Home is Where?

A cross-posting: please go check out Invisible Culture, which is hosting a blog on Season Five of Mad Men in relation to their latest issue, which has a number of articles on the show (including one on Frank O’Hara, a topic near and dear to my heart).

The good people at Invisible Culture have asked me to contribute something on the show and I was happy to say yes.

My latest piece is entitled, “Home is Where?” and looks at the way space is operating this season on the show, especially as is related to home vs. the office and especially as connected to Pete, Peggy, and Don. Go take a look!

Advertisements

Power, Politics, and Negotiating Allegiances

In my last post on Mad Men, I ended with a series of questions: “Who will best be able to negotiate the liminal, the in-between? And where will allegiances lie as things become better defined? When we put this in its historical context of 1966 and 1967, which when this season seems set, big things seem to be on the horizon.” The last two episodes have taken us further into these issues.

First and foremost, we have the issue of race that were percolating in the mid- to late-1960s. The Civil Rights Movement is taking hold and we see the characters on the show trying to cope with these changes, most of which seem centered around Dawn, Don’s new secretary. She is a very sympathetic character first in her articulation of her horror at the photos of Richard Speck’s victims and rejection of them as titillation and later in her anxiety about traveling to Harlem late at night and her brother’s concern for her safety. Peggy demonstrates a willingness to put Dawn up at her home, but she has a moment of concern about leaving Dawn to sleep in a room with Peggy’s purse. This dual reaction seems a useful embodiment of the desire to adopt a liberal attitude within a context of white anxiety about African-Americans. It certainly carries the flavor of the liminal, as Peggy tries to determine not only what feels right but what feels appropriate, safe, smart.

Then there is gender. Women dominated the last episode – Peggy takes Roger Sterling for $400, Joan kicks out her creep of a husband, and Don runs into an old lover, Andrea, who he dreams about, in the throes of a fever, as a kind of succubus figure who he eventually kills. Much of the episode saw them assert their will in different contexts and often to great effect: Joan enforces her will over her home and her family, Peggy negotiates successfully with Roger, and Andrea demonstrates that Don’s old lovers and his past pose a potential threat to his marriage to Megan. Don’s murder of Andrea seemed to be a symbolic assertion of male authority over female encroachment, manifested in his dream. All of these various scenes added up to women either gaining greater agency or “engendering” greater anxiety for men. How interesting that Ginsberg’s ad pitch features Cinderella trying to escape from danger only to realize that she enjoyed it and sought it out. It’s a different spin on Don’s dream reaction to Andrea – a man representing a woman as ultimately in the thrall of male power.

Again, I think with both race and gender, it will make for interesting viewing to see how the characters negotiate the shifting ideological allegiances that the 1960s created.

Finally, I’d like to note the business shift going on in terms of the power struggle between Pete and Roger. Roger is desperately seeking to maintain his position and his authority in the office and in the company itself. Pete is asserting himself as at least Roger’s equal. How will this play out? It’s becoming overt, and Pete’s announcement to the office that he got Mohawk Airlines back and taking all the credit is a clear attempt to assert his dominance on the account side. Pete seems an up-an-comer. Many will go with him. But Don noticed Roger’s reaction to Pete’s announcement and sought to allay his fears. Peggy was also aware of it. Still, Peggy happily took advantage of Roger when he needed help of the weekend and she does have lots in common with Pete, especially as the comparative up-and-comer on the creative side. It’s not clear that she will choose Roger should she have to choose between them. Nor is it clear what Don will do. He is closer to Roger and sees himself as more of Roger’s generation than Pete’s. Roger was a mentor of his and he is friends with him. But Don is also sympathetic to Pete and recognizes what he does for the company. He has again demonstrated that this season. Negotiating the delicate balance between the two seems to be one of the central tasks he has this season.

Race and gender. Politics on the national level and in the office. Power and allegiances. Mad Men continues, following much of the same elements that it always has, allowing for differences, cultural contexts, and individual characters to move the story forward and outward.

 

Neither This nor That/Both This and That

Liminal (adj.) – on the margins or the threshold; neither this nor that or both this and that.

The first episode of Mad Men, “A Little Kiss,” this year had many elements of the liminal that I haven’t seen many people speaking about, but which I found vital to the structure of the episode. (The first two episodes were presented together in a two-hour episode, with tonight’s labeled episode 3.) Liminality is the state of being in between, on the margins. It’s often associated with a particular space, but it can also refer to characters within narratives as well.

The episode begins with Sally waking up in an apartment wandering down the hallway, soon mistaking the door to the master bedroom for the door to the bathroom. As she speaks to her father, Don, who is dressed in pajama pants but not wearing a shirt, Sally looks past him to the bed, where Megan sleeps naked, facing away from the door, her back and buttocks exposed to Sally’s eyes. Megan is the woman sleeping with Sally’s father, but not Sally’s mother. She is Don’s wife, but in Sally’s eyes not fully family. She is something in between.

At work, Megan is likewise on the margins. She is Don’s wife but also an employee. She’s dabbling in the creative side of the ad business, but doesn’t have any real experience in it. Peggy is mentoring her and overseeing her work, but because she is Don’s wife, Megan holds a certain power over Peggy that Peggy is well aware of, even if Megan knows little about the work that they do. Megan arrives with Don and leaves with him. She is not exactly autonomous there, but she does have the authority of being the wife of one of the partners of the firm.

Back to the apartment. This apartment and what transpires in it is central liminal space in “A Little Kiss.” It’s a modern, up-to-date, 1960s apartment with a showcase living room with built-in shelving, a sunken floor, and a fabulous white rug. It’s their home that they’ve made, and as such it’s the space where they entertain. And the surprise party for Don’s 40th birthday is the centerpiece of the two-hour episode. But as a home space, during this party it is populated pretty much solely with people who work with and for Don. We might well ask, “Who are their other friends? Do they have other friends?” With this party, it’s hard to see any. So the party operates as a liminal space between work and home and the challenge of the party for the guests is how to negotiate the in-betweeness of SCDP and Don’s home. With her overt mention of the effort she is putting into a current ad campaign, Peggy struggles with this. Her boyfriend asks, “What are you doing?” and she answers, exasperated with herself but also confused as to what she was supposed to say, “I don’t know.” Harry Crane, not surprisingly, doesn’t bring his wife, allowing himself to act the creep in front of his colleagues. Lane Pryce and Ken Cosgrove are much more at ease and more readily blend in.

And while Don is able to negotiate the liminality of his home/work – and it shouldn’t surprise us that he can, since he is the master of being able to do just this sort of thing, Megan isn’t as proficient with it. Her song-and-dance routine to “Zou Bisou Bisou” is so sexualized that few if any of the men know how to handle it. There’s something about it that might be a little inappropriate, though it shouldn’t be. This sort of thing goes on at parties, and is clearly what Megan has in mind when she tells Peggy that everyone will leave the party and “go home and have sex.” The element that makes the routine risqué is that the witnesses to it are all colleagues from work.  This is what leads to the discomfort.

Of course, for Don, the discomfort is that it isn’t actually his birthday. It’s Don Draper’s birthday, but Dick Whitman’s was a few months ago. This leads back to one of the main themes of Season 4 (and the series as a whole) – “who is Don Draper?” Is he Don or Dick? Neither or both? His unhappiness at the party, he says, isn’t because he doesn’t like surprise parties but because he doesn’t like birthdays. And this is a big one – 40. He’s aging. Megan calls him old a number of times, sometimes teasingly, sometimes less so. And as a 40-year-old, he seems to identify with the older generation of Roger Sterling, Lane Price, and the other “grown-ups.” He sees the others as more akin to kids. Their interest in marijuana and new music doesn’t interest him. (Not that he isn’t familiar with them.  Do recall his first-season affair with Midge and attendance at West Village Bohemian nightclubs. But he’s done all that already.) And he is married to one of these kids. Megan is clearly of the new generation. Her version of “Zou Bisou Bisou” is evidence of her comfort with a new overt sexuality that is fully new to Don and the men of the older generation.

The other figure we should take note of at the party is Pete Campbell, dressed more formally than many of the others, with what I would call a country-club plaid sportcoat. Pete wants no part of all the things that the others of his actual generation want. He wants what the older men want – money and power. At work he is in a figurative liminal space – neither a full partner, nor a regular employee. Not treated by the big boys as equal, but actually the one bringing in the most business. Pete wants to be seen as the equal of the other partners, though he isn’t. Curiously, it’s Don who is most sympathetic to Pete. Does he recognize something of his own situation in Pete’s?

All this hints at what may be one of the main themes of the year – Who will best be able to negotiate the liminal, the in-between? And where will allegiances lie as things become better defined? When we put this in its historical context of 1966 and 1967, which when this season seems set, big things seem to be on the horizon.

Inside the Mind of Don Draper

The use of a voiceover to articulate Don Draper’s thoughts in “The Summer Man,” the eighth of the fourth season of Mad Men, was an important stylistic moment in the history of the show.  In my memory, it was the first time that the show had presented Don’s thinking in an explicit way, as exposition, and not through action or through the inscrutable face of actor Jon Hamm.

Yes, Don had read Frank O’Hara’s poetry aloud at the end of the first episode in the second season, and that reading and the subsequent uses of O’Hara and his collection told us much about Don’s frame of mind.  But let’s face of it, pretty much all of what we make of Don is almost always conjecture.  For all of the past seasons, we’ve watched Hamm stare at characters without speaking, look out the window, and gaze into the middle distance, and we try to read his face for glimpses into what is happening in his head.  What is he thinking?  What does he make of this situation?  What is he planning?  We don’t know, not really.  We base our judgments on Hamm’s half smile, or on the conviction that we truly do understand Don as an individual and how he would respond to the situation.  But we don’t know Don, not really.  That’s why this fourth season began with the question, in the first episode, “Who is Don Draper?”

There are lots of answers to that question, only one of which is Dick Whitman.  He’s an accomplished ad man, now an award winner.  He was once a fur salesman, trying to talk Roger Sterling into giving him a try at his agency.  He’s a husband who strayed, a father who is both good with kids but who doesn’t spend much time with them.  He’s a ladies man who for most of this season struck out repeatedly with women, having sex only with a prostitute and a secretary who seemed to want to say no but perhaps thought it might serve her well at the agency to acquiesce.  He’s younger than Roger Sterling and Bert Cooper but identifies with them over the “kids,” his name for the rest of his colleagues at work at SCDP.  He admires Sonny Liston but tends to adopt a Cassius Clay approach when he deals with clients, trying to bully them into submitting to his vision, especially through his silver tongue.  He’s a conundrum, the proverbial mystery wrapped in an enigma, etc.

It has seemed to me that this has always been part of the point – to not really know Don.  No one in the show does.  They only know parts of him.  This gave the emotional power to his teary confession to Peggy during the previous episode, when he hears that Anna Draper has died, that she was the only one who ever knew him.  Don was always been different in California with Anna – more at ease, relaxed, funny, goofy even.  He seemed to like that she had his number and liked to tease him.  She clearly loved him – him, not the “Don Draper” that everyone in New York knows.  With her gone, he is only the man in quotes, “Don Draper,” and no longer the man Anna knew.

But he wants to be that man.  His moment of bonding with Peggy seemed to signal the start of a change.  He has begun to curtail the heavy drinking.  He begins to go to the New York Athletic Club to swim, as a way to get in shape, but also because in the water, as he says, he is “weightless.”  He is shedding something or building anew; letting go of the past or returning to his natural self: pick your metaphor, but either way a change is in the works.  He wants to be a different man.

And so the use of the voiceover seems a distinctively appropriate stylistic choice for Matthew Weiner to make.  For longtime viewers it’s not only jarring to the ear, it’s something of a shock to actually hear what Don is thinking.  It doesn’t so much matter what we make of those thoughts – shallow! profound! troubled! determined! – what matters more, in one sense, is that we are privy to them.  This is decidedly new, and the choice of using the voiceover is as much a signal of change for the viewer as the actions that Don takes.

Things start to turn for Don in the episode. He starts to drink less and seems more put together at work.  He begins to get himself into better physical shape.  Bethany, after meeting Betty, warms up considerably to Don, even going so far as to give him fellatio in the back of the cab, a noted difference from her more “prim” stance at the beginning of the season.   Don asks out a female colleague he respects, but he doesn’t try to bed her that night, instead saying good night to her in the cab.  (This makes for a wonderful contrast to the earlier scene with Bethany, but also harkens back to what Bethany said weeks ago – perhaps Don has learned from her?)

And then there was the interesting interaction with Henry Francis, who sought to establish a power differential with Don by telling Don to come pick up his things from the house, and then leaving them on the curb and refusing to even acknowledge Don’s presence when he comes to get them.  This is a curious move for Henry to make, considering that he’s living in Don’s house and that Don could kick him out whenever he’d like, considering that the Francis’s have vastly overstayed their allotted time to find a new home.  I very much enjoyed the ending, when Don decides at the last minute to attend Gene’s birthday party and to assert his patrimony.  This is not only a signal to Betty that he plans to stay in Gene’s life and to serve as his father.  It’s an assertion to Henry that this is indeed still his house, that these children are his, and that no one can ever keep him away from special events in their lives.  Don is not cowed by Henry’s political connections.  Henry means nothing to him.  It’s telling that Don doesn’t spend his time at the party looking longingly at Betty and the family scene, lamenting his absence from the home.  Instead it is Betty who looks at Don playing with Gene.  What is she thinking?  Is she longing for Don in some way?  Still wanting him?

If only we had a voiceover for her…

Understanding Loss and What Work Does: Don Draper, Peggy Olson, and Their Bond

Near the end of last season’s final episode of Mad Men, Don Draper says to Peggy Olson, explaining how advertising ultimately operates as a complex confluence of nostalgia and wish fulfillment, and explaining why she should join him in his new firm, “Because there are people out there who buy things, people like you and me. And something happened, something terrible. And the way that they saw themselves is gone. And nobody understands that. But you do. And that’s very valuable.”  In convincing Peggy to join him at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Don makes clear that Peggy matters to him as a colleague.  He values her ideas, her insight, her instincts.  He recognizes her talent, her gift, a gift much like the one he himself possesses.  Don wants Peggy to work for him and with him; he imagines a future in which they can do great things together.  Finally, in this past week’s episode, Matthew Weiner began to play out the culmination of Don’s sales pitch to Peggy and finally took us further into their relationship than he has for quite some time.

During the current season, Don’s treatment of Peggy has not been everything she would like it to be.  Although she clearly is one of the main creative minds at SCDP, she doesn’t always get either the respect or the accolades that she would like from her colleagues and from her boss.  Although she was involved in the creation of the Glocoat advertisement that has won Don praise from the first episode of the season, he has not acknowledged her contribution, and went so far as to bring Joan to the Clio award ceremony instead of Peggy.  She not only felt slammed by this snub, but took another blow when Don insisted that she work with the ever-frustrating (and often loathsome) Stan Rizzo.

Don tells her that she can learn some things from Stan, but Peggy has a hard time seeing how.  Stan is lazy and yet a braggart.  Moreover, he is something of a Neanderthal mixed with a countercultural wannabe, telling Peggy that she’s too rigid, stuffy, frigid even.  It’s a great scene when she calls Stan on his bluffing and disrobes, forcing him to do the same.  He can’t handle it and she reasserts her authority on the creative side.  Objectively speaking, when looking at the firm, after Don, there’s Peggy and then there’s everybody else.  No one else has the chops to match her, and she’s on the march forward and upward.

But here’s the problem – Peggy can’t seem to get Don to see her this way, as the one with talent, or at least to acknowledge publicly or even privately her talent and her work ethic.  Instead he tends to berate her and belittle her.  The pitch that she and her colleagues made for a Samsonite ad starring Joe Namath wasn’t bad, at least by today’s standards, but he called the use of an endorsement lazy.  He repeatedly tells her that she’s not working hard enough and makes her work over the weekend or asks her to stay late at the office after everyone has left.  She has disagreed with him before on some of his responses to her pitches, but until this episode, she never went back at him hard.  In this episode, though, she started speaking to Don in a way that no one at the office really does.  She was mad and she let him know it. She tells him she’s mad that he doesn’t show her respect or have gratitude for her hard work and that he makes her work with Stan.  And she tells him that she resents that he has not acknowledged her contribution to the winning Glocoat commercial.  She lets him have it.

And it’s hard not to enjoy Peggy’s outburst as a viewer.  Often, Don is treated like a guru, like a creative genius with the golden touch.  In the first episode of the season, he was so sure of his vision that he kicked the people from Janzen out of the office and refused to have anything to do with them anymore.  His approach, in that moment, was elevated to an ideology and he was the man in charge – giving interviews to the Wall Street Journal and serving as the face of the firm.  But since that episode viewers have seen this myth of Don as the man with the golden touch as a mirage: his pitch of the Life cereal campaign was a failure that – according to the Life reps – went over the heads of their costumers and therefore failed at the most important level.  His response – and yes, I recognize he was drunk – was pathetic.  He became nothing more than a guy throwing out taglines without ideas, desperately trying to please the client.  It was hard to watch, sure, but it was also comeuppance for how her treats others – clients and colleagues.  Peggy, of course, was horrified.  And angry.  And that was before Don made her work all weekend with Stan Rizzo in a hotel room.  When she went to his apartment on Sunday night to tell Don that he had made a mistake with the Life cereal, there was palpable joy on her face and in her voice when she told him that “HE had to fix it.”  It’s rare that anyone gets to speak to him like that, and his hangdog look was something she relished, even if she’s shocked the next day when he hires Danny as a way to fix it and do penance for his behavior for the previous three days.

And that’s the part of the writing of Mad Men that is so enjoyable.  Peggy doesn’t get exactly what she wants.  Don isn’t flummoxed by what happens with Peggy.  He doesn’t have to take back the line; instead, he just hires Danny and then the firm owns it.  Plus, he gets in good with Roger by hiring his wife’s nimrod cousin.  Peggy doesn’t yet know all the angles that Don does.  She actually ISN’T as good as he is.  Not yet anyway.

And he’s in charge, the creative director.  Which he reminds her of when she complains to him this week about his lack of respect and gratitude and acknowledgement.  When Peggy claims that the Glocoat commercial was her idea, he calls her contribution essentially a kernel.  He eventually agrees that it was an essential part of it, but he doesn’t budge on the fact that she had an idea and he brought it to fruition and in the process improved it and made it successful.  And that in doing so he was not only doing his job, he was being very good at his job.  He clearly delineates the line between them.  She works for him.  When she says that she wants more respect and more appreciation, he says, as my wife reminded me, “That’s what the money’s for!”  Don reinforces that the work that they do isn’t about receiving love, it’s about doing the work, being good at it, and finding satisfaction in both the process and the product.  It’s where he’s happiest.  It’s also where Peggy is happiest.  Which is at least in part why she stays late that night and works all those other weekends.

Though Peggy might want to get some digs in at Don – and he deserves them for his behavior – she also wants his approval as her boss and her mentor.  She wants him to see her as valuable, as good, as central to what they do at the firm.  In the morning, after he gets the call that Anna Draper has died and as he sobs in front of her, she comforts him and she starts to see what has led to his boorishness over the last few weeks.  The drinking, the sloppiness in the job, the desperation have been a product of Anna’s illness and impending death.  He says that Anna was “the only one who knew who I really am” and Peggy dismisses that by patting his back and implying that no, she knows who Don is.  Don is a product of his work: not an advertisement itself but a product of the process of the work.  She knows this because that is what she is too.  Earlier in the episode, she was aghast that Mark would invite her family to what was supposed to be an intimate birthday dinner for the two of them.  “He doesn’t know me,” she says.  The language here is exactly that which Don uses when Anna dies.  To know Peggy, as to know Don, one must know what drives them.  And to know that, you should know what they do and how they do it.

This is how Peggy and Don make their peace with one another – through the commonality of their purpose, through their work and ultimately through respect and trust.  They are two of a kind, for each of them work and the imagination are central.  They are “creative” – meant as both an adjective and a noun, as in the creative side of the firm.  But being creative is hard work and it’s a process and you can’t shortchange it.  It’s important to recognize that the symbol of their bond – their touching of hands – comes after Don shows Peggy his idea for the Samsonite ad and she agrees that it is good.  The tone of the episode is deeply intimate; it’s not romantic in any particular way but the intensity of their connection is powerful and drives the dialogue and the action.  The way that these two characters speak to each other is quite unlike the dialogue that anyone else has – they push and prod and give it to one another.  They stand up to one another.  She desperately wants his approval but she won’t just give in to his demands quietly.  And he needs someone with whom he can parry and she’s ultimately the only one in the office who he sees as worthy of the interplay.  He allows her to give him shit, even if and while he reminds her that he is her boss.  And while they reveal elements of their personal lives to one another that they won’t show to others – he grew up on a farm, she is nervous about ever finding a mate, she has had a child that no one knows about, and he was arrested for drunk driving and she bailed him out – they trust one another enough to know that they can reveal these things to one another and yet these details do not have to be the things that define their relationship.  They can know these things about one another and can move beyond them; their secrets, in other words, are not what defines each of them in the other’s eyes.

At the end of the episode, Don has cleaned up.  He looks “fresh” – reborn, in a way, much like he was at the end of the second season when he walked into the Pacific Ocean in his clothes.  And Peggy has seen him through.  She stayed with him, supported him, brought him through the dark night of the soul.  She too will freshen up and she will return and they will join together in their work.  This is when they touch hands and acknowledge that they know each other.  Again, at the end of the third season, Don asked Peggy to join him by telling her that “there are people out there who buy things, people like you and me. And something happened, something terrible. And the way that they saw themselves is gone. And nobody understands that. But you do. And that’s very valuable.”  Peggy does understand.  And of course Don does too.  And it’s in their understanding of loss that they understand something deep, powerful, and intimate about one another.  And it’s through their understanding of it that they will now move forward.

Mad Men and Male Anxiety

What, pray tell, was the deal with the phallic references in last week’s episode of Mad Men?

Let’s go over just some of them.  The name of the bar that Don and Roger and Joan head to after winning a Clio?  The Pen and Pencil. We had Stan Rizzo throwing pencils up into the ceiling and getting them to stick.  Peggy calls Stan on his bluster, though, and disrobes and encourages him to.  In the face of her calling his bluff, he “shrinks up.”  She reminds him of this the next day, when someone asks him if Peggy helped with the copy they came up with, and Peggy holds up her fingers just a touch apart and says, “Just a little bit.”  Funny, but brutal.  She totally emasculated Stan.

Which is similar to what happens with Don.  Don picks up a woman at The Pen and Pencil, but leaves his Clio award behind there.  He’s slumming with that woman, and he heads into a bender that leaves him in something of a blackout.  When he next wakes up it’s not the next morning, but the one after that.  He’s lost a day, and he’s in bed with Doris, a waitress who has seen better days.  Betty gives Don a hard time, and for good reason.  He’s missed his fatherly commitment to his kids to see them on Sunday morning.    To top things off, Doris calls him Dick, which is what he’s been acting like.  He’s just about hit bottom, it seems to me.  He cleans up for Monday morning, swallows his pride by hiring Danny Siegel, and tells his secretary to get his Clio back.  He’s trying to get some semblance of his manhood back, as he returns to being “Don Draper,” and not “Dick.”

It seems to me that this season has been a lot about gender poltics and gender power relations. This is an interesting development, one in keeping with the times and the rise of feminism.  At SCDP, we’ve seen this playing out with Peggy and with Faye, and with Alison, Don’s secretary.  It seems to be coming to a head.  It seems to me that the women are on the rise, for the most part, and that the men are struggling a bit to stay on top and to keep [it] up.  (Sorry for all of the double entendres there, I just couldn’t help myself!)

It will be interesting to see how they continue this thread, but it seems to me that as Don continues to live on his own, no longer married to Betty, he’s very much in the middle of a struggle that he’s not winning.  There’s a ton of male anxiety going on in this show and the women are slowly taking on greater and greater authority.

On the Beginning of Mad Men, Season 4

1.  I love Sally.  I love her blunt honesty at Thanksgiving dinner and I love her response to her mother’s force-feeding.  In real life she’d end up as crazy as a loon, but who knows what will happen on this show?  During last season I predicted she’d lose it at some point and do some damage to someone.  That started to fade after a while, but this episode brought back that possibility to me.  Did you see how she rubbed her head vigorously after Don kissed her when he came to pick up the kids for the weekend?  Like the kiss hurt or burned her or something.  Zoinks.

2. Henry continues to be creepy and Betty continues to flummox me.  How can you not look at him and not say, “Yuck”?  Why is he essentially living in Don’s house?  Doesn’t he have one of his own?  Why does she stay with him?!?!  Yuck.

3. The no-conference table thing worked for me.  It was funny to see them sitting in a circle in their meeting together, and then later the client wanting to put his feet up on the coffee table.

4. I miss Sal, and maybe Ken, but not Duck and certainly not Kinsey – who I found pathetic in his attempts at pretension and hard to sympathize with as a character because he was such a fraud in so many ways.

5. My very favorite part of the show continues to be how Peggy talks to Don.  Don’t get me wrong: like pretty much everyone else, I love Roger – his humor, his salacious imagination, his crotchety WWII ways still going strong in the 60s – but there’s something that has always been fascinating about how Peggy just tells Don the truth, straight, with no real chaser.  And he takes it from her.  She has things to learn in the job, and he tells her so, but he doesn’t stop her when she’s really telling him the way it is or how others see him.  In fact, I think he relies on it.  I liked the ending of the episode – Don got some of his mojo back – and it could only happen after Peggy told him that they all rely on him.  Soon enough he told off the bathing suit clients and went out to lunch with the Wall Street Journal and started selling himself and his vision.  He was done with his penance for everything he had put Betty through.

It was a bit odd to see Don so low for the first 2/3 of the episode.  Telling his lawyer to let Betty alone in the house, downplaying himself in front of the reporter from Advertising Age, and then the interlude with the prostitute on Thanksgiving.  How about those slaps to the face while having sex?  J. and I were rather surprised by those slaps, each harder than the rest, after she had told him that she knew what he wanted and he told her to do it.  I’d say the self-loathing on his part, which was bubbling under the surface, kind of exploded in that scene.  It made for some awkward viewing, in part because Don often comes across as self-confident and in control but also because it was such a clear bellowing of self-disgust, much of which was centered on his acts of adultery with other women during his marriage.  It was a complicated moment that had to do with his desire for pleasure and his wish for punishment for that desire, because of the damage that this pleasure had caused him. By the end of the episode, he was back in charge, believing in himself and his vision at work with clients and with the reporter, telling Betty to move or start paying rent, no longer feeling guilty for what he had done so many times, including with that dimwit schoolteacher last season, no longer seeking punishment or abasement.  A lot of this had to do with Peggy, though certainly some of it had to do with Betty’s late return from her weekend getaway with Henry and Don’s frustration with her.

His frustration was there just under the surface for most of the episode, and I liked when he told those “prudes” who were potential clients to get out of his office because they were too scared or too dumb to succeed in business and either way he didn’t want anything to do with them.  Roger and Pete focus on client relations.  Don?  He focuses on the product and how to sell it.  He doesn’t give a damn about the client.  And that makes him the star of the firm because he won’t suck up to anybody.  And that also creates the tension, of course, because some clients are going to want him to pay obeisance, and he has little interest in that.  It’ll be interesting to see if his ego becomes an issue this season.

.