Thoughts on Mad Men s7e3, “Field Trip”

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Gumdrops are flop candy, Bobby. image courtesy of imgur

Last night’s episode was INTENSE. “Field Trip” is all about disappointment, the long road to redemption, and that ever-present theme of change. From the start, Mad Men has always been playing with the idea of “can people really change?” Can Don really change, or is this all a smokescreen? Will his ever-present manpain give him a jolt to finally move forward?

One of the strongest points this show has made over time is that Don has precisely zero control over his life, no matter how much effort he puts forth into that carefully crafted illusion. He tries way too hard to keep that control – he’s so desperate that it slips away rapidly the tighter he grips, like that sand metaphor you see emblazoned on shit at TJ Maxx. The only time he has any ounce of control in his life are those fleeting moments where he makes peace with being Dick Whitman. In this episode, we see Don finally admit defeat and accept a truly shit offer from SC&P. He’s starting to make his peace with himself and is ready to try and climb back up to his former glory. He’s ready to prove himself.

We find Don in a familiar place at the start of the episode – a movie theatre, where he’s seeing the French indie flick Model Shop. This pops us sometime in mid-April 1969, so it’s been a couple of months since we last saw everyone. Don is still in suspended animation, still longing for the agency, still lost. That particular film is a compelling choice, since it’s about a depressed, adrift guy running away from commitment to his live-in girlfriend along with other life obligations, and taking up with a French divorcée in Los Angeles. Seriously. Naturally, something about this movie undoubtedly sticks with Don, an adrift melancholy guy himself. He can’t admit to himself that he’s fallen out of love with both LA and perhaps even his LA-based wife alike, but I think he might be starting to get it now.

Flustered Dawn is buckling under the pressure of her new job. With all of that new responsibility on top of keeping Don’s shit in line, she’s becoming more unreachable, which Don absolutely hates since he’s still clinging to her leg like a fucking 2 year-old. She tells him that a call came in from Alan Silver, and Don begrudgingly returns the call himself. Silver, seeing Don as the manager-type, begs him to do something about Megan’s absurd/embarrassing thirst she’s parading around Hollywood.

This is not unlike Betty’s shrink calling Don to fill him in on her “progress”. Instead of being irritated like he was with Betty’s lack of direction, he decides to treat Megan differently and actually try to help and fix things; so, Don takes a field trip to surprise her in LA. He thinks he’s going to help set her career right, but he ends up almost destroying their damn marriage when he lets on the real reason for his visit. He manages to admit that he’s no longer at SC&P for the time being. Megan is horrified that he lied to her about his forced leave for actual MONTHS, when in fact he was trying to do the thing he’s never legitimately done before; stay the hell put and try to set things right in New York instead of just running off to LA and perpetuating the cycle. Their argument is sad and sincere, and it’s a lot to take in. Megan slaps him in the face with realness and tells him straight up to leave and get on a plane back to JFK. Daaaaaaaamn, Don. That backfired.

It’s interesting because instead of that horrid argument inspiring Don to booze and bang around, it instead motivates him to get his work ducks in a row for real, instead of faux-working. In the last episode, he embarks down that road a little bit with Sally, starting to repair familial relationships and coming clean in the process. After he gets back from LA, he takes a dinner meeting that ends up with a great fake-out where we think he’s going up to a hooker’s hotel room, but it’s actually Roger’s place. He has a frank and short discussion with Roger saying he’s had enough and wants to come back to the agency, showing Roger another offer he received at dinner. Roger complies, and tells him to come in on Monday, but uh, neglects to tell anyone else.

Betty is back, sharp as usual. She lunches with Francine, and their conversation is a goddamn sword fight. She’s straight up fascinated that Francine has taken a job a few days a week (ain’t that the dream) to get more fulfilment out of life now that her children are older. Betty is a little insulted and upset when she realises she’s old fashioned, only seeking reward in life from her children. Of course, the irony here is that her children who are old enough to know better hate and resent her. True to form, Francine throws shade, saying “Betty Draper, that is indeed how I would describe you”, hinting at her divorce being quite nouveau. She volunteers to be a chaperone for Bobby’s field trip to his braless teacher’s farm, and drinks gross fresh milk out of a bucket. How genuinely bizarre.

Betty comes face to face with the longterm consequences of her actions while having lunch with Bobby. For years, she has rarely enjoyed a meal with her children. They eat their hotdogs and fish sticks while Betty nurses wine and cigarettes. They’ve made quips in past seasons about how “mommy never eats” so when Bobby trades Betty’s sandwich for some gumdrops, he naturally doesn’t give it another thought because of how she’s always been. When Betty is pissed off that she has no lunch, Bobby feels ashamed and Betty is immediately confused when faced with that reality. That bizarre milk bucket tasting was indicative of Betty trying new things and sort of putting herself out there, and even going on the field trip at all was a small effort to bond with Bobby. She’s starting to realise it’s going to take a lot more work to repair that relationship than just that.

Henry comes home to a morose dinner in that tacky kitchen, with Bobby wishing he could turn the clock back to when he was so excited and optimistic about Betty coming along with him to the farm. That simple line “I wish it was yesterday” is totally gutting, and is a feeling that all of these characters are internalising as it is. It instantly strikes a chord with Betty, and thoughtlessly, she blames the horrible turn of the day on Bobby’s “behaviour” . She doesn’t quite know what to do with this information just yet, and true to form, she says something scathing and acts out in the most outlandish way possible. Later on, we see her in bed holding a sleeping Gene, visibly shaken and upset. I really felt badly for her when she sullenly asks Henry “why don’t they love me?” Betty is just now piecing together her past actions which have made her older children push her away. She’s played the part of this traditional wife-and-mother-archetype for so long, but has simply been going through the motions, not dissimilar to Don. Will Betty be able to course-correct? I hope so. I think she really wants to, she loves her children and wants to have a real relationship with them; she just has to figure out how to do that, like Don needs to figure out how to have a real relationship with Megan and basically everyone else he’s ever encountered in his life.

All I want to say about Peggy is DAMN, girl. Grow up and move past flop Ted. Don’s not the one who chicken-shitted out of your wildly inappropriate relationship, Ted did that all on his own; stop misdirecting your anger at your coworkers (past and present) and get on with it already. My eyes are going to fall out of my damn head from side-eyeing her so much. This shit is a bad look, Pegs. Peggy has myriad reasons to be pissed at Don, but this is actually the weakest one of them all.

In a fucked out way, I think that Don actually did Peggy a favour by outing her relationship with Ted. Of course he shouldn’t have done it in front of a client like a damn maniac, but it definitely needed to be done in a devastating manner to have some modicum of lasting effect. Everyone knew something was going on between them; the other employees were side-eyeing them and it was only getting worse and more obvious, so Don took the wheel and put a full stop to it by embarrassing the hell out of Ted and relinquishing all credit from Peggy for that ratchet mess of a St Joseph’s ad. That sting is rendered anew once the Clios roll around in this episode.

Don’s field trip to SC&P is super awkward to say the least. It runs parallel with Bobby and Betty’s jaunt to the farm, though Don actually manages to get a damn sandwich. He’s greeted with both abject coldness and warmth alike from the different employees, and this is the first time we actually see anyone inhabiting the creative lounge up to this point in the season. Not knowing what to do with himself and wondering if the inexplicably absent Roger just wanted to embarrass him, he sits around for hours like a child being punished. Don being back in the office knocks the partners off their respective axes, Cutler and Joan especially, and it was almost a total disaster until Roger finally shows up after a boozy “early lunch”.

Similar to Peggy, Joan has droves of reasons to be pissed at Don, but she actually chooses wisely like a normal-ass adult. In season 5 with the Jaguar creepiness, Don tried to rescue a woman he knew point blank did not want to be rescued. He tried to talk her out of banging hamplanet Herb in exchange for Jaguar’s business, but his timing was off; she truly appreciated that effort on his behalf, but she did gain a partnership out of that awful ordeal at the very least.

Remember that IPO Joan put a lot of hard work into making happen? When Don deftly destroyed it in one fell swoop with the merger, she’d had it with his self-serving behaviour and not thinking of the agency. His temper tantrum where he felt he was Doing the Right Thing(TM) rendered all of her hard work completely worthless and irrelevant. This includes bonking Herb, which is a slap in the face for him to insinuate that it essentially didn’t happen. Joan doesn’t have time for Don’s recklessness, hence her icy salutation when she sees him in the office. She wants to drag him, and rightfully so.

Bert and Roger are the only ones defending Don, both for practical and personal reasons. Bert aptly says “I don’t like the way this agency is spoken of”, meaning that the work has taken a major hit in Don’s absence, and they all know it. Cutler tries to change the subject to buying a computer, which would take the focus off flagging creative and place it on media, but thankfully Bert and Roger aren’t buying that bullshit. Joan is on the fence but ultimately sides with Cutler, as he pretty much secured in the last episode. Cutler doesn’t seem to get that Don’s value to that company is immeasurable and it’s only a matter of time until they start losing clients in rapid succession because of the shit creative headed by Lou. Roger is a lot smarter than everyone gives him credit for as well; he doesn’t just want his friend back to have some rapport in the office, he knows that the company has a definite end date in short sight with the way things are going now.

So, the partners air their grievances and come up with a solution; a massive demotion that I can only assume they thought Don would reject. Roger’s bottom line says what we’re all thinking; if SC&P lets him go, they’d have to compete with him and his unavoidably great ideas with some other agency. Who wants to do that? This is the first time Roger has had some spark in him this season, which is really great to see. After all, he’s the one who “discovered” Don at that fur shop.

Also, it was revealed that Lou has a 2-year contract. Really? Him?? That’s some shady business right there. Turns out that “leave” was really just a soft firing after all. But Don accepting that insulting offer from SC&P and calling their bluff was nothing short of amazing. He was one of the founding fathers of that agency, and they all know damn well it’s too much of a financial burden to buy him out.

One of the things I love about this show is their consistent way of having characters say so much by uttering so little in the way of actual words; Don saying “okay” to their garbage offer and accepting that dismal demotion is his version of CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. The old Don would’ve smugly thrown it out with a disgusted look on his face, but this guy is selfless, cold and composed. Boss.

The road to redemption for Don is undoubtedly going to be a long and embarrassing one – reporting to dickbag Lou? No booze on the clock? Stick to the pre-approved script? He can’t even be alone with clients?! Jesus Christmas. I can’t wait to see what happens. You’d better slay, Don.

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7 thoughts on “Thoughts on Mad Men s7e3, “Field Trip”

  1. I’m a little perturbed by the attitude toward Joan and Peggy . . . especially regarding their responses to Don’s return. There was an episode in Season Six (I forgot the exact one), in which Don really pissed off Joan, when he got rid of the Jaguar account. I understood why she was upset. But I noticed that some fans – especially male fans and critics – thought she should be grateful. They didn’t understand or didn’t want to understand her anger. And now, they are expressing hostility or confusion over her reluctance to be thrilled over Don’s return.

    I also suspect that many believe that Peggy to be eternally grateful to Don for helping her out of the secretarial pool and making her a copywriter. They also want Peggy to forget the crap that Don put her through, during Seasons Three to Five. They want to forget that Peggy had a good reason to finally put Don behind her. And they want Peggy to forget Don’s actions in Season Six. Instead, they demand that Peggy forget all of the crap that Don had put her through and welcome him back with open arms. Why? Do they want Don to resume his role as her Alpha Male? Is that it? Even his return to the firm is now being regarded by some as Don eventually resuming his role as the Alpha Male.

    I really feel sorry for Betty. I feel sorry for her because as a character, she is in a conumdrum. She has been taught and has been expected to be a perfect mother and wife. This is her biggest demon. Fans of the show criticize her for trying to be perfect. Yet, at the same, they demand that she be perfect . . . especially as a mother. She is not allow one mistake in regard to her kids. It’s like many cannot make up their minds on what she should be. They criticize both her lack of maternal perfection (which doesn’t exist in real life, by the way) . . . and at the same time, criticize her attempts at perfection. I feel sorry for her, because due to rules of society – both in the series and in real life – she’ll never win.

    Poor Betty will never accepted as the complex person that she is, because of this demand that she be the perfect mother. Many seem incapable of understanding Joan’s wariness at Don’s return. And many want Peggy to disregard her past anger at Don and his past behavior, so that she will be eternally grateful to him, again. Meanwhile, many cannot wait for Don to be his old self again – the creative Alpha Male that he was, yars ago. We truly live in a paternalistic society.

    • hey thanks for your input, i really appreciate it! and let’s face it, there was no way that his return WASN’T going to be awkward.

      i agree with what you said about peggy, you’re on point. to me, my issue is that peggy is acting WAY out of line towards everyone for the wrong reasons; we haven’t seen much behind the scenes of her current life except for those little tidbits in the premiere. who the hell knows what else is going on, but i remember an earlier season where her and joan talk about how they look forward to leaving their baggage at home when they come to the office. get it together, pegs.

      i would completely understand if she were angry with don for the multiple awful things he’s said and done to her, i.e. throwing cash at her face right before she sought out another job, but it boils down to the fact that she’s blaming him entirely for ted leaving and ‘ruining their fun’. she was acting unprofessionally towards him and in general, not that don was a saint of course, but he never brought his personal life to the office to that extent. peggy wasted an entire damn day over a misunderstanding re:roses and blamed shirley and other coworkers for her own shitstorm that she herself created from absolutely fuckall. AND ted left for LA to work on his marriage and in order to do that, he can’t be around peggy; granted the way he broke the news to her was EXTREMELY shitty and super condescending, but them’s the breaks. i think she’s resentful of that, and hey, i’d be pissed off too if the guy i was in love with blatantly lied to me about leaving his wife/whomever for me.. but that’s why you don’t bang taken men, peggy. she’s acting like a petulant child; she needs to move forward, or at least begin to, it’s been 5ish months now. you can see that her misery is souring her other relationships in the office, i.e. ginsberg making truly unsettling jabs at her expense, shirley ranting about her, etc. stan seems to be her only ally left in that office and he’s even growing impatient with her. i hope she starts to repair all of that and get back to being awesome.

      and sure, don helped peggy out at first, but she’s accomplished more and more on her own. she should of course be grateful for that first time he saw something in her (and freddy too!) and given that chance, but she’s made it all happen for herself. anybody who says otherwise isn’t paying attention.

      joan is a little more complicated. i guess i was just shocked that she was SO cold towards him considering their long history as coworkers and friends, but it definitely makes perfect sense that she’d act that way towards him. she was strictly professional with him at the very least, and of course she had every single right to be pissed about how jaguar went down and him wrecking the IPO. i’ve read a lot of that criticism as well and it never ceases to baffle me. joan is a woman who can take care of herself and was dealing just fine with herb coming to the office, she didn’t need don to rescue her from it. she owned what she did and dealt with it, something don hasn’t the faintest understanding, but i think he’s starting to wake up a tiny bit.

      agreed on betty! i read a lot of commentary on blogs and from friends alike who were just dismissing her immediately saying “BETTY SUCKS/BETTY IS CRAZY/WHATEVER/I HATE HER” which i disagree with completely. she’s a complex character who’s on her own journey, in a world where she doesn’t quite fit. she doesn’t quite know how to be a loving mother to her older children, but she’s conscious of it and trying to change. i’m really interested to see how she evolves.

      i don’t think the endgame is don being an alpha male at SC&P again, but more that he learns and rises from the ashes to become someone who works with the team and thinks of the company and the longterm and not just himself. i think he’ll eventually just be his damn self and be at peace, which of course will piss off the audience you’re referring to, but that’s the literal definition of character development, so whatevs. that man who said “okay” so calmly to those draconian terms is not the don draper we knew, for sure. i think that’s where he’s headed, and i think that being stripped of his actual job and getting back into the nuts and bolts of advertising is all he really wants. lingering on magazines and creating new pitches for freddy just shows that he’s really longing to get back into the game and produce meaningful work again. back to basics.

      sometimes i wonder why the complain-y people even watch the show, because they clearly don’t get the bigger themes and ideas behind it all. mysteries of the universe.

  2. Right now, I don’t think Don will change. I don’t think any of the characters will change that drastically. Don’s current attitude is something we’ve seen before. Whenever someone (usually Betty) calls him out on his behavior, he goes out of his way to improve it. And when that happens, most fans will claim that he is finally changing for the better . . . until the show makes it apparent that his efforts to change were either an act or that he could not retain the momentum. This always happens. I refuse to crow that Don is finally changing for the better. I’ll reserve my judgment for the final episode.

    • eh, we’ll see. i’m a little more optimistic that he really wants to just cut it out now, since being the way that he was just isn’t working anymore.

  3. [“and sure, don helped peggy out at first, but she’s accomplished more and more on her own. she should of course be grateful for that first time he saw something in her (and freddy too!) and given that chance, but she’s made it all happen for herself.”]

    Peggy has paid the price for her gratitude for too long. It’s time that she puts Don behind her.

  4. [“she’s a complex character who’s on her own journey, in a world where she doesn’t quite fit. she doesn’t quite know how to be a loving mother to her older children, but she’s conscious of it and trying to change. i’m really interested to see how she evolves.”]

    Betty is quite capable of being a loving mother. And the series has revealed this. She cannot be a loving mother all of the time, because she is a human being. The bad side of Betty will always come out every now and then, just as the bad side of everyone else – including her kids – will manifest on many occasions. Betty or anyone else cannot be the perfect mother or person that many fans unrealistically demand that she be. No one can.

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