All words: Alan Zilberman and Peter Mergenthaler
Good morning, and welcome to BYT’s weekly MAD MEN hangover! In lieu of a traditional recap, I instead offer a somewhat edited, highly spirited debate between myself and a fellow TV junkie. Joining me is Pete, my old roommate who helped jumpstart my obsession with serialized TV dramas. Without further ado, let’s get into what’s new at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce!
- The partners of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce are still reeling from the loss of Lucky Strike. When they get a meeting with Phillip Morris, there’s hope of rekindling their relationship with Big Tobacco. The meeting falls through, so Don runs a full page ad in the New York Times where he announces SCDP will no longer work with tobacco companies, and that their product is potentially harmful. He doesn’t tell the other partners about this ad, so they’re more than a little pissed. Even if the ad does draw attention (including a prank phone call involving a poor RFK impression), Don and the others begin company-wide layoffs.
- Don doesn’t write the ad until after he stares intently at a painting given to him by Midge, the bohemian with whom he had an affair in the first season. Midge stalks the lobby, waiting for Don, and soon he finds himself in her crummy apartment. Both Midge and her husband are heroin addicts, and Midge sells her work in a last-ditch effort to raise some cash. Don takes pity on her, and gives her $120.
- Sally’s regular visits with her psychiatrist and Glen the neighbor help her adjust. That all comes to a halt when Betty forbids Sally from seeing Glen again. Betty later announces the family will move out of the house – Betty says Sally will get over it, but one can’t be so sure.
- Pete is worried about the $50,000 he must fork over to keep the agency afloat, but Don takes care of it for him (this is in addition to the $100,000 Don already owes).
- Bert is leaving the agency, and taking his shoes with him.
Alan: A week later and SCDP is still in free-fall. I want to get to the workplace drama, but first let’s discuss Midge, the bohemian from the first season who briefly reenters Don’s life. It was nice to see a familiar face, especially when it belongs to Rosemarie DeWitt, but her plotline is desperate and sad.
Pete: It’s the only intensely personal moment of the episode, and it’s a total downer. Bringing in someone as casually glamorous as DeWitt, only to make her up to look strung-out and needy, is almost criminal. I think this is one of the very few times — perhaps the only time — that the show has dealt with disadvantage in the 1960s. We’ve seen plenty of it in Dick Whitman flashbacks, but it’s never been quite so in-our-faces. Granted, heroin-addiction is a problem of her own making, but still.
Alan: I like the understated writing in the scene with Don and Midge when they’re in her bedroom. It’s interesting to hear her separate herself from her addiction. The lucidity adds a tragic dimension to what might have only felt pathetic. Don handles the situation well, even if you can see the discomfort on his face. Your point regarding disadvantage is well-taken. Don never sees this side of the 1960s, and I’m curious to what extent Midge’s addiction is impetus for his full-page New York Times ad.
Pete: She’s clearly a bright person who surrendered to an impulse, and it destroyed her. You hear that a lot from smart people who are confused by their own drug use — they think of themselves as apart from the addiction. Marc Maron, when he was eulogizing Greg Giraldo two weeks ago, said Giraldo would talk constantly about how he was baffled by the fact that he couldn’t kick the habit that ultimately killed him. I’m not sure exactly how it played into Don’s decision to submit the ad, but it definitely made for an interesting contrast — Midge’s drug-addled “husband” marveling over Don’s gift of $10, and Pete marveling over Don’s gift of $50,000 later in the episode.
Alan: Agreed, even if I’m not entirely sure the “husbands” reaction was 100% genuine (he sounded dismayed and humbled by the gift). In any event, it was nice to hear of Don’s gift to Pete. It’s difficult to say whhat Don’s motivation is (respect, Pete’s newborn, Pete’s knowledge of Dick Whitman), but I welcome any time someone puts a stop to Pete’s whining. The ad is the crux of the episode. What did you think of it?
Pete: I think it’s an amazing development, even if the episode later packages Cooper’s outrage and exit a little too neatly. We’re on our way to a leaner, more aggressive and (possibly) more socially conscious agency, and that’s perhaps the most telling sign yet that we’re in the middle of the 60s. Of course, the social consciousness is just good business.
Alan: Other recappers noted the parallels between Don and Emerson Foote, the former McCaan-Erickson chairman who quit his post because he no longer wanted to handle cigarette accounts. I don’t think Draper shares Foote’s idealism, but like Foote, Draper uses his business savvy to separate his agency from the big names that dominate Madison Avenue. It’s a bold move, and while I’m unsure whether it’ll pay off, it made for oodles of dramatic tension. I understand Bert’s frustration (I’d also be pissed if my name wasn’t on the ad), but I think him leaving the agency is more of a dramatic gesture than a final exit.
Pete: I thought the partners’ chafing over their names not being on the ad was a little petty and more than a little hypocritical. As recently as the beginning of this season, they were pushing Don into the spotlight as the creative superstar behind SCDP. Now, manners obviously dictate that Don should have consulted them, at the very least, but he made his opinion about THEIR opinions pretty clear. It would have died in committee because everyone’s terrified.
Alan: You’re right about that – Don’s bold ad would never have gone anywhere had he consulted the other partners. I’m just saying I understand their worry. Even if Don is being genuine, his maneuver is mostly about shifting the agency so it’s fueled by Creative. New clients aren’t exactly breaking down the door of SCDP, but it was nice to hear they got the attention of the American Cancer Society (although the jokes at their expense lasted longer than they should).
Pete: What do you think the “new” agency will be called? Don swatted away Peggy’s suggestion that SCDP rebrand itself, pointing out that they just did that. But with Cooper out of the picture and what appears to be a new strategy for client-selection, it seems like an opportunity for Don to get himself on top of the masthead. It’s not like Roger’s been begging for more involvement lately. Draper Pryce Campbell?
Alan: Like I said, I don’t think Cooper is totally out of the picture. His behavior felt more like grandstanding, and the three remaining partners would need to scrounge out oodles of money to buy out the most senior members. Granted, the episode ends with underlings being laid off left and right, so a leaner company might enable the younger generation take over what Bert and Roger’s father started.
Pete: Right, right. Materially, he’s still part of it. But his gesture was a response to Don’s gesture, and that’s all about appearances. Cooper doesn’t want to be associated in name with something that’s moving way too fast for his taste. He’s still unsure about this whole civil rights thing, for instance.
Alan: Fair enough. Either way, this episode seems to be positioning big developments for the season finale, but I think the writers did a good job of keeping the reactions interesting in varied (the knowing exchange between Don and Peggy, for example, had the right combination of ego and admiration). Let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about what’s happening with Sally and Betty. We haven’t seen them in a while, and it seemed as if Sally is slight more adjusted than before.
Pete: Ever so slightly. Her sessions with a kid therapist have given her an outlet for the kind of conversations she can’t have with her mother, but Betty is still Betty, which means the underlying problem is still there.
Alan: By the end of the episode, Sally is crying in her room. Betty just announced the family is moving, and later comments Sally will “get over it.” Given how delicate Sally’s adjustment has been, I highly doubt the transition will be smooth. That being said, I like the scenes between her and Glen. Mad Men never had scenes in which two children spoke and their somewhat awkward exchanges hinted comfort between two friends.
Pete: Much as I loathe Betty, I thought her negotiation with the child shrink was probably the greatest writing feat of the entire season. The shrink advises her to begin seeing somebody who works with adults, but Betty’s grown dependent on this opportunity to talk to somebody, and she manages to weasel her way into more sessions without explicitly asking for them. And then, when the therapist acquiesces, Betty ends the conversation with something along the lines of, “If that’s what you think is best.”
Alan: Betty’s artful negotiations in conversation have been a series-long highlight. They’re nakedly conniving and it’s almost always clear the other party knows exactly what she is doing, yet relent anyway. In the case of the therapist, her acquiescence is a form of pity. She realizes how hard it is for Betty to form a trustful bond.
Pete: That’s interesting. She’s never fooling anybody, and it’s not even clear that she believes she’s tricked anyone, but she insists on talking that way. It’s maddening. Gotta say though, I completely agree with her about Glenn. The kid is bad news. I understand Sally’s attachment to him — he’s the only person who treats her like a person — but the series has consistently drawn him as a serial-rapist-in-training.
Alan: Part of me agree with you, and part of me hopes you’re wrong. But the reason for the conflict is personal, which is to say I, too, was an awkward, chubby 13 year old.
Pete: That’s the frustrating part about this entire arc. Glenn either deserves our sympathy utterly or should be kept far, far away; the show has never made it clear, and that’s a fault. The actor playing Glenn isn’t especially talented, either, unless he’s going for INCREDIBLY CRYPTIC AND POSSIBLY DANGEROUS. But I think he’s a means to an end here. The story demands that Betty leave that house, and it’s in character for her to do it selfishly.
Alan: It’s been a topic since the first episode of the season. Henry thought it unseemly they remain in the house so long, and it’s only fitting Betty decides to move forward when it also means she can hurt her daughter.
Pete: Two birds with one stone, in other words.
Alan: Exactly. Final thoughts?
Pete: It’s crushing to see people lose their jobs, but I’m as energized by this episode as I was by last season’s finale, when SCDP was created. I’d love to see a forward-thinking agency with Don at the figurative helm. I also like how the episode handled Faye’s departure — she’s gone from the agency, but not from Don’s life. The show had just about played out the illicit-workplace-romance thing.
Alan: Agreed. And with the show ending in layoffs, SCDP mirrored our current economy.
Pete: And the No-Mention-of-Sal-Romano counter ticks up once again. I think it’s probably time we stopped carrying the torch for this guy.
Alan: Yup. Let’s just remember his thinly veiled one-liners and move on. Until next week!
Pete: The big finale!