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'Mad Men': 'Seven Twenty Three'

September 27, 2009 | 11:21 pm


So, no one lost a foot this episode. Come on, you blood-thirsty animals, we can’t have a severed extremity every show. For those counting the violent acts, Don was clocked in the back of a head by a seemingly future Manson follower. Mr. Fancypants Adman should’ve seen it coming: Never trust anyone under 30 if you’re a square. Especially if they offer you Daddy’s reds.

The quality that was most interesting about these hitchhikers (carting around strangers so rarely works out well for our TV and film friends, will they ever learn?) is that they are the first true harbingers of the hippie movement that will soon sweep the nation’s youth. Sure, we’ve seen beatniks before: Don’s Season 1 girlfriend Midge and creative beardo Paul, who fancies himself as the kind of enlightened aesthete who can finger-pick some folk tunes and recite poetry (mainly to impress girls), but the Niagara Falls-bound hitchhikers were of a different import -- middle class, not particularly educated, with a volatility and paranoia right on the surface. Not that anyone can really blame them – their fears of the draft, after all, are justified. In 1967, the draft numbers escalated dramatically; the nightmarish lottery system started in 1969.

Still, did they have to whack him? Don looked stoned enough to be pushed over by a feather. Episode 7, “Seven Twenty Three” – perhaps a reference to the time of morning that Peggy and Don were both having their “what the hell did I do last night” moments – used as bookends the images of Don doing a faceplant in some cheap hotel carpet, Peggy awakening in her tryst bed with Duck (a lot more on that in a moment) and Betty caught in some housewife ennui on her new fainting couch. At first, the meaning of the poetic images weren’t clear but as the episode progressed, a story pooled around them.

The pacing of Sunday’s show was a return to some of the energy that imbued the first two episodes – not exactly pulse-quickening but elegant and dreamy in their own right. There was a crisp sensibility to some of the scenes – Pete pressing (teasing?) Peggy to return the Hermes scarf; Betty playing the concerned citizen with Henry Francis; Don’s awkward but charged interaction with Miss Farrell and the somewhat difficult Connie Hilton.

It was a relief to see Don denuded somewhat in this episode. Sometimes it’s tiring to see him so suave and imperturbable all the time. Around the rigid Hilton, who takes him to task for not having family pictures or a Bible on his desk, Don seems almost a teenager in comparison, able to respond only with a snap of his Zippo and rote cynicisms. He might be Sterling and Cooper’s Ogilvy, the author of “Confessions of an Advertising Man,” no doubt a seminal reference text for creator Matt Weiner, but his primitive sense of our pleasures and vices sometimes fails him in his own life.

Don so fears signing an easy, generous contract for three years of service that he causes both Sterling and Cooper to tie themselves in knots.  A panicked Sterling oversteps his boundaries so poorly that he stoops to calling Betty, who, predictably, hasn’t heard a word about it. In one of her best scenes of the season so far, an emboldened and direct Betty challenges Don, who tries to tell her it’s about business and nothing else. “What’s the matter?” she asks. “You don’t know where you’ll be in three years?” Score one for Betts, and dock points for Sterling, who guaranteed himself nothing more than a break-up with Don. This strife won’t be healed with a close shave.

Betty’s confrontation is the final straw that pushes Don out of the house and into the dangerous embrace of a few proto-hippies and their pills – not to mention a hallucination with his hard-scrabble Dad. It takes Cooper, who pads around the office in socks and speaks in symbols, Rothko paintings and Sacagawea metaphors, to point out to Don that his signature on a contract isn’t so binding anyway. Who is this Don Draper creation? If it all got dragged into a court of law, unraveling the Sterling-Cooper contract would be the least of Don Draper/Dick Whitman’s worries.

No one knows that intuitively better than Betty. When your husband is a perfectly kind but shadowy, secretive man fond of dalliances with every stripe of lady, it’s easy to wave aside your own flirtations over iced tea and apple pie in some upstate hamlet. Not that Betty overdid it so much but she’s the first to hint to a handsome, listening man that she’s been undervalued. She was an anthropology major at Bryn Mawr -- not just a beautiful face – and as Ossining’s own Rachel Carson, she’ll put a stop to that 3-million-gallon water tank by hook or by bat of the lashes. “Silent Spring”? More like “Sexy Summer”! (And yes, I did make that joke.)

Anyway, let’s talk about Peggy and Duck because I can’t stand to wait any longer. So…

What was that?

Horrifying, some would say. Implausible, others might say. Just right, some lone wolf might shout. Whatever the reaction, it was certainly a moment custom-made for using the TiVo buttons to liberally pause, rewind or fast-forward, depending on which motion would best soothe your shock and embarrassment at what can only be frankly labeled as Duck’s sex spiel. By far the episode’s most outrageous lines were spoken by our transfixed dog-deserting divorcé, who uttered something about taking Peggy’s clothes off “with my teeth” so that he could give her “a go-around” like she’s “never had.” (Actually, Duck… oh, nevermind.)

Now, it’s safe to say that Duck and Peggy don’t have a whole lot in common. This escapade did not come after the kind of foreplay that “(500) Days of Summer” and other indie movies have taught us to expect. Duck did not make Peggy a mixtape of Joy Division and Smith songs; Peggy did not winsomely dance for Duck to some not-cool-but-cool ‘80s song. They simply fell in with each other out of feverish loneliness, and Peggy’s painful need for validation and attention -- but it could go far.

The ramifications, if it does continue, could really shake up things between Don and Peggy. When she comes in to ask him about the Hilton account, right after Roger’s obnoxious berating, Don does not play nice. Instead, he tells her to quit digging in his pockets, quit asking him for things. “You were my secretary,” he reminds her. Peggy openly flinches to his rebuff; it’s like her generous Daddy has finally said the trust fund has run dry. She barely manages to keep in her sobs. When one Daddy rejects you, does that only send you running faster into the arms of another, especially if they’re enemies?

--Margaret Wappler

Photo: Carin Baer