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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! Let’s highlight a few important plot points:

  • Joan is pregnant with Roger’s baby, so Joan “takes care of it.” Roger meanwhile loses The Lucky Strike, which will cripple the agency. He has 30 days to get his affairs in order.
  • Lane’s father visits New York. They visit a Playboy club, where Lane reveals his secret relationship with a black waitress there. Daddy reacts violently when Lane proclaims his love for her.
  • Two men from the Defense Department interview Betty about Don’s allegiance to the United States and his past military service.  She doesn’t tell them anything, but Don is understandably paranoid. After whiny protest, Pete drops an important account to protect Don.

Alan: Nine episodes deep, and we have an episode that shakes the foundations of SCDP (and, by extension, the show itself). The shaking isn’t as severe as initially feared, but this episode shows how tenuous the bonds of Mad Men can be.

Pete: Yes. We’ve dealt with the emotional ramifications of Don’s double-identity this season, but we confront the practical ones very quickly and bluntly tonight. Because working with North American Aviation requires security clearance, some federal spooks begin peeking into Don’s background. This prompts panic attacks and some very frank talk about Don leaving the agency, and we, meanwhile, utter a collective “woah.”

Alan: It turns out not to be the catastrophe Don feared (Pete cancels the account to protect Don), but Don’s planning for the worst demonstrate his frailty. Two men lurking in his hallway inspire a panic attack, and we get an idea of just how frail Don is. The popped buttons from his dress shirt are a potent detail. With talk of fatigue over his double life, it’s clear this an effect on his alcoholism.

Pete: I was at a bar the other night with a friend who recently finished Army Ranger school, and I was whining about how being an unnaturalized American (I was born in Stuttgart) made me a second-class citizen, and how I shouldn’t be expected to demonstrate the same patriotic allegiance that my countrymen do. I’ve had a few conversations like these, and if I ever were to require clearance, I’d be sweating bullets. I can’t imagine what someone in Don’s situation must be feeling. But by the end of the episode, all is well, more or less. He confesses his secret to Faye (employing fewer words than he’s ever used to describe it), and they’re closer because of it. Also, the incident put him in a situation where he had to prostrate himself before Betty, which is new.

Alan: As someone who has a security clearance, I can assure you it’s unnerving to have others investigate your life, and that’s without anything to hide. Yes, it’s interesting to see how, pushing and screaming, Don’s vulnerability made him more whole with women in his life. Tonight’s episode was directed by Lynn Shelton, a mumblecore veteran who directed the comedy Hump Day. She is someone with interesting insights into gender and power.

Pete: Speaking of power, Pete wielded a great deal of it in this episode. And you seemed impressed that he did so responsibly.

Alan: He resented the unseemly position he found himself, but handled the situation with tact and, given Roger’s disproportionate reaction, even some grace. Pete seems to internalize the idea intimated to Don by Bert in the first season, that you never know what circumstances inspire loyalty.

Pete: I missed the “Previously on Mad Men …” tonight, so it took me a while to remember that Pete already unearthed Don’s secret. When he told Don then, he was bragging and threatening, and it was gross. Tonight, though, I sympathized completely. He brings in a huge account on his own, he nurtures it on his own, and suddenly, he has to ditch it to protect Don’s desertion and fraud. I’d be pissed, and I might not have dealt with it as well. Lots more to sift through. Can we take a moment and pat me on the back for my foresight about Lucky Strike?

Alan: Congrats, good sir. They telegraphed the proverbial rug-pulling subtly, and you picked on up. Roger loses Lucky Strike and 70% of SCDP’s business along with it. Given only thirty days before the big announcement, he contacts old clients in a feeble attempt to round up long-dead accounts. It’s a little pathetic, but John Slattery expertly reveals his character’s desperation.

Pete: Roger’s definitely in a pinch. Not only is it dire news for the agency, it’s also his last foothold in the ad trade. Pete hates him, Pete brings in accounts, and Pete’s not in his 50s. And he has to tell somebody about it before the 30-day deadline, right? At a partners’ meeting at the end of the episode, Joan runs down the list of SCDP accounts. When she asks about Lucky Strike, Roger doesn’t betray anything. He flashes a thumbs-up, and Joan moves on to Vicks Chemical. Not cool.

Alan: I can understand his motivation, though. He wants to line up business before the big reveal. I doubt he’ll get anywhere, so it’s clear he’s only delaying the inevitable. What’s not cool is how Roger takes it out on Pete that the biggest account is lost. Pete took it admirably, and even Bert thought Roger went too far. Once again, Roger reminds us how in many ways he still behaves like a child.

Pete: And how inessential he is to the entire operation. There’s no room for behavior like that when money’s as tight as it is.

Alan: Of course, there’s another personal revelation that may inform Roger’s behavior. He accidentally got Joan pregnant. He takes her to his doctor (she can’t see her regular one), and soon she has an abortion upstate. There’s a sad scene where Joan waits in the lobby and she comforts a mother who brought her daughter for the same procedure. Once again, Joan is the paragon of tact and empathy, even as she makes personal sacrifices (i.e. lying to the mother).

Pete: And turning the other cheek at an unintentional insult. Both women are sitting in the waiting room, but the distraught mother is there for her daughter’s procedure. She assumes Joan is there for the same reason, because how could a woman of Joan’s age and bearing possibly have gotten herself knocked up? That storyline begins and wraps up in the space of one episode, and I thought it was kind of flat. Not poorly handled or anything — just not as riveting as Don tearing open his shirt or Lee Garner Jr. breaking the news about Lucky Strike to Roger. Or Lane’s dad beating him across the brow with an OLD MAN STICK.

Alan: I agree regarding the plotline’s flatness. Joan expertly handles the situation, and while we see the quakes beneath, it lacks the oomph of the episode’s big revelations. The business of Lane’s father was quite a shock – Lane is struck with a cane after announcing he’s in love with a waitress from the Playboy Club. I think it’s unclear how precisely Lane handles his personal life, so it’s difficult to determine whether he’s floundering, but his father’s sudden violence must have a history. The father/son dynamics reminded me of an adolescent lashing out.

Pete: What did you make of the end of Lane’s story? His father demands he return to England or sever all ties to his family there. Then he announces to the SCDP partners that he’ll be leaving for two to four weeks to handle some family business across the pond. Are we going to get a London episode, with period-appropriate shots of Piccadilly and shit?

Alan: That’d be great. London would be in the midst of the mod craze, so the costumes would be out of this world. I think Jared Harris is sticking around this show for a while. His character has developed into one of the more interesting on the show, and it’d be a shame to see him leave. Oh, before I forget, during a commercial break I checked an inflation calculator. The price Roger’s doctor quoted is $400, or $2772 in today’s dollars.

Pete: Well, that isn’t chump change. This is not an emotional thumper of an episode, a la The Suitcase, but it certainly lays out a trajectory for the rest of the season.

Alan: I certainly agree. There are big scenes up ahead, and while this episode exists mostly to line them up, there are enough character moments to make it memorable. I would have liked to see more Peggy, though.

Pete: Yeah, she was totally AWOL tonight, but the teaser suggests she’ll play a pretty big part next week.

Alan: Looks as if we’re winding down this round-up. Any parting shots?

Pete: I think it’s been since Breaking Bad’s first season that AMC gave us a good old voiceless FUCK, but Roger unleashed one on Pete tonight. Lots of “shit” in the last few episodes, too.

Alan: The voiceless fuck actually happens in Breaking Bad season 3. The episode IFT foreshadows Skylar’s f-bomb nicely.

Pete: Oh, I forgot about that one. But they drop a bunch of them in the first season. Man, Skylar’s f-bomb is one of the best ever.

Alan: Totally. Also, I liked the small moment of comedy when Sally shrieks about The Beatles tickets. Not only did it provide a moment of levity for Betty and Don, but I love how Mad Men weaves history into the show. I have a high school friend whose Mom was at the Shea stadium concert. She said she couldn’t hear a thing for days afterward.

Pete: Did you read anything into Betty’s smile upon learning that Don was taking her to the show? Seems like they’re at least tolerating each other again.

Alan: Yes, which I’m kind of happy to see. Betty was a humorless shrew gets tiring after a while. Oh, and what did you think of the final shot? Don regards his secretary with confusion, and I’m not sure what to make of it.

Pete: I was baffled, too, and I just watched it a second time. But it wouldn’t be Mad Men if I knew what the hell was happening. Welp, I’m going to go drown myself in period and watch tonight’s Boardwalk Empire. Until next week, yo.

Alan: Until next week!