that a man she trusts called another man she trusts and asked him to come collect his woman. Don and Megan’s fight felt real. Don admits he doesn’t have any new tail on the roster, and for once, he’s telling the truth. He’s been out of work since last year, and it seems like his libido has also taken a hit. He would rather not sleep with any women at all than have to eventually answer the inevitable awful question “So, what do you do?” Don is flattered that Megan can’t believe he hasn’t cheated on her yet, but Megan is upset that Don obviously still only gives a fuck about his own career and not hers. I find myself rooting for Megan to dump Don for good so she can go off and freely have sex with Rod Serling.
Megan’s not a murder victim; she’s a killer. She smothered whatever tiny embers of Don’s ego that depended on her selfless love were still burning. He was certainly better at doing the firing than getting fired. It’s a very different view from the other side of that audition table. It seems like he might have to get used to getting let go, or, at least, rewrite the script about himself. Right now he is considered a loser at home, so why not inflate his own stock by taking interviews for other jobs?
At the Algonquin, time is at a standstill. The walls are dark, the booths are plush, and the bar tab is open for now. It’s the perfect place for him to block out the real world. Don’s acquaintance Emily Arnett looks an awful lot like Anna Draper’s niece, Stephanie the Berkeley coed, which is to say that they both look like Blake Lively. It’s become really uncomfortable to watch Don interact with young blonde women in a sexual way, because, well, some of them now resemble his precociously beautiful teenage daughter, Sally.
Don doesn’t remember Emily, nor does he take her up on her offer to entertain him in her room. This is the second time this season we’ve seen Don turn down a blatant sexual offer, not to mention negging the flirty stewardess in an ongoing mile-high conversation during his fake business commute. Maybe for Don the only way to have any power at all is to stay celibate, since he tends to lose himself inside women and bottles. Was Emily a hooker plant sent as a bribe, despite his dinner companions’ denial? Was she somebody he met at a party or a bar when he was blacked out? How many women has Don had sex with whom he doesn’t even remember? Or was it just some weird psych-out that’ll never be explained? I imagine it’s that. Emily Arnett is Mad Men’s version of The Sopranos’ Russian.
Roger is exploring the opposite extreme by having as much sex as he possibly can. Rage, rage, against the dying of the light, Roger! Roger is a rich dick who lives in a fantasy world because he can afford to. The world might be a nasty place outdoors, but it’s all blow jobs and BLTs at Casa Del Sterling. Maybe it’s an empty life and he’s a spoiled ignoramus, but it doesn’t look so bad sometimes. I’ll take that BLT and a tomato juice, please. Having just called Megan hysterical, Don finds that he does not love it when Roger calls him hysterical. But Roger softens, because he is one to talk about being found at the bottom of a fur box, and invites Don back to the company.
Don does the walk of shame past Peggy Olson’s “Copy Chief” door, until he meets the Frankenstein’s monster Lou Avery. Roger is late, for obvious reasons, such as nobody cares when he shows up and he has probably been shrooming all night. Ginsberg is excited to see Don, because he doesn’t know any better. Ginsberg and Stan are a study in spots and stripes, working on an ad that they have to explain to Don “ends with a freeze-frame” because the TV ad is the main thing and the print ad is secondary now, ya dig? Ed the new guy asks what everyone else is thinking: “What’ve you been up to … Don?” When Peggy learns Don is at work, her posture and voice shift from confident boss lady with her feet on the desk to tiny, whisper-voiced shrinking violet, because Don always makes Peggy feel like it’s the first time they met. Peggy, the creatives, and Meredith stare at Don like he’s a bear in a stream. Don treats Dawn like a secretary in order to reestablish his place. He’s never been this bad at faking it before. Maybe that’s a side effect of drying out. His hands seem shaky, too. Everyone is scared of Don, but it’s because without power he’s no longer considered volatile, just unhinged. The insistence that Don is a genius is less important than the realization that the company can’t cut him out even if it wants to.
It’s been suggested that women get more promotions when a company is failing. SC&P has been struggling since Don left, but they were struggling before he left. Dawn, Joan, and Peggy have all moved up the corporate ladder. They know that if Don comes back, they could easily all be kicked back down the chute. Don would trade all three of their sandwiches for a bag of gumdrops in a second. But they didn’t fetch his onionskins or tolerate his drunkenness and disrespect because they loved him so much. Joan sure as hell did not sleep with Jaguar for this. Roger is the only one who even really claims to love Don, but his capacity to love anyone besides himself is incredibly low. Roger and Don decided it was fine for Don to come back without thinking about how that would affect the other partners or anyone else, because that is what Roger and Don always do. They override. They act without thinking about the real consequences. They constantly lie to protect themselves. Don was hiding one more secret, though: chicken salad on rye? Who knew Don Draper liked such a boring sandwich?