Mad Men's "The Rejected" crystallizes what I dislike most about this season: Don Draper's breakdown
If there is a theme to this season's batch of Mad Men episodes so far, it's a simple one: Humbling the womanizing Superman at the show's heart, Jon Hamm's Don Draper.
But that storyline, which must have seemed so tantalizing and full of promise on paper, has served to mostly rob the show of its vital heart -- the seemingly teflon machinations of Draper's wholly invented life. Who knew watching the show answer the question it posed at the start of this season -- "Who is Don Draper? -- could be so, well, boring?
Last night's episode, "The Rejected" continued that pattern, outlining the bereakdown of Allison, the secretary Draper slept with in a drunken impulse earlier in the season. As a longtime Mad Men fan, I kept wondering why Draper kept her around after their tryst, which clearly meant much more to her than it did to him.
Old school Draper would have pulled Christina Hendricks' super savvy office manager Joan aside and made his discomfort clear, getting her assigned to the mailroom or some other spot where he didn't have to see her face.
But our new, so much less improved Draper endures her uncomfortable questions about a mysterious photo from California and even tries to comfort her when she breaks down during a focus group of young secretaries at the firm, who turn a discussion of beauty tips into a sad session on the mysteries of keeping men interested. Even after Allison heaves a small metal globe at him, incensed that Draper can't even be bothered to write her recommendation for a new job himself -- does this woman need to get hit over the head herself to get a clue? -- he hesitates to tell Joan she's gone for good.
If this is Draper with a conscience -- almost writing an apology letter to Allison, living in a skeezy apartment he can barely stand to sleep in -- perhaps we'd all be better off if he got his amoral A game back.
Directed by co-star John Slattery (Roger Sterling), "The Rejected" had lots of odd touches: Peggy looking over a wall to spy on Draper after his confrontation with Allison; firm geezer Bert Cooper eating an apple in the reception area for no discernable reason; Pete Campbell giddy over being a new father when he hasn't figured himself out yet.
One great moment: Copywriter Peggy heading to lunch with her newly-made bohemian friends, stealing a glance at Campbell palling around with bigshots bringing new business to their firm. In the moment they trade glances, sharing the secret of a surrendered love child between them, you also see two worlds passing -- the youth-centered new world of '60s-era freedom and the old, moneyed roles bred in the 1950s.
Second great moment: Draper arguing with a psychologist who used the focus group to conclude women use beauty aids mostly to land a man. His point - people don't know they like a new idea until they are presented with it -- sounds like an argument for the brave new society emerging at that moment from the ashes of 1950s-rigid society.
Or maybe it just felt good to see old school Draper -- brash, self-confident and disdainful of foolish provincialism -- finally bursting free.