Mad Men s4e8: The Summer Man

“People tell you who they are, but we ignore it.. because we want them to be who we want them to be.”

Many moons ago when I was watching Mad Men as it aired, I realistically didn’t think anything could top The Suitcase. And then this fucking episode dropped. Holy noir, holy depression, holy introspection. Fuckin-a.

In the wake of Anna’s death and being a human H-bomb for entirely too long, Don is attempting to get his shit together. You know that Adam Carolla bit about how there’s always That Guy at the office who’s never felt more alive because he swims laps at 5am and makes us all look like assholes? Don’s trying that on for a bit, despite almost keeling over in the pool.

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image courtesy of Slant Magazine

He’s taken up journaling, in an effort to understand what the hell is going on inside his head. This is an episode where we get a rare peek into his internal monologue, through a series of film noir voiceovers.

“When a man walks into a room, he brings his whole life with him. He has a million reasons for being anywhere, just ask him. If you listen, he’ll tell you how he got there. How he forgot where he was going, and that he woke up. If you listen, he’ll tell you about the time he thought he was an angel, dreamt of being perfect. And then he’ll smile with wisdom, content that he realised the world isn’t perfect.”

Don’s got a lotta feelings, writing his thoughts in an attempt to “gain a modicum of control” over how he feels, to come to terms with it all. The divorce affected him more than he’s willing to admit, having that Perfect(TM) world he created shatter all around him due to his deception. Anna’s illness and death didn’t help his mindset either, and not having a consistent baseline of a Home to return to leaves him in freefall. Dude’s gotta learn to love himself. You can get lost along the way, but the greatest relationship you’ll ever have is that one you share with your own damn self.

Peppered throughout is the notion of people who appear to have everything but actually have nothing. Tale as old as tiiiiiiime. We see Joan as this omniscient powerful lady in charge of it all at SCDP, but at the end of the day she gets cruelly ridiculed by disrespectful freelancer Joey and goes home to vile Greg who’s about to be shipped out to Vietnam.

In another display of how differently Peggy and Joan think and react, Peggy curtly fires Joey over the mess he made. Her approach was direct and that of a man (with Don’s advice “You want some respect? Go out and get it for yourself.”) whereas Joan sticks with the dated notion of “catch more flies with honey” and office politicking, thinking a dinner with a client would have sealed the deal instead. She’s learned to wield power through flattery and persuasion (on top of being gorgeous), but where has that really gotten her?

Joan is married to a gormless asshole who’s about to be blasted off to a humid hellhole. Her office is mostly used as a thoroughfare, and she feels that disrespect radiating towards her in the day to day on top of being at home, with Greg creepily trying to talk her into having a bang despite not being in the mood.

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image courtesy of Amy’s Robot

Peggy’s approach sends a clear message, and viewing it through 2017 eyes, makes the most sense to me. Sadly Joan feels undermined by this approach, but times are changing. She’s a sharp woman, she’ll figure it out.

Most obviously, Betty sees Don as the guy with everything when we know (along with Francine) how completely lost and fucked out he’s been since the divorce.  When she and Henry see him in the city on a date with Bethany, Betty invents this entire narrative in her mind that he’s out living some crazy awesome life when the reality is anything but; dude is eating Dinty Moore from a damn can. We’ve all been there, running into an ex and feeling entirely raw in spite of the actual reality before us.

Arguing with Henry about it grounds her a little bit, and he’s right to be pissed off; she can’t let something as simple as seeing the guy out somewhere obliterate an entire evening. Time to grow up, Betty; look at your life now, appreciate what in the hell you’ve got. Get on with it.

In the nuclear winter of it all, Don gradually begins to get back on the horse. “I want to wake up. I don’t want to be that man” — he knows he needs to change. The guy even has a pair of vaguely successful dates with the aforementioned one-dimensional Bethany and more on point Faye. He feels less drawn to Bethany because he knows her type; been there, done that. Faye is a little more on the level.

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image courtesy of MadMenWiki

Don is making an effort to booze it less in the office, in an attempt to reconcile the effects of the mess around him. He knows he can’t go to his son’s birthday party that weekend, for he is not welcome at that house. I love that Don’s voiceover highlights the parallel between he and baby Gene; “Conceived in a moment of desperation, and born into a mess”.

And yet, the only time he seems truly happy (including Bethany’s tryhard taxi blowjob) is when he’s holding Gene in his arms at the birthday party. Betty even happily brings him to Don without the typical dramatics; it’s a nice moment, rare for this season thus far.

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image courtesy of MadMenWiki

I always read the ending as Betty ended up ringing Don and inviting him to the party as a gesture to Henry that she’s indeed moved on. She’s trying to, at least. Francine’s comments about Don having nothing to lose, i.e. Betty has “won”, sort of neutralises him a touch in her eyes. Even though he’s not really the Only Man she’s ever been with, but whatevs.

Does Don miss that life? Who the hell knows.. it was mostly smoke and mirrors to him anyway, it left him with the thoughts of “is that all there is?” eating away at him every night and with every rando he banged, just as it echoes in his life now albeit louder. Either way he’s lost that part of his identity and is trying to be at peace with himself, bit by bit. This is a decent start.

“We’re flawed, because we want so much more. We’re ruined, because we get these things, and wish for what we had.”

 

Mad Men s3e5: The Fog

“What time is it? What time isn’t it??”

Don and a very pregnant Betty are at a parent teacher conference at Sally’s school, turns out Sally’s been acting up in the fortnight since Grandpa Gene has passed. She hasn’t properly grieved, maybe because Don doesn’t believe children belong in graveyards. Not an uncommon line of thinking from that time, but as a result, Sally didn’t get any sort of the closure she would feel from attending the funeral.

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image courtesy of BurnThisMedia

Sally and Don have something crucial in common here — he lost his own father when he was a child, just as Sally has lost her surrogate parental figure. Later that night, Sally’s thirst trap teacher Suzanne drunk dials the house, telling Don that her own father died when she was just 8 years old and apologises for over-relating to Sally. Don is probably popping a boner at the fact that he and this practical stranger have something ~so deep~ in common, but now it’s time to have a baby! He can consider shitting where he eats later on.

At Sterling Cooper, Pete tries to crack the code behind Admiral Television’s flatlining sales; they’re total shite except for one market which is showing expansion. He lands on the growing African-American market and finds the idea worth pursuing.

And hey, Duck is back! He’s at Grey now, trying to coerce Pete (and Pegs) to lunch. Upon seeing Peggy there, Pete ain’t pleased. Maybe he thought he was special, but Duck is pulling some bizarre headhunter shit trying to capitalise on their “secret relationship” to get them both to come work with him. Pete storms out, then feebly tries to strike up a conversation with Hollis in the elevator about his TV. Hollis is resistant. Gotta be more normal and less business, Pete; when he’s himself and jokes about baseball with Hollis, it’s a much more positive interaction. Relax.

In the Admiral meeting, Pete tries to show the clients that targeting the African-American market would be extremely profitable as ad space is exponentially cheaper than the white market; shifting a portion of the media budget to focus on the black community would really blow up their sales.

Sadly, the clients don’t see any of the appeal that Pete does; after all, he’s quite advanced in his thinking being that it’s 1963. Duck’s hypothesis that Sterling Cooper won’t ever reward Pete’s forward thinking and new ideas proves true in that Admiral meeting, and how superbly poorly it was received in the aftermath. There’s a bunch of yelling, and Roger lets him know that 90% of that job boils down to “I don’t like that guy”, a sore point for a guy like Pete Campbell; he’s been dealing with that sort of shit his whole life, no doubt. Lane offers a little bit of sanity, acknowledging that Pete at least had a thoughtful approach.

About to get pumped full of drugs and give birth, Betty feels nervous and alone. She is wheeled down the hallway as Don is shooed off to the waiting room; she fretfully looks back for him as he evaporates into the ether. Betty thinks she sees her father mopping the floor, and shouts out for him. Her nurse, who’s about 110% done with everyone’s shit for that day, lets her know she needs to keep quiet once they roll close to the nursery.

In the waiting room, Don meets an overly anxious prison guard, Dennis Hobart. They proceed to get loaded together. He’s waiting to see his wife and newborn, very on edge, raw. Spanning the course of several scenes, Don and Dennis have a peculiar, heady interaction.

And Don’s watch, the one Betty had fixed and monogrammed for him, suddenly stops ticking while he’s in the waiting room. Ah, shit.

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image courtesy of StillEmAll

Betty experiences some strange dreams in the fog. She’s wandering down a street in her plush neighbourhood, flawfree as a painting, crushing a caterpillar in her hand; then she’s at home, seeing her dead parents. Her mother is standing over a bleeding Medgar Evers, a notable Civil Rights Activist who had been assassinated in the days following Gene’s death. A news story about his funeral can be overheard in the hospital waiting room.

You see what happens to people who speak up? Be happy with what you have.”

Betty may be in her house in Ossining, but it’s a trippy backwards house. Gene mops up blood in the kitchen.

“You’ll be OK. You’re a house-cat.. you’ve very important, and you have little to do.”

That’s the kicker, Betty isn’t happy with what she has. And despite his best efforts to the contrary, Don isn’t either; he’s mostly restless and indifferent to it all. As Dennis yaps about all that he’ll do with his future child, how wonderful all things will be and what a good dad and better man he looks forward to becoming, visibly unsettled Don withdraws further, reminded of his own failures. He doesn’t even know if this is the life he truly desires, in spite of how much he continues to dedicate himself to it. Is that all there is?

“This is a fresh start. I don’t know who’s up there, but I’m going to be better. I’m going to be a better man.”

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image courtesy of Tumblr

If only Dennis knew how many times Don said those words to himself, tried it on for size, and ultimately fucked it up due to his eventual and effervescent apathy. Those are some lofty goals to achieve. As a prison guard, Dennis has seen some shit; he can spot a liar from miles away, yet is keen to insist that Don is an honest, good guy. Once again, Don flinches. What this guy doesn’t know could fill a warehouse.

Armed with the knowledge of what’s out there via Duck, Peggy tests the water with Don regarding a raise.. at the worst possible time as Lane is losing his shit and cutting expenses left and right. As Don holds firm, she’s surrounded by a bounty of baby gifts, gorgeous teal Tiffany & Co. box included.

“I look at you, and I think.. ‘I want what he has..'”

“Really?”

“You have everything. And so much of it.”

“I suppose that’s probably true.”

Miles away, Don can’t hear that this life he finds so eternally vacuous looks so remarkable and so lavish to someone on the outside looking in. As much as he wants to cultivate The Image(TM), his existential loneliness persists and gnaws at the edges of his vision. And Don feels he knows Peggy better than that, and she him; he does not even humour her about that raise. He lets her down.

As Peggy leaves Don’s office, she runs into Pete; he’s convinced she’s told Don about their offers to work at Grey. Cagey and slighted, she doesn’t respond to his particular brand of panicked nonsense. Pete retorts, “your decisions affect me”, and it speaks fucking volumes.

Betty signs the birth certificate for the new baby, Eugene Scott Draper. She looks genuinely pleased with her decision, at peace.

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image courtesy of AMC

Walking down the hall with a perf bouquet in hand, a picture-perfect Husband(TM), Don spots Dennis walking toward him with his wife in a wheelchair. Don looks at him with a touch of warmth, and as their eyes meet, Dennis immediately averts his attention once he realises who Don is. It’s jarring. Perhaps he’s ashamed of oversharing his emotions with Don in the waiting room that night, an actual stranger.. who knows. Maybe he thought better of calling Don an honest guy, his vision unclouded in the AM.

There’s a new Eugene in town, and not a moment too soon after the death of the former Gene. Since this season began, Don and Betty appear to both be making an effort at intimacy and closeness in their marriage. Don’s doing it because he figured out (during his California jaunt) that he wanted to quit being a spectator in his own life.

Betty, on the other end of the spectrum, has been keeping it all up for this baby. Natch, she doesn’t want to be a single mother to an infant on top of two young kids, and it’s become crystal clear over the past few episodes that Betty has convinced herself (as many soon-to-be parents in dumpster fire marriages do) that the kid is some sort of magical salve, a cure-all for deep-seated issues.. But when she’s lost in the depth of The Fog, she’s able to vocalise her true fears about Don;

“He’s never where you expect him to be. Have you seen him? Have you been with him? Someone call him.. I don’t wanna be here. I’m just a housewife.. why are you doing this to me?”

Y I K E S on bikes. The episode ends on a shot of her paused in the hallway of the Draper home, shrouded in inky darkness as baby Gene shrieks into the night; the ethereal music seeps in as Betty’s posture changes slightly.

“Our worst fears lie in anticipation.”