Over the course of three Sundays in Lent, Peggy's sister tells her secret, Sterling Cooper fails to land the big airline account, and Don is forced to tell Betty a truth about his past

By Karen Valby
Updated August 19, 2008 at 12:08 AM EDT
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S2 E4
type
  • TV Show
network
  • AMC

We open to a scene of Peggy at the Church of the Holy Innocents, sitting next to what looks like a younger version of Don and Pete, the two most important men in her life. It’s April 8, 1962, Passion Sunday, and she’s forced to endure a sermon about the flesh lusting against the spirit. Oh, I do love this terribly sad, terrifically wicked show.

In the suburbs, Don woke up randy from a great dream — about a brunette, I’m guessing, standing on a deck wearing nothing but a Mencken’s scarf billowing in the breeze — and he nuzzled himself on top of Betty. They were about to erase the memory of Valentine’s night when Sally and Bobby bounded into the room. Sally stared long and hard at her sandwiched parents, locking in yet another visual that she can one day share with her therapist, in between tearful sessions about Mommy’s coldness and Daddy’s drinking problem. It was a rare day of tenuous, alcohol-fueled bliss at the Draper household. Don and Betty got hammered in the living room — Betty reading the F. Scott Fitzgerald book her horse buddy recommended, Don thanking Sally Jeeves for another round of drinks — and then danced to a tune that made Betty melt back in high school. They got so smashed that Betty forgot dinner and the family ended up piled on the bed. Bobby jumped up and down and broke the bed, Betty snapped, and they all trudged downstairs for some suburban grilled cheese.

Back in Brooklyn, the young, guitar-playing priest Father Gill (played by Colin Hanks, who looks and sounds uncannily like his dad) made Sunday lunch slightly more bearable for poor Peg. He smoked and enjoyed a good drink, telling the table he didn’t want to drink alone. Peggy offered to get the sherry and scooted up on the counter to get to the top shelf. (I’m guessing that she snuck more than the occasional nip back in high school.) Good Father Gill took a shine to Peggy and asked her for advice on how to really sell the Palm Sunday sermon. ”I don’t know that I’m your audience,” she said demurely, before telling him to speak in simpler language and focus on one person out there in the pews.

At the office, Don went to battle once more with the lascivious Bobbie Barrett. (The click of his office door’s lock prompted a knowing smirk from Joan.) Sex between these two is a largely joyless, power-shifting affair. Bobbie pounced, and Don tried to hold her off, insisting that he had, no, not a wife but work to do. Don always receives her advances with a grimace, as if she were his office version of a droning Bill Lumbergh draped over his cubicle. “Unh, yea-ahhhhhh, Don, I’m going to need you to rip my nylons and bend me over your Eames chair, mmmmkay?” Escaping her clutches, he returned home only to find Betty in the foyer giving him a scolding once-over before pronouncing, “Some people weren’t so good today.”

That Sunday the agency rallied together to prepare for the American Airlines pitch, and more importantly to give us all an eyeful of their favored weekend wear. (Oh, Pete, your thighs.) Joan, who couldn’t get a break this episode, got stuck with the ignoble task of keeping an eye on Sally Draper, who proceeded to leave gum on the floor that got stuck on the boss’ argyle sock, ask Kinsey if the picture on his desk was of his maid, bother Joan about her big ones, and get so sloshed that she passed out on the sofa. Meanwhile, the big kids, in their various examples of weekend dress, tried to forget their troubled prospective client’s past and train their vision on what 1963 might look like.

NEXT: Confessing another’s sinsEverything was humming along in this very pretty, taut episode (Joan should always wear autumnal colors, and I’d like to know where I might find the hooker’s pretty jacket), and then the show went kablooey. I’m sorry, friends, but I’ve got to just start panting here about THE GREATEST LAST FIVE MINUTES EVER.

The good folks of Sterling Cooper arranged the celery stalk in the Bloody Mary pitcher, the forks were placed just so, Joan and Peggy had their finest outfits on, and the agency got into position as if for a family portrait. The American Airlines pitch was all for naught, as the bigwig leaning their way had just been canned. ”We have to deliver a stillborn baby,” Don said to the deflated bunch.

Peggy’s sour sister, stung by Father’s doting on Peg, skulked into confession, and we all knew what was coming. ”I took somet hing that didn’t belong to me,” she began. (That’s right, ya wench, I screamed at the TV, you brought that baby home to hold over your sister’s head forever!) She kept us guessing by saying it was some coins at the Laundromat, winding up before she crumbled into tears and hit a confessional home run. That old bag let Peggy’s secret out of the bag. It’s so unfair that Peggy can have a child out of wedlock, she whined, seducing an innocent married man no less, and then still have the world fawn all over her. (Those poor innocent married men, champs like Roger who get pulled into the gutter by soulless whores.) The sister moped about her needs and her troubles, calculated rage seething just beneath her righteous surface. Stuck with an old spud home on the sofa with a backache, she feels forsaken. Forgive me, Lord, but I wish a pox upon her.

Don, beaten down by a helluva day at the office, went home to Betty, who asked him if he wanted to talk about it. Poor Bobby, his chin still scabbed from when he burned himself ogling his daddy’s pancake on the hot plate, spilled his milk. Betty growled at Don to wallop him like a real man would, and Don torpedoed Bobby’s robot into the wall and retreated upstairs. Betty will no longer be ignored, and she chased after him, swatting aside his angry declarations that he pays the bills and puts clothes on her back. ”I’m here all day, alone with them,” she hollered. ”Outnumbered.” (How’s that for a precise description of what it can feel like to be a full-time parent?) Don, finally forced to engage, warned Betty that if she wanted him to bring home what happened at the office that day, he might throw her out a window. She shoved him in the chest and bam! he gave her a shove right back. I’ve got to pause here for a breath and bow down at the choreography of this scene, at the beautifully stunned expression on January Jones’ face and the horrified look of surprise on Jon Hamm’s, and, most importantly, at the sound department, which found the perfect thwacking clap to go along with those shoves.

NEXT: Family therapyDon sank onto the bed, beaten up by his loss of control. Bobby toddled into the room, his shirt underneath his little sweater heartbreakingly untucked. This kid kills me. He brought his daddy back from the brink with some wonderfully specific questions about Don’s own father. ”What did your daddy look like?” he peeped. ”Like me but bigger.” Oh, Don, bring it in for a hug. After a delightfully innocent, impromptu therapy session, Bobby concluded that ”We have to get you a new daddy.” Don, suddenly the little boy in the room, looked like he was going to puddle onto the floor when Bobby wobbled over and threw his arms him. Later in bed with Betty, he tried the whole routine of I’ll tell you what you want to hear, you do whatever you want, but in the end he gifted her with a confession of his own. ”My father beat the hell out of me,” he whispered, ”and all it made me do was fantasize about the day I could murder him.” Betty, shocked that Don had cracked open a window onto his past, clammed up. ”I didn’t know that,” she said simply, and her rigid spine softened as she sank down to spoon her broken husband.

By this point, I felt like I’d been roundhoused for a while in the stomach, but the episode didn’t end there. Instead we floated back to Easter Sunday, and the aftermath of a crueler confession. As kids in sherbet-colored outfits frolicked on the lawn collecting eggs, Peggy’s nattily dressed boy beelined for an egg, only to get shoved aside by a bigger, greedier child. ”These kids,” Peggy murmured to Father Gill, who she’d come to see as something of a trusted ally. ”For the little one,” he said, dropping an egg in her palm. Peggy’s face went all slack and ashy, stunned by what looked like a sense of betrayal. The only time we’ve ever seen her that surprised was when Pete punished her at the bar for the sin of feeling good about herself. She looked like she’d been stripped naked, stranded in front of the church where the congregation could all gawk and throw stones at her. In a different time, and on a different show, Joan would squeal up to the curb in some unapologetically racy convertible and whisk Peggy away to a brunch in Manhattan with Carrie and the girls.

Best line of the best night of Mad Men yet: Joan staring down at a passed-out Sally Draper clutching an empty cocktail glass like a doll on the office sofa: ”She’s here on a Sunday, and I respect that,” she told another secretary. ”But you know she’s earning more than all of us.” I know she was most likely referring to Peggy, but it’s a much funnier scene if you imagine that she’s coolly assessing Sally’s commitment to the Sterling Cooper team.

What do you think? Was that not the GREATEST LAST FIVE MINUTES EVER? Was Father Gill being cruel giving Peggy that glowing egg, or was it merely an inappropriate, albeit well-intentioned, acknowledgment that he knew her secret? Did the night, shove and all, give you hope for Betty and Don’s marriage? And when Pete stood up from the conference table and revealed his John McEnroe shorts, did you hide your eyes?

Episode Recaps

Mad Men

Jon Hamm stars as Don Draper in the Emmy-winning ’60s-set drama

type
  • TV Show
seasons
  • 7
rating
status
  • In Season
network
  • AMC
stream service

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