The Wife:

Because Sal is one of my favorite characters, his storyline in “Wee Small Hours” stood out the most to me, and seemed almost like a separate, isolated event when compared to Betty’s continued flirtation with Henry Francis and Don’s late-night rendezvous with Miss Farrell and Connie Hilton, all of which seemed last week to be building toward a massive fallout — a bomb which indeed dropped all over Draperville with this week’s installment, “The Color Blue.”

Do you remember how happy we all were just a few episodes ago when Sal was promoted to Sterling-Cooper’s commercial director and finally able to feel somewhat secure with himself in this changing world — a world where knowing the opening sequence of a popular musical beat-by-beat might not be so horrible? Well, all of those dreams for a potentially gay future have come crashing down . . . all because Sal wouldn’t fuck Lee Garner, Jr. in the editing room. Sal’s rejection of Lee’s admittedly rape-y advances earned a late-night call to Harry Crane to can Sal, which lead to a big mess for Don that could only be cleaned up with the very thing Lee Garner, Jr. had asked for: the removal of Sal from Sterling-Cooper.

But Im married!

But I'm married!

The idea of Garner attempting to take advantage of Sal was revolting enough, but the abuse of power was even more so. Can’t a gay man on the down low catch a break on this show? All I can say is that I hope Mad Men jumps forward in time enough to see Stonewall happen, because I desperately want Sal to be able to be Sal (and free Kitty from the chains of her beard-dom). Worse, even, than Garner’s abuse of power was Don’s hate-fueled firing of Sal. When Sal was called in to explain the situation, he tried to do so as delicately as possible without making himself or Mr. Garner look bad. But in Don’s eyes, Lee Garner, Jr. isn’t queer; Sal, however, is. And Don knows it because he’s seen it. He creates a vision of Sal as a lecher, implying that something more must have occurred than what Sal told him. My stomach churns when I hear Don spout, “You people” at Sal, reinforcing the cultural norm of homosexuality as a dirty, marginal position.

And so Don pushes Sal out onto those margins, booting him and his turtlenecks from Sterling-Cooper, after which Sal makes himself into exactly the kind of gay man Don thought he was as he calls Kitty from a payphone in Central Park to tell her he would be home late, just before he sets out to troll for some strange. As a person who has taken exactly one class in gay literature, let me tell you something about anonymous park sex: it never ends well. I fear for Sal. I really do.

Don, meanwhile, is incredibly restless. Connie Hilton has him on retainer for ideas at any given hour, and Don is already having trouble sleeping. He goes on an early-morning drive and spies Miss Farrell, Bowdoin Grad, jogging along the road. After a fateful conversation in the car about MLK and the changing face of the world, he drops her home, but goes out looking for her again another morning. Eventually, Don finds his way to Miss Farrell’s bed, fulfilling the expectations we’ve had for him ever since he watched her dance around the Maypole and he touched the earth upon which she trod.

Don’s work for Hilton provides a nice cover to the night he spends in Miss Farrell’s over-the-garage apartment, making love to a woman who, unlike his wife, is loud in bed and likes to be on top from time to time. Unfortunately, one of their lovemaking sessions is interrupted by Miss Farrell’s brother. She wants Don to meet him, but Don would much rather slip out the back unnoticed. Part of the fun of an affair, after all, is that no one knows. And Miss Farrell’s brother can easily see how uncomfortable Don is with the situation. It’s obvious to him that guys like Don prefer to keep a public face and a private face, but Miss Farrell insists Don isn’t like that at all.

It’s clear then that even though she thinks he knows him, she only knows him about as well as Betty does. Don has a secret drawer in his desk at home where he’s been squirreling away all of his cash bonuses, as well as all evidence of his former life as Dick Whitman. And its an unfortunate accident that Don’s carelessness — interrupted by Eugene’s cries as he stashed his latest bonus away — made him leave his secret keys in his bathrobe, which Betty later found tumbling around in the dryer on laundry day. As I think any curious person would do, she opened the drawer and found the money and a box of items belonging to a man she absolutely doesn’t know. Photos. Dog tags. Divorce certificates. Deeds. Each item dissolving her image of Don further and further into nothingness. Her first instinct seems to be fear, instructing Carla to take the children out of the house as though she had just discovered Don was a serial killer and her family had to be protected during the confrontation. But when Don didn’t return and instead returned to the arms of his lover, her fear and confusion turned to rage, which she tried to mask when Don called her from work the next morning, donning one of his stash of fresh white shirts and instructing her to be ready to be the perfect accessory for his arm at the Sterling-Cooper anniversary party that evening.

We dont like you very much either, Don.

We don't like you very much either, Don.

I don’t know how this show has done it, but I really don’t like Don very much anymore. Suddenly, I hate him as much as Betty does. I, too, would be nearly unable to move in that icy sheath, preparing to put on a face to meet the faces that I’d meet, had I found out my husband was not at all the man I thought I knew. The image of Don and Betty as that couple on top the wedding cake is not simply beginning to show cracks in its foundation, but has completely fallen down. Though they sit together at the anniversary party, there is nothing about them that seems whole or connected, and there’s a part of you that wishes Betty hadn’t given up on her affair with Henry Francis because then, in some way, she and Don would be a bit more level.

Meanwhile, at Sterling-Cooper, Paul and Peggy are competing for jobs. Kinsey is angry that Don doesn’t like his writerly idea to sell Aquanet, fearing that with each “And then” the ladies at home will misunderstand. Peggy distills Paul’s idea into its essence, a pithy version of his narrative made for the short attention span of a television viewer. And Kinsey, ever jealous, hates her for this. The two work late, but separately, on Western Union, Peggy speaking off-the-cuff into her Dictaphone while Paul gets soused and distracted from work by jacking off to the Maidenform ad. (I’d like to add here that the version of the Maidenform ad he pulls from his desk is the Dyna Moe rendering. She’s the awesome lady who helped you all MadMenYourself prior to this season.) Unable to concentrate, Paul strikes up a conversation with Achilles the janitor and happens upon the best idea of his career . . . only he gets too drunk, falls asleep and fails to write it down, losing the idea forever because the “faintest ink is better than the fondest memory.”

Before their meeting with Don, Peggy sympathizes with Paul’s plight and encourages him to tell Don what happened. When indeed he does, Don isn’t upset. He understands what it’s like to lose an idea. And it’s here that Peggy spins her magic. She remembers the Chinese saying and posits that a telegram is something you can save, unlike a phone call, which is so temporal that it disappears from existence the minute it’s finished. Paul is stunned at her quick wit, and realizes that she really is this good and her gender hasn’t unfairly endeared her to Don as he previously supposed. Don likes the idea, too, and urges the two to keep working on it.

All this in the midst of a massive change at Sterling-Cooper: the Brits are putting the 40-year-old ad agency up for sale, which means Lane Pryce might get to give his shrewish wife her wish to return to London. Maybe Betty can go with them. She can get a real nanny and a pram there.

Stray thoughts:

  • Why is Don being such a dick these days? He’s so mean to everyone at Sterling-Cooper that it’s become a point of mirth in my house.
  • “There is no deadline. Give me work as you think of it. I need more ideas to reject.” — Don
  • “America is wherever you look, wherever we’re going to be.” — Hilton
  • “Your work is good, but when I say I want the moon, I’ll get the moon.” — Hilton
  • Don has had an awful lot of fateful conversations with people in cars: the grifters who rob him, Miss Farrell, her epileptic brother . . . it feels very Kerouac.
  • “There was nothing and then there was it and then there was nothing again.” — Kinsey providing us with one of Mad Men’s most existential lines
  • I really, really, really enjoy Roger’s mom. Truly.
  • I feel like these two lines from the people cheating on Betty bear some weight on her situation:
    “The truth is that some people may see things differently, but they don’t really want to.” — Don
    “People are ignorant. They’re scared of things they don’t understand.” — Miss Farrell

The Wife:

Clearly, I’ve grown up in a post-feminist world. I write a lot about alternative empowerment on this blog, in relation to this show in particular and spend a lot of time looking at Joan as such a figure, pinning my hopes for the advancement of the sex on Peggy (just as her secretary once did) and often being completely horrified by Betty.

Last night, I was completely horrified by the depiction of birth in the 1960s. I live in a world where pregnancy and maternity is celebrated as a holistic and spiritual experience. I am aware that there are those who don’t see midwives and doulas and who choose to give birth under the cold hard glare of hospital lights, but even those hospital lights are a lot more friendly now than they used to be. Betty’s birth experience, even on her third child, is so clouded by “pain-reducing” drugs that she is not even mentally present in the experience. There’s a part of me that can only see the nurse in these scenes as a torturer, drugging Betty and instructing her to think “of the beauty salon,” only to wake hours later from her delusions, swearing at her philandering husband and then, finally, to wake, seemingly unphased, with a tiny boy in her arms, as though none of that unpleasantness had ever occurred.

Not quite liking what she sees.

Not quite liking what she sees.

Her drug-induced fantasies seem to be connected to an earlier event in the episode in which Sally’s teacher, Miss Farrell, by whom Don was so entranced as she danced around the maypole, calls the Drapers in to discuss Sally’s recent behavior. Ever the charmer, little Sally pushed a fat girl into a water fountain, and then got into a supremely violent girl fight. She’s also been very distressed about the assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evars. When Betty informs Miss Farrell of Grandpa Gene’s death, the teacher shows her sympathies a little too forwardly and, later that day before Don and Betty head to the hospital, calls to apologize for projecting her feelings about the loss of her father when she was eight onto the Drapers, which is also too forward for Don’s liking.

Betty’s first delusion lowers a caterpillar on a string into her hand, the colors of spring popping fresh around her and off her blouse. But even though she admires the caterpillar, she can’t help but close her hand around it. I’m choosing to read the caterpillar as an analogy for change and growth, as caterpillars eventually become butterflies, and though Betty is curious about this caterpillar, her gut instinct is to squash it, removing the possibility as music that reminds me very much of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg swirls around her. I’m sure there are dozens of other ways to read that scene, and I’d love you to share yours with me in the comments, but I like this “resistance to change” notion because it maps well onto Betty’s emotional distance and insistence on putting her father’s death behind her.

In her second delusion, she sees her father mopping up blood in the hospital, dressed as a janitor. She calls out to him, but can’t get his attention until her third delusion, in which she wanders into her kitchen and sees him there with her mother, who is soaking up the blood of Medgar Evars’ wound. (I should note here that in the description of Sally’s schoolyard fight, there is a brief insert of the child smearing blood across her face.) Just as Betty childishly squashes the caterpillar, she announces to her parents that she left her lunch pail on the school bus and she’s having a baby. Her mother coolly tends to the wound and says, “Do you see what happens to people who speak up?” If that’s not a way to ask someone to stay in the domestic prison of their own making, I don’t know what is. Her father then reasserts this fact as he encapsulates Betty’s own vision of herself. “You’re a housecat,” he says. “You’re very important and have little to do.”

What these scenes reveal to me is just how much Betty is like her daughter. Though she is a mother, she never really stopped being a child, squashing that caterpillar before it could make its metamorphosis, if you will. The death of Medgar Evars weighs heavy on both of their minds, and the presence of blood (from schoolyard fights, Evars or birth) in both Betty and Sally’s fantasy sequences speaks to both girls need for visceral experiences (which are being denied to Betty as she’s hopped up on whatever pharmaceuticals they’re giving her at the hospital), as well as the imminence of real changes taking place on the cultural landscape — changes which Sally seems willing to acknowledge, but Betty will continue to deny. When they arrive home with new baby Eugene, Francine (Hi, Cutthroat Bitch!) asks Betty what her birth was like and she replies, “It was all a fog.”

Not only is Betty’s birthing experience a fog, but so is her entire life. Some bloggers have noted that when she wakes from her slumber, she’s brought back to reality by the cries of baby Eugene. I think that’s a very generous reading to Betty, because I can’t ignore the fact that, over those cries, we hear the Umbrellas of Cherbourg music of her drug-induced labor fantasies as she floats down the hallway to the nursery, almost as if Spike Lee were directing her.

Those changes on the cultural landscape that affect the Draper ladies so are also affecting things at Sterling-Cooper. Medgar Evars fought for integration in schools and lost his life for it. It is so odd to me that, of all the folks at Sterling-Cooper, the one to take up the cause of integration would be Pete Campbell. But, always the opportunist, Pete is determined to make good on the accounts he’s been given, even though Kenny Cosgrove allegedly got all the good ones. He attempts to do some impromptu market research with elevator operate Hollis to find out why Hollis chose to buy the television he has, but Hollis is suspicious of the man and shuts down the conversation. (Interestingly, Hollis does not own a color TV . . . how do I read this?)

Pete presents his client, Admiral, with the intriguing thought that they should actually create an integrated ad campaign, with specific ads for black magazines like Ebony and Jet, and another set for white magazines. As Admiral currently has the worst TV sales amongst white people, but the highest sales in predominately black cities such as Detroit and Oakland, they could double their sales in those areas simply by actually advertising. Admiral, however, is deeply offended by Pete’s suggestion and he takes some heat from the S-C brass for it. To quote Roger Sterling, “Let me put it in account terms: Do you know how many handjobs I’m going to have to give?” That is, until Mr. Pryce realizes that integration in advertising would actually make the company more money, and money is always his bottom line.

I think, very soon, that money will also become Peggy’s bottom line, as it seems she’s seriously considering Duck’s offer to join him at Grey. Pete is less interested, as he won’t be wooed for a job at a lunch with someone else. I’m not sure he appreciated Duck’s acknowledgement of the relationship Pete and Peggy once had, either, but it clearly got Peggy thinking. The scene in which Peggy brings Don a baby gift and professes that she wants everything Don has was played beautifully. Fondling those tiny leather booties, it’s clear Peggy longs for both a successful career and a family, but that as long as she’s at Sterling-Cooper that might not be possible as Pryce has put the kibosh on salary increases, in violation with the recently enacted equal pay legislation.

Stray thoughts:

  • The nurse that speaks to Sing-Sing Dennis and Don in the solarium is Yeardly Smith. For those of you who’ve never seen her face before, that’s the voice of Lisa Simpson. And seeing her weirds me out a little bit.
  • Why, no, Dennis, I don’t have nightmares about finding my way into Sing-Sing because it is remarkably easy to stay out of jail. But I can see why Don would have this nightmare, as, you know, he’s an identity thief.
  • Really, Don? Just let Betty name that kid after her father. Stop being a dick.
  • Peggy’s drink of choice is a Bloody Mary.
  • Duck is back, and he’s into turtlenecks now. How modern!
  • But what I really want to know, Duck, is where the hell is Chauncey?
  • Two great callbacks in this episode. One: Don quoting Sal quoting Balzac to Dennis in the solarium: “Our worst fears lie in anticipation.” Two: Don quoting Peggy to Pryce when questioned about movie receipts. “I’ve seen everything. You have my ticket stubs.” Everything, of course, except Bye Bye, Birdie, which surprised Peggy so much the other week.

The Wife:

This move has proven to be more challenging than we had anticipated in a number of ways, but perhaps the most salient challenge has been the loss of one of our cats. Calliope got out through a faulty screen in our new home no fewer than ten hours after she’d arrived here and we’ve yet to find her. We’ve flyered the entirety of our neighborhood, and keep checking the shelters every other day, hoping she’ll be brought in. It’s hard to watch television in the same way when you don’t have the kitty bookends you’re used to on either side of your couch. We remain confident that we will find her, and I hope that, for the time being, she’s being fed and has found a dry place to sleep. It does rain here. And I’m sure she’s not fond of that.

So because of this, it’s taken us a little bit to get back into our television watching/writing groove.

It does work out, though, that I’m pairing “Love Among the Ruins” and “My Old Kentucky Home” together. At least for Peggy, these two episodes contain another natural progression of her ever-evolving character. Lest we forget that Peggy worked her way up from secretary to copy writer with only a degree from Miss Deaver’s Secretarial College, these two episodes have her looking further forward, culturally, by emulating two of her peers.

In “Love Among the Ruins,” Peggy and the team are asked to create an ad for Pepsi’s new diet drink, Patio, which is to be shot-for-shot like the opening of Bye Bye, Birdie in which Ann-Margaret throws herself desperately at the camera. Peggy struggles with the idea, finding Ann-Margaret herself to be shrill and unappealing, but she immediately recognizes the driving force behind the campaign in her male colleague’s excitement. Ever the budding feminist, it inherently bothers Peggy that a product for women is being sold to men:

Peggy: I understand why you like this. But it’s not for you. I’m the one who’ll be buying Patio.

Harry: Oh, you’re not fat anymore.

Peggy recognizes the age old adage that sex sells, and sees Joan as a living embodiment thereof. Joan entertains some executives in the office with a casual icebreaker about how crowded the elevator was that it was like riding the subway. Peggy watches as the executives coo over Joanie and utter their disbelief that a woman like her would ever ride the subway. As a matter of fact, she doesn’t. “Well, my husband won’t let me,” Joan purrs. “It’s a figure of speech.”

Shes got a lot of living to do.

She's got a lot of living to do.

Later, Peggy tests out both of these models of forward sexuality, revealing her own desperation as she stands before her bedroom mirror, brushing her hair and bursting out into her own sad rendition of the Bye Bye, Birdie title song. Just as soon as she began crooning, she stops, and goes right back to brushing her hair. She later heads out to a college bar and tries out Joanie’s subway icebreaker, to a less generous response. Still, she catches the attention of a completely infantile man — another Pete Campbell type — and makes it the plan of her evening to seduce him. I honestly can’t decide which part I find more sad: Peggy’s ridiculously poor taste in men, or the fact that she has to dumb herself down to snag such a doucheface. I usually watch Mad Men with a reserved curiosity, sometimes with awe, but rarely do I feel the need to grab a character by the shoulders and shake some sense into her. I did, however, desperately want to do that when Peggy didn’t bother to correct this mini-Pete about the nature of her job when he asininely assumed she was merely part of the steno pool. She’s too good for this tool, isn’t she?

But Peggy doesn’t care if she’s clearly too good for this tool, as the goal of the evening is to be sexy. Borrowing a move from my playbook, she snags his burger and takes a bite, which also secures her a place in his bed, even if he’s too dense to realize the direction the evening’s taking and his friends when his friends goad him about cab fare. At his home, Peggy appears to have learned at least one lesson from fucking Pete Campbell and she refuses to have sex with mini-Pete sans condom, but they do spend their evening doing other sexy things. Peggy then wins back any respect I had lost for her by trying to sneak out while mini-Pete slept. Even though he wakes, she says her goodbyes to this manchild she never intends to see again with a completely insincere assertion that they should do this again sometime.

What’s most striking for me about Peggy’s sexual tryst is the fact that she walks into the office the next day with barely a hint that anything had happened the night before at all. The minute Don walks in, she approaches him and gets straight to work. Somehow, enacting a certain type of femininity — the type of femininity Peggy somewhat disdains — has enabled Peggy to be one of the boys. Now she, too, has her private dalliances, and she can push them aside entirely without attaching any emotion to them at all. I’d say that’s definitely following Don’s advice to “leave some tools in your toolbox.”

In the following episode, Peggy, Kinsey and some brand-new copywriter, Smitty, are stuck working on a Bacardi Rum campaign over the weekend while the rest of the office heads out to Long Island for a soiree (“work disguised as a good time”) hosted by Roger and Jane Sterling. Perhaps I missed it, but I couldn’t tell if this was supposed to be an anniversary party for Roger and Jane, just some silly Kentucky Derby-themed event or if it was somehow tied to Roger’s daughter’s wedding. I guess it’s not really that important, as it ended up being a work event for the S-C employees in attendance, anyway. But back at the office, Peggy’s new secretary, Olive, has also joined them for the weekend. Olive is much older than most secretaries and much more strict about her job. But she’s also fiercely loyal to Peggy, proud, in some way, to be a woman’s secretary, because she pins all her hopes for her sex onto Miss Olson.

But while Peggy is busy working, Kinsey and Smitty and busy hooking up with Kinsey’s dealer to buy some weed in order to get their creative juices flowing. Of course Kinsey, that symbol of the counterculture who dates black girls and goes on freedom rides and loves cardigan sweaters and beat poets and fought so hard against tearing down Penn Station to build Madison Square Garden in “Love Among the Ruins” before the deal fell through altogether, has a dealer. Kinsey’s dealer is an old college buddy from Princeton, who, throughout the day they spend high in the Sterling-Cooper offices reveals some hidden hatred for Paul, especially the fact that Kinsey didn’t attend Princeton on old money, but on a need-based scholarship. And moreso the fact that Kinsey has used his Ivy-League education to erase his “Pure Jersey” roots.

Despite Olive’s protestations, Peggy returns to work with Kinsey and Smitty and declares that she, too, would be interested in getting her creative juices flowing. “I’m Peggy Olson,” she declares, “and I wanna smoke some marijuana.” What follows is an amazing discussion of Paul’s past, failed brainstorming that is both punny and heavy and terrifying. I think my favorite thing uttered during this weed-fueled work retreat is this line from Kinsey, which reveals a particular dark cloud that still looms over the culture at large:

“I keep thinking about rum and I keep thinking about Cuba and I keep thinking about how we’re all going to die.”

Eventually, Peggy hits upon the right idea and excuses Kinsey and Smitty from work. She also excuses Olive, who chastises her for joining in on such illicit activities. Olive sees Peggy toking up as instantly destroying her future — a future Olive wishes she’d had an opportunity for. But Peggy, still rapturously high, takes Olive’s face in her hands and assures her, “I’m going to be fine.” And I, too, am confident that she will be.

As for Betty, she learns from her brother that their father’s dementia is getting worse and that his live-in girlfriend, Gloria, has left him. So Betty schemes to get her brother and his wife to bring Daddy down to the Draper house for a weekend in order for her to regain her place as good daughter and caretaker. William, it seems, would rather put the old man in a home so he can inherit the house. Betty spends the entire weekend pouting until Don enables her to get her way by commanding that William leave their father at the Drapers, along with the Lincoln, and that William, Judy and the kids high-tail it to the train station so they can get back home. Unfortunately, living with a man with dementia proves harder than the Draper’s anticipated when they catch him up at night, pouring all of their booze down the sink because he thinks he’s at a raid during Prohibition. (That’s why people with dementia live in care facilities, Betty! So they don’t throw out your boozahol!)

In “My Old Kentucky Home,” Grandpa Gene has another complicated adventure at the Draper house while Don and Betty head off to Roger’s party. When he finds $5 missing from his money clip, he goes on a tear throughout the house, assuming it’s been stolen. Don tries to pacify him before they leave by handing him $5 to replace what was lost, but Gene won’t have it. Everyone assumes that this is simply another one of his episodes and that he’s merely misplaced his money, but, for once, Grandpa Gene is right. His money was stolen by everyone’s favorite little fuck-up, Sally Draper. I actually hadn’t thought until just now that Sally’s actions might have been motivated out of sheer opportunism. I had thought that she’d taken the fiver the way we all steal money from our parents’ purses and wallets when we’re little. What’s $5? They go to work every day and make money. How would they ever notice that $5 is gone? I thought it was done out of innocence, which naturally turned into a way for Sally to seek affection from someone who paid attention to her when she heroically “found” the missing money and returned it to her grandfather. But now I think there was a hint of cruelty in this, too. Little Sally may be a massive fuck-up, but she’s clearly an observant creature. Surely she thought that, of all the people to steal from, Grandpa Gene would be the least likely to notice because sometimes he thinks he’s at a Prohibition-era raid. It’s different than taking $5 from Betty’s purse because to steal from her mother’s icy neglect isn’t preying on her disease to get what you want. I now think that Little Sally is little better than Betty’s brother, or Betty herself, in terms of manipulating her relationship with her family members to suit her needs.

Cest magnifique!

C'est magnifique!

Although many things happen during an episode (or two!) of Mad Men, the last plot I’d like to discuss is Joanie’s dinner party. I’m obviously very sad to hear that she’s actually married to her fiancé-doctor-rapist, because that guy’s a tool, but I was happy to see that Joanie has completely taken the reins in their relationship in the same undermining way she handles the boys at Sterling-Cooper. When throwing a dinner party for some of Greg’s colleagues, Joan discusses the seating arrangements with her husband, only to have him throw a fit about where guests expect to be seated versus where they are actually seated. Joan insists that her arrangements follow Emily Post’s rules of etiquette for formal dinner parties, but Greg will have none of it.

Greg: I don’t want to have a fight right now.

Joan: Then stop talking.

She diffuses the situation by suggesting that they make dinner a buffet, allowing the guests to sit wherever they want. This seems to be a skill only Joan has: the ability to diffuse situations without losing any of her upper hand, and providing solutions that allow the other combatant to feel like they’d made that decision themselves.

But for all of the power I see in Joan’s subtlety, there’s something very darkly wrong in her happy hostess game, true. There’s only so much of it that’s her will before it becomes what pleases Greg: Joanie, playing her squeezebox like an organ grinder’s monkey, and singing “C’est Magnifique,” performing the kind of femininity she’s always been so good at performing, but without any sense of power or authenticity behind it.

Other things:

  • Gee, that Pete Campbell is one swell dancer!
  • Harry’s wife complimenting Betty on her pregnancy. Cut to Trudy, trying very hard not to cry because she’s barren.
  • Another excellent cut to: Harry telling Peggy she’s not fat anymore, then cut to Don telling Betty to eat some oatmeal lest baby #3 be super fat.
  • “I just walked backwards all the way from the living room!” — Sally Draper, continuing to be super fucking weird.
  • I never want to see John Slattery in blackface ever again.
  • I loved the icy exchange of greetings between Joanie and Jane. I also loved Jane’s enormous hat.
  • Don Draper used to piss in people’s trunks.
  • As I’m currently outfitting my home in mid-century modern furniture, I proclaim that Roger Sterling’s green sofa shall one day be mine!
  • Pete Campbell, the sniveling bastard at his finest: “My great grandfather Sylas Dykeman would have turned his boat around if he’d known he’d be founding a city full of crybabies.” This, followed by his crybabyish announcement to Kinsey that “I’m going to have to tell Don about this.”
  • “My Old Kentucky Home” really made me want a mint julep.

The Wife:

There’s a certain kind of storytelling I’ve come to expect from Mad Men. It was admittedly a show that took me some time to get into. It took my husband and I forever to get through the final four episodes of season one, having TiNoed them after even taking our time to get through the first episodes of that season. (Husband Note: Not because I didn’t love them, but MM is quite intimidating television.) But those final four episodes of season one were so strong that I was wholly prepared to launch myself into this universe of careful, subtle, deliberate storytelling.

The show feels more like a novel than a television show. We’ve grown accustomed to a certain kind of story style as viewers: stories fit neatly into their hour-long format, characters are constantly moving forward, the motivations and themes within the work are very accessible. I’d be selling short a lot of great television to say that most things on TV just aren’t that deep, but not even shows with great depth tell their stories as slowly and poetically as Mad Men does.

I was happy to have “Out of Town” as a season opener. While I didn’t feel that this was one of the shows most subtle episodes, every moment of it was riveting. The producers have spoken much about how this season will really strip down the characters we’ve come to know and love/hate to answer fundamental questions like, “Who is Don Draper?”

Fittingly, the episode opens and closes with stories about birth. Don reminisces about his own less-than-upstanding origins while warming some milk to help pregnant Betty get to sleep. The Whitmans did not have a happy marriage, and Don’s mother was unable to bring a child to term, for which her husband squarely blamed her. Just barely peeking into the bedpan holding her stillborn child was almost as terrifying as the stillbirth nightmare that opens Orphan. Across town, a working girl has found herself in a troublesome situation, having offered her services to a service man for 85 cents, because he didn’t have the extra quarter to afford a rubber. She promises him then that if he got her in trouble, she’d cut his dick off and boil it in hogfat. She mutters these words to herself as she lays dying from complications during childbirth, echoing across town as Mrs. Whitman’s midwife delivers little Don Draper to her in a fruit crate.

“His name is Dick, after a wish his mother shoulda lived to see.”

Though Don meanders on his business trip in a manner befitting his birth mother, he returns home to his wife and children and tells Sally the story of her birth after scolding her for breaking the latch on his briefcase.

On a non-birth related note, I am pretty sure Sally is going to grow up to become some coked-out rock groupie for all the scoldings she gets and the childhood mistakes we’ve seen her make. Her mother announces the broken latch to Don by saying that their maid “saw Sally hitting it with a hammer. She’s taken to your tools like a little lesbian.” Don’s punishment for the broken suitcase is for Sally to find out the cost for repair and to have that amount deducted from her allowance. “I don’t get an allowance,” Sally meeps. “Then don’t break things.” Last season, she drinks herself to sleep at Sterling-Cooper. This season, she’s committing acts of violence against inanimate objects. She’s about three steps away from ODing at Studio 54, if you ask me.

Missing from this picture: Grant Shows pornstache.

Missing from this picture: Grant Show's pornstache.

But between those birth stories of the Draper family, Don and Sal jetted down to Baltimore after the firing of Burt Peterson to take over his London Fog account. A couple of very randy stewardesses, recognizing Don’s brother-in-law’s name on the tag (Betty’s brother, it seems, loves to put his name on anything he can get his hands on), invite themselves to dinner with Don and Sal, all of which is just a precursor for dalliances. It’s clear that Sal is not so used to playing the “pick-up-a-stew” game, though he puts on a show for Don, exclaiming that he’s never seen stews so eager as Lorelai and Shelly, only to let Don take the lead at dinner, letting Lorelai go back to her room alone (or with the pilot, perhaps?) while Don takes Shelly upstairs.

Having caught the eye of an attractive bellhop during a brief glance in the elevator, Sal takes a chance and “breaks” his air conditioner to get the young man up to his room. Sal has been one of my favorite characters on this show, and my favorite episode from last year involved his flirtation with “author” Ken Cosgrove in “The Gold Violin.” I was so much more excited to see Sal finally get a little action, rather than sitting at home pretending he’s happily married to his beard, and I thought back to a line he tossed out at the London Fog meeting as he writhed in ecstasy: “Our worst fears lie in anticipation. That’s not me. That’s Balzac.” But it is Sal. His entire life is lived on the down low, both fearing and desiring to give in to his homosexual attractions.

But a slightly-too-convenient fire drill prevents Sal from fully giving in, just as it keeps Don and Shelly from cheating on their respective significant others. (Honestly, I think Shelly reminds Don just a little too much of the Betty he married . . . the hopeful model. Not the one who breaks chairs and gets upset over serving Heineken.) As Don descends the fire escape, he pauses outside Sal’s window and sees his companion redressing, as well as the young bellhop hurriedly handing him his pants. Don, being a gentlemen, doesn’t cause a scene about what he’d just witnessed. Instead, ever the clever ad man, he saves his advice for Sal for a London Fog sales pitch on the plane ride home. He describes the ad he’d like to see, a woman in a short trenchcoat, standing before a businessman on the train. Her coat is open. “Her legs are bare,” Don continues. “We know what he’s seeing. ‘Limit Your Exposure.’” Sal knows just as well as we do that this pitch is also a warning. He gulps back all of his anticipatory fears. “Yes,” he breathes. “That’s it.”

Back at the home office, the British Invasion is in full swing. Pryce appreciates Bert Cooper’s new hentai painting, not because he agrees with Cooper’s vision of ecstasy, but because he sees it as a metaphor for what his company is doing to Sterling-Cooper. That painting isn’t about giving oneself over, but about being overthrown. And Pryce is executing that notion by firing loads of people . . . and playing chess with others.

Case #1: Pete Campbell is named Head of Accounts to replace Burt Peterson. I suppose he’s gotten over the world of hurt Peggy threw on him at the end of last season, because he immediately calls Trudy (who has given up on having a baby and has decided to throw her worth into charity functions) who happily shares his joy. Unfortunately for my favorite sniveling bastard, Kenny Cosgrove has also been named Head of Accounts. Neither one of them is told that they’ll be sharing the job, but both are eager to subtly gloat to one another through subtext-laden conversations in elevators about how they admire one another’s work and think they’d each be good for the job.

There’s really nothing funnier to me than indignant Pete Campbell, and throughout all of his conversations with Ken, I kept thinking back to a line of his from season one when trying to return a duplicate wedding item. The item in question is a chip-n-dip, a new bit of entertaining ware from the 60s that he constantly has to explain to the men he works with. His indignance is always wearing this mask of civility, though, so whenever I think of Pete Campbell, I feel like the best way to explain the kind of man he is is simply to grit your teeth and say, “It’s. A chip-n-dip,” in the clipped way only Vincent Kartheiser can. I was waiting here for his chip-n-dip reveal, and it came in the first Heads of Accounts meeting in which Ken, being empty-headed as usual, thought nothing of Pete’s presence and was merely happy to write down his list of clients, bobbing along to the lilt of Joan’s voice. But Pete sat across the table from Kenny, utterly livid, unable to hold back his anger and letting his mask of civility slip.

Case #2: Pryce has brought with him his secretary, Mr. John Hooker, who insists, of course, on being addressed among the other secretaries as Mr. Hooker, not as John, because, frankly, he’s not that kind of secretary. Pryce and Hooker are like an acting dream team imported from FOX. Pryce is played by Fringe’s Jared Harris, while Hooker is played by the adorable Ryan Cartwright from Bones, who, in my mind, will always be referred to as Mr. Nigel-Murray. (Cartwright, it seems, enjoys playing characters who enjoy being referred to with a degree or two of formality.)

Mr. Hooker is distracting Peggy’s secretary, which makes Peggy angry, and making ludicrous demands of Joan, regarding his method of address, how he won’t do his own typing (making Peggy’s secretary do it for him, actually) and demanding his own office. He’s sort of a douchemeat, really, but Cartwright’s voice is just so adorable I can’t help but love him. Maybe Lola’s right: there really is something about that accent that makes you want to listen to him read the phone book.

It’s great to have this show back. I’ve missed looking at gorgeous suits and beautifully furnished rooms. And on a fashion-related end note, what am I to make of the fact that Trudy’s black hat mimics the hairstyle of the girl being ravished by an octopus in Cooper’s hentai painting?