Wandering

I honestly couldn’t remember if I had blogged about last season. Apparently, I did not. Newborns and sleep-deprivation, man. That was rough!

Maybe I’ll do better this time, maybe not, but I feel like I have to try. It’s the end of an era, as my TV kept telling me.

My trusty fellow Mad Men aficionado, Michele, and I had a second viewing of “Severance” last night. Mostly because Michele had been so distracted by Roger Sterling’s mustache during the first viewing that she said she hadn’t paid attention to any of the dialogue.

I’m not really going to get into the is-Don-going-to-die thing, mostly because I’m in denial that it’s a possibility. But feel free to discuss it in the comments, should you feel so inclined. I personally would hate to see the show end that way. It would be more interesting, to me, to be left to wonder which consequences of his actions Don has yet to face.

Generally, I prefer to write my little reflections before I read what the rest of the Internet has to say about an episode – mostly because there are a lot of really smart people writing a lot better about this show, and faster than me. But Don’s confused familiarity with the waitress at the diner had me thinking we must’ve seen her before. I fell down an Internet rabbit hole, eventually to determine that, no, we didn’t.

The rabbit hole led me to a Twitter comment that mentioned Don had possibly smoked pot with the diner waitress at a party at artist-lover Midge’s apartment in Season 1 (“The Hobo Code”). After Michele and I watched the most recent episode, we looked up The Hobo Code on Netflix. Conclusion: “Di” was nowhere to be found. Wrong again, Internet.

But this most recent episode called back to The Hobo Code in several ways. That’s the problem with Mad Men; by the time the newest episodes air, I’ve forgotten all the significant stuff that happened years ago. (Just like real life.)

In that Season 1 episode, Don smokes pot and flashes back to the Depression, when a hobo stops at the farm and solicits work. The hobo teaches Don about the hobo code, a way for fellow drifters to communicate, and he tells Don that he’s one of them now. And while Don may have been in New York City most of this time, in his personal and professional life, he has been a drifter. He jumps from job to job, relationship to relationship, moving along when the consequences of his actions become too unbearable (for him or others). This was punctuated brilliantly by Rachel’s sister, who politely but coldly shot down Don when he tried to insert him into an observance of Rachel’s life – which no longer, not for a long time, included Don. Another blog that I read (and now I forget which) suggested Don had been attracted to Rachel because of her Judaism, and fascinated by the concept of a people wandering in the desert.

Besides being just an other example that showed how seedy Don’s life can be, and how he never seems to come far from his whorehouse roots, the diner scene struck me for one phrase uttered by Don, afterward: “I just want to sit here.”

It’s true that we saw him back to taking office-couch naps in the newest episodes, but really, those are just an extension of the party the night before – they’re not rest. He’s a man constantly in search of something to rescue him from mediocrity. He walks into his home, turns on the lights – is that all there is? – and turns them off again, in search of another fix. That’s why, to me, his confession to the waitress that he just wants to sit seems significant. Maybe it’s time to finally reflect on what life looks like after he’s missed his flight.

(Or not. I really have no idea.)

Peggy is adorable when she’s drunk. She’s not going to Paris. Ken will probably regret working for Dow Chemical in the 1970s (but maybe he can work all that into his novel). Joan has deep-rooted insecurities about how she reached her place at the top, even now. More Stan and his beads, please.

Resolutions

I didn’t blog about last week’s episode, and in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t try to figure it all out, because it worked much better with the season finale. (I’d like to say that was my long-term plan, but unlike “Mad Men,” I don’t have one.) I’m scribbling down my thoughts now in a hurry, and I wish I had more time to think about it. Now that the season is over, I want to rewatch it again. And then maybe I’ll finally delete the episodes from the DVR. (Sorry, honey.)

So, “wow.” That was my first reaction to the season finale.

Remember so long ago, when the season began on a beach in Hawaii, our lovers bathed in golden light? Nearly all the major scenes in this episode happened in the darkened bedrooms, bars, jail cells, and conference rooms, including the one in which Megan, the one who has tried to look past all Don’s demons, has finally had enough.

I know a lot of people never liked Megan to begin with, and I’ve been sort of on the fence, but now I’m finding I’m a little reluctant to see her go. As a foil to Don, one who spoke the truth to him when he needed to hear it, she has been a welcome character.

Megan has been an outsider in so many ways. At SCDP, she was the exotic flower who brightened up the lobby. To Don’s kids, she was the calming governess who sang in French. (At least she was, until Sally hit puberty.) Now she’s finally realizing she’s an outsider in her own marriage. Of course, we saw in the finale how out of touch she is with who her husband really is. “You can have one before dinner,” she tells him as he pours an evening drink. Does she not realize that he’s been drinking since he wakes up? Or is she just burying her head? Whatever the case, when he plainly states, “Megan. I love you,” it’s too little, too late.

The escalation of Don’s alcoholism in this season has been hard to watch, as it has been every time he falls off the wagon, but it really rings true. “Don has difficulties” was the hilarious understatement of a synopsis provided for this episode. I felt a little bored last week during the penultimate episode. I was not bored this week; instead, I felt tense the entire time. I have heard some people were disappointed there wasn’t a huge surprise, but to me, Don finally reaching some level of self-awareness was a surprise! Sorry to those of you who were hoping Megan would get whacked!

Betty breaking down on the phone and Don calling her “Birdie” — arresting. Don’s meltdown in front of the Hershey’s executives — heartbreaking. But the moment that really struck me was when he looked right at Dawn’s face as he was leaving the office before Thanksgiving and called her “Sweetheart.” It was as if he finally noticed her… and everyone around him. Everyone he’s stomped all over — Ted, Peggy, his children, Megan, Stan, most recently.

He shows up for the emergency Thanksgiving meeting on time, to the surprise of the partners. The Twitterverse was irritated that Joan and Roger stayed silent, but what has Don done for them lately? Don and Roger stayed silent in an earlier episode when Harry basically called Joan a prostitute for how she landed Jaguar; later, Don fired Jaguar and expected Joan to kiss his feet. What has Don done for his old pal, Roger? Well, he vomited into an umbrella stand at Roger’s mother’s funeral. Roger knows where his bread is buttered, and right now, it’s with aligning himself with the majority.

The mystery of are-Peggy-and-Ted-or-aren’t-they was finally revealed. Ted obviously was familiar with Peggy’s apartment, and he took off that dress like he’d done it before. I think Don, like Ted, has been revealed as a true-to-life character this season. Usually through little hints: his need to take risks, his intolerance to alcohol (at least in relation to Don), his interactions with his wife and kids, his remark to Don about his father trying to quit drinking. I was a little afraid he would try to ship Peggy off to California, but he took the high road, or at least the highest road left to for a man who really is trying, desperately, to do the right thing. His explanation to Peggy that she would be glad he’d made the decision might end up being true, but it is no less chauvinistic, as Peggy rightfully pointed out.

This season has really focused on Peggy’s love life, which, I’ll grant, is really entertaining. (She stabbed Abe!) I’m really hoping the next season will show more of Peggy the creative worker. Obviously, the shot in the final moments of Peggy in a pantsuit, Drapering in Don’s chair, points to that. But “Mad Men” has fooled us before. A friend of mine pointed out (via Twitter — yo, Brian!) that Peggy’s really going to hate Don now for sending Ted to California in his place. They say looking good is the best revenge. Peggy looks good; Don looks like hell. Peggy smells like Chanel No. 5; Don smells like the bottom of a jail cell. Peggy’s sitting in his chair; Don’s been sent packing, at least until he gets his shit together. I’d say she might go on hating him, but she’s certainly on track to best him. Peggy has been mimicking Don all season. Remember when she was house-hunting and looked out over the bright city, and a few scenes later, Don looks off his dark balcony?

Pete deserves his own mention. “NOT GOOD, BOB!” instantly made it on my short list of favorite quotes (which I’ll share sometime soon). I also giggled inappropriately at his, “She always loved the sea.” Those sentimental Campbell boys. Pete’s problem has conveniently taken care of itself, apparently, and the poor guy can’t even decide how to feel. How sad is he now, though? His mother’s things are being piled up in the living room where he never even spends his time; his daughter will barely know him. What sort of empty life will he have in California? Most likely, the same sort of empty life he’s had in New York. As Trudy pointed out, at least he’s starting to realize it now.

The final shot of the episode, of Don showing his kids where he grew up? I loved it. Made up for any shortcomings this season (and really, I don’t think there were too many, although I’m sure some will disagree). I loved that it ended on a hopeful note, but my optimism doesn’t really extend to the final season. Don with his life together? Well, that doesn’t seem very dramatic. Maybe it’d be shocking in and of itself.

I might come back and add more thoughts as I think of them. In the meantime, a couple tidbits:

Really, no Ginsberg in the finale? What’s all that been going, then?

Friend Amy pointed out that Bob Benson’s frilly apron deserves a mention!

Thoughts? Love, hate, ambivalent — and predictions for Season 7?

 

The kids’ table

I’ve been reading a big ol’ book about WWII, and it’s basically 350 pages of vignettes; one brief anecdote after another, occasionally connected, but usually not. It’s interesting, but exhausting.

That’s how I felt about the first 45 minutes of this episode, and last week’s, too. Too many plots, too many glimpses, when really, I just wanted a meaty story. Finally, though, everything came into focus — and doesn’t Sally Draper wish it hadn’t!

sally keys

I’ll save that for last. Let’s start with my girl Peggy.

“It will shock you how much this never happened,” Don told Peggy after she gave birth to Pete’s baby in secret*. Over the years, I’ve felt a little shocked myself at how much it never happened. Both Peggy and Pete seemed to have developed a remarkable ability to bury that piece of their pasts.

I thought the tipsy moment they shared over was the perfect way to acknowledge that, yes, occasionally it does cross their minds. (I’m assuming it crosses Peggy’s more often.) Please note: This is not me condoning, in any way, shape, or form, the possibility of a rekindling of what could barely be called a “relationship” between these two. Peggy. Please. You can do better.

Ted seemed happy to be there, but when he returned to the table after making a call and intruded on Pete and Peggy’s private moment, he looked uncomfortable. In the full context of the episode, that moment seemed to be one of several that drove Ted away from the office and pushed him toward his neglected home life. His home life, from the glimpses we get, is not something to escape. Then again, neither was Don’s, or Pete’s, or any of the many other homes we’ve seen break up over the course of the show. Unlike those examples, though, Ted seems to realize it, and possibly not too late.

Was he ever in love with Peggy? It’s hard to say, based on the little screen time these two get. To me, it smacked of infatuation, by a guy with a history of getting swept up in new adventures and risks. He’s coming down to Earth. It amused me that he still had to make a  grand gesture to secure Don’s promise for the office battle to end. (Don, rightfully, has no idea what he’s on about, because of course, Don’s main battle is with his own demons, not Ted.  Can you imagine early Don Draper jeopardizing an account with GENERAL-FREAKING-MOTORS over a personal issue with his former mistress?)

Peggy doesn’t seem to be too hurt by Ted’s waning affection in the long run. I died at her late-night phone call with Stan. I hope she names her cat after him.

One thing I really liked about this episode was the theme of the innocence of children. Sally and her friend are obsessed with Junior Rosen; they completely miss the undertones of tension during the meeting in the lobby, when Sylvia arrives and sweeps him out of the building. Ted’s children, climbing over his back and eating cereal on their parents’ bed, seemingly serve as a reminder to him that here is where he belongs. They don’t pick up on any of the tension between their parents.

The best example is the final scene in the Draper apartment, when sloppy drunk Don stumbles in after his bender. Obviously, he hasn’t come to any conclusions about how to deal with Sally’s discovery. Julie and Megan continue with their dinner, assuming the war is about something else, ignorant to the major drama of the day. Sally has become an adult, yet Megan is lumped in with the innocent children.I really didn’t see the subplot of Arnold and Sylvia’s son being so important, in so many ways, until the pivotal moment when Sally looked up and saw… oh, poor Sally! I’m still not sure why Sylvia deserves so much of Don’s devotion, and maybe she doesn’t, and that’s just, finally, the fickle nature of love working on him. She alluded to this when she told him on the phone that he was better to her than she was to him.

Leftovers:

  • Bob Benson, I’ll tell you what I told Peggy: Please. You can do better than Pete Campbell.
  • At least someone loves Pete!
  • I sort of want to watch the earlier episodes of this season again, to look for glimpses of this Benson-Campbell infatuation. What exactly has Pete done to be so desirable?
  • Tom & Lorenzo make the weird connection that the two main gay characters on the show, Sal and Bob, have the same names as Sally and Bobby. Whaaa?
  • Did the doorman ever get his keys back after Sally dropped them in Sylvia’s apartment? (Practical detail that nagged at me!)

*I forgot all about another of Don’s lines in Peggy’s postpartum scene: “Move forward,” the same words Peggy used on him earlier this season.

Talk amongst yourselves!

Whiskey in your water

What in the holy name of Anna Draper was that? No guarantees, but I’ll try to be a little more sophisticated than I was in my text message to dear friend and loyal reader Michele:

Photo May 20, 10 08 03 AM

My husband wasn’t paying enough attention during “The Crash,” to my tastes, so I turned to the loving arms and equally hysterical arms of Twitter. I don’t know about you, but about the time Minny Jackson showed up in Don’s apartment, I was

Let’s look at this sequence of events in the cold, sober light of day.

  • Don is exhausted, in mind and heart.
  • Don, a 40-year-old man, chooses to take the injection from Harry Hamlin’s quack doctor, despite not knowing what’s in it.
  • Don trips the trippiest trip that ever was tripped.*
  • Don flakes on the Chevy account.
  • Don’s obsession with Sylvia leads him to leave his home unattended (and his door unlocked, in hopes she’ll return?) and the safety of his children is compromised.

All these actions begin win Don. But when Don returns to earth, presumably feeling even more exhausted in mind and heart, he lays the blame at the feet of everyone else:

“Every time we get a car, this place turns into a whorehouse.” 

Conclusion: Don still doesn’t understand that actions have consequences. The Tin Man discovered his heart, though, so that’s something?

Part of me felt that a lot of this goes back to Peggy. I’m not saying that Peggy is a stand-in for Sylvia or anything like that. We saw that Sylvia is a twisted mother figure to Don, down to the headscarf she wears at home that matches the headscarf in the soup ad that became Don’s obsession. 

But as the shot took effect, Peggy, touching Ted’s arm in comfort, was Don’s last sober sight. Don hasn’t been the same since Ted and Peggy came on board and Don saw the way she had slipped into the role of caretaker to Ted — presumably without the adversarial undertones that came with her similar relationship with Don. Her dynamic with Don has changed, and he can’t seem to handle it. “Change isn’t good or bad. It just is.” Season 3 Don laughs in Season 6 Don’s bewildered face. The world is changing, and Don’s bad trip show he’s not up for that ride, either. Peggy sees this, and I feel like there’s a sense of longing on both their parts for the old days. She seems regretful that the relationship has changed, but resolute.

I’m curious to know what others thought of this episode! As disorienting as it was, the more I think about this episode, the more I think it was great. It had an undertone of sadness that couldn’t be eclipsed, at least permanently, by any pharmaceuticals.

Uncategorized observations:

  • Peggy Olson is always the classiest person in the room. This time, it’s when she refused to bad-mouth her departed boss. “I liked him.”
  • Peggy and Stan!?** I wanted it to happen, but I didn’t, and was so relieved it didn’t happen, and

  • Betty is back to blond and skinny. “Henry is running for office!” Yes, sweetie, we assumed.
  • Clearly Megan as Maria von Trapp is long gone, but she didn’t deserve Betty’s “casting couch” dig.

*What kept running through my mind was Three Dog Night’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come” (written, as so many good songs are, by Randy Newman). “Don’t know what it is, but I don’t wanna see no more!”

**Groupthink:

So groovy now

Last week, Don pulled the ultimate “change the conversation” move. Sunday, we started to see the consequences. It starts with Ted’s introduction to Don’s unorthodox work ethic. (Had Ted asked “coffee chief” Peggy Olson about the merger before steamrolling ahead, she might’ve warned him.)

Don strolls into the first joint partners’ meeting late, as usual. (Hilariously, not as late as Pete Campbell.) Our first clue of his inertia should be his bemused eyebrow lift at Ted’s, “Fleischmann’s. Groovy.” Groovy is not in Don’s vocabulary.

Photo May 13, 11 06 44 AM“He’s mysterious, but I can’t tell if he’s putting it on,” Ted describes Don. The fascination is mutual. Ted doesn’t realize everything about Don is put on, even his name; Don doesn’t know how to react to this interloper that he himself invited into the conversation.

“Ted’s a pilot.” Is there nothing the new kid can’t do? Well, he can’t drink like Don, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Peggy points out. Peggy, for her part, seems to gain confidence with each scene, beginning with her unabashed “I’m for Bobby” and ending with her bold directive to Don: Move forward.

He does everything but, at least until the final minutes of the episode. Don lets himself live out every Madonna/whore fantasy he has with Sylvia, apparently with no thought that there might eventually be consequences. When she finally breaks off their relationship, his tortured* “Please” sounds pathetic and out of tune with the nature of their raunchy interactions. (There was an Internet-famous reel of Don Draper saying “What” a couple years ago. I imagine the “Please” reel would be much shorter.)

I need you.” “Take off everything for me.” Sylvia is every self-centered fantasy he has, until suddenly, she isn’t. The bubble pops, and Don’s back in a bleak world where Kennedys are being assassinated and his business is changing faster than he can keep up. Even when it seems like he’s having a moment of brilliance, his idea is pedestrian: romanticized Dorothea Lange farmers putting margarine on pancakes? Neil Armstrong will walk on the moon next year, and Don’s still in the Dust Bowl era. (ETA: The commenters on tomandlorenzo.com, and the TLo, rightfully pointed out to me that the farmhouse scene was the standard of margarine commercials for years to come. They see this as a sign of Don’s ability to tap into the American mainstream, not his lack of creativity.)

I loved the callback to Ted’s words in the final song of the episode, and especially loved it with the image of Don and Megan on the same bed, but far apart — I think it’s so groovy now that people are finally getting together. Don is a man alone, at work and in his personal life.

Leftover thoughts, and I have a lot of them this week:

  • Burt Peterson is back — oh, just kidding! “Remember Ken Cosgrove? Like a six-foot version of Alan Ladd?” I felt a little bad for Burt, but not bad enough that I didn’t enjoy watching Roger fire him so elegantly.
  • “Now I see you’re about my height.” Ginsberg!
  • “Yes, Peggy, we risked our entire company just so I could have you in this office complaining again.” Don, of course.
  • Joan: “I’m glad you’re here.” Peggy: “Well, I’m glad you’re here.” At least someone’s happy to see Pegs!
  • Peggy: “I just spoke with Dawn.” Ted: “Black or white?” (Speaking of Dawn — where was she?)
  • How delightful was Ted giving up his chair after Pete takes the secretary’s? Outclassed and emasculated in a single sentence: “Moira, take my chair.”
  • Pete’s brother, Bud: “Maybe we can get the paperwork started.” I guffawed, but poor Pete has a lot on his plate right now, and he’s not handling any of it gracefully.
  • Ted’s hilarious slang, in addition to “groovy,” included “rap session,” “free associate,” and “yeah, man.” He manages to be so artsy and so dorky at the same time. (I guffawed again at his reaction to the copywriter who says he’s voting for Nixon: “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you have any hope?” :::headdesk:::)
  • What does it mean when Megan is talking and her voice fades out and the music swells?! That can’t be good.
  • Because it bears repeating … Don: “Peggy, he’s a grown man.” Peggy: “So are you. Move forward.”

*Someone give this man his Emmy already!

ETA: I just read TLo’s take this week, and as usual, I love it.

Mutually assured destruction

I spent Sunday night at a wedding. While I didn’t end up getting sick into an umbrella stand, I did spend Monday feeling the effects of staying up dancing until 3 a.m. for the first time since the last Bush administration. Then I drove three very long hours home.

It figures I’d miss the most eventful and fast-paced episode of the season.

When I finally collapsed on my coach late Monday afternoon, I expected another moody, gloomy episode, again focused on the urban decay of the late 1960s as reflected in our characters. We got 007 instead.

As a (former) reporter, I should’ve suspected one of the major plot twists from the episode title, “For immediate release” — words I’ve read hundreds, if not thousands, of times on press releases. Roger telling Don, “Close the door,” should’ve been the next clue. But like I said, my brain was mush. For what it’s worth: My husband, who pays about as much attention to “Mad Men” as to my other obsession, “Downtown Abbey” (his words), claims he saw the SCDP/CGC merger coming “from a mile away.” I really am losing my touch. (Why are you still reading?)

In any case: Everyone’s dissatisfied, no one is being honest about why they’re dissatisfied, and almost everyone is being impulsive.

Photo May 08, 9 59 37 AM

The Closer

We open with Roger, back to form (I LOVE IT) and using his mother’s death as a come-on. (In case I haven’t made it clear before — he is my favorite thing ever.) Herb, the Jaguar slimeball, refers to Roger in this episode as “Silver Bells.” I’m going to start using that. “I close, Pete. I close things.” Oh, Silver Bells. I’d say, “Never change,” but I know you couldn’t, even if you wanted to.

Of course, Roger isn’t just after sex (this time), just like no one else is really being honest. “I’m tired of rockets,” Gleason tells his partners, but it’s the cancer and the money worries that have him upset. “I’m tired of this crap,” Don tells Ted in the bar. That should’ve been the biggest clue of all. Last season, he declared, “I’m tired of all this piddly shit”* — just before Lane committed suicide.

Strange to see Joan, Pete, and Cooper conspiring at the beginning of the episode without their partners. What an odd group — I wanted to know how that collaboration came to be. But there was no time in this fast-paced episode for backstory. Joan, who became flushed at the idea of earning a million dollars in a public offering, seems angrier about Don dropping Jaguar than about the public offering being threatened. Was Joan upset Don dropped the account — or that his impulsiveness had robbed her of the chance to do the honors herself?

Don, true to form, hasn’t learned anything, as we see later when he boldly conspires with Ted to merge firms. He takes Joan’s “we” and twists it to fit his desires. I loved that this isn’t necessarily a black-and-white, good or bad decision. It may well be that the merger is exactly what the firms need to propel them into the next decade, but the way Don made the gamble makes it hard for anyone to accept. (As Cutler said: “I’m against this idea, unless it works.”) Or maybe Ken’s reference to mutually assured destruction** is actually a hint at what’s to come for the firms.

The development seems positive for everyone except Peggy, who is blindsided by the two men who have been most influential in her professional life (and possibly her personal as well). Don and Ted present the merger as if they’re hunters, bringing home the big game and dropping it at her feet, expecting Woman to be grateful of Man’s manliness. Here you go! Look what we got you! (My dog occasionally does this with dead animals or frozen bits of his own poo.) Peggy… doesn’t know what to think. Don tells her, “Make it sound like the agency you want to work for.” “For immediate release: The agency I want to work for doesn’t include you.”

Photo May 08, 9 52 47 AMObviously, her reaction is tied up in whatever it is that’s going on between her and Ted, whose line of thinking and action toes too close to Don’s for Peggy’s comfort. Peggy and Abe have turned the corner from young romance to domestic drudgery, and Ted has stepped in as Peggy’s fantasy. Whether this is by virtue of his seemingly impulsive kiss, or whether he’d already begun to occupy that space, we don’t know. Abe, God bless him, is trying, crawling around in coveralls and electrocuting himself for the sake of homemaking.

In this light, it’s strange to think back to Peggy and Pete’s fling and see how far both have come. Pete still thinks he’s God’s gift, boasting to Trudy that she’ll be sorry she rebuffed him, because “I have big things coming.” Pride literally came before a fall in this episode. (And glorious it was, but poor Pete had several, and seems to have more coming.)

Leftovers:

  • Of course Roger’s notes are on a cocktail napkin. Ginsberg kills me — “You had to write that down?”
  • Megan would’ve merited more of a mention in a less busy episode. She’s turning herself inside-out, trying to make her marriage and her relationship with her mother work.
  • Marie’s subtitled snark at dinner was topped only by her casually hanging up, twice, on Silver Bells. I got the impression by her long looks at Don (and Dr. Rosen) during this episode that she suspects Draper’s been Drapering around on her daughter.
  • Ted and his turtlenecks!
  • And obviously — “I love puppies”

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Still one of my top-10 quotable “Mad Men” lines, now to be joined by “I love puppies.” Maybe sometime I’ll compile my list. Obviously, “That’s what the money is for!” is on there, too.

**Ken Cosgrove: “It’s mutually assured destruction. … It’s why I don’t worry about the bomb.” You just go on a-sailin’ through your charmed life, Cosgrove.

Thanks to friend Shelly for the GIFs!

Our fathers

If my last post seemed uninspired, it’s because it was! Fortunately, I liked this episode, “The Flood,” as much as I’ve felt ambivalent about the rest of this season.

Peggy, at a launching point in her personal life and career, stares out the window; she wants to be on the Upper East Side, despite her supposed indifference when Abe suggests other neighborhoods. Again, she’s mimicking Don, whether consciously or not, as we realize when she tells Megan at the awards dinner, “We might be neighbors.”

Peggy looks over the city on a bright, light-filled day; Don contemplates darkness from his balcony as sirens wail and a nation grieves for another man killed in the same setting, a thousand miles away.

I was talking to a friend recently about the Jewish Museum in Berlin. The Garden of Exile outside the building is a concrete cage of sorts with tall concrete pillars that appear straight but are actually off-kilter; the ground is crooked in a subtle way, creating a disoriented and unsettled feeling to anyone stumbling around its paths. That’s sort of how this episode felt after the announcement of King’s death interrupted the early, mundane moments. When “Mad Men” gets tone right, it really gets it right. The tone here was unfamiliar, unsettled, awkward. It’s a crude and violent new world that Don doesn’t like, as we saw by his reaction to Roger’s trippy client*.

Awkward in the way none of these white people, no matter how sympathetic they are to the civil rights cause, know how to react to the few black people who inhabit their insular world. Joan’s rigid hug to Dawn was the most perfect example of this, but we also saw it in the more subtle way the black characters did not act exactly as expected. Peggy’s secretary behaved about as her employers thought she would; Dawn didn’t.

Peggy baffled me a little in this episode. (I think she was supposed to.) She communicated so much nonverbally; the look with Ted after he is booted from his chair by Abe (whaaaat does that mean?!); the sort of moony face behind Abe’s back while she’s sitting on the couch, contemplating having children with him. I don’t really see that relationship lasting (and maybe she’s already got something going on with Ted), but it seems like they have reached that level of familiarity and comfort that makes it difficult to move on. I can’t decide what Peggy wants and wonder if she even knows.

They may be on the same level, but the styling of the show has not so subtly suggested they’re drifting apart this season. Abe didn’t fit into the fancy corporate dinner this season; last season, he could’ve made it work:

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I will never get tired of this GIF

The ongoing theme of parenthood and particularly fatherhood really interested me. Don finally notices Bobby** as a person in the movie theater (and how Don-like was his breathless little, “Jesus!” comment?) But Don maintains that Megan is “better with them.” Hey, Draper, guess what? It doesn’t matter if you didn’t immediately “love” your children — you had them, you have to figure out how to raise them. That’s the social contract. His teary and surprising confession to Megan really moved me, but it also speaks to his immaturity; he’s spent so much time taking care of his needs — his women, his alcohol, his career — that it’s just now occurring to him that he maybe ought to think about parenting. (And even then, it’s less recognizing his own failings than blaming them on his father.) It wasn’t unusual for a man of his class and generation to be a detached parent, but he has completely checked out, and he’s just seeming to realize it as one child is basically grown and another is well on his way. He has such a great parenting style when he actually tries; I loved the way he gently but humorously shot down Bobby’s concern about Henry, and that must have been heartbreaking for Don to hear.

A commentary I read suggested Don’s introspection was prompted by his sudden and consuming worry about Sylvia in D.C. I disagree with this; I felt like he was worried about Sylvia, and continued to be worried, until suddenly he realized maybe he should be focused on his actual life. As he stumbled through the dark halls, I thought at first he was in the back halls of the apartment building, checking on Sylvia; I was surprised he was checking on the children. (But then, I’ve been wrong before.)

Megan again showed remarkable poise, encouraging Peggy in her home-buying endeavor, taking care of Don’s kids, trying desperately as always to understand him. On fatherhood: I couldn’t figure out at the beginning of the episode how she could’ve been so quick to forgive Don for his hard words on the set of her show. Then we heard her conversation with her Canadien père, and there it is.

Photo Apr 29, 8 08 52 AM

So much in this episode to unpack. I’ll save the Virgin Ginsberg and his father for another day. The other “father” reference that really struck me was Pete, angrily shouting at Awful Harry (TM) that Martin Luther King was a father. That’s our Pete, absolutely rotten, until suddenly he isn’t.

*Giggly, stoned Stan makes my day.

**That misaligned wallpaper would’ve annoyed the CRAP out of me. I feel ya, Bobby.