“It’s a common mistake to not ask questions when you want to, because you’re afraid of the answers,” an empty-eyed banker tells Pete, Bert, and Joan in the opening scene of Sunday’s episode. We all have questions, indeed; does all this doom and gloom indicate someone (else, RIP Lane) is going to die? Is SCDP going to be able to keep up with the times? Will Don Draper ever actually “find himself”? Sunday’s episode was a slap in the face, but also featured more of the same. With an unexpected but unsurprising development, Don Draper proves he doesn’t learn, and Peggy Olsen takes a step back. The whole crew jumps into a handbasket together – and guess where it’s headed?
It’s around Mother’s Day in 1968 (Weiner has meticulously lined up the air dates closely enough with present day, and at least here on the East coast, we’re well in the murky/gorgeous spring weather the characters are also inhabiting). SCDP is surreptitiously meeting with bankers about going public. Bert Cooper wants them to debut at an ambitious $12 a share. The banker coolly admits that $9 is what they’ll give, but he’ll need to keep the documents for 24 hours. He smiles at Joan, his eyes glinting appreciatively, and says, “These papers are impeccable. My compliments to the chef.” After he leaves, Pete Campbell proves he is still a creep, despite his show of prideful indignance at Harry Crane’s supposed racism last week. “It’s a marvel,” Pete says to Joan, smarm pouring from every pore. “Everyone wants you, don’t they?” Once Joan hears aloud that her portion of the company will be worth nearly $1 million, she smiles and collapses. “You’re flushed,” Pete says. She’ll never get around her sexuality. She used it to get here, and it’s going to haunt her forever.
Roger Sterling, he of the season premiere breakdown, is up to something. He’s sleeping with a 20-something flight attendant who gets up before him so she can put on her face. When she tries to leave him to spend Mother’s Day with, you know, her mom, that manipulative little bastard Roger tells her “But my mother just died…” She gets back in bed, flashing panty-clad crotch at the camera in the process. Funny, the way Weiner is so careful about the sexual imagery surrounding his leading ladies, but purposely careless about the “throwaway” characters’ portrayal. It feels as though we’re viewing the show’s women through Don’s eyes.
Trudy Campbell has relented and allowed Pete back to their suburban abode, at least on the weekends. She hasn’t, however, let him back into their marriage bed – and she’s teasing him. When he gets into bed, she gets out, mentioning that their daughter, not their sex, is the most important part of their marriage. When she stands, she reveals a distinctly un-Trudy like, bright pink robe that flaunts her formidable assets. Because he is perpetually twelve years old, Pete Campbell narrows his eyes and warns her, “I have big things coming. You have no idea.”
Marie Calvet has come for a visit (oh, joy!). She’s accessorized with her Gaulois (just a guess) and glass of wine, bitching prettily about how she hates being called “Grandma.” She perks up very nicely when Arnold stops by the Draper household in his bathrobe, though. The good doctor is in need of wrapping paper for mother’s day. Marie offers the flowers that Megan gifted her, explaining she’s quite done with them. “Thanks, Mother,” Megan says sarcastically, understanding on the basest of levels that the men in Marie’s life will always be more important to her than Megan will be. Marie, always the pot-stirrer, tells Don with a slight, cynical smile, that she wouldn’t leave Megan and Arnold alone together. Marie, of course, would have no way of truly knowing how funny that is…but she’s far more aware of her surroundings than Megan is. “I’m more worried about you,” Don tells her. As well he should be – Marie’s shown a taste for rich silver foxes; her last tryst was, of course, with Roger Sterling.
Abe and Peggy are a comedy of errors/Money Pit duo, trying to fix up their new place, we assume in the west 80s. Kids are sitting on the stoop, passing joints and banging on bongos. Peggy smiles ruefully as Abe accidentally electrocutes himself a little, then reports that there’s human feces on the stairs again. This isn’t her ideal situation, and Abe’s insistence on it is only pushing her farther away…and farther toward Ted Chaough.
Chaough and Cutler, into whose lives we are for the first time really getting a glimpse, are asking the creative team at CGC to keep drawing rockets. “We never should have resigned Alfa Romeo,” says Frank Gleason pitifully. “I don’t want to draw rockets anymore.” Gleason shares that he has pancreatic cancer and laments the fact that he’ll cause the agency money problems if he dies. Chaough, for what it’s worth, acts every bit the encouraging, strong friend. “You are going to beat this thing!” he says. You can see this development whirring around in his head, though.
SCDP has set up a meeting with Herb Rennet, but Pete isn’t involved this time. Don is disgusted by Herb and the necessity of continuing interaction with him. Don, unfortunately, doesn’t have the world’s best poker face (except when he’s cheating on his wife – which is interesting, all things considered). He invites Megan and Marie for dinner with Herb and Roger, against his better judgment. Megan is obviously hurt that Marie clearly prioritizes the men in her life before her daughter (first Arnold with the flowers; then Megan notes that rather than spend an evening with her daughter, Marie would rather “spend an evening listening to Roger Sterling’s jokes”), but this is news to exactly no one. Two young ladies stop Megan and Marie in an elevator to ask Megan for an autograph. Marie’s face is priceless. Megan dishes to her mom about her failing marriage; “He’s gone so far away sometimes when we’re alone I feel like I’m making conversation,” she says, genuinely hurt and concerned. Marie, always the cynical French diva, gets straight to (part of) the heart of it…Don is threatened by her autographs, her fame. She’s not supposed to be better than him. “The only thought he should have at this meal is how quickly he can get between your legs,” Marie says. (My beau, whose command of colloquial French is admittedly imperfect, noted that although the subtitles said, “between your legs,” what Marie actually said was a racy term for the female anatomy – which explains Megan’s embarrassed giggle.)
Meanwhile, Bert gives Pete the news that SCDP is going public at $11 a share. Celebrations ensue! Unfortunately, across town Don Draper is forced to interact with Herb Rennet, one of SCDP’s best customers (and Joan’s ultimate shame and saving grace). Roger Sterling never shows up to dinner because he’s using that stewardess for all her talents – including getting him on an impromptu flight to Detroit to talk to Chevy.
Without Roger’s calming influence, Don can’t handle Herb or his wife, who’s babbling about a bitch laying a litter of pups on their dirty garage floor. (Happy Mother’s Day!) Marie can’t handle it either. In French, she says to Megan, “Dear God, listen to this idiot. I need another drink.” She jokes halfheartedly about breaking the bottle over Herb’s wife’s head. Megan gets up to “powder her face,” and we discover she’s taken Marie’s fashion/marriage advice to heart; her dress is so short her lady bits are probably communing with the restaurant chair. Herb gives Don a name, a guy who’s writing ad copy for Herb’s car lots. Don takes matters into his own hands, as he always does, and loses Jaguar for SCDP. He escorts Megan and Marie from the restaurant as Herb huffs and his wife plaintively calls, “It was lovely! See you soon.”
At home, Megan also discovers her fashion choice didn’t go unnoticed. Marie guzzles wine straight from the bottle while she listens to her daughter and son in law get it on against the wall of the next room. When the phone rings, Marie answers. It’s Roger, of course. He kind of wanted to talk to Don – but he’s ditched Marie for dinner and she is pissed. Marie tells him to forget her name. Roger, of course, is hardly in a place to feel snubbed at the moment.
The gentlemen of SCDP visit the whorehouse again…and who else should be there, but Trudy’s father Tom, who’s also purveyor of Vick’s Chemicals? Pete Campbell freezes in place as his father-in-law passes him in the hallway followed by a voluptuous African American hooker spilling out of her top. When Pete approaches Ken Cosgrove in the morning, Ken assures him his pop-in-law isn’t in a place where he can tell anyone about Pete’s indiscretion. “It would be mutually assured destruction,” says Kenny, not incorrectly. “It’s why I’m not worried about the Bomb.” Cosgrove is odd this season – there’s been no mention of his erstwhile career as a sci-fi writer; he’s been hovering in corners, giving staid advice and murmuring about destruction under his breath.
A few minutes later, Pete Campbell literally falls down the SCDP stairs screaming at Don at the top of his lungs. Don, he reports to the entire office at a fever pitch, fired Jaguar just as they were looking into going public. Joan, forever the peacemaker, ushers the partners into the glassed-in conference room (where everyone can look on – whose idea was this place, anyway?). As it turns out, Roger’s conniving resulted in great things – they have an appointment with Chevrolet. When Don admits to having fired Herb, Joan’s eyes well with tears…but not of gratitude, not like Don expected. No, she’s mad as hell. “Don’t you feel 300 pounds lighter?” Don asks – seriously? Why yet another reference to Joan’s only talent? Even to Don, her knight in shining armor, her talents only shine when she’s on her back, obviously. “Honestly, Don, if I could deal with him, you could.” She tells him he can’t keep doing this, making big decisions on the part of everyone. It isn’t his responsibility. Remember how Joan reacted when Peggy came to her defense last season? This lady can handle her own shit, and she needs everyone to know it. Did Don just sever his budding, pleasing relationship with Joan?
Not understanding to what level Roger Sterling has actually saved his ass, Don eyes the Chevy account, and his eyes light up. Chevy is building a secret car, with a COMPUTER. Don knows a jackpot when he finds it. The team sets to work with renewed vigor, knowing as each of them do that this may be the last chance for a car for SCDP.
On her end, Peggy finds a drunk Ted Chaough in his office, banging on the TV. After her prior interactions with Drunken Don Draper, she must feel a little oddly about Chaough’s behavior. Thinking he needs reassurance, she naively tells him, “Don’t let Frank Gleason make you doubt yourself.” It’s the same kind of pep talk Don needed, one she couldn’t quite give then. Fortunately for Peggy, Ted Chaough is no Don Draper. When he kisses her on the mouth, she applies only the slightest protesting pressure. She and Abe are basically doomed at this point.
Arnold reveals to Don that he’s quit his job because he couldn’t complete a heart transplant, and in the process of trying he ended up with two dead kids. Arnie asks Don to get a drink with him, but Don obviously can’t do that. By the way, where do we think Sylvia is this week? Wherever she is, her absence is letting Megan Draper back into Don’s sex life.
Since his father-in-law didn’t respond to calls, Pete Campbell took it upon himself to go to Vicks’ “lair.” The man immediately fires SCDP; the partners are learning that nepotism and underhanded dealings are simply not the answer, not anymore. “My daughter is a princess,” Tom Vogel tells Pete. “You have no business being a father.” Pete isn’t particularly hurt by any of this, but he is certainly pissed off. “You just pressed the button, you just blew everything up.” It’s a sly reference to Kenny’s comment about the Bomb. What bombs are in store for the rest of the partners?
Peggy, wandering around her apartment wearing a red bandanna on her face (red, that color of whores), complains that the paint fumes are making her sick. She doesn’t understand why Abe would want to live in this neighborhood with the hippies with bongos. “I don’t like change. I want everything to stay the same!” she cries, saying aloud the sentiment going through every character’s head right now – except, of course, Abe’s. As Abe comforts her with his political rhetoric – Johnson’s gone, the war is ending, they’re going to have a new president soon one way or another (“Best case McCarthy, worst case Kennedy”), Peggy tumbles into a ridiculous fantasy about Ted Chaough. Ugh.
In Detroit, Chaough and Don run into each other at a bar. “Dammit!” Ted yells from across the room, before sitting down next to Don to share a drink together. Chaough knows that when there are two little agencies at a meeting, everybody’s dead. Chevy, he says, knows how to “fight the war with bodies on the ground.” With planes flying by in the background at the airport hotel bar, the repeated bomb and war imagery, we are clearly meant to internalize the fact that SCDP has officially entered a war of its own.
On their respective bar stools, Don and Ted are playing show and tell. The men who’ve most influenced Peggy’s life are pitching to each other. The ad campaign Don describes is far ahead of its time – despite his reticence to change, Don Draper is actually moving advertising in its inevitable direction: forward. Out of the blue, Don suggests combining the agencies. After all, as Joan Holloway told him, “we” is more important than “I.” However, dear Don, you are doing it wrong. Making these enormous decisions on your own, even if you see them as combining forces with an ally, creating a “we,” is exactly what Joanie was warning you against.
Pete Campbell, a vindictive child, tells his wife about her father. He sits Trudy down at the kitchen table and tells her he saw Tom “with a 200 pound Negro prostitute.” Pete’s own racism, his own ugliness, pours from his lips only a week after he railed against Harry’s bigotry. Trudy tells him it’s over. They’re done.
Peggy is preparing to leave the office (after dark, as always) when her secretary tells her Ted wants to see her. Peggy, smiling like a schoolgirl, touches up her makeup before going to Ted’s office. Ted has forgotten the drunken kiss, obviously – and Don Draper is his new date. Peggy obviously feels ambushed, wide-eyed and surprised. The two men in her life who’ve had the biggest professional impact, the two men she worked her hardest to keep separate, have merged. In fact, the agencies are merging completely. And Peggy has once again taken second place. “We’d like you to write the press release,” Ted says, thinking that’ll make her feel warm and fuzzy. It’s May 17, 1968. Peggy writes the press release.
Remember how excited the partners were to acquire a new floor in the building? Those stairs, the connection between the top and bottom floor of the agency, are fast becoming the series’ physical centerpiece. Joan had her partner photo taken on them, reflecting her metaphorical status between the upper and lower levels. Joan also fired Scarlett on them, but Harry Crane rebuffed her attempts to take control. Most importantly, in this episode Pete Campbell literally falls down the SCDP stairs. Is this, perhaps, foreshadowing? Pete’s whole life is exploding all over again, but it’s his own damned fault, not Don’s this time.
When I first heard about the top-secret, computer designed Chevrolet, I initially thought it was perhaps the Camaro – which was one of the most recognizable and beloved cars of the 1960s. The internet, however, tells me SCDP and CGC are preparing to write an ad campaign for one of the biggest automobile failures in the history of American cars: the Chevy Vega. If this is true, the whole kit and kaboodle are barrelling toward advertising doom. The whole season has been foreboding as hell, and the Vega could be the death knell we’ve all been waiting for.
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