Mad Men recap: Hypocrisy comes home to roost at Sterling Coooper
From the beginning, the most twisted, delicious moments on Mad Men have centered on the characters' towering hypocrisy -- straining against the rigid, '50s-born roles so many of them feel compelled to fulfill, even as they completely subvert or contradict them.
So I was initially excited when it seemed obvious, minutes into Sunday's episode "Hands and Knees," that the evening's menu would include heaping helpings of hypocrisy for all concerned. Moments like these -- Jon Hamm's empty suit Don Draper forced to admit how much of his past was a lie to pampered wife Betty -- often are the show's signature moments, the stuff this series was born to wallow in.
So why did Sunday's offering feel so, well, off balance?
As usual, Draper stood at the top of hypocrisy hill, freaked out by a background check initiated by an advertising contract with the Defense Department. even the most routine scrutiny from the military is a Defcon one-level crisis for Draper, who is really deserter named Dick Whitman who took the identity of dead superior officer in Korea.
This season, the show seems to savor situations which cut its adman superman off at the knees. So news that investigators contacted ex-wife Betty and have an informational form he signed without thinking filled with lies, reduces him to a quivering mass of nausea and paranoia, losing his lunch when a stranger in his apartment hallway appears to a g-man, but isn't.
Increasingly confident ex-flunkie Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), who worked months to get the $4-million account and knows Draper's secret, can only grouse about the messes created by life's liars which others must clean up -- stroking his pregnant wife while conveniently forgetting his one-night stand with co-worker Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) created a baby mess he never touched. (One reason why Sunday's show felt so odd -- no Peggy, whose moments of independence and insight have become the most compelling scenes of this season.)
News that the military account had to be dropped was met with a tirade from partner Roger Sterling -- including a bleeped f-word! -- because Sterling knows the firm is about to lose Lucky Strike, their biggest client and the one piece of business keeping heir doors open. (I had two thoughts here: Why have an actor use a curse word you know you will bleep? And who is taking bets that Sterling or Draper will somehow leverage the Lucky Strike boss's closeted gay activities to keep that account?)
The list of hypocrisies felt endless: Married woman Joan Harris getting an abortion to deal with the result of a one-night fling between her and Sterling (what are they putting in the water to amp up fertility on Madison Avenue, anyways?). British partner Lane Price running back to England after his dad pimpslapped him for dating a black Playboy bunny (something else Mad Men savors; its bloodless, ruthless Brits -- Lane aside). Sterling pining for Harris not long after turning the old Sterling Cooper agency upside down by divorcing his first wife for a younger woman -- acting like an entitled rich boy denied the toy he always wanted.
Despite all the drama of Draper's situation -- and his decision to share his terrible lie with new girlfriend Dr. Faye Miller (Cara Buono) -- this felt like an episode filled with chess pieces moving in place for a bigger finish next week.
What happens when everyone learns Lucky Strike is gone? Will Price actually return from England? Will Draper find a way to resolve his double life? and where does Peggy fit into all this, since we didn't see her at all this week?
I hope the answers are more interesting than the episode we saw this week. Because this is shaping up so far to be Mad Men's most inconsistent season, with a few more misses than hits in a bumpy cycle.