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'Mad Men' recap: The science of wet blanketry


I’m going to begin this week by saying something controversial: The only thing sadder than a drunk Don Draper is a healthy, well-adjusted one.

Since last we saw him, our hero has taken up some new habits. In what appears to be a self-directed rehab program, he’s now swimming laps, drinking watery domestic beer instead of Canadian Club, and writing in a journal. On the plus side, healthy new Don has regained some of his lost mojo -- Faye could barely contain herself in the cab after their date -- but on the downside, he’s now abstaining from sex.  The appeal of “Mad Men” has always been the naughty behavior of its characters. The last thing we want any of them to do is take up yoga, quit eating red meat or be celibate -- least of all, Don.

Coming after last week’s near-perfect episode, "The Summer Man" was destined to disappoint, and it did. Let’s start with the elephant in the room: The diary. The episode opens with Don writing in his journal, and we hear his thoughts in voiceover. It was a big leap for “Mad Men,” in that the show rarely uses such subjective storytelling devices. If we do go inside a character’s head, it’s for a flashback or a dream sequence; not a zoom-in on a tumbler of rye, from Don’s perspective, when he’s lucid and sober. The voiceover thing was forced, unnecessary, and -- sorry, Matthew Weiner -- I couldn’t decide if it reminded me more of "Doogie Howser, M.D.," "Magnum P.I." or "The Wonder Years." Please, let's keep Don's emotions deeply repressed, as they should be.

I might have overlooked the whole diary thing, if only my cliché radar hadn’t gone off a few other moments Sunday night. As Don leaves the New York Athletic Club, we hear him waxing lyrically about the arrival of summer while the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” plays. Such an obvious music cue was, again, a digression for a show that generally opts for B-sides and more obscure hits of the era. Don’t get me wrong. I love me some Stones, I really do, but it all comes down to storytelling. The soundtrack should add a layer of emotional complexity to the story -- like the wonderfully bittersweet Simon and Garfunkel song that played at the end of last week’s episode -- and not do the writer’s work for him. Imagine if “Respect” played right after Peggy fired Joey, and you have the same effect. 

A slightly less egregious cliché was the shot of Don sinking underwater, which is long-established cinematic shorthand for “this character is in some kind of emotional distress.”  See also: "The Graduate," "Rushmore," and, um, “Old School." That puts Don in some good company, I suppose, but it’s still a played-out device. “Mad Men,” I say these things because I love you and I want the best for you. Consider this my tough-love speech. Got it?

Gripes aside, this episode did have its bright spots. Betty’s run-in with Don and Bethany was spectacularly awkward, and it’s clear that she’s not over her ex-husband. For Betty, disgust is easy; jealousy, on the other hand, practically makes her short-circuit. Always the model of emotional maturity, Betty is angered because Don’s on a date with someone younger than she is -- though I have to say, this time I can’t really blame her for being peeved. (Side note: When Betty tells Francine about the encounter with Bethany, all I could think was what insanely jealous people did in these situations before the Internet, because we all know Betty would have Google-stalked Bethany if she had the chance.) After Betty’s outburst, Henry suspects that his wife still harbors feelings for her ex -- and given the way Betty eyeballs Don at the end of the episode, I have a feeling Henry’s right. Henry’s pretty emotionally evolved, but the way he ignores the subject of Don the morning after their fight makes me wonder if these two are going to make it. 

Another bright spot is the ongoing ideological turf war between Peggy and Joan. Peggy is a budding feminist, whether she’d admit to it or not; meanwhile Joan represents the endgame of pre-feminist gender politics, where a woman’s only choice is to be “a meaningless secretary or a humorless bitch.”  She’s learned to work the system, but it’s one that’s becoming obsolete, and Joan’s the casualty of these changing fault lines. More than anyone at the agency, she understands the machinations of power -- how to get it and how to exploit it. 

The one thing she doesn’t have is Peggy’s job. While Peggy’s dreaming up campaigns for Mountain Dew, Joan is saddled with (literally) two-bit issues such as the malfunctioning vending machine. Joan might, for all intents and purposes, run the office, but at the end of the day, her concerns are incredibly myopic. Marriage has failed to make her happy, which exacerbates her dissatisfaction in the workplace. Rather than seeking out new responsibilities, she clings ever more ferociously to the ones she already has. As a result, my beloved Joan is turning into something of a school marm, saying things like “I really think this vending machine is a troublemaker” and -- what’s worse -- meaning them. This is at least the second time Peggy and Joan have come to blows over office machinery. “Mad Men” really shines when it focuses on how mundane issues such as lost candy rolls can have take on such outsize importance. The one thing I can’t decide, though, is who’s right -- Don or Joan? Don tells Peggy to fire Joey, because: “You do not want me involved in this or people will think you’re a tattletale." I rooted for Peggy -- especially after Joey's sexist response -- but the plan backfires and, as Joan puts it: “No matter how powerful we get around here, they can still just draw a cartoon.” I’d hardly turn to Don or Joan for advice in my personal life, but they’re both pretty savvy when it comes to office politics. Joan lashed out unfairly, but ultimately, I think she may have been right on this one. Peggy may just be mastering the "science of wet blanketry," as Stan suggests. Peggy may go on to win all the CLIOs in the world, but she’ll always be desperate for Joan’s approval; if only that were enough for Joan.   

What did you think, Show Trackers?  Was this episode a bit of a dud after last week’s triumph? Do you approve of Making Healthy Choices Don?  Speaking of which, do you think there’s a future in store for him and Faye?  I’m not sold.

Stray thoughts:

-- Henry secures Rockefeller’s support for John Lindsay, a Republican congressman who would be elected mayor of New York in 1965, would later switch to the Democratic party, and whom conventional wisdom would blame for New York City’s decline in the late 1960s and '70s.  There’s a lot of talk about wanting to see their city's incipient decay. Joan gets mad over a few beer bottles left around the office; how’s she going to deal with the sanitation strike of 1968? Now that, I’d like to know.

-- What’s up with Harry’s crush on Joey? And was that a portrait of Jed Clampett on Harry’s side table? While we’re on the subject of furniture, isn’t Harry’s office decorated like an old lady’s drawing room?

-- We haven’t seen baby Gene -- or should I say toddler Gene? -- since the second episode of this season. Much to my disappointment, he looks perfectly normal, but I still think he might have been hiding a forked tail under that baby blue outfit.

-- I love hungover Betty, who made an appearance this week, almost as much as angry-turtleneck-wearing Betty.           

-- On the subject of clothes, who noticed the zippy summer plaid jacket Don wore on his date with Faye? Quite a change from his usual somber grays. And I would kill a sexist copywriter or two for the frilly, aqua-blue dress Joan wears when she tells off the boys. 

-- Meredith Blake


Complete Show Tracker coverage of "Mad Men"

'Mad Men' recap: 'You're an attractive girl, Peggy'

"Mad Men": It's all about recognition

"Mad Men": Raw like sushi

"Mad Men": "Right now my life is very ... "

Photo: Don Draper takes a dip.  Credit: Mike Yarish / AMC 

Comments () | Archives (47)

The boys are going to think Peggy is a "humorless" (not humanless) bitch anyway, no matter what, because she's the boss and they now know she can, and will, lower the boom. She has a long fuse and considerable tolerance for the boys' antics (see past episodes) but Joey pushed all of her buttons, invented a few news ones, and worse - disrespected Joan. Peggy recognizes that, as she told Joey, Joan and Lane run the office.

Joey is either indifferent or tone deaf to office politics. He is, after all, a short-term freelancer. You do not want to tick off your immediate supervisosr (Peggy) or the office problem solver (Joan.) And if he thinks Don is going to save his job (good old boys network) well surprise, he's not. Do the work - and Don is plainly NOT impressed so far with Joey's efforts - or get out.

After the elevator exchange with Joan, if I were Peggy I'd forget trying to make nice with Joan. Joan never liked Peggy anyway, has snarkily derided her becoming a "big shot" and otherwise made cutting remarks over the years to her. One of these days Joanie is going to need a friend more than Peggy will, and there will be nobody there.

Re "Satisfaction" it was the perfect song simply because there was no way in hell to avoid it during the summer of 1965. It was all over the radio dial, no matter where you turned. By September I was sick to death of it - sort of like Whitney Houston warbling "I Will ALways Love You" to the point where it became a punchline of sorts.

Don celebate? I suppose Bethany was just 'massaging his ankles' or something? Or do you believe in the Clinton definition of oral NOT being sex? You don't appear to like anything the Don Draper character does. Drunk or sober. Don's the Comeback Kid - but he's not perfect. I admire that he's trying so hard. Most miserable alcoholics just wallow in it. But I'm sure he'll have a slide back into the whiskey fueled depression he's been fighting. I can say I like the Don Draper character, regardless.

I don't see how Peggy had a choice but to fire Joey. Not only did he disrespect Joan, but he was disrespecting her as well?! She needed to take control of that department of sexist men. Otherwise they're going to keep walking all over her, which was what they were doing.

Joan appears even more sad and miserable now than she has before. She's clearly fighting to keep her 'leadership' among the other women in the office. And on top of that her marriage isn't happy AND her husband's leaving for Vietnam. Where can that part of her life go? She's clearly going to end up alone.

i don't get the lack of love for this episode. I really enjoyed it. It was good to see Don take charge and change his life.

i actually really loved this episode (and completely disagree with this blog, a very rare occurrence). it was exciting to see peggy and don take the lessons from last week and transform their environment/perspective in this episode. i was screaming "go peggy!" when she fired joey and i was excited for don to reclaim his life. i so want him to succeed.

and i actually liked don's voice-over, but then again, i am a satc fan and am used to carrie's existential commentary.

I thought the cartoon was too over the top, like as if Matt Weiner was introducing Larry Flynt. Would young men really have treated Joan like a middle aged has been back then? Doubtful. Would they have actually posted the drawing on a wall? Doubtful.

I hated the diary concept, too. As you said, the Mad Men writing staff has always been incredibly creative and subtle about revealing the deeper machinations of their characters. This was an incredibly weak effort. While I'm on this tangent: aside from the very poignant previous episode, the season has been fairly disappointing so far. Don Draper went from Hemingway's Nick Adams to Harry Potter circa Order of the Phoenix within a year. He's at his best when he's producing works of advertising art while juggling the internal conflicts and bad habits, not just miring himself in darkness and telling us his feelings. In fact, there's been relatively few pitches and business meetings and the focus has shifted dramatically to basically a Ustream of Don Draper become a proto-emo. I love DD, but all this spotlight is making me nauseous; there isn't a better ensemble cast on television - it's time to start using the others, too.

The Jed Clampett picture was autographed by Buddy Ebson, I'm sure a real coup for Harry. Beverly Hillbillies was the number one show competing with Bonanza during those years. You're right about the dcor. I thought the meeting was going on in his grandma's living room. Weird -- especially compared to the cool mid-century look of the rest of the office. Harry's in the most cutting edge business at the agency and has a jarringly old fashioned office.

I couldn't disagree with you more!

Part of the appeal of Mad Men is the naughty behavior of its characters, but who doesn't want to relate to a bit of self-redemption? And who in their right mind thinks our very flawed Don-Dick hero will every be Mr. Clean?

There's plenty to love about this show, not the least of which are the many tributaries available to explore from each of the characters. We're only at the surface of Don's self-examination. We know there are fireworks ahead for Betty and Henry (and Betty's jealousy toward her ex?) - and of course - as Vietnam heats up, as the sexism grows more blatant, as even Joan and Peggy clash - there will be more than enough to keep us busy and watching.

Wouldn't Don sinking into alcoholism and mediocrity without a fight be far less interesting?

Not a dud whatsoever. Voices, from a different register.

Good episode. I like DD trying to get back into shape and recapture his mojo. Yes, the times are a changing. Joan is losing control and is being replaced by the more assertive women like Peggy who will just outright fire 'em. The scene with Joey was great and Peggy really saw him for what he truly was. In their day, the boys in the workplace ran roughshod over women, minorities and anyone they didn't like and depended on the ole boy network to protect them.

Whether the boys ended up, "in the jungles of Vietnam" is questionable, but I met many men "in the jungle" regretting what happened that brought them there. However, I also met many men who just continued on with their juvenile behavior, only now they had a weapon in their hands.

As the great Colonel Harry Summers once told a former soldier who claimed to have committed atrocities during that war, "You sorry SOB! I didn't need the Army to teach me what was right or wrong! My momma at least taught me that much"!

Overall, this episode pales in comparison to the stand-out "The Suitcase." And that's all right, because on it's own, it was a very enjoyable episode. Maybe it's because I am a divorced father that I can really relate to Don's struggle to identify with himself through his children. When he raises Gene at the episode's end, I got goosebumps. It was the happiest I've ever seen Don Draper, and that happiness has been hard fought.

As for subtlety. "Mad Men" has long been the most subtle show on TV, but Weiner's decision to be a bit more obvious this season (Don's drinking, Peggy's budding feminism, office sexual politics) has allowed for the previous hints and inferences to reach a payoff. In the first three seasons, Sterling-Cooper was an agency with great market power, so it was easier for things to stay under the radar. Season 4, on the other hand, has shown us that times are desperate for the new SCDP; they are desperate for those involved with it, too.

The subtlety isn't so much in individual moments any more than it is in the structure of the episodes. For example, the parallelism used in Don's two dates -- which reveal to us that he is maturing as it pertains to what he wants in a woman. Bethany says, "It feels like every date with you is a first date." But with Faye it feels like they've known each other for awhile. Don is beginning to open himself to new ways of looking at the world, and this will no doubt sting him and redeem him as the season moves toward its conclusion.

" No matter how powerful we get around here, all they have to do is draw a cartoon. So all you've done is prove that I'm a meaningless secretary and you're another humourless bitch".

Joan, you said a mouthful.

The thing is though, she's wrong. Peggy proved that Joey's antics have no place in the office and will not be tolerated. Joan's action proved that she talks a good game but she ultimately feels powerless and behaves accordingly. She knows that women don't deserve such treatment but she doesn't have the strength to do anything about it. Joan resents Peggy for accomplishing things that she never realized she wanted including the ability to fire little piss ants like Joey.

Diary voice-over = blah. Sinking Don = really? Everything else was good. Too bad Don couldn't touch on how that Mt Dew Hillbilly reflected his up-bringing. Not sure I got the 'they don't like witches' complaint. Don's zoning in on the pouring of the drinks in that meeting means he's not out of the woods. Wait'll Roger gets a hold of 'new' Don. Love the Joan-Peggy encounters. I always think one thing, then Joan fires off a shot & I start second-guessing. It's comforting to see that Peggy's feminism hasn't dulled her wet-blanket basic nature. I'm sure the show couldn't resist playing the ad man skewering lyrics in Satisfaction.

Joey has always had a bit of the playground bully about him. He smells Joan's lack of real power. His goading Joan is done exactly because he knows it will get to her. He's a freelancer, so he has no stake in the office and probably doesn't hold a permanent gig because he doesn't like authority. To me, his actions in Peggy's office were worse than the cartoon because it looked like he really was going to do something meanacing to Peggy.
I didn't mind the use of Satisfaction, because I think it wasn't about Don, but about all of the young people in colorful clothing he seemed to be surrounded by when he came out of the NYAC (including the prominently featured African American couple). Their music is loud, and their style is brash. Whether the kids are a good new or a bad new seemed to be a question that, after this episode, remains up in the air.

I have loved MM in the past, but have been very disappointed in this season. I loved the home scenes of Betty and her friends and neighbors. As far as Don goes, he has become less interesting, nothing but a lousy drunk and skirt chaser. At least in previous seasons, he had some dignity in who he bedded. I miss the other characters, also. Guess there's just not much I like about the present season.

I loved this episode! I think Faye and Don will develop into a great relationship and one that will make Betty even more jealous. Don has more of his match with Faye than with young Bethany. Faye's story of how to get something done - with wind or sun - was interesting.

Loved Don swimming - drinking a bit less - writing in his journal...he is maturing. I really loved the end of the episode when he decides to go to his son's birthday party - very nice. He is changing.

I really feel for Joan - there will be much more on the horizon I believe for her in the future - bring back her and Roger! And Peggy is fantastic this season!

Joey has an Oedipus complex and is transferring that over to Joan. He said as much in comparing her to his mother.

The article mentions alot of cliche type sceens. I think the new way of shooting, the movie types referenced by the shots and some of the plot twists may have been in there to make you think.

Age played a huge part in betty/henry bethandy/don relationships it's referenced this episode but it's been clearly a problem for don ever since rodger left mona for jane. The swimming sceen kinda drew me back to the graduate for that reason.

If Peggy would have gone to Joan, she would have been ignoring mentor don's advice. Handle it your way, not mine or anyone elses. I don't think Peggy canned Joey for Joan's sake, I think she did it for her own to get back at Rizzo, Mark, her mom and Allison for all accusing her of sleeping to the top. This is the very first time she uses her authority and is not abused for her authority.

I think Joan's doing all of this to alienate everyone from her life. Her Golden Parachute (Dr. Rapist) was a big ol' flop. But she made such a big deal of it that she ended up going through with it. She's built on arrogance just as any of those boys are. She's now pushing them away and putting them down because she's transfering her anger and frustration with hubby.

What I want to know is how long before Rodger and Jane have a silver hair baby on the way??

When did the power outage happen in 1965?? I see something along the lines of Pete and Peggy trapped in an elevator while Trudy's at the hospital in labor. Dum Dum Dummmmm

Great recap! I really appreciate your take on Joan. I've read a lot of posts here and on other sites where everyone bashes Joan and applauds Peggy: Joan's just jealous, Joan slept her way to the top (a sexist remark in and of itself), Joan doesn't have any talent and Peggy does, Joan's fat, Joan deserves what she gets because she's all about boobs, etc. What I love about Mad Men is that ALL the characters are flawed and you can never really play favorites because they will all disappoint you at some point, because that's what people do. Joan is frustrated and angry and for her, it really is too late to change her game. She started her career in the 50s and the boys in charge see her one way and one way only. She is stuck in a box and Peggy is not, not yet. As for the narration, it was so out of place for Mad Men, but at the same time I loved getting some facts about Don. He never graduated from high school? He is the ultimate self-made (self-made up?) man.

Is Gene really Don's kid? She did have 'sex' with a stranger in a bar.
Might Salvadore come back to do 'creative'?
Why was he laid off?

The bloggers seem to have missed the mark in their analysis of the subplot involving Joan and Peggy in Mad Men Episode 408, The Summer Man. In doing so they misunderstand some key fundamentals in the relationship between them. Joan throughout was not being “mean” to Peggy, nor was she lashing out in order to feel better about her own problems. Rather, she saw the opportunity to impart a teachable moment to her favorite protégé to the effect that it is one thing to acquire power and quite another to know how to use it, and also that Joan needs no assistance in filleting out a smart mouthed punk like Joey.

This season has been about Don’s power dissipating as he spirals out of control; Peggy’s continues to increase and in episode 407 they reached out to each other as equals for the first time. As we see in Episode 408, however, our Peggy still has some lessons to learn from the masters of their respective domains, Don and Joan.

Peggy has come a lot of miles since that naive new graduate of Miss Deaver’s Secretarial School arrived for her first day of work at Sterling Cooper. There she came under the whip of the formidable Joan, who, between drags on her cigarette, took one look at mousy little Peggy and immediately embarked on a combined Peggy makeover and SC survival guide, starting with the working girl’s best friend, the birth control pill. It was the first of many lessons that Joan would dispense over the years and Peggy was an apt and receptive student.

In her journey up the corporate ladder, Peggy has had two constant influences and mentors; Joan and Don. Joan knows better than anyone how hard it is for a woman to succeed in business, and she respects Peggy for how far she has come. Like an enlisted man in the army who goes on to become an officer, Peggy is that rare secretary who has gone on to become an executive. Joan helped her get there and still lays on the tough love when necessary; I loved her crack about Peggy’s weight. Joan knows that sloppiness starts at the hips and there is nothing Joan abhors more than a fat secretary.

Peggy is nothing if not a capable student, one suspects she came to understand in that elevator that simply firing Joey was no favour to Joan nor a particularly subtle or effective approach to a delicate office problem. Watch and learn, Peggy, watch and learn.

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