'Mad Men' recap: Don in the dumps, Betty in a barn
Grab a cigar and pour yourself an Old Fashioned. Each week, Times TV mavens Michelle Stark -- a young go-getter in the Peggy Olson mold -- and Sean Daly -- the Roger Sterling-esque, smiling-through-the-chaos smartaleck -- will vigorously debate Sunday night's episode of Mad Men.
Sean: Whoa, we have a lot to chit-chat about today, Michelle. In Sunday's ep "Field Trip" (only 4 left in this half of the final season -- ack!), just about EVERYONE was going through an identity crisis. It's the age-old, head-spinning question: How do we define ourselves? How do we want to be perceived? What will keep Don Draper away from that moaning balcony, which is now taking on the aura of a Stephen King device? For all his measured grace, Don, played by that complex force of nature Jon Hamm, is a man of impulses: sex, drink, smoke. And yet several times this season, we've seen him blatantly ignore a booty call for a chance to get his professional life back on track. That's ultimately his definition; why he lied to wife Megan about the dismissal from SCP, why she booted him out of California, divorce pending. He's not a husband or a father first; he's the dude who crushed that Kodak carousel speech! Instead of hooking up with that mysterious blonde at the restaurant, Draper went to see old pal and workmate Roger Sterling. Nice fake out. Speaking of impulses, Roger invited him back to the firm ("You want to come back, come back. I miss you"). And Don went back -- for the most awkward first day of work EV-ER. But hey: "Okay."
Michelle: Ah, Don and Roger. One of the most important bromances of our modern era. It was touching to see him get so passionate about Don - and, of course, his company's bottom line. After all the drugs he’s taken and randos he’s slept with, it’s good to know Mr. Sterling still has a sharp mind under all that silver hair. Their rendezvous also gave us perhaps the best exchange so far this season:
"I came by because I had a quick question." -Don
“How do you sleep at night?” -Don
As for Don's return to SC&P: I audibly gasped when Jim Cutler uttered the words "And you will report to Lou." Uck! The old Don would have walked out of that room in disgust; now, as he tells Lou upon their first meeting, he's just ready to get back to work. (Jon Hamm, again, killing it in this ep.) You're right, Sean, that he defines himself by his professional life. But it's clear things will be very different in the office going forward: Peggy clearly still resents Don for his involvement in the Ted business, the guy running the creative show (Lou) is merely "adequate", Don's going to be working in an office previously occupied by a dude who hung himself (IN SAID OFFICE).
Out in California, Megan seems much happier to see Don this time compared to their reunion in this season's first episode, that is until Don mansplains her life to her, reveals that he’s there because Alan called him, and calls her ‘crazy’ and ‘a lunatic’. Nice, Don. I say it's about time she called him out on his philandering ways and moved on. Though it is a shame she chooses to do so at the one point in time Don isn't cheating on her. (Nice touch that throughout the episode, many women practically throw themselves at Don: the flight attendant, the blonde lady at the restaurant, Meredith.) But the best part of this interaction? Don, once again this season, actually tells the truth. Shirt open, tie undone, hair mussed in that disheveled way you like, Sean, he's 100% honest with Megan. Will it help them work it out in the long run? Eh, maybe; I don't think the show's done with her as Don's wife just yet.
Sean: As for "old-fashioned" Betty (welcome back, January Jones), so put off by the jiggly farmer's daughter, she defines herself as a mother, even though she totally resents the job. It's just a freakin' sandwich, hon. Take off the Jackie O glasses, drop the cig and eat a flippin' gumdrop with your kid. Don may eventually do a fatal Triple Lindy off that balcony, but I'd much rather live in his head than hers.
Michelle: Yeah, no kidding, considering living inside Betty's head would be like living inside a petty, jealous, immature 6-year-old's head. That said, I found Betty slightly less insufferable this week after watching her patiently listen to Bobby “I wish it was yesterday” Draper yammer on about monsters on the school bus.
MVP OF THE NIGHT
Sean: Besides Harry's bangs? And Henry having the calm to not run screaming from Betty? Gotta be Roger. Despite his ridiculous hippie girlfriend, Roger is still one step ahead of most everyone else. And even though it looks as though he's getting pushed around at SC&P, he knew exactly how the chess game would play out when he invited his buddy back. By the way, how territorial has Joan become? She used to have a compassionate bond with Don; now she wants no man digging into the turf she's worked hard to claim.
Michelle: Definitely agree that Roger's the MVP - though I have to mention Ken Cosgrove for his pure elation at Don's return. Baby pictures and carousels! Ah, Kenny, you remind us of simpler times.
Sean: Hey Michelle, which was more cringe-inducing? Betty smoking on the school bus or Don ashing out on the floor of the movie theater? Funny how we lust after both of those beautiful people, and yet we routinely witness them doing things that are essentially grotesque in 2014.
Michelle: Ugh, I cringed equally at both. It's funny, but it seems Don and Betty are the only people we see smoking in this episode. Indication of just how old-fashioned they both still are?
Also, Don seems to be drinking more in this episode. He cracks open a new bottle in his increasingly dark den, meaning the one we saw him marking last week must be gone.
QUOTES OF THE NIGHT:
Sean: "I should fly in and surprise you -- that's a scary thought, isn't it?" -- not-so-clueless Megan, dumping Don
Upon seeing Draper back in the office, Peggy asks, "What's he doing?" To which dreamy-eyed secretary Meredith responds, "Who cares?"
Michelle: "You have stiff competition, but I believe you to be the most dishonest man i’ve ever worked with." -Jim, to Harry Crane, natch
"Well I can't say that we miss you." -Peggy to Don. OUCH.