'Mad Men' recap: Unlucky strikes
When, exactly, did Pete Campbell become the best-behaved man at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce? After four seasons, the guy once best known for various forms of sexual intimidation and a general level of smarminess has become the paragon of masculine virtue on "Mad Men." I'm not being hyperbolic here. Just consider the competition:
First, there's Don, who managed to keep it together for two whole weeks before messing up spectacularly Sunday night. I have to say that I was very disappointed with the Megan development. Not that I don't see the appeal -- Megan is lovely, smart and kind -- but the whole thing was just too painfully obvious. The great shock -- and therefore, the dramatic impact -- of Don's tryst with Allison was how unexpected it was. In contrast, his dalliance with Megan was as predictable as Old Faithful -- which is exactly why I thought it wouldn’t happen. To put it another way, I wasn't really mad at Don for sleeping with Megan, I was mad at the writers for making him do it. For weeks now, they've been hinting at this development -- most explicitly, at the end of last week's episode, when Don leered at Megan like a starving man who'd spotted a Big Mac on the horizon. Naively, I interpreted Don's death stare as something other than lust, but nope, it was just a bit of (extremely indelicate) foreshadowing. "Mad Men" is not supposed to be obvious or formulaic, so when it is, it's that much more disappointing (see also: Don's diary). I suppose that in real life, people are generally not that unpredictable --that a guy who'd sleep with one pretty secretary probably wouldn't turn down the next drop-dead gorgeous one -- but still, I felt cheated by this narrative turn. Have the writers already run out of ways for Don to mess up? And is getting hired to be Don’s secretary just a super-stylish version of being the drummer in "Spinal Tap"?
Gripes aside, Don is now in a real pickle (that was a Heinz pun, in case you didn't catch it). By the end of the episode, Faye retreats and helps Don get a meeting with Heinz about potential new business. I thought her original decision -- to maintain the "Chinese wall" between their business and professional relationship -- was probably the right one. Still, her gesture was thoughtful and showed how much she cares about Don; too bad he just had a fling with his secretary. Faye has grown on me considerably, but I'm conflicted. Megan's compassion toward Sally was one of the more touching moments this season, and if her sexual bravado ("Let's be clear, I'm not going to run crying out of here tomorrow," she tells Don) is to be believed, she would make quite a match for Don. I might be pushing it here, but I saw Megan as indicative of the social changes ahead; in the same way that Peggy presages the feminist movement, maybe Megan is an early adopter of the free-love credo? Still, it's a big "if." There's also a good chance she'll turn out to be a bunny boiler -- after all, she does tell Don, "I know everything about you, you’re in my head all day even when I go home." Coming from someone less gazelle-like, that would sound pretty stalker-ish. If forced to pick, I'd tentatively say that I'm on Team Faye. Notice how easily Megan reverts back into "Mr. Draper" territory? Don needs a partner, not a secretary with benefits.
Still, Don's behavior hardly constituted a new low. That honor goes to Roger, whose fake phone fight with Lee Garner Jr. was one of the cringiest things I've seen on a television show rife with cringy things. Like American Tobacco, Joan is not convinced by Roger's last-minute overtures. Nor should she be: Roger doesn’t want the real Joan, dumpy pajamas and all (which, it must be said, do not manage to make her any less attractive). He wants her looking like a million bucks at the office every day, reminding him of what he can’t have. Roger really is a case study in the weaknesses of the entitled white male; he’s the guy who is unwilling to make the extra effort to get what he really wants (Joan), mostly because he's used to getting it without having to ask. As Lee pointed out last week, Roger inherited the Lucky Strike account, so what does he know about really working for something? The same can be said when it comes to Joan. He's happy to keep their relationship in limbo forever, because that way he won’t have to stick his neck out and leave Jane. I'm glad Joan has finally drawn the line, but I wonder if she'll fess up about Roger’s bungling of the account. The look of utter contempt she gave him during the scene in his office leads me to think that she may do just that. I suspect that Joan's ultimate allegiance is to the agency, not to Roger.
So now that Roger has been made obsolete, what will become of him? Will he retire to a dull life with insipid Jane? Will the other partners buy him out? Will he keel over from another heart attack before they can show him to the door? Or will Don and Bert find out about Roger’s malfeasance and fire him? Can they even do that? With so many possible exits, I can't really see a future for Roger at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, but I can't quite imagine "Mad Men" without him. Roger is cowardly and morally repugnant -- but he sure is good with the one-liners. Not to mention he looks pretty cute in those hipster glasses.
It's barely even worth mentioning Stan, who's never been anything but a boor. His schoolboy crush on Peggy -- if only he had an inkwell in which to dip her hair -- was on display yet again this week. After her weekend of romance with Abe, Peggy is "giving it off," and Stan notices. He tries to make out with her, but Peggy ain't having it. To get back at her, Stan lets Peggy go into a meeting with lipstick all over her teeth -- a transgression that, in my eyes, is far worse than a little groping. But I might be alone in that opinion.
That leaves Pete Campbell as the only relatively sensible male at the agency (for the sake of argument, let's ignore Ken and Harry, who never have much to do anyway). His wife is in the hospital with a baby stuck in her pelvis, so naturally, he’s a little distracted. Can you really blame him? It's not like Bert's medical advice -- "They should just cut it out" -- is exactly comforting. Professionally, Pete has become an exemplar, heading to a funeral to scout new accounts rather than going to meet his brand new daughter. If anything, Pete is loyal to a fault. Last week, he took the fall for Don, and this week, he has to put out the fires Roger has created. It's a sad state of affairs when Pete Campbell is your moral compass, but that's how far the men of SCDP have fallen. The question is, will Pete leave them all behind? If Pete jumps ship, and takes Vicks with him, then the agency is sunk.
So Show Trackers, with two episodes to go, the fate of many beloved characters hangs in the balance. Who’s going to be the next to leave Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce? Pete? Roger? Lane? All of the above? Was Don’s tryst with Megan a one-time-only event, or will he go back for more? And are you Team Megan or Team Faye?
-- The joke about Danny's height (no one could see him raising his hand above the crowd) was funny -- gratuitous, but funny.
-- "Every time something good happens, something bad happens. I knew I'd pay for it." Peggy is such a Catholic.
-- I'm guessing the British Petroleum reference was not an accident (if you will).
-- Harry Crane is long overdue for a real subplot of his own. He can always be counted on to be blunt, like Sunday night when he told Peggy, "You have lipstick on your teeth."
-- Did people say "holy crap" in 1965? That seemed very anachronistic to me.
-- It's hard to be sexy saying lines like "I got you a meeting with Heinz. It's vinegar, sauces and beans," but Cara Buono comes pretty close.
-- It might have worked for Abe but, as a rule, telling a woman she has shoulders that make her look like she's in the Olympics is not a great pick-up line.
-- Joan's frilly aqua-blue dress was back. Someone, please make me a replica -- or find one for me online.
-- I'm predicting that with Lee Garner Jr. out of the picture and new clients to woo, Sal Romano will make his triumphant return next week. Who's with me?
-- I loved how Peggy just floated into work after her weekend with Abe.
-- Meredith Blake
Photo: Abe (Charlie Hofheimer) and Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) finally manage to overcome their political differences. Credit: Michael Yarish /AMC