It’s interesting reading other critics reactions to any episode of Mad Men, because everyone comes away with different themes that they hang their hat on. And while this episode definitely dealt with themes of duality (Margarine vs. Butter, Don vs. Ted, Corinne vs. Colette) and themes of safety nets and trying to recapture the past, for me it came down to women who have been on top so far this season coming down, while women who have had a rough time of it moving forward to great success.
Let’s start with the good news of the episode; Mrs. Betty Frances (née Hofstadt, formerly Draper) is back in fighting form! First she ended up flirting with a random guy at Henry’s event (which totally turned Henry on!), then she ended up having ex-sex and a decent heart to heart with her former husband. The thing about Betty has always been that when she’s feeling confident (which is still sadly based on her looks), she’s always been a lot more open and honest about her needs and opinions. When she and Don have their “for old times’s sake” fling, she is in a place where she can cut through all of Don’s epic amounts of bullshit and say what she really thinks of him and his current state of affairs. “That poor girl. She doesn’t know that loving you is the worst way to get to you.” This wasn’t meant to be mean but it is laser accurate. And how delicious was it that she was able to join Henry and Bobby for breakfast the next day and not lose any sleep over her previous night’s activities.
Speaking of “that poor girl,” the current Mrs. Draper was having a rough time of it on the set of To Have And To Hold, not being able to differentiate between the twins Colette and Corinne (there’s that pesky dualism theme again). On top of her work difficulties and her home life with a distant man, Megan found herself on the receiving end of Arlene’s sexual advances. Megan’s lucky that her rebuffing of her boss doesn’t blow back in her face.
Meanwhile, Joan was on fire this week. Much to the chagrin of the men in her life, she is moving on and moving forward; first calmly dealing with Pete’s needs (and turning down his offer for dinner), then making it very clear to Roger that he is not welcome in their… I mean, HER son’s life. Basically she makes it clear that there is one child in her life and she can’t handle two.
Finally, there was that other poor girl as Peggy Olson had the absolute worst few days ever. It’s bad enough that Don is treating her with contempt, but now she has Ted freaking out at her over his own feelings, and leading her on. That, combined with the poor apartment she got talked into by her ever-entrenched in the counterculture boyfriend dove her to accidentally stabbing Abe with a homemade bayonet. Ever since the beginning of the season it has been clear that Peggy and Abe have been moving in opposite directions, but nothing prepared me for the bleakly comic moment when Abe, knife still in his stomach, broke up with Peggy in the ambulance. At the end of it all, Abe, Ted, and Don have all closed the door on our Miss Olson. Not for nothing is the last shot of the episode Peggy alone in the office, shut out of the collaboration between Don and Ted. She had better figure out a game plan quickly or she’ll be tossed aside. As Duck Phillips rightfully said “Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Cutler Gleason Chaugh – What’s your place in it?”
– Speaking of Duck Phillips, how odd was it to see him back (and sober!) and actually giving some good advice to Pete. And while it’s heartening to see Pete actually worry about his family life, Duck’s advice was dead on when he said that there were too many chiefs at SCDPCGC.
– And of course Harry Crane would use Duck’s new position as a head hunter for validation.
– Megan… I mean Colette’s crocheted body suit! Wow!
– “I can’t have a four year old under the care of another four year old!” Margaret may have been a bitch but she is frighteningly accurate about Roger.
– Okay, let’s talk about Bob Benson. Ass kissing and permanent two cups of coffee to one side, there’s something going on about him. Is it weird when he made the recommendation about the nurse to Pete saying that he “nursed his father back to life,” he basically contradicted his earlier story to Ken about how his father had passed away? Granted these might have been at different parts of his life but it also goes further to the notion that he probably shouldn’t be trusted. While there have been many theories about Bob’s place in the story (corporate spy? illegitimate relation to someone on the staff?) there is one theory that I can get behind; that Mr. Benson might be gay. His scenes with Joan are oddly devoid of any sexual tension and he seems to be genuinely nice to her. It’s also odd that Joan would say of Pete in that scene “He’s the only one who ever told me the truth.” It will be interesting to see where this goes.
– Finally, did you catch all of the sirens going off in so many of the scenes that were outside in the city? One of the main points of Mad Men according to creator Matthew Weiner is showing the decline of New York City through the 1960s as it went from glittering metropolis at the beginning of the decade to crime-infested urban blight by the decade’s end. What was disturbing was that the sirens were loudest during Megan and Don’s scene on their terrace. Maybe I’m reading too deeply into this, but something like that is usually intentional on the writer’s part and could be a very bad omen for Megan.
UPDATE: Speaking of Megan’s scene on the terrace, the inimitable Tom and Lorenzo (whose “Mad Style” series has some of the absolute best commentary on the show out there and is required reading for all fans) raised a very disturbing point when they pointed out that Megan’s t-shirt was (a) not only the same shirt worn by Sharon Tate in a photo spread for Esquire (link NSFW), but (b) was also an intentional costuming choice by the show’s costume designer Janie Bryant (as she admitted on Twitter). That, combined with all of the stabbing imagery so far this season, is a very disturbing implication. (Click here to see what I’m talking about for those who don’t know their history.)