One of the most common complaints with Mad Men has been that precious little happens over the course of its initial episodes, that everything is just a series of exquisitely written and acted set-ups to the eventful payoffs awaiting at the end of the season. Well, already this year we’ve born witness to Fat Betty, Don going American Psycho on his psyche, and The Great Pryce vs. Campbell Fight of 1966. But if there were any lingering doubts that this is not your father’s season of Mad Men, I give you Roger Sterling on LSD.
The entire episode was about unexpected and/or uncomfortable realities smacking our characters hard in the face, and each of them deciding whether to embrace it, or go racing the other direction. As if to drive home just how “new” this new season of Mad Men really is, these stories weren’t told concurrently, but as their own individual strands: first Peggy, then Roger, and finally Don. Intriguingly, separating the story lines only heightened the sense of thematic connection between them — and also our sense of mystery, as the fate of Don’s spontaneous jaunt to visit a Howard Johnson’s upstate with Megan was left dangling for the first 37 minutes. On a lesser show, this structure might have felt too gimmicky, and in truth I may come ’round to feeling that way after mentally masticating over this episode over the next few days. But I doubt it.
Let’s keep to the framework, and start with Peggy. She did not have a good day, and it started with a fight with Abe, her sexually progressive boyfriend who nonetheless was beginning to chafe under the psychological weight of all the work Peggy has been bringing home with her. But the moment Abe expressed his frustration, Peggy — frantic about her impending presentation with the hard-to-please folks from Heinz — seemed all too eager to pull the trigger on their relationship. “I’m your boyfriend!” he spat as he walked out the door. “Not a focus group!” Peggy’s been so busy blazing her trail, she hasn’t stopped to recognize just how far afield she is from the “usual” way a woman behaves, in a relationship, or at the office.
Things went from bad to worse when the man Peggy really counts on, Don Draper, bailed on Heinz, pulling Megan away from the presentation for their trip up to Howard Johnson’s. In the past, Peggy had counted on Don to cajole — and, if need be, coerce — the client into taking the campaign they’d been given. But with Don so checked out these past few months, Peggy realized she was going to have to do it herself. When the Heinz rep sighed again at her idea — a concept built on the nostalgia of a summer campfire and the meat-and-potatoes tagline “Home is where the Heinz is” — instead of backing off, Peggy, her hands in her pockets, tried her best Don Draper imitation…and failed miserably. “You do like it,” she said, her face set, her voice firm. “I think you just like fighting. It’s young and it’s beautiful. And nobody else is going to figure out how to say that about beans.”
Had this come out of Don’s mouth, there’s every chance the Heinz guy would’ve felt cowed, or even charmed, into agreeing to the campaign. But Peggy didn’t know how to make these words sound light and self-evident; instead, they sounded like an affront. “You’re lucky I have a daughter or else I wouldn’t be so understanding,” the Heinz guy growled, and like that, Peggy was pulled off the account.
NEXT PAGE: Peggy takes in a movie, and tokes up some dope