It’s an interesting experience, watching someone collapse in front of your very eyes. Watching a human being lose all semblance of who they are and make mistake after mistake can be humbling; even more so when it’s their own fault.
Mad Men, tonight, split its two stories between Roger, and Don. Roger was on a mission to recover his daughter Margret from a hippie commune/religious cult and Don had to deal with the indignity of working on tag lines under Peggy, of all people. Don has fallen so far that he’s being used as a pawn in a larger power play by others; it wasn’t so long ago that he was the one making those kinds of moves. Jim Cutler is making those kinds of moves; he doesn’t like Don, and he thinks Peggy is too weak to control his actions. And if Don goes off the deep end, then they can get rid of him. It’s quite a move.
I don’t even know where to start except to say that I really loved this episode. Maybe my favorite of all time, Mad Men-wise. Anyways:
The episode starts off with Pete out to dinner with his girlfriend, Bonnie. Now, I had been under the impression that he and Bonnie’s relationship was a little more improper than that, but apparently he and Trudy are really going through with the divorce. I mean, good on them, because it was just making everyone miserable, but its such a good decision that I can’t believe it was made by a character on this show. Pete meets up with an old friend, George, who tells him that he got his old father-in-laws job after the old man had a heart attack. Pete seems visibly distressed. Because of George’s new position, there is a potential for a new account: Bergerscheff, a fast food chain. They have to earn the account through presentation, but it’s still an opportunity. After George leaves, Bonnie tells Pete that she likes to watch him work like that, and Pete rebuffs her, saying it happens all the time. It really seems that Pete has changed; he cares about what happened to his father-in-law, he introduced Bonnie without sleaziness, and then took zero pride in the gain of the account through such misfortune. California has been good for him.
Something important: the creative break/lunch/think room is taken over so that they can install a computer. The guy who is there supervising is named Lloyd, and he owns the company installing it, LeaseTech. Lloyd is a personable guy; everyone seems to like him, and he’s a walking sales pitch. It comes off as charming at first, but it quickly devolves into something robotic. He’s a computer himself, to not put too fine a point on it. Don is a little enamored with him at first. Lloyd make him feel important, because he’s treating him like the boss Don feels he is. Lloyd is important to at least this episode for the way he affects Don’s character development; plus, he’s the catalyst for this exchange between Don and Harry Crane.
“I’m sorry we destroyed your lunchroom. It’s not symbolic?”
“No, it’s quite literal.”
It’s a really amazing, really small back-and-forth because of how much it conveys. Times are changing, that is true, but at Sterling Cooper and Partners things are changing because nobody can stand anyone else. It’s progress for the sake of spite, and while it’ll benefit them in some areas, the alienation of their creative staff will hurt them. The problem, if you’ll indulge me for a moment, with SC&P removing the creative breakroom and damaging the creative morale is that they’re missing the point. The computer is important, yes, but creative is needed to run the computer. They want the computer to give them data so that they can please the client more so that they can make more money. Instead of creating a good advertising campaign, it’s strictly about pandering to their clients. All of those geniuses in upper management and they forgot the first lesson they learned: it’s about the product, not the one who’s buying it.
The Bergerscheff account sets in motion the important development of the main story. Jim Cutler wants to call in Ted to be the lead man on the account, but Ted refuses to leave California. He does suggest Peggy, though, to Pete’s chagrin. Pete suggests Don be involved, and Roger seconds it. Lou agrees with them in the room but stops Jim Cutler before he leaves to voice his concern with Don’s involvement. Cutler tells him not to worry, that Don probably will implode and they’ll be rid of him, or, best case scenario, they get good copy out of him. Cutler seems supremely confident, like he’s got an ace in the hole.
So the power plays begin. Lou calls Peggy in and gives her a spiel about discipline and encouragement and he sounds like most paternal, self-important douchenozzle on the planet. He gives Peggy a $100 raise, which is a lot, and tells her to pick her team with whoever she wants, as long as Don is on it. She is visibly uncomfortable with the idea of him on her team, but she does it anyways. Then, the best line of the episode, and maybe the whole series:
“You’re in charge, sweetheart.”
Isn’t that just wonderful writing? In a single sentence, Lou simultaneously gave and stripped away all the power that Peggy had. Yes, Peggy has control of the team, and Don, but only because the male power structure allows her to. Lou thinks he’s doing her a favor, and he is; but its not about doing her a favor but about destroying Don. Peggy has done better work than anyone on this show except Don, really, and she is abused CONSTANTLY. One more time:
“You’re in charge, sweetheart.”
Jesus, that gives me chills. It’s like a father teaching his young daughter to ride a bike; she feels like she’s in control, but all her father has to do is reach out and take the bike away from her. She has power because someone gave it to her to abuse someone else. She is the definition of middle management. Peggy and Don (but especially Peggy) deserve better.
Peggy puts Don her team, and instead of going to his office to tell him, he makes him and the other member of the team (Mathis, I think?) come to hers. Don is more than a little angry about being placed under Peggy, and after being told he has to do taglines he stomps out of the room. Another great scene: Don is furious that he’s being treated like a scrub, and throws a typewriter against the window, but gently. It’s the angriest soft-toss you’ll ever see. He can’t even be loud with his anger because a) Peggy will hear and know she’s won, and b) it could get him fired for good.
The next Monday, Don comes back in without the taglines. He tells Mathis that he isn’t coming to the meeting, and continues to sit at his desk and play solitaire. Peggy is furious, and looks near tears, but takes it out on Mathis, verbally abusing him and making him do Don’s share of the work as well. Don gets into a conversation with Lloyd about advertising, and it inspires him to go talk to Roger about bringing in a new client.
Roger isn’t there, of course, because he’s out looking for his hippie daughter. She has run off to commune/cult, and his ex-wife Mona is really concerned. Margret (now called Marigold) isn’t going to come back, and Mona snaps and leaves. She is furious that Margret wont come back when she has a young son, and she leaves. Roger decides to stay at the commune to get to know the place and his daughter’s role in it better.
Roger knows all about this kind of stuff. He is uniquely equipped to see his daughter’s life for what it really is, and for the most part, he isn’t too bothered by it. After getting high and peeling potatoes with her hippie friends, he and his daughter lay in straw in a barn and stare up at the moon and the stars. Roger and Margret share a nice moment and go to sleep. Only, Margret doesn’t go to sleep. She sneaks off with some guy to make love, leaving Roger alone.
The next morning, Roger tells her its time to go, that she has a young son. He actually tries to carry her to the truck, basically kidnapping her. The men of the commune run like parallel to them; they are clearly afraid of Roger and yet don’t want to seem like they’re doing nothing. Roger and Margret fall in a giant mud puddle together, and Roger berates her for leaving “her baby.” Margret seethes at him, sneering at him for his supposed fatherly wisdom. He was never home, he went to work, he had secretaries pick up birthday presents. He didn’t care about her so why should she care about her son? She turned out fine, right?
Margret immediately regrets what she said as soon as she says it. She realizes that she is abandoning her son because she’s mad at her father. Roger, for his part, is angry, and disgusted, and also a little bit shell-shocked, and he walks away from the commune alone. He gets it, now, the impact of his choices. He has a responsibility to Margret’s son because he raised Margret to think that kids don’t need their parents to be happy. She leaves her son because she thinks its okay, because she’s okay; why wouldn’t her son be okay? But when spoken out loud she sees how hollow those words are. Roger is covered in mud and alone because he screwed up his beautiful, smart daughter because he wanted to bang secretaries and drink a lot. That’s what he gave up his daughter’s life for; quickies and a lifetime of headaches.
When Don can’t find Roger, he goes to Bert. He suggests they go after LeaseTech as a new client. Bert reminds him of the rules, and not so gently reminds him that they didn’t need him to come back. The two verbally spar a bit, and then Don leaves, stealing a bottle of vodka from Roger’s office. He gets rip-roaring drunk and calls Freddie Rumson to go to a Met’s game, skipping out on Peggy’s new meeting time. Instead of the Met’s game, Freddie takes Don home, and lays him on the couch. When Don finally sobers up, Freddie gets tough with him. He asks Don:
“Are you just gonna kill yourself? Give them what they want?”
Don is being a whiny baby, bemoaning his position under Peggy. Freddie calls him a lazy. He tells him to buck up and do his job. He says:
“Do the work, Don.”
As I wrote in my notes: Freddie just saved his career and probably his life, and I couldn’t have been more right. Freddie Rumson, the butt of every office joke since season one, saves Don Draper. Who saw that one coming?
So, Don goes back to work. He gets back to work. He tells Peggy he’ll have the tags by lunch. He sits at his desk. The typewriter hums.
See you next week.
[Photo via Justina Mintz/AMC]