Dance with the one who brought you
It was difficult to choose an image and title for this post since there were so many moments that intrigued me – Don and Sylvia’s foreplay over branzino, Trudy’s steely calm as she mops up the blood of her husband’s mistress before kicking him to the curb, Peggy’s first serious temptation as a power player (and her run in with the juvenile creative team whose sexism, while the most creative thing we’ve seen from them so far, is also our first real reminder of just how much harder this gig is going to be for Peggy), Don’s flashbacks to his gigolo training as young Dick, the baked beans/ketchup showdown, and Don’s self-immolation to take down disgusting Jaguar Herb. But I settled on Don’s one-liner to Kenny, when he moans about why they are stuck with baked beans when they could be going after ketchup (the Coke of condiments!): “sometimes you have to dance with the one who brought you.”
Maybe this is what he says to himself when he has sex with Megan while high in Hawaii. Or at least what he tells Sylvia when she realizes that he is not drifting so far from Megan as not to be able to make a baby by mistake. We’ve watched Don have a lot of sex with women who are not his wife over the last six seasons, but somehow this is the one affair that keeps me glued to the screen like to a terrible car crash. There is no way this is going to end well for either of them. Until the final scene of this week’s episode, I would have bet that Sylvia would take the fall for their indiscretion. Try as she might to be French about it, she can’t stop thinking about the two spouses they are cuckolding every time they forget their cigarettes or skip appetizers to rush to a nearby hotel. Don, on the other hand, insists that he can enjoy the company of their spouses with nary a thought to which woman’s dress he’ll be taking off later. But his nonchalance is betrayed last week by his admission that he wants all this to stop and this week when he actually collapses at the threshold of his apartment (and there we are again, with all the door imagery from last week). Is this world-weariness? Exhaustion from deceit and manipulation? Existential angst that he will end up alone after all his good loving disappears? If only we had a clue what to make of this! Oh wait, what is that song playing in the background? I’m just a gigolo, and everywhere I go/People know the part I’m playing/Paid for every dance, selling each romance./Every night some heart betraying./There will come a day, youth will pass away/Then what will they say about me?/When the end comes I know/They’ll say just a gigolo. And just in case any ambiguity remained, we got some nice flashbacks of the most improbable early Dick Whitman watching his pregnant mother give it up to his uncle, who (to really drive the point home) gave young Dick a little talk about roosters and hens which basically boiled down to “I’m the gigolo.” We’ve known for a while that Dick grew up in a brothel which obviously has much to do with the person he is now, but even in the Mad Men world of heightened visual and aural symbolism, this was a bit heavy handed.
Unlike, for instance, the now twice reprimand from Dr. Arnold to Don about giving up cigarettes, which have both taken place in or near elevators, which served last season as the harbinger of death. So yes, after this week, I am totally on board with your concerns that Don is headed for a much more intimate run in with the American Cancer Society than simply designing their PSA. Though Don dying alone of lung cancer is even worse than I’m Just a Gigolo for symbolism, so let’s hope there is some misdirection going on (and come to think of it, didn’t both warnings come just before Don goes up to role around in the maid’s bed with Sylvia? So perhaps already there is a layered warning about which vice is going to do Don in).
Pete, on the other hand, doesn’t have the benefit of a sordid childhood to explain away his philandering, and he most certainly does not bring the day despite his cock and crow routine. Though I must admit that I did not realize Trudy was granting permission for discrete indiscretions by agreeing to the apartment, so I will understand if that was news to Pete as well. One gets the feeling that half the fun for Pete was the power he felt breaking the rules and flouting the suburban doldrums he feels Trudy has dragged him into – playing rooster to the pecking order of hens he pats on the head and tells to hurry on their way once he is done with them. Trudy has always been the goad and the inspiration for Pete’s pursuit of power (maybe all those speeches about being hungry for ambition transferred to his libido). What is left for Pete when he realizes that even his sexual prowess is being nurtured or at least permitted by his wife’s largess? Maybe Trudy, not Megan, is the one to watch in these changing times.
I will leave Peggy and Megan for you, though there is so much to say about Peggy maybe I’ll jump in again later!
It’s just like Munich,
Had I started us off this week, I would have chosen the exact same title and sign-off…so we’re clearly on the same wavelength here!
The closing scene, with Don collapsing to the floor outside of his apartment, immediately evoked for me his drunken hallway collapses in season 4 after his divorce from Betty. This was actually the first season you and I blogged together, and we (and others) noted how consistently it asked the question: who is Don Draper? With a strange sort of cyclical feel, it seems this season is returning to this question…Don is reaching his own versions of rock bottom once again (public drunkenness, sordid affairs, and so on), working through childhood issues once again, facing professional crisis once again (he is seeming increasingly obsolete in the business he built – and I have to wonder what is brewing with creepy Bob Benson on this front) and, as we mentioned last week, feeling the presence of his Dick Whitman self once again. In evoking the identity questions of season 4, however, I’m also aware of how far Don has come in his cyclical engagement with his demons. This season, he’s not sleeping with nameless, inconsequential prostitutes; he’s possibly falling in love with a real person (reminders not only of Midge, but also Rachel Menken from season 1). This season he’s not just sabotaging his business because of his own downfall; he’s defending Joan’s honour against the very asshole who helped make her assent to partner possible.
As for Pete, I was intrigued by what his response to Munich indicated about his own character – “who the hell won the war?!” revealed his total inability to imagine the process and consequences of a situation that fall beyond black and white declarations of winners and losers. He never fought the war – he’s an inheritor of its winnings. And this is why he fails to see the complexity of life. Watching him click that giant remote control offers a perfect image of just how meaningless is his ennui. Granted, I’m a big old Alison Brie fan, so I’m excited to see her stand up for herself – and I hope this bodes the possibility of expanding her character a little on the show.
Even more so, I was struck by the comparison between Pete’s lover and the narrative arc from Joan’s own sexual and domestic abuse in seasons past. This is the first time we’ve seen domestic abuse made public, and then seriously condemned on this show (to my recollection). It was a subtle hint that times are changing – although I had to wonder what would become of these two women as they tried to leave their husbands. Trudi talks a good game, but I can’t help wondering if she’s going to get screwed in the end.