Mad Men recap: Baby/Daddy
Let’s begin with the scariest moment of the evening. It wasn’t Kinsey galumphing around his Montclair apartment with a goofy scarf knotted around his neck, or later when Joan cut his pretensions so acutely down to size. It wasn’t the reminder that a single woman in her early 30s was, and some could argue still is, seen as a laughing matter. It wasn’t the chill of recognition anyone with a complicated, clingy family must have felt watching Peggy try to hold on to herself while sitting around her mother’s passive-aggressive kitchen table. Or even the specter of her pale baby boy squinting up at her from his eerily lit crib. It was, without a doubt, Betty‘s shot across the card table. The evening was already a bust — ”I’m sure we have something else to talk about,” she half threatened the trio of unhappily married people — but then her child upstairs started whimpering about ghosts. ”He was scared,” said Don, after tending to his boy. ”He’s a little liar,” Betty shot back through icicle teeth. Their marriage in a cocktail nutshell.
It seemed like all the characters had their ghosts hovering around them this episode. The ones in the room with Don and Betty happened to be brunettes with Manhattan zip codes. After their smoky evening of suburban misery came to an end, and all the drinks that wee Sally Draper mixed — ”Don’t smash the cherry!” — were downed, Betty crashed through the dishes. Don made the mistake of wondering about their neighbors’ happiness, and she whisper-screamed that Francine’s husband ought to be on his hands and knees with diamonds and kitchen-remodeling catalogs after all the humiliation he put her through. Don, resisting his angry wife’s call to arms, said the worst possible thing: ”I’ll say whatever it is you think I should say, but I’m not going to fight with you.” Don had the weary mug of a man ready to split, if it weren’t for the sleeping babies upstairs, who he’s loath to abandon as he did his little brother. Betty stomped outside and gnashed into her cigarette in the cold. What a thing to compare this brittle Betty, a woman who’s finally learned how to hide her cards, with last season’s little fawn, who clung to Don like he was her daddy.
NEXT: Pete gets through to DonIf Betty had cut the cord, Pete revealed a truly moving side in his fumbling around for a father figure. The worm I’ve always had a soft spot for found out that his sorry, spiteful dad died in an American Airlines crash over Jamaica Bay. And, of course, he found that out after making his buddies laugh with a crude plane-going-down joke. (The scene of the office hovering around a single radio, gasping that the plane ”just fell out of the sky,” should have made a post-9/11 audience shiver.) When Pete got the news that his father had been on board, his face went all slack and wobbly, and he kind of teetered back into the secretarial pool, looking at his office as if it were a swirly snow globe. Pete lurched into Don’s office and dribbled out his terrible shock. Don, backed into a corner of sympathy, said all the right things. (It was a clever mirror to Don’s declaration to his wife that he’d say anything she wanted, as long as she didn’t expect real intimacy from him.) When Don patted Pete on the back, it might have felt like a manly buck-up show of support, but it also looked as if Don were gingerly ushering his needy underling out of his office.
Later, Duck oozed over to Pete and tiptoed around the notion of the lost boy’s making an appearance at a drinks pitch with an American Airlines heavyweight. Yeah, yeah, yeah, Pete might still be grieving — ”I haven’t even cried yet,” he kept murmuring — but this was Sterling Cooper’s chance to play in the big leagues. Duck at least allowed him the chance to say that the proposition made him uncomfortable. In the most honest expression we’ve ever seen from Pete, and possibly from anyone within this slick world of image and brand making, he thought for a second before stating, ”I think I am uncomfortable.” He hightailed it back to Don’s office for another pep talk, only to be growled out of the room. His surrogate father figure had turned cold on him, and not even a sympathetic glance from Peggy across the way was going to soothe this hurt. It was as if the rebuke from Don, so soon after he had finally given Pete the attention he’s always craved, hurt worse than his father’s plummeting to his death. It also sent him over to the dark side of the Duck man. Pete made that meeting, and he pitched the life out of himself.
Don, though, had his own abandonment to deal with. Forced by a glib Roger — ”Oh, take off your dress!” — to kick Mohawk Airlines to the curb, he had to break up with an honorable man he’d made big promises to. Don might have fancied himself a self-created Colonel Glenn type of figure, ”a winner” with a square jaw and false modesty, but he was forced into the role of heel. When the client scolded him for his lack of honor, and smirked at how he had been fooled by the whole fraudulent act, Don had the look of a boy who had disappointed his father. As the man left, he placed a hand on Don’s shoulder and let it linger there for a second, branding the younger man with his disappointment. A waitress came by and offered Don some sweet relief, but he turned her down, already sick with his own sense of shame.
NEXT: Peggy’s maternal instinctsA world away, Peggy suffered through the type of tedious visit home that is recognizable to anyone whose family has issues, regardless of what decade you make that trip. Before she’d even taken a seat at the kitchen table, her mother started clucking at her about how they never see her anymore. When Ma cooed over Peggy’s pretty face, her older pouch of a sis looked on sourly, exposing a lifetime of sibling rivalry. As her mother prattled on about neighborhood news, the only thing Peggy chose to contribute was bleats of brand names, shining flares from the professional life she’s cultivated for herself across the river. Somebody plagued with acne? Clearasil! When her mother murmured that people down at church were noticing her absence and she was growing tired of making excuses, Peggy, firm and remote, held off her advances. She’s capable of making her own decisions on how she’d like to live her life, she pertly declared to her sister. ”Really?” her sister said archly, dagger unsheathed. ”The state of New York didn’t think so. The doctors didn’t think so.” Peggy must have wanted to shove the Hoover up her ass.
At the end of the night, Peggy tried to slip free from her family’s tentacles, but her sister tossed a lasso around her neck, asking her if she was even going to say good night. Good night? Game on! The moment of revelation was upon us. And behind a somber wooden door, an eerily pale face gazed confusedly up at her. She ignored her baby and said a quick good night to her little nephews. The ghost of her past — no tube of zit cream or Rejuvenator to fix this one — lives in Brooklyn. Later she joined her family at Mass, though she stayed glued to her pew during communion. When her sister thrust the fruit of Pete’s loins into her arms — talk about the father, the son, and the holy ghost — Peggy held the child as if he were nothing more than a dirty diaper whose stench she didn’t want clinging to her. Like Don’s former self, this baby represents a past she wants nothing to do with and yet still can’t shake.
So what do you think? Joan: bun or bob? Do you, like me, think Vincent Kartheiser (Pete) got robbed of his own Emmy nomination? When the phone was ringing endlessly for Peggy, was that her sister or her mother calling her to meet them at church? Finally, help dissect this one for me: If Peggy wasn’t deemed fit to make her own decisions, who decided what for her? Did the state of New York and/or the doctors prevent her from giving her baby up for adoption and send him home instead with her sister?
Jon Hamm stars as Don Draper in the Emmy-winning ’60s-set drama