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Mad Men recap: Control Issues

Don feels cornered as he’s assaulted on all fronts even as he brings in a whale of an account, and Peggy turns to an unlikely source for comfort

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Mad Men 307
Carin Baer/AMC

Mad Men

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
run date:
Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Elisabeth Moss

Never again can its critics complain that nothing happens on this show. After last week’s foot-soaker of an episode, and the opening 60 seconds alone of last night’s, the third season has hit its glorious stride. The opening shots of prone characters were ominous ones, and set the tone for a terrifically tense hour of TV. Peggy lay naked in bed, an unknown man’s back beside her. (Don’s? Pete’s?) Betty, swanned out on a swooning sofa, looked like a dazed Spiegel catalogue model. And Don, broken, bloodied Don, lay face down in a strange hotel room before he roused and rubbed his parched throat.

Beautifully, the action rewound to an earlier shot of Don’s throat, as he straightened his tie, gave his shoes one last scuff of polish, and smoothed back his shiny head of hair. Swingy jazz piano played in the background as if we were watching a commercial for antiperspirant or aftershave. Here was a man at the top of his game! Downstairs Betty lorded over her new living room with an interior decorator, wondering about the empty space in front of the fireplace. ”That’s your hearth darling,” the expert purred back to Betty, not realizing she was talking to a woman who confuses polish for beauty, and manners for warmth. ”That’s the soul of your home.” Betty has but one roost to rule over so it’s tragic really when Don strides dismissively into the room and, forced into having an opinion, rightly judges the Drexel end table to be misplaced.

In the cramped elevator up to the office, the distance between former chums Roger and Don is still palpable. ”I watched the sun rise this morning,” said Roger. ”How was it?” said Don. ”Average.” These are pale, privileged, buttoned-up men, largely unaware of their natural world. Roger is feeling churlish that their competitor David Ogilvy has his eventually best-selling business treatise Confessions of an Advertising Man (”Great title,” deems Don) soon to hit bookstores. ”It should be called 1,000 reasons I’m so great,” says Roger. Both men look peevish that they hadn’t first thought of the idea of writing such a book themselves.

All episode other men were making themselves comfortable in Don’s chair, as if to remind him that he is both replaceable and without any real power. First it was Conrad Hilton, who was unimpressed with Don’s tardiness and his lack of desk accessories. ”I don’t know what I’m more disturbed by — the fact that there’s not a Bible or that there’s not a single family photo.” (Says the amiable twice-divorced kazillionaire who, according to that 1963 Time cover story, went through 20-something stewardesses like they were socks and was so impressed with his heirs that he would eventually cut them out of his estate.) Connie ribs him again for being late before Don slings back one of his signature bullet lines. ”Maybe I’m late because I was spending time with my family reading the Bible.”

His coolness, as always, impresses and Hilton offers him his New York hotels. They’ll deal man to man, like they did in Hilton’s old West, plus the conference room table’s worth of lawyers who’ll later insist Don sign on their dotted line. ”Having me in your life is going to change things,” says Connie. Don is a man who wants little else from life than the constant promise of reinvention and so he receives such news as a promise rather than word of warning.

NEXT: Betty’s highly politic move


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