Monday, August 25, 2008

'Mad Men' Monday: The New Girl

The entire story of the latest Mad Men episode can be summarized by the last scene, when Don Draper arrived home from work to find his family already eating dinner in the kitchen. He asked for salt. His wife Betty said there was no salt, for his own good, given that his doctor has said he has high blood pressure.

"Why can't Daddy have salt?" asked their daughter Sally, who got a break from bartending duties this week.

After a pause, Betty replied, without looking at her husband, "Because we love him."

The camera turned to Don, who also did not look up or meet anyone's eyes. He didn't respond other than looking kind of ashen, chastened almost. Perhaps he was still unable to feel anything because he didn't believe he deserved the love of his wife, particularly when he'd just wrecked their car while on a bender with yet another in a string of mistresses, injured his arm (it was in a pathetic-looking sling) and blamed the car accident on a bad mix of blood pressure pills and alcohol. Could this be guilt, or simply that Don has become numb to everything?

This episode finally provided us with an answer about where Rachel Menken has been, the woman with whom Don had an intense emotional connection, to whom he confided his sad, sordid family history (though he left out the identity theft part). Rachel is now married. To someone else. Don discovered this while out at an illicit dinner with the odious Bobbie Barrett (she of the reciprocal sexual assaults two episodes ago) when he ran into Rachel who told him she's now Rachel Katz. After Rachel left, the heavier-than-usual drinking commenced, the usually chic/urban Don drinking straight out of the bottle began, all while driving to Bobbie's home by the beach so the two could have sex in the surf. Then the car crashed. And Don was fined $150 after police said his blood alcohol content was .15, twice today's drunk driving levels.

Just before the crash, while still reeling from the news that Rachel was married, Bobbie mused aloud, "Why is it so hard to enjoy things?"

"I don't feel a thing," Don said.

Previews for the upcoming episode indicate that Don continues to spiral downward with Bobbie and that there may be more displays of a violent edge to their relationship. Is this Don's way of becoming Tony Soprano, without New Jersey and the murdering?

In other Mad Men stories this week:

They revolved around the women of Mad Men at their various stages of life as they try to figure out who they are and what their roles should be.

At Sterling Cooper, a new college grad, Jane Siegel was being trained to become Don's secretary by the newly-engaged Joan Holloway. Jane seemed to be no-nonsense, even as she was informed by the usually vampy Joan to tone down her clothing and button up her blouse. (Pot, meet the kettle.) Joan, who'd been the office's most sexually attractive woman . . . though she's now going off the market, seemed put off by the "new girl's" overt sexual appeal.

Peggy's story, meanwhile, was a stunner as SHE was the one Don called to come to the police station, pay his fine, drop him off at a car rental office and take care of his injured mistress for the evening. Why would Peggy do all of this? Why would Don call her and not Roger, for whom he covered when he had a heart attack while messing around with a young woman? Because Peggy owed him. Don knew she'd had a baby and, when he learned that, on the day she was promoted to a copy writer that she also gave birth, he urged her to do what the doctors were recommending, give up the baby and move on. In a powerful flashback scene where Don sat at Peggy's postpartum bedside, he said: "Get out of here and move forward. This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened."

But, even though Peggy said helping Don was the right thing to do, his wily mistress Bobbie -- who deftly manages her famous comedian husband's career -- told Peggy that she'd get further in the business world if she stopped acting like a man, used the powers she has as a woman and to treat Don as an equal. I cheered when Peggy, who'd just been lightly chastised by Don in front of colleagues for not having a presentation ready (because she'd been cleaning up Don's mess!), stayed behind in Don's office, told him she needed the money she'd shelled out for his drunk driving fine and then said, "Thanks Don," pointedly, not, "Thanks Mr. Draper." Go Peggy. Fight the power.

I felt so sorry for Trudy Campbell because her husband is a cruel and slimy worm. The couple had been unsuccessfully trying to have a baby for a year and a half so they consulted a physician. After it was determined that Pete's goods were very lively (as we viewers already know because he impregnated Peggy), he began to gloat, thrilled that the problem wasn't him, but was his wife, who wore the mask of desperation of a woman who craves a baby but is betrayed by her body. I wonder if they'll ever close the loop and have Pete learn that he fathered a child. Then I hope Trudy kicks Pete out on his bony ass.

From the flashback scenes, we saw that Peggy's sister Anita was pregnant at the time Peggy gave birth, so, unless Anita's baby died, the little toddler we've been seeing in the Olson home isn't Peggy's, however there could always be some sort of hideous twist that lies ahead of us. (Such as if something happened to Anita's baby and the family decided to have Anita raise Peggy's baby as her own.)

What did you like/hate most about this episode? Think Don's going down a self-destructive, dark road? Think Peggy will succeed in beating back the cavemen at Sterling Cooper? Let's dish Mad Men.
Image credit: AMC.


Francine said...

Don is becoming slimy and unlikable. No different than his boss Roger. They both look good on the outside but are truly lowly scum.

Meredith said...

I wouldn't go so far as to call him "unlikable." Don is a devastatingly damaged man whose childhood of neglect and abuse makes him feel like he's bad and unworthy of love, so I think his actions sometimes reflect how he feels inside. But who knows, I may feel differently after next week's episode.

As for Roger, he's pathetic. And until viewers are treated to some backstory that might make us feel sympathetic toward him, I'm stickin' with that opinion.

Juanita's Journal said...

There are people capable of overcoming their damaging childhoods, who turn out to be decent types.

I feel sorry for what Don had to endure during his childhood, but this does not excuse his behavior. Especially when it can hurt others.