Mad Men has always been a period piece in the best possible way. It’s a show that isn’t interested in telling history lessons, yet prominently grounds its storyline in the time period, co-opting major moments and trends of the 60’s to service the show’s plot and character development. If a particular event of the time is featured, it is used as a way to reinforce theme or a particular character’s journey, not just a moment of nostalgic fanfare. As we plunge deeper into the end of the 60’s, we’ve been promised that we will feel the effects of the counter-culture movement more heavily. Tonight’s episode definitely feels like that type of exploration. In the review for the season premiere, I discussed how change versus sameness is an integral theme to Mad Men, and tonight’s episode focused its attention on the former rather than the latter.
The season’s first three hours have mostly featured the plotlines of our major players; Don, Peggy, Roger, Pete and Megan, particularly. This week, we’re finally filled in on the lives of some of our supporting players. Surprisingly, Dawn (Don’s African American secretary) is amongst the list. Well, perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise. Almost all of Don’s secretaries, barring maybe only Mrs. Blankenship (R.I.P.), have had their roles on the show expanded beyond being living set fixtures in front of Mr. Draper’s door. It makes even more sense that Dawn falls into this category, being that she is an African American woman working in a predominantly white part of Manhattan in 1968, a major year of the Civil Rights Movement. Her character has tons of potential for dramatic story telling, though tonight she mostly just chats with a friend and cowers in fear of Joan, before being rewarded, or “punished” as Joan puts it, with more responsibility. I’m eager to see Dawn fleshed out further on screen by Mad Men’s amazing writers.
But yes, this week we are given more precious time with Joan, Stan, Ginsberg, and Harry. Harry particularly carries the most weight in tonight’s hour, finally becoming the vocal opposition of Joan’s recent promotion to the partner level. In Harry’s eyes, he should be the one given a bigger piece of the pie. When Ken comes with a problem, particularly his father-in-law Ed Baxter being unhappy with how Dow Chemical’s representation in the media (Dow supplies American troops with napalm), Harry solves the crisis. In his most suave demeanor to date, Harry pitches Ed a variety show starring Joe Namath that Dow Chemical could sponsor, allowing them to make people laugh and advertise their products at the same time. The show brings SDCP some great revenue, and when Harry returns excited by his big pitch, he finds Joan in the midst of firing his secretary.
At once, Harry stands up to Joan, demanding that she quit acting “like a tyrant” and belittling and reversing her decision to fire Scarlett, his secretary. Later, when Joan is in the conference room with the rest of the partners, Harry comes to deliver a more malicious attack. Harry demands partnership, stating that his achievements speak for themselves, but is “sorry my accomplishments have happened in broad daylight,” deciding to speak about the elephant in the room, Joan’s Jaguar decision. Roger and Bert appreciate the fire and enthusiasm out of Harry, it’s a nice change for the shlubby guy, but it doesn’t mean he’ll get the partnership he wants. SDCP just isnt big enough yet, and that’s because of loyalty.
Not only do outside companies not trust SDCP because of Don’s infamous “letter,” but now SDCP’s own clients have trust issues. Despite warnings, Don and Pete meet with Heinz Ketchup and decide to go after the account in secrecy. The secrecy flies right out the window after the pitch, however, when Ted and Peggy are found in the waiting room next in line. Don staggers behind to listen through the door and hears Peggy deliver an impassioned pitch, complete with lifted words right from Don himself. The news spreads, and not only does SDCP lose the Ketchup account, they lose Heinz Beans because of the meeting.
Don less than stellar day doesn’t end there. The man decides to go visit his wife on set, but today’s scenes are a bit different for Megan. Megan learns early on in the episode that her character of the soap opera will be expanded, becoming romantically involved with another character. Sound familiar to real life actress Jessica Pare’s situation? Well, Megan has to break the news to Don first, but he responds reasonably. Of course he doesn’t want his wife kissing other men, but he’s not going to get angry with her for doing her job. The two go out to dinner with the show’s headwriter and his wife, a fellow cast member, to smooth out the details. During the dinner, the couple tries to entice Don and Megan into group sex, or “swinging” as it was called. Don responds with bemused disgust, as he does later when he pops up on set to watch Megan. For a guy involved in a heated affair, it’s hypocritical that he is jealous, but he is. When the two fight in Megan’s dressing room, Megan accuses him of being unable to be happy for her success, and Don responds with biting criticism of acting in general, likening it to being a whore. Afterwards, Don ends up right back at Sylvia’s apartment, getting his own taste of action.
Don’s bad day ends with a pensive moment. Before they get underway, Don asks Sylvia to remove her necklace, which contains a crucifix. He slights her religion, asking what she prays about after he leaves, and she responds with “you”. He thinks she means his presence, but she clarifies, “No, for you to find peace.” Don, with pain, flips the necklace around and lays into her. Something tells me he wont find his peace here, that only more change will come, because he cannot change his ways.
The Best of the Rest
- Joan’s friend Kate visits the city to cheat on her husband and pal around with her Joanie. The two visit a hip club and meet a few men, before Kate shares her feelings on being proud and envious of Joan. With the problems at work, it’s exactly what she needs to hear.
- Don and Stan share a joint while working on the ketchup ad in a great moment of comedic relief this week. Whenever Don Draper actually smiles or laughs, you know something funny happened.
- When Don reacts reasonably to Megan’s news that she’ll be doing love scenes, she tells Don he’s “perfect”. Not entirely accurate. At dinner later, Megan’s castmate gets it better; “I’m sure he’s a man who plays many roles.”
- After their run in while pitching the ketchup ad, Peggy and Ted come across the SDCP gang at a bar. They all mostly play it cordial, except for Stan, knowing he’d been betrayed, who gives Peggy the middle finger.