Last week’s dose of Mad Men had our characters ruminating on prostitution in all its forms; Don Draper, as it turns out, has some mommy issues. This week’s episode tones down the sharply honed writing and begins to settle us into a lull. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is perfect – if the season continued to amp up the way Game of Thrones is, I’d be tearing my hair out once a week.
Bloggers more observant than I have pointed out that blue and green seem to be a theme in season six, and this episode opens on a shot framed by the blue and green glass wall of Pete’s dingy Manhattan apartment. Don and Pete are meeting Timmy, the purveyor of Heinz Ketchup, surreptitiously. It is all a little too clandestine, too shady, not to compare to courting a mistress or a hooker. Timmy, wearing a blue-and-green checked suit, matches the decor. “I guarantee that Raymond will fall in line. I have that power,” he says, looking like the cat that got the canary. On his way out, the creep licks his wedding ring, saying, “I don’t need much of an excuse to come to Manhattan.” The two SCDP reps wait in silence for the ding of the elevator to make certain Timmy has gone. Pete, smirking gently, drawing his chin back – they’re not aging Vincent Kartheiser very well in the show – smarmily tells Don he can borrow the apartment, “if you ever need to spend the night in the city.” Don snaps, “I live here, Pete.” Pete is, I believe, trying to let Don know he understands something’s up – Pete knows Don’s up to his old tricks, and Don can’t stand it. (This is understandable, considering Pete once tried to blackmail him.)
This is generally the point in every season where we get a bigger helping of Joan and our other female characters; Peggy has basically made herself one of the guys, so we’ve already got an update on her life. In Sunday’s episode, Joan’s friend Kate (Marley Shelton) is in the City to visit. She’s the picture of perfection, made up gorgeously in a pink Jackie Onassis dress. As it turns out, she’s in the beauty business (Mary Kay), and she’s in New York to interview with Avon. Joan’s mother, Kate, and Joan giggle briefly in amazement and joy at Joan’s title. “A partner at a Madison Avenue Advertising Agency,” Momma intones breathlessly. It’s all so exciting! If only they knew how she got there.
At SCDP, Joan affects a dangerously frigid, “do not fuck with me” persona. She’s downright terrifying. Scarlett asks Dawn to punch Scarlett’s time card in the evening, five hours after Scarlett has actually left the office, and of course Joan finds out. Joan uses her powers of manipulation to try to get Dawn to come clean. It’s notable that in this scene, Joan is wearing a brilliant, icy blue dress and Dawn is clad in green. Scarlett, the outlier in, well, scarlet, pops up at the wrong time and gets herself unceremoniously canned.
Unfortunately, Harry Crane disagrees with Joan’s “petty tyrannies” and undermines Joan’s authority. In SCDP’s glass conference room, the partners (which of course include Joan) meet, and as Harry peers in you can nearly see the steam coming out of his ears. Ken Cosgrove mutters a short, half-hearted admonishment of “Don’t” before lighting a cigarette to enjoy the show. Harry storms in and makes an ass of himself, uttering a line about Joan that made my entire body cringe: “You know what? I’m sorry my accomplishments happened in broad daylight and I can’t be given the same rewards.” Pete is indignant, Don dangerously so. Poor Joan; she was just giggling with her best friend about her position, and now she’s bombarded with ugly reminders of just how powerless she still is.
Stan, the hippiest of the SCDP bunch, walks through Creative in his fringed jacket, into a room marked Private. On the soundtrack spy music plays, heavy on the xylophone. Ginsberg and the new lady (do we even know her name yet?) toss ideas back and forth and complain gently about Stan’s secretive involvement in Project K. When Don arrives, Ginsberg tosses off a one-liner and Bob Benson asks, too politely, “How are things, Don?” Don, however, is tired of the bullshit from Creative and instead helps Stan with a joint. The Private room is, of course, Ketchup – a perfect topic to work on when you have the munchies. Watching Don and Stan giggle about hamburgers and hot dogs and argue about condiments is pretty entertaining.
Megan’s costar Arlene, who is also the wife of the head writer, gets Megan a love scene with the male lead, Rod. Arlene, a lovely, aging sexpot, kisses Rod on the mouth and asks Megan how she’ll tell Don about it. When Megan frets that Don won’t like her doing a love scene, Arlene asks, “Would you be upset if he did?” Arlene insists the Drapers go out to dinner with her and her husband. At dinner, the other couple invites Megan and Don back to their place to smoke some grass and “see what happens.” Don, understanding full well the weight of the question, protests it’s late, while Megan is clearly willing to go in order to save her job. “Don, I have to go back to work with them!” she says, giggling with him in the cab afterward. Arlene and Mel have been married for eighteen years, and their situation seems quite stable. Now the Drapers are confronted with the idea of swinging – but does it spell out their future for them? Can Don handle it if Megan is the one sleeping with other people? Something tells me not.
In Sunday’s episode we also get a glimpse into Dawn’s life. She provides an interesting, if slightly shallow, look at the plight of people of color in 1968 (but it’s notable that the only other black person on the show thus far was Lane’s Playboy Bunny rebellion girlfriend a few seasons ago). As Dawn worries for her job, in boardrooms Pete reminds everybody that the Commission on Human Rights is investigating the employment of “her sort” in the ad business. Dawn meets a friend in a restaurant almost entirely populated by African Americans, always late, always anxious. She complains to her friend about the culture of SCDP. “There’s girls crying in the bathrooms, men crying in the elevators; it sounds like New Year’s Eve every time they empty the trash, there are so many bottles.” It’s a succinct, frightful evaluation of the way SCDP is functioning these days. “I want to keep my job, so I keep my head down.” As a black woman working in Manhattan, Dawn also can’t find a man to date. Her life is looking pretty rough at the moment. When she incurs Joan’s wrath, you just feel like crying for her. Joan, knowing her place (and unhappily), doesn’t fire Dawn but gives her more responsibility. When Dawn thanks her, Joan snaps, “You don’t understand that this is a punishment.”
Meanwhile, outside of the office, Joan is softer, kinder. She meets Kate and enables her flirtation with a few gentlemen. The two women pass a guy back and forth in a taxi, playing kissing games, and when they arrive at some gorgeously decorated club (remindful of The Factory), Joan has her own fun. When Johnny, a stranger who knows Kate’s date, leans in for a kiss, she gives it willingly enough, but he pulls away to say his friend was right about Joan. Joan, forever sensitive to what men say about her, asks what he said. “He said I’d want you,” Johnny says, and that is the correct answer.
When Joan and Kate awaken the next morning crowded in Joan’s full bed looking every bit the teenagers they once were, still wearing their ripped dresses, with smeared mascara and messy hair, Kate laments her behavior. She tells Joan what we all knew; she wants what Joan has. Joan is the envy of all the women in her life, but she’s the only one who knows what she had to give up to get where she is. “It’s a title,” Joan says bitterly. Kate replies, “I don’t care how they make you feel. Everything is right in front of you for the taking.” She’s right, and it’s exactly what Joan needed to hear. In this episode, we finally see Joan cutting loose a little bit. Her mother is still in town to help care for the baby; there’s no sign and hardly a mention of Greg, thankfully. Joan appears, from the outside, to be living the high life. Only she understands the implications and constant blows doled out to a woman in a precariously attained position of power.
Roger and Bert, the original Sterling and Cooper, invite Harry Crane into Bert’s office, where we’re reminded that everyone has to remove his shoes prior to entrance. Bert sits on the couch, hands on his ample belly, looking like Buddha. Roger and Bert try to pay Harry off with a check for $23,000, more than he makes during one year. Harry, not understanding he’s in danger, accepts the check but says it just isn’t good enough. When he compares himself indignantly to Bert, the old man shows once again that he’s not addled yet. “I was different than you, Mr. Crane, in every way,” he says coolly. Roger wonders aloud, “Should we fire him before he cashes that check?”
In an expensive hotel room, yet another implicit reference to prostitution, the SCDP crew pitches to Timmy. Their campaign features naked hot dogs, fries, and hamburgers with a simple phrase on a white background: “Pass the Heinz.” As far as SCDP is concerned, Heinz is now just ketchup – it’s a betrayal of sorts. Poor old Raymond, he of the baked beans. What happened to Don’s advice to Ken last episode that “sometimes you gotta dance with the one that brung you?”
After they finish their pitch, they find Peggy and Ted in the hallway. There’s a long scene of eyefucking, and we are treated to an ample helping of Pete Campbell’s bitchface. Don stops to listen in the doorway, shooing Pete and Stan away, and is bitterly amused to hear his one-time protege parrot him: “If you don’t like what they’re saying, change the conversation.” Peggy is the new Don, through and through. Chaough’s pitch includes the classic image of the Heinz ketchup bottle, which is important to Heinz, and which they requested SCDP include. It seems fairly certain, for awhile, that SCDP has lost the pitch to Chaough.
Unfortunately, the clandestine courting ritual was not a success for either suitor. Neither Chaough or SCDP gets it. Ken Cosgrove pops into the restaurant where Peggy, Ted, Don, Stan, and Pete have met by accident for a stiff morning drink (gotta love this show) and tells them they also lost Baked Beans. As Stan gets up to leave, he flips Peggy off pointedly, in response to which she smiles; their friendship, though competitive, doesn’t seem to have suffered for her betrayal. Or does it?
Don, ever the voyeur, spends a lot of time this season listening in doorways and watching through keyholes. He leaves the SCDP crew at the restaurant so he can visit Megan’s studio for the first time ever and keep tabs on her sex scene with Rod. “You like to watch, do you?” Arlene asks him, dripping honey with every word. Megan, dressed in a French maid’s outfit, tumbles onto the bed with her costar, and it’s a soap opera, and it’s ridiculously hammy and not at all sexy.
In her dressing room after the scene is done, Don confronts Megan. “You kiss people for money. You know who does that?” This man is such a hypocrite, it’s almost hard to believe. His stepmother was a hooker, his mother was a hooker, he helped to turn Joan into a hooker, and he pays his mistress…and now, in his mind, his wife is a hooker. His view of women is becoming even more disturbing as the show progresses. “Why don’t you have dinner with Arlene and Mel tonight?” he snipes. “They’re much more open-minded.” Meanwhile he’s using a coin to communicate with Sylvia, having sex with her behind closed doors. There are no coincidences; Megan was just dressed as a maid, and now Don is cheating on her…in the maid’s room. Brilliant. Don asks Sylvia to remove her cross. She tells him she won’t, and he turns it around so he can’t see it. She tells him she prays for him to find peace. What she doesn’t yet realize (or maybe she does; Sylvia is an interesting character, beautifully played by Cardellini) is that Don Draper will never find peace.
One hopes the tone will remain a little mellower from here on in – in Sunday’s episode the writing is on point as always, but less piercing. Again, doorways appear to be a theme this season. Ken Cosgrove hovers in doorways, watching the show from afar, multiple times. Joan’s comment about Fred “darkening her doorway” last episode comes to mind when Harry and Scarlett darken the same doorway to remind her of her impotence. Every time someone crosses her threshold, she’s reminded of her position. Don, of course, is spending a lot of time hovering in doorways himself. Who will cross the doorways, and what do they symbolize?
Likewise, the theme of blue and green is becoming more and more prominent in season six. What do you suppose these colors are meant to indicate?
Share your thoughts in the comments!