Mad Men

Mad Men Round Table: Season 2, Episode 12 – “The Mountain King” (Oct 21)

EJ – Wait just a minute.  Bert’s sister is named Alice? Alice…. Cooper? HA!

This is the happiest we’ve ever seen Don and Peggy, but everybody else had a rough time this week. It turns out, his call last week was to the woman from the flashback, and she is indeed the same person to whom he sent that copy of Meditations in an Emergency. What we didn’t know is that she’s the real Don Draper’s widow. (And also, that she appears to be a polio survivor – I can’t decide if that’s supposed to be a metaphor and if so, for what.) Both in the flashback and in the present, we saw Don/Dick being happy – this is the healthiest relationship of his life. There’s no sexual nature to it, no attempts to dominate or control. This is Don in a real, honest friendship. They legitimately enjoy and care about one another. And how could you not love that sweet scene where Don tells her about that new girl he met? There really is a heart in there, but you can only get to it through Dick Whitman.

In a way, that was the biggest revelation of the episode – simply the fact that Don is capable of happiness. Underneath it all, he’s a nice guy who would be perfectly happy working on cars. I remember a line in the first episode, when some of the guys are talking about Don. One of them (Ken?) says of Don “That guy could be Batman for all we know.” A throwaway line, but it turns out that Don really does have a dual identity. The differences between Dick Whitman and Don Draper are just as pronounced as those of Bruce Wayne and Batman, and it’s wearing on Don. We’ve seen bits of Dick Whitman, references to his old life, slip into his conversations this season. Maybe he can’t keep up the masquerade anymore. What are we to make of his episode-ending swim? A baptism? A cleansing? Is he born anew? And if so, who’s emerging from the water – Don or Dick?

By the way, notice that Don fixed Anna’s chair in this episode. Remember Betty’s plees for him to fix a chair earlier this season, eventually resulting in Betty just flat-out destroying it? Brilliant continuity there. Another nice bit was the TV showing The Day the Earth Stood Still. Usually what’s on the TV is thematically important, but in this case, it’s just a nice reference to this winter’s upcoming remake, in which Jon Hamm appears. (Which means I have to watch it. Dammit.)

Peggy is happy, too. And oddly, she’s finding happiness by becoming Don. She’s taken the office next to his, we see her smoking and working late into the night, and best of all, she’s learned Don’s Zen Ad Man act. “Rituals…” Every man on the show wants to be Don Draper, and it might just be that Peggy’s the only one who can really pull it off, and that may even include Dick Whitman.

Notice Peggy invoking her own Catholicism with, of all things, popsicles. Is she drawn back to the church? Remember Don’s impassioned Carousel pitch, which actually caused him to realize how much he values his family. Peggy’s digging deep, and just maybe finding the thing that matters to her.

Pete is only saved by the fact that he wasn’t the most awful person in the entire episode. Still, he’s an awful man. I thought he was going to get violent with Trudy, and was relieved that he only tossed a chicken out the window. Still, it did result in his losing the one account he could hang his hat on. Pete’s value to the firm has pretty much hinged on Clearasil, and he blew it. A guy who can’t hold on to his father-in-law’s account will not be looked upon kindly by Sterling-Cooper’s new corporate masters.

Remember last week, when we heard that Bert’s sister would do whatever he wanted? Yeah, Alice Cooper is pretty clearly the brains of that operation. She’s got some fight in her, too. (Loved the burn on Roger and his “children”.) What’s Don going to think when he comes back to this change in his status quo? Sure, he’s clearing half a million, but I don’t think he’s going to like this merger. And if he’d been there, it wouldn’t have happened. He would have brought Duck down like a rabid dog.

Rough episode for Betty. First off, she locks her daughter in the closet for smoking. (How do you live in the Draper house and not smoke?) Note that there’s nothing in the closet except Don’s errant suitcase. Betty keeps a closet empty just so she can lock disobedient kids in it! She is not a great mother, it appears.

Not a great friend either. Not only did she do everything she could to set up Sarah and Arthur, she treats her like dirt for doing exactly the thing that Betty desperately wanted to do. True enough, Sarah and Arthur made their choices, but Betty did everything she could to force the situation. Whether it was to live vicariously through Sarah or to have somebody she could look down on is hardly the point – this is just vicious behavior on Betty’s part.

And what of the blood in her last scene? I assume it was an indication that she had miscarried, but we don’t really have that much information. We don’t even know for sure what part of her was bleeding. It could be anything at this point.

Finally, Joan. This is actually really hard to talk about, and I’m doing my best to forego my usual jaunty tone. Greg’s been unlikable up to this point, and the way he freaked out over Joan being on top was just weird. Poor Joan just can’t bring any of her office power home.

And then it just gets awful. Her own fiancée rapes her in Don’s office. This dirtbag is so desperate to prove his masculinity, to assert his dominance in the relationship, and it’s a grotesque parody of some of Don’s own dominance games. This scene was awful and heartbreaking, and Joan broke my heart.

Poor, poor Joan. Not only has she watched as everything important to her gradually erodes, but the one person she should be able to trust betrayed her in the most horrifying way imaginable. And she has absolutely nowhere to go with this. She has nobody she can confide in, nobody who’ll stand up for her. All she can do is try to keep up her façade as she brags about her fiancée to Peggy, dying inside all the while.

And with this, I think we really see the theme of the season. It’s about the death of the dream. This season, we see the consequences of the lifestyle that Mad Men initially seemed to romanticize. Marilyn Monroe’s suicide, Freddy Rumsen’s alcoholism, even Don flipping his car while driving drunk. The attitude toward women that so many of the male characters share is carried out to an evil conclusion. And Don’s secrets? While they were once the appeal of the character, the self-(re)made man, now they’re his heaviest burden. The members of our cast, and in fact the society they live in, are facing down consequences as the world changes. They’re finally waking up from the American Dream.

Remember, Jon Hamm is hosting Saturday Night Live this week. This is not something that we should miss.


This episode was an absolute tribute to the acting of Jon Hamm.  In one episode he played a young Don Draper, a young Dick Whitman and an older Dick Whitman.  Older Don Draper is still MIA, but I think we’ll get him back at some point.  I don’t see this man abandoning his children.  Hamm pulled it all off with grace and subtlety.  Each characterization was unique.  Hats off to him for that.  I definitely miss Don being involved with his family and his colleagues at Sterling Cooper, but I trust this show to bring everything back around again.  I’m being patient with Don/Dick’s sojurn and apparent ocean baptism.  I think he’ll realize where he belongs…the question will become whether or not he’s welcome anymore.

The merger storyline is interesting, as in this era, these mergers, name changes, etc. happen everyday.  I’ve personally worked for the same company for over twelve years but it’s had three different names on my business cards.  This is foreshadowing what’s to come as the business world shifts, just like Harry Crane’s seemingly insignificant little TV division will soon be the most important cog in the wheel.  Oh, he’ll have his own office, all right.  But he’ll probably still be cranky.

Peggy is starting to really develop, which is great to see.  She’s still troubled, and still has a lot to go through to come to terms with her issues, but she’s knows what her “calling” in life is.  She’s good at this; she even surprised herself by negotiating for Freddy’s office.  And her joke about sleeping with Don?  Classic!  Peggy might be fun by the 70s!  She really is emulating Don, because her tone and demeanor were as important to landing that Popsicle account as the pitch itself.

Pete is back to being dispicable and unlovable.  Poor Trudy.  At least she stood up for herself a little before he threw their dinner off the terrace.  I can only imagine what poor sap got bonked on the head by falling poultry.  Yes, these are the things I worry about.  Paul, whose apparent gasbaggery got him dumped in Mississippi, was back to utter a great line about Peggy putting on Don’s pants when she moved into her new office, but Ken took the cake when he suggested she replace the couch Freddy’d left behind.

The scene with Roger and Alice Cooper, his former babysitter, was delicious, almost making up for the loss of Roger/Don scenes.  Her crack about his two children was legendary and made me want to hug her, if she wasn’t ficitional and almost surely dead by now. The uneasiness of Joan’s scenes almost recalled for me the uproar over the rape scene between Denis Leary’s character and his estranged wife on Rescue Me.  Is it rape simply because you are unwilling at that moment, even though this is a person you would consentually have slept with any other time?  The answer is of course, yes, but in both of these dramatizations, the women have to rationalize that it’s not in order to get through it and move on.  If Joan views herself as a victim, she can’t possibly go on.  Instead, she attempts to idealize Greg through his good works and community stature to Peggy, looking for validation.  This is not the Joan we want to see; we want her to be strong and independent, qualities her future husband obviously wishes to discourage in the bedroom and out of it.

Don (not Draper) Last week I tongue-in-cheek asked the AMC bring back the Mad Men we fell in love with.  A show, set in 1961, about a bunch of Madison Avenue advertising executives laced with 1960s cultural references and social context.  It was a show everyone talked about and it quickly shot up people’s “all-time best shows” list, and for good measure.  There was incredible texture, attention to detail, and the characters were amazing.  We had an eccentric CEO in Bertram Cooper, and cocksure, womanizing, cocktail swilling President in Roger Sterling, and both served as the devil and angel on the shoulder of our star …Don Draper.

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