The Least Important, Most Important Thing There Is
Well, I feel we must begin with Don’s own elaborate version of Peggy’s old turkey stunt – what the what! Of course it was bold, daring and simply all-the-buzz exciting…but most of all I think it reminded us how very much Don is not a team player – not a partner. After kicking off with a promisingly bold interview, this season quickly moved to having Don floundering to find himself (not sure that’s the theme I would have pegged in the first episode!). And find himself he did with this ‘why I’m quitting tobacco’ stunt! So much so, we even get the shot of Henry reading the paper, being reminded of the shrewd charisma his wife’s ex really has. This lone-acting Don is kind of dangerous – I’m sure we’re all riding the wave of excitement with the other SCDP kids (at least the ones who didn’t get fired), but this still could not work. And I have to wonder what colossal failure looks like on Don – we’ve seen him fail when he doesn’t step up to the plate (we’ve seen a lot of that this season). But conventional wisdom dictates that a stunt like this should yield marvelous results…what if it doesn’t? That’s a twist I’d be curious to see play out.
In the end, it was Cooper who captivated me most in this plot turn. Sure, Don just figured out this little loophole to exploit in the system – and then everyone else recognized it when Don pointed it out. But when Cooper’s anger was expressed at the fact not that Don had put the company at risk, but that he had left the rest of them behind in the hypocrisy, we realized that Cooper knew this tension all along…there’s a big-picture wisdom to Cooper that is missing from all the younger guys. I sure hope he hasn’t really collected his shoes for the last time!
Whenever Sally takes a significant role in an episode, she ends up as it’s star. This week we got to hear some of the philosophically complex thoughts that run around her head. And I want to pause on this for a moment – to connect a lack of belief in Heaven, sadness at the concept of forever, and the visual image of the eternal return of the same captured on the infinite repetition of the Land of Lakes butter girl…that would be a surprisingly esoteric, intelligent connection of thoughts for an adult on this show! We know that Sally is spunky, rebellious, sexually awakened, insolent but also quite sweet when she wants to be, and most of all broken – but we didn’t know she was wicked smart. More so than I’m interested in seeing where her relationship with the shrink goes (although I am intrigued by the level of self-awareness she’s gaining in therapy), and more so than I’m interested in what the move will do to her (although, if anyone could tell me what that was she was holding while crying on the bed, I’d much appreciate it), I want to see where the revelation of this genius element to her character goes. That, I think or, at least, I hope is what’s going to blossom in the next season!
Oh man I was excited for Midge’s return – I’ve hoped to see her again ever since she left. I thought her bohemian life was such a fun counter-part to Don, so ugh – how sad to see that that bohemian life has led into a desperate, depressing dependence on heroin! Cheap whiskey (is there a better symbol for a worse life in the symbol-set of Mad Men?), anguished paintings, and a creepy husband who’ll try to sell his wife for sex for drugs…I’m so disappointed to see what has happened to one of the few free, fun-loving ladies of the show (if not the only!).
For all the ways Don’s stunt was a re-assertion of his own autonomous power, I think it was also an expression of his mourning for what Midge had become. He was inspired to write the article while looking at her painting. And while cigarettes are certainly a product that “never improves” and “causes illness,” I’m not sure his assertion that they “make people unhappy” really referred to cigarettes as much as it referred to the heroin addiction that inspired his cigarette-addiction tirade.
Finally, I’m curious to see where this new level of dependence to Don and Pete’s relationship ends up. Pete has long kept Don’s secret (at his own loss), but now he finds himself reversing that dependence to the tune of $50K. For all the ways it was risky to Pete to hold Don’s secret, his love of power (paired with a creepy spinelessness) kept him from spilling it. Balance the scales like this, and I’m not quite sure what will happen. But I’m excited to see!
Can’t wait to hear what you thought!
Good morning Natalie, from the other side of irony! What a stunt indeed! I have so much confidence in Don’s creative savvy that I half expected the phones to be ringing off the hook with new business the moment he walked in the door. And clearly he expected the same, the way he kept asking Megan if anyone else had called. I like that the show is making Don – and us – sweat it out a bit waiting to see if the big gamble will pay off and how. It will be interesting to see what Don does with real failure – and if it means he would have to consider joining another firm and signing an even more binding contract. We all know that what Don fears most of all is being controlled and tied down – in this he is most not a partner. But it would also be interesting to see how he would handle no response. What if the stunt doesn’t do much of anything, or just barely helps them stay afloat? He wanted it to be a bold statement to save the day and maybe it will just be an interesting moment that quickly fades.
Before it does, let’s talk about what exactly the stunt was. I agree that there was probably some connection around addiction going on, but also a desire in the face of a slow death at work and Midge’s slow death at home to be active, bold, unpredictable. To grab life by the balls, so to speak, and show that he would not go gently into that good night. I don’t think we are supposed to think he really meant it – as Stan says to Danny when he asks if Don is going to stop smoking “you’re missing the point.” The ad isn’t really about addiction, cigarettes, vices, or socially responsible advertising – it is a stunt, a gimmick, or as Don says “a full page ad for the firm and if you can’t recognize that you shouldn’t be in this business.” But it is also clear that not everyone is in on the joke. In fact, the only business the ad seemed to drum up was from the American Cancer Society, which clearly took the ad very seriously. Does this mean Don is too far ahead of his own times, peddling irony in a pre-ironic age? I kind of love that Mr. Tight-Lipped, Close to the Chest Don (who once sneered at Volkswaggon’s “Lemon” ads) is too ironic for his moment. I also love the idea that this stunt might propel SDCP into an era of socially responsible advertising. Does it mean they would have to stop smoking at work? I haven’t taken the time to see if 1965 represented some landmark turn in social issues advertising to see if that might be in the future for SDCP, but the other alternatives don’t seem realistic for the big finale: they can’t start another firm again this year right? They won’t seriously considering breaking up the team again, will they? Any predictions of your own?
In other news, I also loved Sally Draper – her self-awareness, her budding self-control. Not only her brilliant existential/philosophical musings, but the sense that she really is coming into her own and thanks to Dr. Edna, she just might escape the fate of her childish mother (a bit heavy handed, but oh so accurate when Betty feels more comfortable with a child psychologist). I think what Sally was holding was the lanyard Glenn made for her back in the season and left on her bed during his nighttime raid. As she cradled it sobbing into her pillow, I couldn’t help but think how much more therapy she was going to need. Instead of letting Sally and Glenn figure out their own safe boundaries and enjoy the permutations of a friendship that is also a crush, Betty vilifies it and pushes them apart. I have a lot of hope that Sally will avoid the pitfalls she sees modeled for her, but it is going to be an uphill battle.
Especially since, as you say, the only woman who actually seemed free and independent has turned into a heroine junkie. Speaking of sad female dynamics, what did you make of the exchange between Faye and Peggy? It was sweet and supportive, but kind of strange that Faye didn’t take Peggy up on the offer of drinks someday. I think this is a subtle generational difference too. Faye isn’t ready for ladies nights out and women’s support groups, whereas Peggy would probably love them. It was a real reminder of just how lonely it must have been scrambling up that ladder.
Final thought for the week: Trudy is out of those nighties, and wearing a very realistic post-maternity smock! I love that they left her with the slightly protruding post-partum body – oh so realistic. I also loved that her new motherhood has made her even fiercer and more confident in relation to Pete. As much as I knew he had to say it, I don’t think even he believed himself when he told her she had no right to forbid him. The outward forms of marital hierarchy might be in place, but I would say that Trudy can and will put her foot down.
I am in complete denial that the season is coming to an end. I am going to keep on typing while the walls come down around us…
p.s. I too have loved Burt these past few episodes. Who knew an orchiectomy could make one so irenic?