This review contains spoilers.
7.3 Field Trip
Over the years, we’ve seen many sides of Don Draper. We’ve seen Don the Creative Genius, Don the Adulterer, Don the Parent and Don the Mentor. But not once have we seen Don Draper looking like he did in this episode. Like Don the Awkward Party Guest.
Indeed, it’s increasingly clear that being cut loose from SC&P affected Don more than even he realised. His job was, quite literally, his identity. Without it, he’s adrift. Invited mid-meeting to cheat on Megan, Don barely countenances the idea. Instead, with an offer from SC&P’s rivals in his hand, he realises what it is he really wants, and goes to see his “other” mistress to see if she’ll take him back.
But of course, we know from previous seasons that once Don gets what he wants, he doesn’t really know what to do with it. Returning to the offices should’ve made him happy. Instead, it made him nervous. We know that most of the changes he encountered happened mere days ago, but the show expertly showed Don’s lack of familiarity, lingering on people in the wrong place and doors with the wrong names, even forcing him to eat his lunch at someone else’s desk. He was back, but he wasn’t really back.
It’s fair to say it was all quite awkward. The only thing to feel good about is that he wasn’t in the room as the partners discussed whether to let him back into the company or not. It’s tempting to say that luck was on his side, but in many ways the result of meeting was a foregone conclusion. SCDP couldn’t afford to buy him out of his partnership, and the only thing they wanted less than Don Draper back in the office was Don Draper working for the competition.
And if it was a surprise that they gave Don his job back, it was almost more surprising that he accepted, given the pile of restrictions placed on him and the fact that another company would’ve taken him on. Is this our first glimpse of Don the Humble? Or does he know something we don’t? Maybe he’s just so used to working his way up the pyramid that he doesn’t mind coming in somewhere that isn’t the top. Lou’s weaknesses are all-too-apparent, after all.
Elsewhere in the episode, parental and marital relationships were continued as a theme, from Don’s dysfunctional father/daughter relationship with Megan to Betty’s misfiring relationship with Bobby. This series has already been hitting viewers hard with the idea that Don is treating Megan a little too much like a daughter than a wife, and this episode spells it out for us. “I’ll admit it, I was worried,” says Don. “Thanks for the visit, Daddy,” spits Megan.
Indeed, their marital relationship may finally have come undone in this episode, right at the moment when, karmically speaking, it should’ve set off down the road to recovery. Having had great success telling the truth to his actual daughter in the previous episode, Don finally tells Megan everything that happened to him in the last few months. It’s not an especially contrite act – he’s mostly doing it to answer questions that implicate him in something worse – so maybe that’s why Megan doesn’t feel much sympathy for him. But the lack of understanding she has for his bare insecurities is telling. Perhaps he’s just lied to her so much that Megan doesn’t recognise the truth when he tells it.
As for Bobby and Betty, it’s been too long since either of these characters had some screentime, let alone together. It was interesting to see Betty’s attempts to recommit herself to parenthood. With Sally out of the household, it seems as though she feels cut loose from the role that previously defined her. After all, she’s out having lunch with her (working) friends while the Nanny takes care of Gene and Bobby.
Her attempts to reassert her motherhood started out well, but it’s over too quickly when she mistakes what I interpreted as Bobby’s early, clumsy attempts at romance for a personal slight. Fair or not, all I know is that when she asks “Do you think I’m a good mother?”, I wouldn’t have been able to leap to the affirmative as quickly as Henry did. “It was a perfect day and he ruined it,” she says, having completely misunderstood the situation. And the subtext of her barb towards Bobby – “I was hungry, now I’m not” – seems to sum up how she feels about this short-lived return to active parenthood.
It’s not the first time we’ve seen Betty make all the wrong decisions and come out swinging at someone else, of course, but as we enter the final season it’s pertinent to ask: will she ever actually recognise her destructive patterns? If Don can change, maybe she can too.
Elsewhere in the episode, Harry and Cutler got some great material. Harry’s talk about the computer was a top class pitch, made all the more impressive because it was all lies. Cutler’s frustration with Harry on learning this spilled over into the best line of the episode: “You have stiff competition, but I believe you to be the most dishonest man I’ve ever worked with.” But it’s clear Harry earned some respect out of the whole episode, because Cutler later fought his corner, suggesting they use Don’s salary to fund the purchase of the computer Harry wants for the media department.
It always feels dangerous to talk about the status quo for Mad Men, but it would seem that this series has settled into its basic shape now. From this point on, Don will work to regain what he’s lost both personally and professionally. I don’t know about you, but at this point, I’m not sure it’s even possible.
Read James’s review of the previous episode, A Day’s Work, here.
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