4.4 The RejectedAs brilliant as Mad Men frequently is, its moments of levity come as a huge relief when they eventually appear, a welcome break in the tension and gloom.
Last week’s episode, The Good News, would have been unremittingly bleak had it not been for amusing moments such as Don and Lane’s drunken visit to the cinema (where they watched Gamera, and not Godzilla, as I originally thought – thanks to reader HardluckHotel for pointing that out). Even so, episode three was a stark, unhappy one, charting Don Draper’s continued descent into alcoholism as he contemplated the imminent death of his most intimate friend, Anna.
Where the previous episode of Mad Men was one of the best and most moving so far aired, The Rejected is quite possibly the funniest.
We open on what is fast becoming a familiar scene: an increasingly haggard-looking Don is chain-smoking and emptying yet another bottle of liquor, while attempting to explain to Lucky Strike heir Lee that new legislation means he can no longer use famous sportsmen or teenagers to sell cigarettes.
For once, however, the episode focuses less on Don’s woes, and more on the divergent lives of Peggy the copywriter and Pete, the bratty accounts manager.
As SCDP prepares to put together a lucrative advertising campaign for Ponds Cold Cream, Pete is informed that he’ll have to drop the account for Clearasil due to a potential conflict of interest. For Pete, this is supremely awkward, since Clearasil is a part of Vick’s, a company partly owned by his father-in-law, Tom.
Meeting Tom in a bar to break the bad tidings, Pete learns that he’s about to become a father. Guilty that he’s accidentally blurted out a life-changing piece of news, Tom is later pressured, quite slyly, I thought, into handing over the entire Vick’s account to SDCP.
“You gave us Clearasil, and we’re extremely grateful” Pete says. “But there’s only so much business it’s going to do. I’m done auditioning. I want all of it. I want the Formula 44 mixture, the cough drops, the VapoRub…”
Say what you like about Pete, he certainly has balls. “You son-of-a-bitch,” mutters an embittered Tom.
Elsewhere, Peggy is afforded a window into a hitherto unseen world of 60s counterculture after a chance meeting with Joyce, a Life Magazine editor. Later invited to a swinging party filled with cannabis and art photographers, Joyce makes a pass at Peggy which the latter gently rejects.
“I have a boyfriend” says Peggy, edging away. “Does he own your vagina?” asks Joyce. Peggy counters, brilliantly, with: “No, but he’s renting it.”
Don, meanwhile, is having secretary trouble. During a focus group meeting for Ponds Cold Cream, Allison, with whom Don had a drunken encounter which he refuses to acknowledge, abruptly bursts into tears.
Ineptly attempting to placate Allison in the privacy of his office, Don tells her that if she writes a letter of recommendation, he’ll happily sign it. Enraged, Allison flings an ornament across the room and storms out. In the background, Peggy’s head slowly emerges above the partition wall, an unexpected sight that is sure to invoke a fit of laughter.
In a drunken effort to make amends, Don tries to type a letter of apology to Allison, but gets only as far as “Right now my life is very…” before screwing the paper up in frustration.
The episode’s final, lasting image, however, is of Peggy and Pete. While their furtive relationship occurred many, many episodes ago now, there’s clearly still a spark between them, expressed in lingering, sideways glances. The Rejected ends with Pete standing in the office of SCDP with his fellow men in grey suits, now an accepted and respected member of the company.
Peggy, meanwhile, appears to have embraced a new group of hip, happening young artists. She and Pete share one parting glance, before Peggy heads off for an altogether more colourful evening with her counterculture friends.
It’s a typically quiet end to a fourth sparkling episode.
You can read our review of episode 3, The Good News, here.