Well, that was a rather bracing episode, no? After last week’s slightly confusing (and over-stuffed) opener, we’re now back to a more normal tale which dealt with the rules of engagement that people have and what happens when those rules get upturned or broken or changed from underneath you.
Before I begin, I do want to tip my hat again to the writers for referencing another groundbreaking work of theatre in the show. Last season, Don and Megan sat through Jean-Claude van Itallie’s American Hurrah, and this time Pete is getting bored housewives tickets for Hair, the quintessential hippie musical. (And as a side note for the theatre geeks: Yes, I know Hair opened at the Biltmore Theater on Broadway in April 1968, but the Off-Broadway run of the show closed at the end of January 1968 after moving from the Public Theater to the Cheetah Nightclub. It would be during those three months that the show would be extensively revised to what we know it to be today.)
Another theme that came up tonight that was so slight you could barely catch it. The news that was coming out of the Vietnam war at the time this episode takes place lines up with the beginning of The Tet Offensive. Again, another example of agreements broken on the sly and another important example of Mad Men‘s central thesis that history doesn’t directly happen to people but like rocks in a river changes people’s lives so slightly and subtlety that they do not notice it.
Anyway, back to the main plot. Let’s talk about Don’s affair with Sylvia. It’s such a jarring thing to see Don having an affair so close to home (you will recall that Sylvia lives a floor below Don and Megan). The problem is that what was supposed to be a “fun frolic” is turning serious since their spouses keep pushing them together (that hilariously awkward dinner) and getting swept up in one another’s dramas (Megan’s miscarriage). And speaking of that miscarriage, it’s interesting how she told Don that it was a sad thing but told Sylvia that it would have been negatively affected her career.
And speaking of career women, Peggy decides to make her subordinates like her by shooting down their ideas for Clearasil and then giving them a pep talk. They respond with a nasty joke involving feminine hygiene powder. Who knows where this is going but between Peggy’s usual determination plus her encouragement of her own African-American secretary, I foresee some kind of harassment suit coming up soon.
While we’re on the subject of harassment, let’s talk about that harassing creep Herb Rennet from Jaguar. Did you all catch him pawing all over Joan again? No wonder she needed a drink. Even more annoying was his rather asinine request for more local advertising. Though I’d like to think he did it for Joan’s honor as much as he thought it was a bad idea, Don’s self-immolation of presenting Herb’s idea to the international team was a hilarious anti-Don presentation. In a way Herb reminds me of Lee Garret Jr. from Lucky Strike and what an absolute pain he was to everyone at SC (and then SCDP).
Speaking of clients, the meeting with Heinz was interesting to watch and interesting to see everyone’s reactions; from Ken perking up at the thought of poaching the business, to Don reminding him that they were told not to pursue it and staying with the one who brought you to the dance, to Stan treating it like idle gossip, to Peggy who felt bad about mentioning it, to Ted who was ready to pounce on the new business.
And while we’re talking about pouncing on things, let’s talk about the Campbell marriage. On the one hand Pete’s mistake is that he ended up having an affair with a neighbor who ended up being too much for him to deal with. On the other hand, he has seriously underestimated his wife. It was hard not to cheer Trudy on as she basically went to work on cutting him off at the knees in light of his affair being exposed. Major kudos to Allison Brie for playing that scene beautifully and delivering a devastating threat to Pete: “I’m drawing a fifty mile radius around this house, and if you so much as open your fly to urinate, I will destroy you.”
Finally, we had another flashback to the unhappy childhood of Dick Whitman, who peaked through a keyhole to see his stepmother having sex with “kindly” Uncle Mack. Let’s see if I have my timeline correct about this: after Archie Whitman died, Abigail and Dick went to live with Ernestine and Mack. This means that Abigail was pregnant with Adam at the time (which would mean that Adam and Dick would be step-brothers once removed as opposed to half-brothers that we thought they were). As to what this whole interlude meant, I have no clue. But I do know that (a) there are no wasted scenes in this show, and (b) that this whole episode was filled with strange bedfellows.