Mad Men recap: Field Trip
Don gets the okay to get back to work, while Betty has another Mother of the Year moment
In Jacques Demy’s Model Shop, the 1969 movie that Don Draper is watching at the beginning of last night’s Mad Men, Los Angeles is both the setting and a main character in the story of a man whose relationship with a wannabe actress is rapidly falling apart. Instead, he meets another woman — the same character played by the same actress (Anouk Aimée) from Demy’s 1961 film, Lola — with whom he quickly becomes obsessed. So it was no real surprise when Don got a desperate call from Los Angeles, his hardly-a-marriage marriage reached its breaking point, and women suddenly started throwing themselves at him again.
It’s April 1969, and Don is still stuck in work limbo five months after being put on leave. More importantly, it’s episode 3, and the show still hasn’t pointed Draper towards his destiny. Fear not, because “Field Trip” put all the show’s oars in the water and catches up with some of our most beloved and loathed characters (Betty! Harry!).
Don has literally nothing going on — but he’s still getting dressed up to harass the newly promoted Dawn, ordering her to fetch him typewriter ribbon and keep him in the SC&P loop. His only business-related call is from Megan’s agent, who shares the awkward news that Megan made a spectacle of herself after a recent audition, stalking the director at his Sunday brunch with Twilight Zone‘s Rod Serling and melting into a puddle of tears. (BTW: there apparently is a Mad Men spec script where Draper actually meets Serling…)
Don heads west to surprise Megan and survey just how bad the situation is. Short answer, it’s bad. Megan is honestly thrilled to see him, but after some “extra special hankering” on the sofa — which is clearly foreplay for the discussion that follows — Don opens up his playbook for How to Upset An Insecure Wife and follows it to a T. She’s already vulnerable, telling him “it’s sunny here for everyone but me.” And when Megan grows suspicious of his probing questions about her career, Don sneaks in the always effective retort, “Stop acting like a lunatic.” She kids(?) about slitting her wrists in the bathtub and sarcastically mocks his concern by calling Don “Daddy.” To be fair to Don, Megan is kind of acting like a lunatic. Or just like someone who is very much alone, who is facing professional rejection every day, and who is not living the life she hoped with the man she loves.
Megan tries to turn the tables on her husband, as she understandably suspects that when she is in L.A., the Don will play. As soon as she accuses him of infidelity, you know he’s going to play his only ace and tell her the truth about his forced leave of absence. But Don hadn’t thought this one all the way through; if he’s not working, why isn’t he in L.A. with her? Upset, Megan sends him packing, saying, “This is the way it ends. It’s going to be so much easier for both of us [now].”
Two months after Valentine’s Day, Peggy’s life hasn’t exactly improved. The CLIO nominations were just announced, and she’s been totally overlooked. Even Peggy’s brilliant Rosemary’s Baby spot for St. Joseph’s aspirin got nothing. Making matters worse, Ginsberg’s Playtex ad earned the lone CLIO mention from the agency — a poor showing that was likely guaranteed by the fact that Lou Avery only submitted work that he personally developed. Lou Avery: what a gem. The way he speaks to Peggy — “Who put a knot in your pantyhose?” — and all women, for that matter, is his most defining characteristic. Allan Havey, the actor who plays Lou, is so good in the role that I fear he’s drifting into Bob Gunton territory (and Lou Avery is this decade’s Warden Norton from The Shawshank Redemption). I’ll never be able to see Havey as anyone else but a dickish, disagreeable character.
NEXT: The return of Betty
It turns out Sally will not have to stay in high school until 1975, because her mother isn’t yet in the ground after all. Instead, Betty is having a passive-aggressive lunch with her old neighbor Francine Hanson, who is now an existential threat to Betty because she’s a working mother. Their back-and-forth is comical, with Betty spitting barbs with a smile: “I thought [children] were the reward? I don’t know, maybe I’m old-fashioned.” Anyone with young children in 2014 has encountered the same chilly debate about mothers and their responsibilities versus their choices, and woe to the person who wanders into that discussion sure of their point of view.
But in a way, Francine inspires Betty. Not to work at her Wanderlust travel agency or some other employment, but to be the loving mother that someone who’s never met her might mistake her for. Opportunity knocks immediately, with Bobby’s class taking a field trip to a local farm where his crunchy, nip-slipping teacher grew up. Bobby is thrilled to have his mother’s undivided attention, regaling her with details of his favorite monster movies as they ride the bus. At the farm, Betty plays the role she aspires to, bravely sipping freshly-tugged cow milk out of a bucket. But when Bobby trades away her sandwich to a pretty classmate for some candy, Mommie Dearest returns and gives Bobby the cold, silent treatment for the rest of the day. At home for dinner, she refuses to let up, explaining cryptically to Henry why she isn’t eating: “I was hungry. Now, I’m not.” Even later, she complains to Henry about the children, “Why don’t they love me?” I look forward to Henry’s reaction when Betty explains this drama was all about a sandwich.
On Don’s trip home from California, I half expected to see Lee Cabot again, especially after Tricia the flirty flight attendant gave Mr. Draper the green light on the flight west. But the next time we see Don, he’s accelerating his negotiations with Dave Wooster’s agency — because, of course, Don actually has to fix this aspect of his life now that his marriage is falling apart. “Clarence Birdseye” is on the line, and he’s ready to stop dancing and get down to business with Dave, who comes to dinner with an offer. It’s a significant offer — and that doesn’t include the pretty blonde at the Algonquin who invites Don to join her upstairs.
Don’s tempted by the woman, just as he was tempted by Lee Cabot. But instead, he knocks on the hotel door of an old friend, Roger Sterling, and thrusts the rival-agency offer at him. Roger congratulates him, though he can’t resist calling the job a demotion, and the two men argue like brothers. Don wants to know where Sterling stands. Should he take the job? Read between the lines: “Does SCP still want me?” “If you want to come back, come back, ” Roger says sweetly, though perhaps he’s stoned. “I miss you.”
Awww. That’s all Don needed to hear. On Monday, he returns to the office, eager to get back to work. Unfortunately, it’s immediately clear that Roger was acting by the seat of his pants and hasn’t informed anyone else at SCP that Don is coming back. Jim Cutler looks like he just saw a ghost. Lou Avery is in crisis mode, making 30-year-old Mr. Deeds Goes to Town references. So begins Don’s day from hell, where Ginsberg tells him he smells good, Ken Cosgrove happily flashes baby pictures, and Joan and Peggy treat him like he’s Herb from Jaguar and the CLIO jury, respectively.
While Roger is MIA, apparently at his early-early lunch, Don allows himself to get pulled into the writers’ room, which really makes him seem like he was in the kids’ room at some child-care center. Maybe I’d never noticed it before, but the low table and chairs in the room barely rise above their knees, and the walls are plastered with clips and rainbow art that your children might bring home. When Peggy finally comes in to confront him, dressed like the principal, and tells him flatly “I can’t say we miss you,” you can’t help but feel that Don’s neutering was complete. It was not.
NEXT: Terms and conditions may apply
Cutler promises an irate Lou that they’re going to ask Don to leave — but not so fast. During an impromptu partners meeting, Roger and Cutler contentiously debate what Don’s leave of absence meant in the first place. Cutler (and Joan) assumed it was a euphemism for termination, but Bert Cooper lends Roger support by saying he assumed that the matter would be revisited sooner or later… or today. Roger thinks the current creative team is pathetic, reflected by the recent near-shutout at the CLIO nominations, and that Don is a genius who they can’t afford to compete against if he bolts for Mary Well’s agency. Joan is surprisingly cool about his return, noting that Don “is a very talented man, but how does he fit in to everything now?” Wow, Joan. Claire Underwood couldn’t have damned with fainter praise any better. What am I forgetting from last season about Joan and Don that would explain her response? Now that she’s got that prime upstairs office, does she maybe see him as a rival?
Cutler wants to discuss how the Draper dilemma fits into SCP’s larger financial strategy — especially with his computer obsession, though I suspect he has no idea what a computer is or does. He’s also none too pleased with Harry Crane, who lied to clients to hide the fact that SC&P don’t have the same computer capabilities as at least one rival agency. (“You have stiff competition, but I believe you to be the most dishonest man I have ever worked with,” Cutler told Harry after learning the truth.) “He’s gone,” says Roger quickly. “Anything else?”
At this point, I’d like to suggest a sitcom spinoff starring Roger and Ginsberg. It could be based on The Apartment, or even a 1970s buddy-cop show; I don’t care. But whoever is writing their lines — and hand motions — this season is spinning pure gold, especially when Ginsberg describes the “honking” approach to Playtex’s campaign that landed him the CLIO nom. Lately, the series seems satisfied with minimizing their A-story contributions and leaning on them for comic relief, but I wouldn’t mind seeing more of both characters.
Don is finally summoned (but not before asking Dawn for more coffee and handing her his hat and coat, revisiting the last week’s racial undertones), and for the first time, I notice Don’s brown suit and brown striped tie. Brown. Have you ever seen a great brown suit? Have you ever seen one on Don? It certainly makes him look… well, less-than-Don… and I can’t help but think that was the point.
Cooper coolly welcomes Don back, but only with a few stipulations. And by a few, I mean, it’s quite possible that the partners decided to insist upon so many deal-breakers that Don would walk away on his own volition. He’s not allowed to be alone with clients. He has to stick to the approved scrip at pitch meetings. He can’t drink in the office. He’s assigned Lane’s old office, and — gasp — he has to report to Lou. And if he violates any of these new requirements, he will be terminated and forfeit his partnership shares in the company. Will he comply?
In those last moments, as Don looks at the contract and the camera zooms in on his face while he weighs the offer, I envisioned him going in either direction. An eff-you response wouldn’t have shocked me, nor would some form of counter-offer to save face. But his simple “Okay” took me off-guard. What’s Don Draper really up to?
I can’t imagine him reporting to Lou for long, so maybe Don is actually headed for Los Angeles, the dream he had for a moment last season. If Harry Crane is truly finished at SC&P, then the firm needs a new media and television (and computer!) man. Don could certainly be the ideal guy for the agency; the job would also keep him away from Lou and Peggy, and allow him to give his failing marriage one last shot. Or simply to be the male protagonist in the last act of Mad Men‘s Model Shop.
Monday Morning Talking Points
1. Can the show really toss aside Harry Crane aside so abruptly? Do you think Roger was being facetious when he said Harry was finished, or was that on the level?
2. Don has turned down at least three beautiful women already this season. Is he seriously determined to salvage his marriage, or is he due to slip back into adultery?
3. Will you ever get over the image of Betty Draper sipping steaming cow milk out of a pail?
4. Best line of the night? Don, to Megan, after he comes clean about his leave of absence: “I’ve been good. I haven’t even been drinking that much.”
5. I never thought we’d be at a place so soon after last season where Don’s best relationship with a female is with Sally. Megan, Peggy, Joan, and, presumably, Betty are all rather anti-Don these days.
[Note: An earlier version of this post misidentified Peggy’s St. Joseph’s aspirin ad.]