What a very, very weird episode this was. Not that I’m complaining; i personally love it when Mad Men goes a little wonky. But even by its own standards, this episode was a bit of a head scratcher. With everything from bizarre parties by the former and current Mrs. Draper, to the ghost of the very first Mrs. Draper haunting the edges, to clandestine attacs and returns to form, this episode was quite scattershot.
That said, there was a key through-line throughout the episode though. Basically everyone – from Don, to Henry, to Lou, to Megan – was trying to put various genies back in the bottle.
While last season was anchored by one of the most eventful years in history, 1969 would become one of the most divisive; where some of the most iconic moments of the decade (Neil Armstrong landing on the moon, Woodstock, The Stonewall Riots, Elvis Presley’s comeback sessions in Memphis, the release of both Midnight Cowboy and Easy Rider, etc.) would exist cheek by jowl with some of the most horrific (the bombing of Cambodia, the Altamont festival debacle, the Manson Family murders, etc.). At the center of it all is the ascendency of Richard Nixon into the Presidency (which was mentioned in the last episode of Season 6, and makes a nice in-show callback as part of Season 1 dealt with the old Sterling Cooper working on Nixon’s campaign in 1960 against John F. Kennedy). Nixon would prove to be a divisive figure at best (and at worst exacerbate the political and ideological divides that were forming in the country at this time), but he spoke to the “silent majority” that many of our lead characters are part of (in particular Don and Henry Francis who, as a high ranking member of the New York Republicans, would benefit from the reactionary results of the 1968 Presidential election). In that regard, Don has found a president that, like him, wants to return to a pre-60s simplicity. The trouble, for Nixon and Don, is that everyone else has moved on surviving (and in some cases thriving) amidst the chaos of the 60s.
The key to understanding how this plays out is to look at the second Mrs. Draper (or the current Mrs. Francis). Betty has another epically bad dinner party and it blows up in Henry’s face when her traditional conservative views on the Vietnam War contradict Henry’s more Nixonian view on exiting Vietnam. This is compounded by the fact that when they fight the next day when he tells her to let him do the thinking, she lashes out at him saying that she has her own mind. The Betty of the earlier seasons of the show would have never done that, and I mean that in a good and bad way; good, in that she’s starting to have her consciousness raised with the impending tide of feminism, but bad in that her new-found liberation exists cheek by jowl with her ultra-conservative views (witness how she reacted to Sally’s broken nose). In short, Betty is becoming a proto-Phyllis Schlafly.
Speaking of putting genies back in bottles, Megan had to contend with the fact that she wasn’t the only woman in Don’s life by running smack into the ghost of the late Anna Draper (in the form of Anna’s niece Stephanie, who has turned up pregnant and living on the street). At first Megan’s charmed but then she realizes that Stephanie knows too much (and is unnerved when she realizes that she’s wearing Anna’s wedding ring) and upset by the fact that Stephanie is living a more authentic life in Megan’s eyes (just like her actress friend said in Season 5, Megan will always have a whiff of being a dilettante because she can rely on Don’s money). Thus she does everything she can to reassert that she has Don’s undivided attention by paying Stephanie off, throwing a party full of actor friends (even shamelessly dancing with one of them) and then initiating a three way with Don and another woman. While I hardly think that this is going to be the current state of the Draper marriage (not for nothing was Paul Mazursky’s iconic film Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice released at the end of 1969 when people were becoming more experimental with their sexual mores), it’s interesting to see Megan resort to these tactics – even when she was laughing at her swinger-colleagues on the soap last season.
But maybe that little three way gave Don the mojo he needed to put a genie back in a bottle back at SC&P. Watching him walk into the meeting with Phillip Morris (thanks to a key bit of intel from Harry) and basically cut Jim and Lou off at the knees, while still making himself look good in the eyes of the Phillip Morris people with the plan of having them “force” him into service was a sight to see. In hindsight, Lou had it coming. The creatives don’t respect him one bit and when he tries to enforce order, it blows up in his face. Not only that, he deliberately pissed Don off rather than try and make an ally of him. It remains to be seen how the blowback of this will affect Don but for now he’s got Lou and Jim on the ropes and called them out for deliberately trying to get him out.
Finally, the creatives were rocked by the final unhinging of poor Ginsberg. Ever since his first appearance it’s been clear that his grip on reality was tenuous at best but this episode was when his full catalogue of neurosis were laid bare for all to see. On the one hand, he’s completely crazy (his paranoia about the computer leading to that shocking scene with him presenting Peggy his nipple). On the other hand, in that delicious way that Mad Men has layers upon layers, his phobia about the new computer is absolutely correct, given how it would drastically impact modern business. In fact, his final lines of “Get Out While You Still Can!” can almost be seen as a rallying cry. While everyone is fighting to maintain a status quo, they have to ask themselves what are they really fighting for.
* Poor Bobby and his stomach aches! Who wants to bet that it’s actually ulcers?
* Can we talk about how dirty that party was at Megan’s? It was interesting in that compared to last season’s party in Los Angeles, this was a much more down-market and dingier affair. All of which made Megan’s Pucci dress stand out amongst it all.
* Poor Stan! That look as he’s walking out with Ginsberg restrained on the gurney was heartbreaking. Who wants to bet that Stan won’t be long for this agency either?
* After all of last week’s homages to 2001: A Space Odyssey, it was interesting to note that the scene where Ginsberg is watching Lou and Jim was shot almost exactly like the scene where HAL is reading Dave’s lips.
* Speaking of homages, Lou’s cartoon Scout’s Honor and his dismissal of the cartoon Underdog is a nice callback to Chet Stover (who not only created Underdog, but was a former ad man himself; in fact Underdog was created to help sell General Mills’ cereals).
* “I heard everything! From your first fart to your last dying breath!”
* “I have a mind! I speak Italian!”
* “S-T-R-A-T-E-G-Y. Meredith, honey, I don’t want that spelled out. I just want it spelled right.”
* That little scene with Harry at the bar was pretty awesome in that (a) it’s clear that Harry respects Don, and (b) that he doesn’t respect Ted, as evidenced by Ted being referred to as a broken man, and (c) wants to do right by Don, even suggesting he move out to Los Angeles and take over for Ted.
* As awesome as it was to watch Don get all alpha male on Jim and Lou, it was rather disturbing to watch the end credits which were set to Waylon Jennings’s “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line.”
Photo Credits: AMC / Lionsgate Television