Don spends a good amount of time in this week’s Mad Men wandering aimlessly around the Sterling Cooper & Partners office, and for a while, I worried that his seeming lack of purpose in that setting was an unintentional allegory for Jon Hamm’s in the episode.
After all, Hamm is an actor we’ve seen deliver stunningly beautiful monologues and sell heartbreaking lows; though I realize his every scene can’t be Emmy submission fodder, watching him marinate in the mundane seemed a waste.
Then, the episode’s final scene came along, and suddenly, everything became clear. This Don, who waits semi-patiently, flipping through magazines and looking at pictures of Ken’s dumb kid, is a different man than the one who was ordered out of SC&P at the end of 1968.
Is he a better man? Jury’s still out – although he makes his case for “being good” at several points during the installment, we’ve all been down Draper’s road of redemption before… and we know how many booze-and-girls-filled rest stops there are along the way. But I almost don’t care whether he’s dry or soaked in Scotch, virtuous or knee-deep in stewardesses – because Don is back at the firm, and maybe now we can get back to business as usual.
Read on for how things went down in “Field Trip.”
THE END… AGAIN | Alan Silver, Megan’s agent in California, has some troubling news for Don: When Megan felt she bombed an audition, she made an embarrassing nuisance of herself trying to get another shot with the director. “You have to tell her to relax,” Alan informs Don, who looks as flummoxed by the task as the agent seems. So Don flies to the West Coast, surprises his wife with flowers and a little couch sex – “What happened? You get fired?” she jokes upon seeing him in her bungalow – but quickly flies into a post-coital rage when he reveals that Alan called him. (Psst, Don: You saying that she’s “acting like a lunatic” probably doesn’t soothe any hurt feelings.)
Pretty soon, they’re arguing about their marriage in general, with Megan demanding to know why it’s so quiet when he calls. “I was your secretary, remember? I know what you’re like when you’re left alone,” she spits. He confesses that he’s been “on leave” since December and tries to earn a gold star by noting, “I’ve been good! I haven’t even been drinking that much!” (Fantastic take on that line, Hamm.) What he doesn’t realize is how deep he’s dug his hole. “So with a clear head, you got up every day and decided you didn’t want to be with me,” Megan infers, moments before throwing him out and telling him to go back to New York. “This is the way it ends. It’s going to be so much easier for both of us.”
Later in the episode, Don calls and apologizes. He wants to come back out and see her. “I can’t believe, after all this time, you don’t know me,” she says tearfully, turning him down and refusing to echo his “I love you” before she hangs up.
OH MOO SHE DIDN’T | Betty (!!) lunches with her pal Francine, who’s working three days in an office as a travel agent. As her kids get older, Francine says, “There’s less and less to do. I really needed a challenge.” Betty sniffs that Gene’s still too young for her to even consider such a thing, and aren’t kids rewards in their own right? (Subtext: FRANCINE, BETTY JUDGES YOU.)
When Bobby’s class needs chaperones for a field trip to a farm, Betty volunteers. Bobby beams throughout most of the day, even as his mom chain-smokes her way through the morning and makes snide comments about his teacher’s lack of a bra. (Subtext: BOBBY’S TEACHER AND HER BOOBS, BETTY JUDGES YOU.) The little boy seems incredibly happy to have 15 consecutive minutes of time in which his mom isn’t making him feel like manure… until lunch rolls around. Bobby boneheadedly trades Betty’s sandwich for some gumdrops, a crime she will not let him forget as even after they get home. (Subtext: BOBBY… eh, you already know the deal with your ice-queen mom.)
When Henry asks what’s the matter, Betty wonders why her kids don’t love her. (Side note: I’d put passive-aggressive statements like, “It was a perfect day, and he ruined it” at the top of my list, Bets.) Henry assures her she’s wrong and points to Gene, who’s cozied up next to her like a milk-drunk kitten. She sighs it’s only “a matter of time” before he can’t stand her, too.
BACK IN THE FOLD | Another dinner with Dave Wooster nets Don an offer from Wells Rich Greene, which Don takes directly to Roger’s place and demands to know whether or not he should accept. They yell a bit, but their lovers’ spat ends on a touching note. “You want to come back? Come back. I miss you,” Rog tells his sometime co-worker.
So on Monday morning, Don arrives at the office… only to find that Roger’s not there yet. This means Draper must bide his time in the creative workroom, listening to Ginsberg parse a campaign, getting ogled by the secretaries and having very stilted interactions with the other employees – namely, Joan (Side note: Anyone else a little surprised by how vehemently she argues against his reinstatement?) and Peggy, who informs him, “I can’t say that we miss you.”
COMEBACK, KID? | When Roger shows up, he, Joan, Jim and Bert meet about their Draper dilemma: Keep him and run the risk of him going bananas with a client (a la the Hershey pitch) or oust him and buy out his shares of the company, a not-cheap endeavor? Finally, they call Don into the conference room with their decision: He can come back, as long as he agrees to stipulations. Some of the strictures just make sense (like how he can’t drink in the office unless he’s entertaining a client), some seem like an overreaction (such as how he must stick to an approved script when he’s with clients… and he can never be alone with clients) and some seem designed to make him balk and walk away (he’ll be in Lane’s office of sadness, and he has to report to Lou?!).
Don considers it all, then simply says, “OK.”
And with those two syllables, Mad Men considerably ups my interest in this season. Don – and the series — are best when he’s in the office, doing his thing, however well or badly. And now we’ll get to see how well SC&P’s prize show pony dances when his bridle is tightened. Now, who wants to put money on the probability of a Draper-Olson throwdown in the next episode or so?
Now it’s your turn. Does the fact that Harry’s right about the firm’s lack of emphasis on media make him any less annoying? Is Peggy ever gonna get a Clio with her name on it? And where can I get Joan’s boots? Sound off in the comments!Follow @kimroots