For those of us carefully piecing together the tumultuous early life of Don Draper/Dick Whitman, last night’s episode (nicely directed by Jon Hamm) offered a couple of clues. “Uncle Mac,” mentioned briefly by Don back in Season 3 (“He was nice to me,” said Don, giving a brief version of his life story to an angry Betty), turned up in a flashback, with an awkward teenage Dick (oh, that haircut) being brought by his stepmother to live in a brothel, seemingly run by Mac and his wife (the stepmother’s sister). (Did I get all that exposition right? With “Mad Men,” it’s so easy to miss something.) In that Season 3 episode, Don explained that his stepmother “took up with” Mac, and we saw that last night as Dick spied on them. I’m also remembering an episode (season 4?) in which Don and several colleagues went to a brothel, and Don seemed unusually relaxed there — not because he was a regular, but because it was an atmosphere he seemed to know. Mystery solved; at least, a little piece of it.
Back in the present day, we saw a couple of uncomfortable threesomes. Watch Don’s face as he enters his apartment to find his mistress chatting with his wife. (“Sylvia’s here,” explains Megan, unnecessarily. “I see that,” says Don, looking like he needs a drink.) But Don is, as usual, juggling the two with remarkable ease; giving emotional support to Megan even as he continues to pursue the reluctant Sylvia. Pete, now set up to be a mini-Don Draper with his Manhattan bachelor pad, is trying to be a smooth operator, but just can’t do it; he keeps choosing emotionally vulnerable women, though he’s quite capable (since Beth) of an affair without attachment. I didn’t catch the name of his conquest this week, but she’s a neighbor, and thus incurred the rage of Trudy in a scene I’ve been waiting for since “Mad Men” began. Trudy, so silkily played by Alison Brie, is a fascinating character; she wants power, she knows that she can only get it through Pete, and she’s willing to pretend she doesn’t know about his affairs, as long as she can have a marriage that looks perfect to outsiders. By seducing a neighbor (who seems to have promptly told her husband), Pete’s hung his dirty laundry in public, and Trudy is livid. She doesn’t want a divorce — “I won’t be a failure” — but she’s laid down the law: If he steps out of line within 50 miles of the house again, “I will destroy you.” Who else is crossing their fingers that he’ll do it, so we can watch her destroy him? And who else is thinking that this season won’t be complete without Trudy and Don in bed together?
And so to Peggy, and to another kind of infidelity: Unable to find a rapport with her underlings at the new job (she’s a Don-like figure to them, but unlike Don, she cares whether they like her but can’t find the language to talk to them), Peggy still enjoys late-night chats with Stan, mulling over the SCDP gossip. (Oh, I guess it’s just SCD now, isn’t it? Sad.) Indiscreetly, she repeats a story to her boss — who promptly decides to use the information (I won’t spell it all out, but it did involve Ken Cosgrove explaining that ketchup is “the Coca-Cola of condiments,” a phrase I’m going to have to steal sometime) to try to poach a client. This won’t end well, will it?
Still not much Joan, though we saw her recoil as Herb, the sleazebag Jaguar salesman who was her pathway to a partnership last season, visited the office and leered at her. Matthew Weiner’s taking his time in getting into her story this season, but I’m curious how her new life as a (presumably) single mother is going, and how many people at SCD know how she got her partnership. That sordid incident, by the way, was the catalyst for a classic Don Draper moment in a meeting, where Don brilliantly sabotaged Herb’s idea in front of the Jaguar top brass, all the while pretending that he was giving Herb exactly what he wanted. Very funny; yet it’s fascinating to see how Don, who’s always had a soft spot for Joan (and who clearly still resents that the Jaguar account wasn’t won on creative alone), despises Herb. Will he let the Jaguar account slip away?
In the episode’s final moments, we see a weary Don sitting down in the hallway outside his apartment door, as “Just a Gigolo” plays on the soundtrack. A salesman, home from his rounds; pausing in a neutral place where, for once, he doesn’t have to sell anyone anything.
And what did you think? Better than the opening episode? I do think “Mad Men” better suits the hour-long format, rather than the double episodes.
Hello, Trudy! Come back next episode, won’t you? (Photograph by Ron Jaffe, courtesy of AMC)