Mad Men

Mad Men Round Table: Season 2, Episode 11 – “The Jet Set” (Oct 14)

EJ I was off the Round Table last week, so I didn’t get the chance to note the brief appearance of Aloma “Nurse Laverne” Wright as the nurse. My dreams for a Mad Men / Scrubs crossover are coming ever closer to fruition.

So, last week, Myndi used the phrase “The Times, They Are a-Changin’” and now Bob Dylan pops up to play a role in this episode. Well played, Weinraub. And referencing Dylan is a real wake-up call about the historical upheaval to come very soon. Isn’t it hard to imagine Bob Dylan and Don Draper living in the same era? Note by the way, that this episode’s 1962 setting means that he only has one album out, his self-titled flop. In fact, that album sold only 5,000 copies in the first year, and featured only two songs written by Dylan, so when they’re talking about Bob Dylan, they’re not thinking of him the same way that we do. He’s a pleasant folkie at this point.

Poor Sal got a look at what would happen if his co-workers (including crush object Ken) ever found out his secret. (By the way, Sal’s attempts to butch it up are always sadly hilarious. Idly flipping through Playboy at a meeting – way to keep it subtle, buddy. And the look on his face when Ken started throwing the word “queer” around? Devastation.) And of course, it’s yet another humiliation for Peggy, but I like the idea of her and Kurt as the 60’s version of Will and Grace. Sure, the “makeover courtesy of a gay man” is not exactly novel in and of itself, but it has potential. Now that I think about it, Bobbie Barrett tried to make Peggy over, too. She’s sort of a perpetual project.

Over at the Convention, Don loses his luggage. Right there, that’s a sign that things are unraveling. When has Don ever been the victim of bad luck? The universe loves Don Draper! Any misfortune he suffers, he has to create on his own. But now, at a time when Don is actually living out of a suitcase, that suitcase is gone. Not the first time Don’s whole identity has been packed up in a box, is it? And then Don sits through a presentation on MIRV’s, and it looks like he’s flashing back pretty hard. Despite his earlier advice to Peggy, you can’t get rid of the things you want to block out. Remember “It will shock you how much it never happened”? Don right now is shocked at how much it did happen. As much as Don wants to believe they’re different people altogether, Don Draper is nothing but a suit of armor that Dick Whitman wears.

To me, the California scenes seemed deliberately dream-like. Using a warmer color palette distinctly different from the Manhattan scenes, and with the broader acting style employed by the Viscount and his merry band, these scenes had the effect of throwing the viewer off in much the same way that Don was. I try to avoid comparing Mad Men to The Sopranos, but these scenes reminded me a lot of the Season Three episodes where Tony took the crew to Italy. Of course, Tony Soprano had to go all the way across the ocean to get that sort of cognitive dissonance, and Don only had to go to Palm Beach. I liked the way that Don was off his game throughout these scenes – he couldn’t wrap his mind around all the details, and we see a rare loss of control on his part when he passes out. (Breaking my own rule again, that’s exactly what sent Tony Soprano to a psychiatrist’s office in the first place. Interestingly, Don would probably reap real benefits from some decent therapy, whereas Tony ultimately couldn’t.)

The end of the episode is important on many levels. Don actually refers to himself as Dick Whitman, which I don’t think he’s ever done. Who is he calling? My gut feeling is that it’s the woman who found him at the car dealership in a recent flashback. Or maybe it’s the person to whom he was sending books at the beginning of the season. And then, maybe those people are one and the same. The way Don spoke on the phone seemed a little, I don’t know, intimate. Since he has no family and that would be a strange way to speak to his Army buddies, I have to think he called a woman. This is big.

In the very last shot of Don in the episode, he hangs and drapes his arm over the back of the couch, mirroring the logo of the series. While the figure in the opening credits is dressed in a suit and holds out his right arm, Don is shirtless and holds out the left arm – it’s a Bizarro mirror image. If the figure in the credits is meant to represent Don, at the end of the episode, he’s the opposite of Don – Dick.

He writes the information he needs on the last page of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. Now, this is about the same point in the season where Atlas Shrugged came up last season, and that turned out to be the thematic key to the season. Fury is about the dissolution of a Southern family as a metaphor for the problems in the post-Reconstruction South. While it may not specifically relate, the idea of the collapse of Don’s marriage standing as an allegory for the upcoming societal upheaval is appealing. More thought is necessary on this one.

And why did nobody come to the door when the deliveryman dropped off Don’s suitcase. Were Betty and the kids just out, or should we take that to indicate something more? Or was it simply a way to visually convey the idea of Don’s life sitting on the stoop, unclaimed?

Finally, we need to take a look at Duck, who’s drinking again and plotting the takeover of Sterling-Cooper. It’s actually sort of genius, the way he convinced the partners this would be a good thing. Not that Roger needs a lot of convincing – the buyout would help protect his business assets in the upcoming divorce. Of course, if Don hadn’t flown the coop, this idea never would have gotten any legs. You know he would have shot that down in a second, and Bert tends to follow Don’s lead on any undertaking that involves actual thought. We don’t usually see corporate intrigue at this level on Mad Men, so I’m curious to see where this is leading.

Two episodes left this season, and everything is unraveling.


As awkward and creepy as last week was, this week’s Mad Men had some laugh out loud moments.  Although it’s not really a big surprise that Kurt is gay, the no nonsense way in which he revealed it was fabulous.  I wonder if Sal will go to him for some advice at some point on coming out, or burrow further into the closet than ever before.  My guess is the latter, but it would be really interesting to see him venture out and be himself at some point in his life.  Pete getting dissed by Don was funny because he’s Pete and it’s strangely satisfying to see him look like a shmuck.  I also chuckled when Don found out that the older gentleman his new ladyfriend Joy hangs out with and who also acts as her wingman is actually her father.  Awkward!  But still funny.  I laughed at Jane’s poetry, but that was mostly because it was bad.  She sure has Roger mesmerized, though, huh?  I would love to see a big showdown with Roger and Joan over why he picked this little chippie as the woman to finally leave his unhappy marriage over instead of her.  I guess he likes being surrounded by people who won’t call him on his crap, which he knows Joan would do.

The whole California arc is certainly unusual for this show, and it was jarring.  However, I’m now on the edge of my seat, wondering who Don could call out of the blue like that and refer to himself as “Dick” with so little fanfare and make plans to meet soon.  I’d say it has to be the person we saw him send a book to at the start of the season.  I was hoping that was Rachel, somehow, but especially after we met she and her husband briefly earlier this season, I can’t see how that’s possible.  I’m disappointed in Don/Dick, and that he’s simply running away from everything, but then, he wanted to do that with Rachel last season, and would have if she hadn’t balked at the idea, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  Poor little Bobby and Salamander.

Harry is such a fuddy duddy.  That’s really the only word I can think of to describe him.  First, he asks out loud why people have to “go stirring things up” when everyone’s wondering about Paul down in Mississippi, since it will make people not want to watch TV, in his estimation.  Wow, he is NOT going to like the rest of the 20th century, is he?  Then, he is the most obnoxious about Kurt’s homosexuality, asking if he uses the same bathroom.  Not loving Harry these days.

I missed both Paul and Betty, however.  And although Peggy’s hair is an improvement, I still expected more from an out and proud European!  One other random observation…did anyone happen to notice that Roger’s divorce lawyer was played by the same actor who plays Matt’s father on Heroes?  And also that there was a whole spread of lox & bagels put out for the stereotypically nebbishy Jewish attorney?  More funny stuff!

Don (not Draper)

I remember when Mad Men was a show about brazen, politically incorrect, womanizing Manhattan ad executives who smoked cigarettes, drank whiskey, and had extra marital affairs.  I wish AMC would bring that show back.  This past Sunday, we had a lost, roaming episode about a confused man wandering California trying to find himself.  When last we left our favorite fictitious firm, Sterling-Cooper, our famed philanderer, Don Draper, was still trying to make amends but was once again denied the right to sleep in his own bed in his own house by a still-upset Betty Draper, his wife.

Remember that show?  Don’t do this to us, Matt Weiner.  Don’t purposely ‘jump the shark’ in the name of artistic storytelling.  Hmmm.  Or maybe we’re looking at a spin off.  The New Adventures of Old Dick Whitman.  I’d watch that show.

So, back to last week, Don Draper replaced Paul Kinsey on the California trip and we saw Don ‘running away’ from the ever mounting problems of his life and lifestyle.  We expected he’d get out to California, enjoy some sunshine, probably fool around with a NASA wife, land an account through a brilliant show of creativity, and then be welcomed back in New York with a ticker tape parade both at work and at home.  Instead we got what amounts to a ‘dream sequence’ which had better end, and soon.

Immediately upon his arrival in California and at the convention, Don Draper is invited into a cult, is the best way to put it.  Mad Men depicted a California lifestyle that I guess I always thought was cliche.  While the rest of the nation was embarking on complete social upheaval and revolution, California, even in 1962, was ‘above’ all that.  And some of these enlightened folks apparently lived as nomads, borrowed mansions for dinner and sex parties, experimented with mind bending cocktails and drugs, and most of all, didn’t see any need to hold corporate, soul-crushing jobs.  This was the California of the 1960s I’ve come to know from the movie The Graduate.  Having never been to California, maybe that’s exactly what it’s like.

It seems preposterous that Don Draper would be tempted to run off with a young girl into the California hills while on business for his firm.  After all, he’ll screw Pete Campbell, who accompanied him on this trip, in a heart beat, but Don has always been faithful and loyal to a number of other Sterling-Cooper people, most of all, Roger Sterling.  So to sleep with this young girl while at the hotel is one thing – one thing we’ve come to expect from Don Draper.  But to hop in a convertible and completely ditch the convention in favor of ‘exploring’ seems completely out of character – but then again, as we learn every week, we really don’t know Don’s character, and we definitely don’t know Dick Whitman’s.

Who is Dick Whitman?  Who is John Gault?

For an episode I had every intention of sitting down and completely panning, I’m coming around on it.  Amazing that Roger Sterling’s marriage proposal could be so totally and completely minimized.  We have another pair of children as victims.  Why are Germans on this show used as jumping-off points to alternative lifestyles?  Although I appreciate Peggy’s attempt at a makeover, I didn’t think her hair looked that much better.  Figures Harry Crane would be the least accepting of a gay person in the office.

So, Don Draper left Pete Campbell ‘holding the bag’ – a phrase meaning to give someone a bag in order to keep them occupied or to shift blame to them.  Don Draper seems prepared to also leave Betty holding the bag.  And Sterling-Cooper, too.  Duck’s entire life, recently, seems to be about people leaving him holding the bag, and he looks like he might be setting himself up for the same scenario again.  Yes, his back alley bar room and board room deals might yield the results he’d like to see, but he might end up with nothing but ‘the bag.’  Last week, Paul Kinsey was left holding the bag.  Joan, earlier this season, after all her hard work with Harry Crane on the TV campaigns, was left holding the bag.  Roger Sterling left his wife holding the bag.  And though I hate to refer to a child this way, Pete left Peggy holding ‘the bag”, who then left her mother and sister holding it, too.  The point is, most everyone’s behavior and actions on Mad Men seem to have adverse consequences for someone else, so how appropriately did this episode end with the American Airlines worker knocking on the door of the Draper family home, trying to return Don’s lost baggage, but only to be left ‘holding the bag?’  Even more fitting?  He left the bag there and walked away.

All the buzz is about who Don Draper (aka Dick Whitman) called at the end of the episode.  People all over the web seemed intent on guessing who it was.  Well, guess what?  We can’t guess, because it’s a character we’ve never met.  Hopefully we meet this person next week and learn a little more about Don, er …Dick.  I do hope we find our way back to Manhattan sooner than later and see Don’s hand in the potential Sterling-Cooper merger with the British ad firm, that we see him fix the situation with Pete Campbell, and basically get back to the business-world, Manhattan-power-brokering storylines, but I’m afraid this season may have taken us further away from that and the show, like the times, is also “a changing.”

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