Monday, September 28, 2009

"Mad Men" recap: Who's contract is it, anyway?

This week on "Mad Men," we saw a lot of people acting out against authority figures. Don, picking up on last season's revelation that he doesn't have a contract, kicked and screamed when the Ster/Coop bosses finally insisted on tying him down. Betty continued in her flirtation with the politician she met a few episodes ago -- and bought a fairly ugly piece of furniture, flying against the wishes of her imperious decorator.
And Peggy, upset from an argument with Don, made another excellent decision about men.
Spoilers below.
So, a few episodes ago, we had our first real fantasy sequence, with a doped out Betty in the hospital. This episode, "Mad Men" went all "Lost" on us and intercut the storylines with shots of Don, Betty, and Peggy all in the aftermath of the decisions they'd make throughout the hour.
In fact, the episode begins with quick snaps of how they'll all end up. An ashamed, confused Peggy is lying naked in a hotel room, next to an as-of-yet unidentified man, whom we'll later learn is Duck Philips. Betty is lying on her new fainting sofa, no doubt fantasizing about Henry Francis, the man she's flirting with. And Don is lying on the floor, after having been doped, beaten and robbed by those draft-dodging hitchhikers. He staggers up, sees his beaten face in the mirror and...we cut back to the Don of a few days before, fresh and heading off to work. That's when we know that the scenes we've just witnessed are snips of what's going to happen, not what has happened.
When Don gets into work, he sees Pete and the other youngsters eagerly camped outside his door. Conrad Hilton is inside, they inform him. By the way, this scene is hilarious, with all the guys so giddy that I thought for sure Pete was about to launch into another awkward dance routine. Alas, this was not to be. Don shoos the little flies away, and meets the hotel magnate, who proceeds to lecture Don about the absence of a Bible and family photos in his office. Then, they do business. Connie hires Don to do all of his New York business, and they'll go from there. Don agrees. Meanwhile, Pete comes in, still all bouncy and excited, and says he'd love to work on the Hilton account. Don patiently tells Pete to tend to his other work first, then they'll see. I mention this mainly because Don's grace and patience with Pete at this point is starkly different from how he treats Peggy when she makes a similar request later in the episode.
Don is invited to the Ster/Coop inner sanctum, where Bert, Roger and Lane all congratulate him on his victory with Hilton. There is one small thing, however. Hilton's people insist that Don finally have a contract with Ster/Coop. They want make sure Don will be around a while, I guess. The Ster/Coop guys make Don an offer, and Don basically spits in their faces, stamping his feet and yelling "I won't sign a contract! You can't MAKE me sign!"
Well, no. I made that last part up. But that's about the size of it. The three wise men all respond typically. Lane is indignant. Roger gets all silver foxy, calling the Draper house and "accidentally" mentioning Don's contract to Betty. Cooper, meanwhile, thinks. Because that's what Cooper does.
After Roger's call, Betty actually stands up for Don, but is unnerved and later unloads at Don for his unwillingness to be tied to Sterling Cooper. No doubt she sees this as a reflection of the larger commitment issues that spurred her to throw him out of the house.
Don finally gets clarity after a misspent night in which he picks up some hitchhikers who ply him with drugs, beat him up and take his money (they do leave him his car, though, which is sporting of them). The next day, a beaten Don shows up at work claiming he was in a fender bender. To make matters worse, Coop shows up in his office, and lays down the law, slyly uses the whole Dick Whitman thing as leverage. Once again, he tells Don (as he did last season) "Would you agree I know something about you?" Don agrees, and Cooper gently pushes the contract in front of him, pointing out that, when you get right down to it, who's really signing this contract anyway? Ha! Coop you sly one! You act all dotty but you really don't miss a thing, do you?
Anyway, on to Betty's thread of the episode, which I'm kind of going to speed through, due to a lack of time and a lack of interest (I always find the Betty threads important but, with rare exceptions, they're kind of the vegetable you have to plow through to get to the treat of the Don/Peggy/Pete/Roger/Joan/etc. scenes). Anyway, Betty is already neglecting her brand new child, instead sinking her time into redecorating and working with the Junior League. The latter is especially important, because Betty finds a way to use it to reconnect with Henry Francis, the belly groper from Roger's party. She wants him to use his influence with the governor to keep a local reservoir from being drained. There's little he can do, but that doesn't seem to bother our Betty. Really, she's just happy for the time away from home, and the opportunity to continue her flirtation. Her investment in the Henry Francis relationship deepens throughout the episode. When she complains of dizziness following their outing to the bakery, Henry suggests she buy a fainting sofa, like Victorian ladies used. She does, and her decorator has a fit. I kind of agree -- the sofa is ugly. Of course, sometimes a sofa is more than a sofa. This one is, judging from the way Betty gently runs her hands over her body while lying upon it, no doubt dreaming of the potential of this new quasi-relationship.
Now onto the good stuff -- Peggy. Duck is continuing to woo her and Pete, sending them expensive gifts. When Peggy's arrives, Pete is on hand, telling her he knows it's from Duck. It is -- and it's a lovely Hermes scarf. Then we get our longest, and least hostile, Pete/Peggy interaction of the season. Pete, less angry than we saw him a few episodes ago, asks Peggy what she's going to do. Peggy doesn't know -- she's probably not going to take the job, but she REALLY likes this scarf. Maybe she'll keep it? Nope, says Pete. Duck is using Peggy to hurt Don and, even if she turns down the job, keeping the scarf will make Duck think he has some sort of advantage with her. She's got to give it back. Peggy sheepishly agrees. During this same conversation, she learns about the Hilton account, which must strengthen her resolve to remain at the Coop. She calls Duck and firmly refuses the gift. Duck, genially, tells her he's meeting the Hermes people at a hotel. Maybe she could swing by and return the gift in person? She says no, but is momentarily softened when Duck jokes that his new agency resembles a Penn Station bathroom. That Peggy. Always impressed by a well-turned phrase. But she maintains her position, and hangs up the phone. Then, she goes to Don, asking to be put on the Hilton account. Don, frustrated by the whole contract situation, berates her for always wanting something. You know -- like basic respect. The nerve of her! "You were my secretary" he sneers, chiding her ambition and neediness. You're good, he says, in a half-assed attempt to say something kind. Then he undercuts the compliment by telling her to get better and stop asking for stuff. Ouch. What's a girl to do but swing by the lair of Don's mortal enemy, Duck Philips? Duck is happy to see her, even after she, once again, turns down the job at Grey. This is what opportunity looks like, he gently tells her. She says no again.
Then Duck starts hitting on her. He never noticed her before, he says, but now... they make out and Duck offers to remove her clothes with his teeth and give her the "once over" of her life. How can poor, angry, vulnerable Peggy say no? They shag and, the next morning, she walks the walk of shame to Ster Coop, clad, I believe, in her clothes from the day before.
Weirdly, no one seems to notice.
Here are some more thoughts on "Seven Twenty Three":
* Ah -- I've gone and forgotten Miss Farrell, whom Don sees again after her intoxicated phone call to him. She's helping the kids make viewing boxes for the coming eclipse. Don flirts with her and she, oddly, calls him on it immediately. Don, put off by her directness, is flustered and, seems to back off (unless I misread the scene). Maybe they aren't headed for affairs-ville after all? And why does Miss Farrell put Don off, telling him he's just like the other dads, as she's clearly flirted with him as much as he's flirted with her? Oh, those naughty schoolteachers.
* Though I really found the Betty plot boring (we get it! Her affair has made her curious about extramarital hanky-panky!), I did like one moment from it: the contrast between her polite phone voice with Henry Francis's secretary, and the way she bellows "LUNCH!" at her children. Ha! That's such a mom thing to do!
* OK, so, who's watching Gene while Betty's redecorating/Junior Leaguing/Henry Francis flirting? Didn't she say last week that she was letting Carla go to spend more time with the kids? I assume Carla's not there, as we haven't seen her. Also, Sally is clearly looking after Bobby, as evidenced by her chiding him to wash his hands before lunch (and how adorable is their horseplay at the sink? So refreshing to see them acting like kids!). So who's watching Gene?
* We established a few episodes ago that Duck has stopped drinking. However, he's clearly got a ways to go on the 12-step road. "I love the taste of alcohol on your breath" he lustfully tells Peggy during their tryst. Eek.
* So why does Duck seduce Peggy? Is it just to hurt Don? Or maybe to hurt Pete who, we've been led to believe, also rejected the job? Or does he just assume Peggy's easy, because she slept with a goofball like Pete? Peggy, for her part, does seem to be acting out against her surrogate daddy Don after he hurt her. Though she was admiring Duck's turtleneck during their lunch a few episodes back. And she's chronically incapable of making good decisions when it comes to guys.
* You gotta love Bert calling Hilton "eccentric." Man, I love Bert Cooper.
* During their climactic exchange, Don tells Cooper that he does not want to have any more interaction with Roger. Oh Don -- don't you know that will just make Roger more dead set on winning you over?
* Overall, I wasn't that into this episode. It felt a little flat, particularly after last week's spectacular "Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency." I liked the furthering of the Peggy storyline, but the Betty/Don stuff wasn't that interesting. What did you think?


Lee Steele said...

I'm still reeling from last week's severed foot, so I was convinced this week that someone would be blinded by looking at the eclipse. Blood shooting out of their eye sockets, etc. You're right that this episode was a little flat, but the hitchhikers were important in showing how Don is morphing from hip to square. He'll be really out of date pretty quickly if he doesn't ditch the brylcreem somewhere down the road.

Danielle said...

I found the episdoe almost entirely depressing. There was no real joy. The only smile that crossed my face was when Cooper called Hilton eccentric. That was the highlight of the episode.