Mad Men recap: Sins of the Father
Sally Draper's future therapist is guaranteed plenty of work in a densely plotted episode about love, lust, and disappointment.
“The effect of fathers, in sum, has been to corrode the world with maleness. The male has a negative Midas touch – everything he touches turns to shit.” – Valerie Solanas, SCUM Manifesto, self-published in 1967
How far can Don fall? Because it’s looking like this elevator is going to basement-level at least. Sally is probably feeling in agreement with Solanas—the paranoid-schizophrenic militant feminist who popped the King of Pop Art—after having been failed so completely by her father. It can’t be easy, being the daughter of Don Draper. There’s the sense that, between her mother’s cruelties and her father’s indifference, she’s going to have a lot to unpack while lying on the couch. It’s a small favor in itself that “Favors” ended up airing this past Sunday and not next week as a box of curdled chocolates for Father’s Day.
Nobody died last night, unless you count Sally’s innocence, but there continues to be a funeral shroud enveloping the show. Don shows up to the office to find Roger waiting for him with a bunch of oranges to tell him they’re going after Sunkist. The oranges, if you’re going by The Godfather code of visual metaphors, are yet another death omen. “God can turn off the lights at any moment,” says Ted Chaough’s neglected wife, a lesson Matthew Weiner has identified to be true in both life and The Sopranos finale. Mitchell, the Rosens’ young son, has been classified as 1A after sending back his draft card, and the threat of him losing his life in Vietnam hangs like a Sword of Damocles over nearly every scene of the episode. “They would be lucky to have you,” the doorman tells him. As a near-death survivor and the show’s resident Stygian ferryman, his words take on an ominous tone. He’s referring to a college, but comes off like he’s saying, “Room for one more….”
At first, Don’s position is that Mitchell’s fate is not his or Megan’s problem, although he does caution, “He can’t spend the rest of his life on the run.” That’s earned wisdom, right there. Eventually Don is swayed into helping Mitchell for what appear to be noble reasons. He brings up the subject in a meeting with GM, but that’s a miscalculation and the conversational thermometer suddenly drops about fifty degrees. (As Basil Fawlty could have told him, you don’t mention the war.) For all of his salesmanship and his highfalutin pitches, he’s utterly unable to even broach the idea, and he realizes that even Don Draper can’t sell something the client doesn’t already want to buy.
Ted berates him for it, assuming that Don behaved that way purposefully to mess with him. Ted is mad about the fact that Don and Roger’s pursuit of Sunkist has come into conflict with his and Pete’s attempts to land Ocean Spray. “I don’t want his juice, I want my juice,” he whines to Cutler, taking the words right out of a preschooler’s mouth and making me think how amazing a Muppet Babies-style show called Mad Babies would be. He also makes the hilarious analogy, “Imagine every time Ginger Rogers jumped in the air, Fred Astaire punched her in the face,” which is funny for obvious reasons but also because he sets himself up as the Ginger Rogers in this scenario.
But even Ted’s indignation melts at the sight of Don Draper trying to do something nice for once, and fumbling because he’s so unaccustomed to it. “I bet you don’t have a lot of friends, Don, so I’ll assume this is important,” he says before offering to get Mitchell assigned to the Air National Guard so he can get a draft deferment. Don looks utterly baffled by the idea that someone would want to help him for so little in return. The two of them shake hands and bury the hatchet under the floorboards.
NEXT: Papa don’t preach…
Of course, Don’s motivations are less than 100 percent pure. Much of this is due to his feelings for Sylvia, whom he accidentally (or maybe not so accidentally) catches on the phone when he calls the Rosens’ home to tell them the good news. He calls her “sweetheart,” which clunks a bit coming out of his mouth. Sylvia admits that she did have feelings for him and that she’s sorry about the way their affair ended. The next thing we know, they’re back to their old tricks again, only this time Sally catches them in the act.
Poor Sally. This is the second time she has walked in on a man she admires in a compromising position. It’s as if seeing Roger and Marie at the Codfish Ball was just a warm-up for this mid-coital oopsy-daisy. She’s beginning to get the (not entirely inaccurate) impression that the world is populated by dirty old men who only want one thing, and her own burgeoning sexuality keeps running head-first into these brain-searing images that won’t get out of her mind no matter how much psychological bleach she uses.
She’s in town for model UN, and staying with her father because Betty thinks it’s “just yet another excuse to make out,” which is probably news to anyone who ever took part in model UN. While at the apartment, she develops a crush on Mitchell, praising his ass at that night’s sleepover because she “couldn’t think of anything else.” I bet. She and her friend Julie kick and giggle like the kids they still are.
But when Julie leaves Sally’s mash note under the Rosens’ door, it prompts Sally to return to the apartment. The first indication something is wrong comes from the doorman, whose repetition of his jocular greeting, “What do we have here, a coupla high fashion models?” is subtly unnerving. When you’re young, everything feels new. It’s only as you grow up that you realize patterns repeat and experiences start to have diminishing returns, and that’s when disillusionment sets in. The second indication that something is wrong comes when she catches her father in bed with a woman that’s neither her mother nor her step-mother. Again, patterns repeat.
Don and Sylvia’s reactions are immediate. She’s furious with herself for being so stupid. Don chases after Sally but she’s off in a cab by the time he gets downstairs. He looks lost and frantic, his hair flopping down and his brow drenched in sweat. In short, he looks like Dick Whitman. Few things truly worry Don, and this isn’t the first time he’s been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. But for him being caught by Sally is tantamount a fear as being found out by the government.
Sally is upset for a number of reasons: Her innocent childhood crush is forever tainted, she feels bad for poor oblivious Megan, but most of all she’s disappointed that her father has turned out to be exactly the kind of person her mother warned her he was. Don returns home drunk later that night. Sally can’t look him in the eye, and when Dr. Rosen shows up to parade his good deed in front of the whole family, she stands up and yells, “You make me sick!” before running to her room. Don tries to reconcile with her through the door, but his words are the same condescending lies he’s told her all her life. “It’s very complicated” is the closest he comes to an admission, but really it’s about as uncomplicated as it gets. Somehow, Don’s inability to man up and talk to his daughter feels like an even greater betrayal than the act itself. He returns to his room, shutting yet another door.
NEXT: BB & PC 4 EVA…
Sally wasn’t the only person forced to contemplate the unsavory image of a parent having sex. Pete Campbell’s mother returns with her Spanish-from-Spain nurse Manolo, who may or may not be going far above the duties listed in his job description. In a conversation with Peggy, Mrs. Campbell asks about the baby, and for a moment Peggy wonders whether Pete’s mom somehow knows about her secret grandchild. But no, the woman was just mistaking her for Trudy. Then she candidly admits that she and Manolo are lovers, which prompts an uncomfortable Peggy to drop the broad-as-a-barn-door punchline, “Did she go to China for that tea?” I half-expected her to put her hand in the air and shout, “Check please!”
Peggy ends up telling Pete about the conversation over drinks. Ted the Teetotaler is sticking to cranberry juice, which is a natural diuretic, but the two of them are three sheets to the wind. If there was any lingering doubt, Peggy is clearly one of the guys now, no longer tagging along awkwardly to strip club celebrations. Pete acknowledges her success, and correctly diagnoses the sexual tension between Ted and her. “He’s in love with you, too,” he says, and Peggy can’t help but look pleased. “At least one of us ended up important,” Pete bemoans, blowing up the black balloons for his one-man pity party before asking her not to please not join in. Pete has been shriveling before our very eyes this whole season, really feeling his root unhappiness in a way that Don rarely does. His self-confidence is receding faster than his hairline. But Peggy’s opinion matters to him, if only because she knows him, for better and for worse. They end up giggling like middle school students by the time Ted gets back to the table, all those years of unspoken tension just dropping away.
Manolo drops Mrs. Campbell off at Pete’s apartment, and Pete confronts her about him. She insists that Manny has started a fire in her loins that no amount of Pete’s cold water could douse, and when he protests, she lobs a Molotov his way. “You were a sour little boy and you’re a sour little man,” she snarls. “You’ve always been unlovable.” One starts to get a sense of how Pete ended up the way he is. This episode is rife with bitter emotional inheritances. (They f— you up, your mum and dad.)
She’s wrong though, Pete’s not entirely unlovable. The next day, he calls Bob into his office and lays out the accusations against Manolo. Bob’s skeptical because Manolo’s gay, and they clearly know each other in a capacity unrelated to nursing. Then, Bob Benson finally tips his hand, and it’s all hearts. He tells Pete meaningfully that everyone needs somebody to love, nudging his knee and looking at him with the heart-liquifying stare of a thousand puppy dogs. But the advance is rejected, obviously, with Pete calling Manolo (and therefore Bob) a degenerate, and, just like that, Bob’s facade goes back up and once again he’s all service with a smile.
It’s hard to know what Bob sees in Pete, other than ambition. He’s like the Smithers to Pete’s Mr. Burns. Still, Pete’s so lonely and unhappy—devoid of companionship and Raisin Bran—that you get the sense that for the briefest split-second he seriously contemplated donning a matching pair of short shorts and joining up with Bob for a weekend on Fire Island. All Pete ever wants is respect and approbation, and that’s exactly what Bob offers him in spades. Part of me wants to think that Bob’s quietly implied declaration of love was another brilliant move by a sociopathic sycophant, but he looked so genuinely heartbroken that I’m having a hard time ascribing malicious motivations to it. I feel like Bob’s real purpose this season is to act like a Rorschach Test: is he just a nice gay dude with an office crush and good work ethic, or something darker? The fact that a lot of people have concluded he’s a serial killer might simply be because it’s hard to accept the idea that a Mad Men character is just a decent fellow. Maybe all the years we’ve spent with these sour little men have made us cynical. Maybe, like Sally, we’ve been groomed to have some major trust issues. Or maybe Bob actually fits in perfectly, as yet another poor schmuck who wants what he can’t have.
Peggy comes home to a rat murder scene and calls up Stan, her coworker-with-benefits. She offers sex if he’ll come over, but he turns her down because he’s with someone already. “You can bring her,” she replies—so maybe she and Joyce from Season 4 were more than friends—but still no dice. I believe this is referred to as swinging and missing.
“Why do you have to spend all of your time in here?” Henry asks in a bit of meta-commentary on Betty’s perpetual kitchen roost.
Sally hates to see Mitchell go, but she really loves to watch him leave.
Mark Lindsay reference! For all you conspiracy theorists out there, Lindsay actually lived at 10050 Cielo Drive, the site of the Manson murders, the year before Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate moved in. [Best Robert Stack impression] Coincidence?
Why would Mitchell go to Megan first? It seems odd, even if he does speak really good French.
I love how all Ted wants is to be able to work alongside Don. He’s too nice to be conniving. Of course, just because he’s a nice guy doesn’t mean he won’t cheat on his wife like all the rest of the guys on the show, it just means he’ll feel extra guilty about it. Ted’s wife already has an inkling about that “young copywriter,” but is Peggy really willing to be the other woman?
Imagine your parents having sex. There, now you know how Sally feels.
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