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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

September 7, 2010 at 9:31 AM

Better late than never: “Mad Men”

I took the day off yesterday — hope you did too — but I wanted to get a few quick thoughts in on what I thought was one of the best “Mad Men” episodes I’ve seen in all four seasons. (Did you love it too?) This was, truly, the Don & Peggy show: Roger made a tottery appearance (did you know that Freddy Rumson collected Indian arrowheads?), Joan cracked me up by getting the guys to clean up the office just by gazing at them, and Trudi made a brief but devastating walk-on (more on that later), but this show belonged solely to Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss, and what a show it was.
Don’s been lost this entire season, and in this episode his anchor slipped away: That phone call from California finally came, and Anna — “the one person who understood me” — is gone. (Loved how, in the dream sequence, she was holding a suitcase — a Samsonite, surely — for her journey.) He avoided returning the call, and thinking about Anna, by barking at Peggy, by drinking, by pretending that it wasn’t happening. Even as he revealed more about himself than he ever has — that he grew up on a farm, that he watched his father die, that he never knew his mother — he still kept control. Until that early-morning phone call — and until we saw Don break down in a way we’ve never seen before. Hamm, who’s done a beautiful job this season of showing show, subtle decline, here let all of Don’s defenses down, and he seemed to be sobbing for everything that he’s lost: his best friend, his marriage, his children, his self-respect.
And yet, through the entire long night’s journey into day, the only other person who understands him is right beside him: Peggy, who’s still naive (note the adorable pause as she wonders whether to take a vomiting Don into the men’s or the ladies’ room), but who’s travelled many miles since the bright-eyed young graduate of Miss Deaver’s Secretarial School who we met on episode 1. She and Don understand each other and know each other’s secrets; they may get angry, but they don’t judge. (Don: “You don’t have to explain to me,” as Peggy haltingly tries to tell him about Duck.) And while Peggy appears to be on the upswing, compared to Don, her life outside of work isn’t much happier than his: Her fiance (and good riddance, if indeed he’s gone) has no idea who she is, her family disapproves of her, her coworkers assume that she slept with Don to get her position, and she’s condescended to by married women (i.e. Mrs. Pete Campbell) who treat her like a frumpy little sister. (The subtext of Trudi’s encounter with Peggy was fascinating, both because of the pregnancies — here’s the reunion of two women who’ve carried Pete’s babies, only one of whom knows it — and because of Trudi’s not-so-subtle snubs to Peggy. You may be clever, Trudi implied, but you’re an old maid and I’ve got a successful husband, so who’s really the cleverest?)
At the end, the sun finally rose, the Samsonite ad emerged from the ashes, and Don — for once not pretending that “this didn’t happen” — held Peggy’s hand and gazed at her, as a grateful friend, as they looked over his work together, as equals. These two may well have the most interesting relationship on television, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. Matthew Weiner and episode director Jennifer Getzinger, take a bow, and bring Hamm and Moss with you. Beautiful.
And what did you think?

Ladies and gentlemen, Elisabeth Moss, in the lovely green spring coat that she must have put on and taken off half a dozen times this episode. (Photo courtesy AMC.)

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