MAD MEN Recap 10: The Other Woman

Girl, you really got me going, you got me so I don't know what I'm doing.

nullThe Other Woman may be the most disturbing episode of Mad Men ever. We've seen bad things happen to characters we love, some of their own doing. We've seen Don drink himself into a stupor, Roger lie the company almost into ruin, and Lane embezzle. We've seen the way both ambition and love can cause people to sacrifice themselves, but has anyone suffered more than Joan, or sacrificed more?

The fans have gone back and forth on Pete this season. In my recap for Signal 30, I called Pete a shit. I got some blowback from fans for that, and indeed, in subsequent episodes, Pete has again appeared more sympathetic. His pathetic adoration of Howard's wife, Beth, in Dark Shadows, touched people's hearts. But now I think more people will agree with my earlier assessment. Pete is a low-life and a shit, not just because he asked Joan to prostitute herself, but because he insisted there was nothing wrong with asking. Watch:

When Joan said "You couldn't afford it," it was not, in fact, a counter-offer, but a way of shutting Pete down; only Pete's insensitivity made him think otherwise. Pete takes seriously the old joke, often attributed to Winston Churchill: Churchill is said to have approached a lady at a party and ask, "Madame, would you sleep with me for one million pounds?" She agreed that she would. "Would you sleep with me for ten pounds?" he asked.  "Certainly not! What kind of girl do you think I am?" "Madame," he answered "We have already established what you are. Now we are merely discussing price." (I've read various versions of this story, with different price points.)

The joke has a serious underpinning, as so many jokes do. All women are whores, we are being told, and are merely negotiating price. Joan literally prostitutes herself for a partnership, but Gail, who "raised her to be admired," has been prostituting herself in her own way to Apollo, in exchange for household repairs. Megan must prostitute herself in a small way, by being displayed. Turning around and showing her ass has little or nothing to do with the callback; she thought she was safe because the director was "a fairy," but with three men on the couch it's clear she doesn't feel safe at all. At the office, her friend Julia is happy to sexually display herself to a roomful of writers in the hopes of getting a job as a Jaguar girl.

Even Peggy had money thrown at her, quite literally, and even Peggy knows she has to sell a woman's sexuality (Lady Godiva, "as naked as we are allowed to make her") to keep an account.

The most telling, most obvious, quote about the theme of this episode is what Don says in the Jaguar pitch, right down to the tagline:

Oh, this car. This thing, gentlemen. What price would we pay, what behavior would we forgive, if they weren’t pretty, if they weren’t temperamental, if they weren’t beyond our reach and a little out of our control? Would we love them like we do? Jaguar: At last something beautiful you can truly own.

While women are being prostituted, bought, and sold because they are things, the way beautiful, temperamental cars are things, men imagine they are the ones who suffer, because sometimes they can't quite control the transaction. The tagline itself is shown as being born from anger at women: Ginsberg sees Julia prancing and says "She just comes and goes as she pleases. Huh."

Why shouldn't she? I mean, she's human, isn't she? Isn't that what humans do—use self-will to make their own decisions? But to Ginsberg and many other men, a woman isn't a human, she's an object of desire, and her ability to make herself desirable and then still have self-will is enraging. To Ginsberg, the lyrics of the closing song (You Really Got Me by the Kinks) make him mad: "You really got me going" is something women do to men, which men can't control.

It's disturbing. The whole episode is disturbing, and Semi Chellas and Matt Weiner pull no punches, juxtaposing every inner cringe Joan experiences with the pitch so that there is no doubt they are the same thing. Don wants to control Megan and keep her home, Pete wants to control Trudy and 'put his foot down', his greatest anger being simply that he cannot get her to obey him, that she wants things he doesn't want. Pete, who wants a prostitute in a brothel to treat him like her king, cannot abide the fact that any woman has self-will. This is the same Pete who, in Episode 1.05: 5G, asked Trudy to sleep with an editor in order to get him published—no wonder he thinks Joan shouldn't be insulted.

But there's another quote that speaks to the heart of women being bought and sold. In the conference call about Chevalier Blanc, the client asks, "Why would a woman buy a man anything for Valentine’s Day?"

Why indeed? Valentine's Day is transactional: A man buys flowers or perfume or jewelry, a woman responds with sex. Men are the subjects, they have self-will; they make their selection and choose the purchase price, while women are the objects being purchased.

I could write for hours about this episode, but we really have to talk about Peggy.

Her decision has been a long time coming, and may be necessary. I mean, people didn't job-hop in the 1960s the way they do now, but advertising was its own animal, and as a career decision this was probably one hundred percent right.

Here's the thing: in business, you sell yourself. Ted Chauogh wants to hire Don's protégé, and he negotiates with Peggy over price and title. It's not sexual; Peggy's gender is not part of the transaction. Yet the negotiation perfectly parallels what Joan did with a percentage and a partnership. We all do sell ourselves for work, for ambition, to succeed.

Certainly a lot of feminist and other theory would tell us it's all prostitution: Marriage, dating, Valentine's Day, casting couches, and every other transaction in which men are the buyers. But when we look at it that way, we can forget how painful this particular act of prostitution is for Joan, and let's not forget that. Last episode we saw her say she has some control at work, and how important that's been for her. This wasn't just a sexual transaction, it was one that stripped Joan of her sense of control, of self-ownership, and left a dark place behind her eyes, brilliant portrayed by Christina Hendricks.

Meanwhile, Peggy sacrificed love for ambition, because truly, she and Don love each other: Watch him kiss her hand, and her choke up in response:

This clip parallels the end of Episode 4.07: The Suitcase. Don kisses the hand that he held then, he honors the love they share. But as Roger said last episode, it's every man for himself, there can be no loyalty in business.

Some additional thoughts:

  • Welcome back, Dale! Mark Kelly played copywriter Dale in one episode of each of the first three seasons, and was last seen stripped to his t-shirt after getting spattered with blood in Episode 3.06: Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency.
  • I'm giving quote of the week to Pete, because "It’s an epic poem for me to get home" is a gorgeous bit of hyperbole.
  • Ted Chaough, Freddy Rumsen, and a call back to Tom Vogel all in one episode (plus Dale). This season has been so great about connecting the dots to past seasons.

Deborah Lipp is the co-owner of Basket of Kisses, whose motto is "smart discussion about smart television." She is the author of six books, including "The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book."

Watch Mad Men Moments, a series of videos on Mad Men, produced by Indiewire Press Play.



In watching Mad Men episode 5.10, Christmas Waltz, my first thought was not about the episode's theme. In fact, at first, a theme didn't emerge. Instead, my first thought was how much fun this episode is. I haven’t been complaining about the season; last week got some bad reviews but I was fine with it, and the season overall has had some amazing episodes (Mystery Date and Far Away Places in particular), but this feels different. This feels like perfect Mad Men, everything we love about it. Scary, unpredictable, heart-stopping in its tense moments, laugh-out-loud funny, sexy, insightful . . . all the great Mad Men things. In fact, I’m pleased that a theme didn't present itself in an obvious way tonight. By being fun, funny, and surprising, Christmas Waltz engaged our interest without having to announce itself. The episode is also brilliant and unassuming, in that it doesn't have to stand on a chair and tell you how meaningful it is. But don't worry, there's meaning, and we'll get to that.

nullAs soon as I saw the "previously on" clips, I thought, 'We're getting everything the fans have been clamoring for.' More Lane, more Joan, less of a laser-focus on the Draper marriage to the exclusion of wonderful secondary characters. But I had no idea, no idea, that the longed-for return of Paul Kinsey was in store, and what a return it was! (I want you all to know that my son has to be at work at 5 a.m. on Monday, and my loud laughter was very inappropriate while he was trying to sleep. But I just couldn't help it. This scene is hysterical. Oh, Paul, we missed you so.) Watch his first scene here:

Paul, by the way, is the perfect access point to what the episode is about thematically: people turning themselves into things they aren't; people layering false identity onto false identity until they don't know, truly, who they are. Paul is a Krishna devotee, except he isn't. He knows himself, to a certain extent: He's still the jerk who wants people to like him but nobody does, and even in the act of serving his guru, Srila Prabhupada (yes, they depicted the real founder of the Krishna Consciousness Movement), he is sure that the guru likes everyone else better. This is the same old Paul who was jealous of Peggy's talent, and realizing he's the same person, whether in ad-man guise or spiritual guise, is actually a profound insight that might someday help him achieve true happiness, but for the moment, it makes him miserable.

Paul has a false image of his own creativity, made embarrassing by his ridiculous Star Trek script (when fans talked about Paul coming back to the show, Star Trek was often mentioned, so this was quite satisfying). He pretends to be a devotee to stay with Lakshmi; he is a twisted mass of false fronts and self-deception. Lakshmi, hilariously, is equally false, trading sex to undermine Paul's dreams, wanting a drink, slapping Harry, and calling Paul a great closer: neither the spiritual teacher she pretends to be nor the vulnerable, frightened girl Paul sees is anywhere in the person she presents (ass-first) to Harry.

Virtually by definition, a Joan episode is a great episode. Christina Hendricks  knocked it out of the park again. I am frustrated that we've seen almost nothing of Joan since episode 5.04, but this is a welcome return. Have we seen her melt down before? I don't think so. Oh, Joan, melt down for us:

This scene has everything; Joan Harris losing it, the magnificently silly receptionist, Mohawk's airplane getting crushed (a little foreshadowing for their late-episode strike announcement–historically accurate, natch), and Don coming to the rescue.

Joan, too, has layers of false identity, pretending to be a happy wife at SCDP for over five months when she knows her marriage is over, pretending that Greg is Kevin's father, and managing Roger's efforts to act as Kevin's father, which could pull the curtain away from her story. Joan had an identity she understood: "My mother raised me to be admired." But she also had an identity she thought she understood: Mrs. Harris. Now she just doesn't know. She's as lost as Paul, but without the ponytail. The sweetness of her connection to Don has always been a delight: Everyone loves the scene at the end of Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency where they just get each other, because they know that being admired and feeling admirable are two very different things, and because they know each other as two people who have the appearance part down but not the rest of it. Will they or won't they? I kind of hope they won't, because I love the mutual respect, but I may be the only person on the entire Internet who feels that way, and I have to admit the potential visuals of a Don-Joan hookup make my head spin.

Roger, too, is juggling identities. He thinks his LSD experience exempts him from falsity, but he's still playing Roger games. Like Paul, whose shaven head doesn't drive out his old self, Roger is still trying to manipulate Joan with money and a puppy-dog sort of longing for her that shows no real commitment. He's never had a clue what she really wants and needs.

I haven't talked about Lane yet, and his falsity is most obvious, most pivotal, and most dangerous. All we know by the end of the episode is that he's set himself up to be caught, and probably by Joan, since she's the one who goes over the books. Forging Don's signature was an ugly move by a desperate man; he was so sure he'd figured it all out! At the beginning of the season, Lane was riddled with unarticulated longings; it's almost wrong to say he has a false front because, like Paul and like Joan, he hasn't a clue who the real Lane is. There's no true self hiding behind a false front, just a series of facades that fail to give him any satisfaction.

If there is a flaw in Christmas Waltz, it's that we can feel the machinery of this episode moving towards the conclusion of a later episode. Obviously, early episodes have to set up later ones, and also stand alone. When you experience the set-up more than the stand-alone, that's a structural flaw, and in the Lane storyline, that flaw is present. But: great episode? Yes! I am on pins and needles about Lane's fate.

Don is the mystery at the heart of it here: Who is he and who is he becoming?  While we have a pretty clear idea of the positive and negative trajectories of every other character (Paul, Joan, Roger, Harry, even Lakshmi), I honestly don't know who Don is defining himself as in Christmas Waltz.

Unaffected by work earlier, Don is suddenly, at the end, throwing himself into it. Missing Megan, he's angry at her, happy with her, and unhappy with her all at once. He doesn't understand her temper tantrum, at first taking it for sex play, and I'm not sure she understands it either. You know what's hard? Suddenly being home all day. Suddenly being "the wife," and preparing a simple, low-effort dinner and then having nothing else to do. The "problem that has no name" is worse in the suburbs but not only found there. Megan doesn't know who she is now either, and so the circle is complete.

Some additional thoughts:

  • We could tease out a second theme of people helping, or withholding help: Harry genuinely helped Paul, Don genuinely helped Joan. Lane got what he thought was the help he needed from the bank, but it proved not to be so. Joan also refused Roger's help, seeing strings attached.
  • Quote of the week goes to Don: "You’re going to need to define some of these pronouns if you want me to keep listening." Ha!
  • Megan throws food! Joan throws airplanes! Lakshmi slaps Harry! Even though nobody punched out Pete, that was still a lot of violence, and I loved it. Call me shallow.
  • We finally see Scarlett! She's been mentioned in many episodes but this is the first time she's appeared on-screen.
  • Don quotes Bobbi Barrett from episode 2.03: The Benefactor, "I like being bad and then going home and being good."

Deborah Lipp is the co-owner of Basket of Kisses, whose motto is "smart discussion about smart television." She is the author of six books, including "The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book."

Watch Mad Men Moments, a series of videos on Mad Men, produced by Indiewire Press Play.



"I’m thankful that I have everything I want, and that no one else has anything better."

nullBetty can't just be happy. She can't just have what she wants. Having what she wants doesn't feel good. Instead, what feels good is having what she wants at the expense of others. It's a mean-spirited way to live, and no amount of window-dressing can make it sound nicer. "Selfish" would be an improvement. She lacks self-awareness to such an extent that she can say the above as a sincere expression of gratitude at Thanksgiving. The Internet is full of Betty haters, and I don't consider myself one of their number, but this aspect of her character cannot be explained away, softened, or justified. It's just nasty.

I know what you're thinking. You thought I'd open with the "Every man for himself" quote. Clearly, that's the, or a, theme of Mad Men Episode 5.09: Dark Shadows, and it's also something that Matt Weiner has been talking about in the media. Because Weiner is so secretive about what's to come on the show, when he releases a quote or a theme, it spreads like wildfire in the blogosphere.

Yet "Every man for himself" only takes us halfway on our journey. Don could have pushed hard for himself without ditching Ginsberg's work in the cab. Betty could work to lose weight and be a supportive wife without trying to destroy Don's new marriage. Pete could pursue Beth Dawes without taking a shot at her husband. (Check out Pete's delightful Beth fantasy in the video below, and don't fail to notice that Pete can't fantasize about sex without fantasizing about power and recognition as well.)

So, it's every man for himself, sure, but it's also about crushing the other guy in the process, and the notion that success just isn't as much fun unless someone is under your bootheel. I don't think many fans love Jane Sterling, but her plaintive realization that she's been defeated by Roger touched me: "You get everything you want, and you still had to do this." That, as much as Betty's Thanksgiving gratitude, is the real point: Winning in this show's world is hollow unless someone else loses.

What are the major plot lines this episode? First is Betty: Her weight struggle, and her competitiveness with Megan. Then comes Don and his competitiveness with Ginsberg. Then there's Roger, who is competing with Pete for business and with Jane for a sense of ownership. Others are swept up into various competitions: Peggy versus Ginsberg, Pete versus Howard, Julia versus Megan. These people compete not only for themselves, but because they specifically and pointedly resent what others have.

I doubt fans will love this episode. There is, first of all, the Betty backlash to contend with. I think her character was absolutely compelling this week, but she usually sets off an Internet Comment Shitstorm. You heard it here first. It was also kind of a difficult episode. It didn't have a lot of BANG WOW moments: I mean, sure, Megan in a bra, Beth in nothing at all, but no hand jobs or blow jobs or fisticuffs in sight, so maybe people will feel shortchanged. I also think seeing this kind of nastiness can be wearing; it feels petty and so you come away from it like Sally at the end of last episode; "Dirty." The "killer smog" at the end of the episode really happened, and it also serves as a symbol for the creeping toxicity of these cutthroat shenanigans. It makes it hard to breathe for all of us, and I suspect some portion of the audience might react negatively. [Click through to the next page for more…]

A second, connected theme is secrecy, and people being outed. This is threaded throughout Dark Shadows: Secrets and the ability to expose secrets represent power, and power is what our characters compete for. Nothing is more insidious than Betty's "sweetly" mentioning Anna Draper to Sally (watch it below):

In Betty's version of self-revelation at her Weight Watchers' meeting, she's so vague as to border on meaningless: She says merely that she experienced something that upset her. What upset her was another person's happiness. Don and Megan have a magnificent apartment, and Megan has a young, beautiful body. Betty can barely contain how awful this makes her feel. Inadvertently finding a love note from Don to Megan puts her over the edge: It's simply not okay for them to be in love, for Don to be sweet to Megan, for the Draper apartment to be more beautiful than the Francis house. (By the way, Megan is wrong about the distance; it's 25 miles from Rye to 73rd and Park.)

Betty setting up Sally to ask just the right question to create havoc reminds me so much of Betty setting up Sara Beth in the Season 2 episode Six Month Leave (Betty has an Episode 9 pattern, I guess). She manages her feelings by making others suffer, this time in an episode where the Weight Watchers leader talks about stuffing the feelings you can't express using food. Betty wants to feel differently; swallowing the mouthful of canned whipped cream and then spitting it out is a perfect encapsulation of that YES NO YES NO feeling; wanting and not wanting, stuffing and letting it out. She offers just the right kind of support and wisdom to Henry even while spreading her poison.

So, Betty tries to use outing someone's secret as a weapon, and we get a sense of that with Jane and Ginsberg, too: Jewishness is a secret you have to keep in Roger's social circles, a secret Roger required Jane to keep. Now he expresses power over her by pushing that secret out of the shadows. Roger wants Ginsberg to keep a secret and he says no; Peggy kept a secret for Roger, and each was paid for it (although Peggy was paid a lot more). Whoever holds the reins to a secret is ahead in this "doggy dog world."

Some additional thoughts:

  • Henry wonders if he "bet on the wrong horse" for nothing. It seems like Betty is wondering the same, and Henry is that horse.
  • It looks like a senility plot might be in Bert Cooper's future. Correcting "hip" for "hep" makes him seem amusingly out of touch, but not knowing that Roger and Jane are divorcing could be a bad sign.
  • Betty really enjoys food this episode: Whether it's her meager breakfast, or a bit of steak, or a tiny bit of Thanksgiving dinner, she chews with gusto. In past seasons, when thin, she barely ate at all. Allowing herself or not allowing herself to experience pleasure is a whole motif with this character. At least chewing is some kind of start.
  • On the other hand, I feel like the chin appliance gets in the way of January Jones's ability to use her face expressively.
  • Okay, fine, I said I wouldn't, but I'll give quote of the week to this: Peggy: "You are not loyal. You only think about yourself." Roger: "Were we married? Because you’re thinking about yourself too. That’s the way it is, it’s every man for himself."

Deborah Lipp is the co-owner of Basket of Kisses, whose motto is "smart discussion about smart television." She is the author of six books, including "The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book."

Watch Mad Men Moments, a series of videos on Mad Men, produced by Indiewire Press Play.



nullBut listen to the color of your dreams
It is not leaving, it is not leaving.

–The Beatles, "Tomorrow Never Knows."

nullIn the Season 2 episode of Mad Men called A Night to Remember, Betty needs, finally, to confront Don. She wakes him in the middle of the night. It's a stark moment of deep revelation (discussed in our video essay for Season 2), made more so by Betty's pale, unmade-up face. It's the beginning of the end of Don and Betty's marriage.

At the halfway point of last night's Mad Men, Lady Lazarus, Megan wakes Don in the middle of the night. Her vulnerability is accentuated by her unmade-up face. It's a conversation that will change their marriage. (Watch the video below.)

Betty confronted Don about his lying, and though he claimed to love her, he lied all the way through. When Megan confronts Don about her own lying, Don, somehow, is open to listening, although only in pieces. At first they speak at cross-purposes; he truly believes that she wants to work in advertising and will be happy doing it. He sees her talent. Nothing she says persuades him, but, remarkably, she holds her ground.

No one has an accurate perception of Megan's decision. We know that Megan was unhappy at work, that she wasn't nearly as thrilled with her Heinz win as she had a right to be, that her father's visit had rekindled her desire to fulfill her acting dreams. Peggy's snapping at her that the job would be precious to someone else probably moved her to decide. It's pretty clear that she's been afraid to face Don down, but this is what she wants. Yet Don blames Peggy for jealousy and competitiveness, Peggy blames herself for being too hard on Megan, Joan sees Megan's love as gold-digging, Stan sees it as an escape from the compromise and mediocrity of advertising: In other words, they all see themselves in the situation.

As people hear about Megan, they all see their own dreams and disappointments. Don dreams of material success and security, climbing past the back stabbers into recognition; Peggy dreams of doing everything right and having it be rewarded, Stan dreams of artistic recognition, and Joan dreams of a husband who will financially nourish his wife's dreams rather than abandon her.

Pete, too, has a dream. His dreams are sweetly, dangerously romantic. In past episodes, we've noted how Pete is turning into Don—the life in the suburbs he hates, the wife he becomes alienated from, the life lived through business success that brings no emotional rewards. Here's another aspect of Don: He was never really into the casual affairs. Roger was always happy to dip his wick into redheaded twins, or whores, or whoever happened by, but Don fell in love with Rachel, he fell in love with Suzanne, and he left Midge when he realized she loved someone else. Pete, like Don, wants the love dream. He wants a romantic ideal to fill the gaps in his marriage, just as Don did when married to Betty.

Pete wants to love Beth. (Check out their hot first encounter below.) He wants to feel he has her ("I have nothing," he said in the "Previously On" clip). He wants a sense that dreams have been restored to his life.

Beth leaves Pete with a dream. "This can never happen again," she says, and she means it. He feels brutalized by this rejection and does everything he can to fight it, to reject the rejection, but she stands firm. Pete's romance is all by itself when it's a hotel room and a bottle of chilled champagne. But if it's silent longing, if it's fantasy and secret hearts left on windows like a hobo code, she's all in. She just wants the dream.

When we see the layers of secrets and lying, the codes and conspiracies, we know we're firmly in Mad Men territory. These aren't themes of the episode or even the season, they're themes of the series. Two different phone calls this week at the same pay booth make very clear how important secrets are to this show, even as Don gives relatively less attention to protecting his identity. Pete, Beth, Howard, Peggy: they all lie, they all speak in code, they all talk about the things that aren't true in order to obliquely say the things that are. No wonder Megan, speaking her truth to the best of her ability, shakes them all up.

Sylvia Plath's poem "Lady Lazarus" is too dense to analyze here. In part, it's about remaking yourself as a new woman, and in part, it's about surviving suicide attempts. Megan remakes herself, but the scent of suicide pervades this episode. Pete mentions in the opening scene that his life insurance policy covers suicide "after two years" (which have already passed).  Pete at first follows Beth into her house because he fears she's suicidal (it's the second clip above). The elevator door opens to an empty shaft—terrifying, foreboding. Megan cooks barefoot (you're not supposed to because you risk electrocution). The Beatles song that Don plays, Tomorrow Never Knows, repeats the lyric "It is not dying," and we see Megan in acting class, lying corpse-like on the floor. That's a lot of death imagery, and it fills me with dread. I can't instantly or easily tie all these images together with the poem and deliver a neat interpretation. Should I? Is interpretation the point? The 1960s are, in part, a time of dread. We hear news reports about Vietnam twice during the episode. War, fear, violence, change . . . society as a whole may be killing itself and arising Lazarus-like. Does the Draper marriage survive this? We don't know. I don't believe we're meant to know. I do believe we're meant to fear.

Don wants to know what's happening with modern music, and Megan hands him Revolver, very possibly the Beatles' best album, released quite recently (August 1966—this episode appears to take place in October or November). She tells him to listen to Tomorrow Never Knows first. It is the most challenging, most psychedelic, least accessible track on the album; the song Don is least likely to understand or enjoy. It's being introduced to new music with a bucket of ice water to the face. Don might easily have embraced I Want to Tell You or Taxman. Instead, he gets experimental music, Timothy Leary-inspired lyrics, and sitar. The world is running away from him too fast to keep up; Lady Lazarus may remake herself, say, by quitting her job in order to act, but it seems like Don can't continue to rise from the dead, although he's done it before.

Some additional thoughts:

  • Another motif is the interconnection of safety and protection, rejection and danger: Some people feel small and insignificant in their lives, and some people feel protected and supported. Beth is scared of the city. Harry feels belittled at home. Who will watch over the unprotected? Who will feel safe?
  • Quote of the week goes to Don, both for wit and for meaning: "I was raised in the thirties. My dream was indoor plumbing."
  • If the physical comedy didn't get to you this week, you are not paying attention. Watch the guys acting out A Hard Day's Night in the fishbowl conference room when Megan peeks in. For that matter, watch Pete wrestle with skis. Or just listen: The sound effect of the scraping skis after he says goodnight to Peggy is worth the price of admission (or would be if AMC weren't basic cable).
  • Rich Sommer cracks me up. As usual. Thank you, Harry, for finding the Earth from space majestic.

Deborah Lipp is the co-owner of Basket of Kisses, whose motto is "smart discussion about smart television." She is the author of six books, including "The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book."

Watch Mad Men Moments, a series of videos on Mad Men, produced by Indiewire Press Play.



"It’s the future. It’s all I ever wanted."

nullAfter weeks of dense, intricate episodes of Mad Men that have challenged my skills as a writer, it's something of a relief to experience the plain ol' symbolic, interesting, well-written, enjoyable quality of At the Codfish Ball. I strongly suspect that I don't have to spend the rest of my life analyzing this episode, and that I can derive all its meaning in two or three viewings.

Which is not a criticism! I loved this episode, and I love the more complex ones. I do, however, see the difference.

The lyrics of the song "At the Codfish Ball" are about dancing fish. Twice we see Sally confronted with the task of eating fish. The first time, she's served spaghetti—you know kids, they just won't eat grown-up food. The second time, at the banquet, she tries it, and it seems like she might be learning to like it. But, while the kids in Megan's commercial are having beans rather than spaghetti, in either case comfort food and comforting adults aren't available to girls who eat fish and stumble upon illicit blow jobs. (Watch if you dare!)

At the Codfish Ball is about passing the torch, about generations, about growing up, and about the changes from one generation to the next. It's especially apropos in 1966, which is approximately when the term "generation gap" was coined, but it's true for all of us, from cave men to people who eat beans on the moon. Because this is Mad Men, it aims to take a more honest look at the generations than Megan's commercial does, and it ends on a dark note (that tableau at the end of dinner—in the video above—is as striking as the elevator tableau at the end of The Beautiful Girls). Yet about three-quarters of the way through, I was wondering if I was watching the most optimistic episode of Mad Men ever made. As dark as some of it was, I still feel that way.

How is the torch passed? Let me count the ways. At work, Peggy is proud of Megan and explicitly states that she is seeing the torch passed. Joan is proud of Peggy, and happy for her. Perhaps for the first time she sees Peggy striking out on a path that isn't the one Joan herself laid out for Peggy in the very first episode of the show. Joan serves as a surrogate mother for Peggy, since Peggy's own mother refuses to approve of her, and even withdraws Peggy's father's approval from beyond the grave. That torch didn't pass quite so successfully. Sally is praised as a mature young lady, and she heroically saves the older generation—but she's still too young to wear makeup. Nonetheless, attending the banquet is a significant "graduation." When she sees Roger, she asks if he's her sitter, and in a way he is: He's her "date," and he passes a kind of torch to her, teaching her how to be an account person and a "wing man."

We've already discussed the way that Sally's journey into adulthood turns suddenly darker. Megan's journey into maturity is also both joyful and dark. Those are some tough parents! They seem to have trained Megan well for marriage to Don, accustomed as she is to adultery and drunkenness. Another torch passed.

I loved Pete's conversation with Emile Calvet. If you recall, way back in Season 1 (Episode 1.04: New Amsterdam), Pete's own father said he didn't understand what Pete did, and was disdainful. Now Pete has an answer for the question, and an elegant one. Pete's been difficult to like this season, but he has grown up!

One of the great things about this episode was the core character development. Every episode of Mad Men is structured around a theme, and almost everything happens because of that theme. What makes these writers extraordinary is that their characters still behave like themselves as their lives move forward. It would be hard enough to write these people authentically without making it all flow from one subplot to another! Yet, while we have to see Joan living with her decision, and Roger with his, and see how Don and Megan's marriage is doing, and so on, we must do so within the thematic context.

"I for one am not going to let a bunch of dirty teenagers in the paper disrupt the order of things."

Roger's conversation with Mona (video below) was one of the highlights of the episode, not because it was thematically important (although the quote above is certainly about the generation gap), but because these two actors are great together, because Mona has always been a terrific and underused character, and because the interplay sparkles.

So much of this episode simply sparkled. Hey everybody, catch a deep breath, let go of interpretation, and just enjoy! Peggy looked so cute in pink, and Katherine Olson is a great character, every mean bit of her. Mona and Katherine are two people the fans always want back, Glen Bishop's return is another treat, and as if that weren't enough, we have the stellar Julia Ormond as Marie Calvet, and Ray Wise's return as Ken's father-in-law. A real Codfish Ball of a guest cast!

Another motif of At the Codfish Ball is seeing others as they are, and not simply as they relate to you. Roger has suddenly discovered he's a member of the human race, and he thinks he's the first person to ever notice, bless him. It's funny, of course, and Don is bemused, but Don hasn't previously seen his new wife entirely as her own, separate human being either. Last week he treated her as no more than an extension of his whims. This week, he discovered Megan is actually a person with talent and ability, and lo and behold, it turns him on! Peggy is discovering the same thing about herself; that she has her own desires and needs, and that she may not need to live under the thumb of expectation.

Peggy expected the worst news from Abe. Oh, honey. Then Joan woke her up, and she was so . . . so . . . girlish. With a pink dress with a pink bow on the front and an unshakable grin. She was living the childhood dream of a wedding, one she thought was only for prettier girls, but even though she didn't get what she thought she wanted, she made an adult choice. She changed from little girl pink to a beautiful and womanly dress to talk to "Ma." In this case, Peggy is figuring out that she is a person.

Some additional thoughts:

  • Meta-generational fun: Creator Matt Weiner's son Marten plays Glen Bishop. Ray Wise was on Twin Peaks as someone who killed his own daughter (thanks to my sister Roberta for pointing that out). Julia Ormond played Sabrina in the remake of the same name (a remake of a Hollywood classic is, after all, a kind of "next generation").
  • Sally should simply stop opening double doors. There's always sex behind double doors.
  • Quote of the week usually goes to Roger, and he certainly had several runner-ups, but nothing beats Emile Calvet with: "Don, there’s nothing you can do. No matter what, one day your little girl will spread her legs and fly away."
  • The motif of wealth also played itself out in this episode. I haven't the space to explore it properly, although I probably will on my blog as the week unfolds. Emile is a Marxist who disapproves of what unearned wealth does to Megan's soul. Mona counsels Roger not to feel guilty for wealth (check the second video, above). The wealthy "establishment" doesn't trust Don, according to Ed Baxter (Ray Wise).

Deborah Lipp is the co-owner of Basket of Kisses, whose motto is "smart discussion about smart television." She is the author of six books, including "The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book."

Watch Mad Men Moments, a series of videos on Mad Men, produced by Indiewire Press Play.



"You always say I never take you anywhere."

nullThere are episodes of Mad Men that I've had to watch over and over. There are secrets hidden in the way scenes are cut, the way shots are composed, the way words are repeated. Last night I saw something beautiful, and confusing, and challenging. There's no way I can do it justice after only one viewing, but I'll try. 

Far Away Places was about a lot of things. It was about echoes: about memory, reliving, and things that recall other things. The echoes begin, but don't end, with the same day repeated—relived—three times. The episode was about time—it was filmed in a time-distorted way (the same day motif was not Rashomon, although I imagine someone will say it is; unlike that great film, Far Away Places took us to three different far away places). Jane says that time is just numbers on a clock, Don and Peggy both reference the time, and we see Don looking at his watch. At the LSD party, the Beach Boys sing “I Just Wasn't Made For These Times,” which sounds like a shot at Roger, worrying over his white hair, but Roger seems, suddenly, to be genuinely renewed. Maybe he is made for these times after all.

When I wrote about Signal 30, I suggested it was about identity and secret selves. Certainly, Far Away Places addresses that as well, but it's more about being known, rather than about being secret. Peggy's pitch is about being included, and feeling safe, but no one feels safe. Jane is sure that Roger is laughing at her, and Don is sure that Megan and her mother talk about him behind his back. Paranoia runs deep around here; Ginzo wants private conversations when he's in an open office and when he's standing in a public hall—like that'll happen, ever.

No one here feels truly known: Am I a Martian? An orphan? A covert sex goddess? (Hey, let's watch Peggy give another hand job—that'll never get old!) Perhaps we are all more than anyone imagines when they look at us.

Most importantly, it's about relationships. The three fights these three couples had are hard to describe because they swirled around the very heart of what it means to be in a relationship, to try to touch another soul, to know and be known, and inevitably, to fail, because even the most loving and connected couple is composed of two people who are separate individuals and will never fully know each other.

All that blather at the LSD party about truth and reality and neurosis and logic never really got to the point for Roger or Jane, but it is about truth: Jane wants Roger to like her, and to know her, and to really see her, to notice she's there. When Jane realizes that Roger never even heard her say they were going to drop acid, she knew exactly how invisible she was.

Roger, too, wants the truth, although he'd be the last person to admit it. But the truth, even the truth that he doesn't like his wife or want to be married to her, is liberating. Roger, of all people, has been freed.

Why this order, though? Why Peggy, then Roger, then Don? Ending with Roger might have created more of a sense of optimism, since the truth was told—or pessimism, since the relationship was over. (It's striking how much younger and prettier Jane looked in the post-LSD scenes, as if artifice and unhappiness aged her.) Maybe Roger's story is a kind of warning for Don: Tell the truth to one another before it's too late.

"Every time we fight it just diminishes us a little bit."

When Roger and Jane tell each other the truth, they are lying on their backs on the rug. When Don and Megan get to the end of their fight, they are in the same position. (Watch it again here–it's an amazing piece of physical acting.)

Throughout the episode, what we see is couples fighting over the intersection of work and life, unable to find a way to just be together, but needing one another for comfort. Roger and Jane don't fight about work; she's trying to bring him into her life. Don and Megan are struggling to find a balance. It's funny that she doesn't want to get pulled away from the Heinz team, just as Bert Cooper doesn't want Don to pull her away—it's like everyone is lining up and telling Don to just work already, while it's pretty clear that the message for Peggy is the opposite: don't work so much. Again, that's the message from Abe and from Bert, who tells Don quite pointedly that he's making a "little girl" do his work for him.

It's almost ridiculous to ask how Peggy's story parallels Don's; it's never been so clear that Peggy is Don, and yet simultaneously wants nothing more than to be Don. We see a close-up of her smoking, we see her berate a client about having feelings, we see her drinking, we see her leaving the office in the middle of the day to see a movie, we see her having illicit, unfaithful sex in the middle of the day and then washing up afterwards (remember Don washing his hands in disgust after a similar encounter with Bobbi Barrett?), we see her fall asleep on her office couch, and we see her being woken up by a secretary—Don's secretary, in fact. We've seen Don Draper do every single one of these things, and I look forward to analyzing certain scenes shot-by-shot, because I'm pretty sure that the compositions of some of them are identical (the hand waking Peggy, for example).

Peggy declares her fidelity to Don in the opening scene, when she's looking for the special candy he gave her as a good luck charm before the pitch—candy, we learned in Season 2, that Don associates with a memory of his father. Can Don be painted any more clearly as Peggy's father-figure?

While she's in the process of finding her "I am becoming Don" magic candy, she's having a fight with Abe that is clearly every fight Don ever had with Betty: You don't include me, all you do is work, I'm an afterthought. Peggy is so sure she's being abandoned at every moment that she doesn't know how to just have the fight: she just can't speak truthfully with Abe without being sure he's leaving her. Abe doesn't want to leave, he wants to connect. He wants what Jane finally got, but too late. And Peggy wants someone she can please: hence a hand job. She moved Stoner Guy's hand away from pleasing her. She wasn't seeking her own pleasure, she just wanted to know, at the end of the day, that someone was happy with her. If it wasn't her boyfriend and it wasn't her client, Stoner Guy (politely credited as "Man") would do.

Another way the three couples parallel each other? Each main character has a partner who declares his or her foreignness. Abe says "I'll say a  brucha" (the Hebrew word for a blessing prayer). Roger recalls that Jane spoke Yiddish while she was tripping (he thought it was German). Megan and Don argue over the fact that Megan speaks French with her mother.

Finally, this episode is about parents, and about being an orphan: parents who are foreign, inaccessible, or both. Don talks to Marie (his mother-in-law). Megan thoughtlessly tells Don to call his mother. Ginzo is visited by his father, but then declares, "He’s not my real father." Roger sees Bert—a father-figure for him—in his money. Peggy wants Don's good luck candy, which is multi-generational; it's from his father, and it symbolizes him as a father to her. Don, trying to be a good father, forgets Gene, who he claims will never even know that he was slighted (like Don never knew his mother, like Ginzo never knew his mother).

Parenting is somehow identified as foreign: Megan's mother is French, Jane's father speaks Yiddish, Ginzo's father has a thick accent. Ginzo was born in a place of death, a Concentration Camp, which so disturbs Peggy that she needs Abe (reaching for comfort and safety, like her college kids by the campfire eating beans).

Some additional thoughts: 

  • Don did talk to his mother—last week, when he visited a whorehouse.
  • Was the advertisement of the guy with gray/black hair a real one? I bet it'll be all over the Internet by the time I get up in the morning.
  • Quote of the week again goes to Roger: "Well, Doctor Leary, I find your product boring."
  • I love that Mad Men is a show that doesn't force Contractually Obligated Scenes with characters who aren't integral to each week's episode. This week we had no Harry, no Betty or Henry, no Lane or Joan, because none of them were necessary for the story Far Away Places had to tell.
  • LSD was legal to possess in the United States until 1968. California was the first state to make it illegal, in October of 1966.

Deborah Lipp is the co-owner of Basket of Kisses, whose motto is "smart discussion about smart television." She is the author of six books, including "The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book."

Watch Mad Men Moments, a series of videos on Mad Men, produced by Indiewire Press Play.



“I’m through with all that fantasy stuff.”

nullIn Signal 30, everyone is struggling with their identity, with fantasies about who they are and how that might conflict with reality. People are pathetic or they are Superman, they are heroes or failures in their own minds, and they struggle mightily when the world disproves their theories about themselves.

This wasn't a great episode, but it's a breather after the intensity of Mystery Date, and there's plenty of symbolic material to dig into. I'm a little disappointed because the fifth episodes are generally among each season's best, and I don't think Signal 30 can really stand up to 5G, The New Girl, or Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency.* Nonetheless, let's dive into the juicy bits: There are plenty.

We all know "Don Draper" is a false identity for Dick Whitman. This season we've seen Don's growing disinterest in hiding himself. He is willing to share with the Campbells and Cosgroves the fact that he grew up on a farm—something he wouldn't have dreamed of doing back in 1960. Yet, his dual identity is alluded to twice in Signal 30, first, when he winces at the shared last name of Charles Whitman, the Texas Tower killer whose August 1, 1966 shooting spree took eighteen lives. The second time is when the sink explodes: Don whips off his shirt and starts fixing the sink as one of the women says, "Look, it's Superman!" 

The point of the episode, though, isn't Dick Whitman and Don's secret past, but the second identity we all have—walking through life as Clark Kent and imagining we're Superman. Over various meals, everyone has a chance to discuss their fantasy selves—writer, actress . . . even hog farmer.

Lane imagines he's an account man. Ken has an established "secret identity" as Ben Hargrove; when outed, he goes back into hiding as Dave Algonquin (no wonder Salvatore had a crush on him, Ken is all about being adeptly in the closet). Roger had an identity as a master account man, and Pete has, bit by bit, taken that away from him.

Ah, Pete. We really have to talk about Pete, but allow me to dwell on Roger for a moment. Check out this video of Roger explaining to Lane how to schmooze a client. This is literally the first time this season, maybe the first time in two seasons, when we've seen that Roger actually has skill and value:

In Season 4's Waldorf Stories, Roger, in a "morose" mood, complains that there are no Clio awards for what he does, and Joan asks what that is exactly (well, she doesn't so much ask as slap him across the face with the question). We've built an understanding of Roger as spoiled and incompetent for five seasons now, but it turns out he does do something, and he does it well: He knows how to turn clients into friends, how to get them to be allies in the cause of winning their own account. In a way, "account man" is the ultimate secret identity: Roger has the gift of turning himself into whatever the client needs him to be in that moment.

I've had it up to here with Roger's whining and self-pity, but this week was different: He not only showed competence, but wistfulness. When he calls himself "Professor Emeritus of Accounts," and when he tells Ken he "remembers" that the account job can be satisfying, he is being realistic about the pasture to which he's been relegated, even while he longs for more. This week, I kind of don't blame him for poaching Pete's meetings in A Little Kiss, especially since Pete has been such a shit.

Okay, let's get to it. Pete is a shit.

Wait, you wanted more?

Fine. To my eyes, Pete was the villain of Season 1, but he gradually redeemed himself, being on the right side of a lot of issues, becoming a much better husband to Trudy, developing tenderness towards fatherhood, and being exactly the right kind of prick in negotiations with his father-in-law. (That last instance may not seem exactly heroic, but he was right, dammit, and Tom Vogel needed putting in his place.)  Now, he's back to being a thorn in everyone's side.

This week's Pete debacle has been foreshadowed out the whazoo. Let's start with the very first episode, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, when Don tells Pete in the cruelest possible terms that he'll never get very far in business because no one likes him. Then there was Pete punching himself in the nose in A Little Kiss, walking straight into his pillar, and then Roger offering to "take it outside" with Pete in the same episode. So, yes, the bizarre and strangely awesome fight (check out the video if you can't get enough) was set up well in advance.

Pete is just a boiling pool of dissatisfaction. His wife wears curlers to bed! And she's not a teenage girl! And the faucet drips! And he hates the suburbs!  It all seems really petty when laid out like that, because it is petty. What we've seen, over and over this season, is that nothing can make Pete happy. He's even nasty when a car account comes in the door (and remember, Ken told him quite recently that a car was the prize they were all hoping for). He's just spewing misery everywhere.

In A Little Kiss, Trudy told Pete, "Dissatisfaction is a symptom of ambition," but Pete is happy when he's ambitious. It's now, that he has what he thought he wanted, that he's miserable. In the past, we've seen Pete longing for Peggy while married to Trudy, we've seen him vying for recognition, competing with Ken, fighting with his father-in-law, and he just got happier and more pleasant to be around. But now that he's a partner in a growing company, with a nice house and a gorgeous daughter, he's a sour, frowning, pimple of a guy who is determined to belittle everyone within earshot. He's nasty to Roger, rude to Lane, and deserved the punch in the face.

How galling it must be to be the Pete Campbell version of Clark Kent and have Don Draper put on the cape, fix the sink, and get the women hot. How galling to have Don Draper, of all people, throw your adultery in your face by abstaining. How absolutely humiliating to be unable to successfully land a teenage girl because you're not "Handsome" enough (and the casting of that teenage boy was no coincidence: He's a young Don Draper in every particular). Finally, Pete's only pleasure—insulting his supposed "friends"—backfires on him when Lane fights back.

In the cab, Pete bitterly says to Don, "I have everything," and Don agrees. But after the fight, Pete is near tears as he says to Don, "I have nothing." I don't believe there's anything that Pete can have that will make him feel good, because what he wants is to be Superman, to be "king." What he imagines he wants is to be Don Draper. Let's keep going with that: What Lane imagines he wants is Joan, or to be an account man, or both. What Roger imagines he wants is to be Roger about five years ago. What Ken imagines he wants is to be Ben Hargrove or Dave Algonquin, and since he is, Ken (as usual) is the only one who ends up happy.

What Don imagines he wants is exactly what he has. It makes the entire audience sit on the edge of our seats, though, because we all know how good he is at screwing things up for himself. Placing him in the context of this episode practically demands that we wonder when the other shoe will drop.

Some additional thoughts:

  • Notice we didn't see Harry this episode? He'd be redundant: Like Pete, he just wants youth. Notice also that Trudy is wearing a very old-fashioned dress for the party—that poofy skirt is so over in 1966; she's no longer fashionable.
  • Ken and Peggy have a pact—if either leaves, they take the other. Interesting. I've always loved their friendship, but I'm surprised Peggy has an ear to the ground.
  • Signal 30 is the name of the gruesome driver's ed film that Pete is watching as the episode opens. This episode is filled with wrecks, from Pete's bloody nose to Roger's career.
  • Quote of the week: “He was caught with chewing gum on his pubis.” Ha!
  • Megan exercises a lot of control over Don, and we see more and more of that each week. This week, she refuses to do the dirty work of turning down Trudy's invitation, then she makes him change into a sport coat that she bought him (and WOW, what a sport coat it is).

* Oops, that was episode 3.06. The fifth episode of Season 3 was The Fog.

Deborah Lipp is the co-owner of Basket of Kisses, whose motto is "smart discussion about smart television." She is the author of six books, including "The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book."

Watch Mad Men Moments, a series of videos on Mad Men, produced by Indiewire Press Play.



Hiding under the bed doesn't help.

The dirty, violent, erotically-charged, drug-fueled, violent, violent, violent world is encroaching, and none of us can hide from it. Not Sally, not Pauline with her knife, not Don in his fever, not Dawn on Don's couch.

This episode was shocking, disturbing, and brilliant. Neither director Matt Shakman nor co-writer Victor Levin has worked on Mad Men before, so let's say welcome aboard, fellas, because damn, you're good.

nullIn three crucial moments of Mystery Date, female bodies are under a piece of furniture. First, the Richard Speck murders are discussed at the office: The episode takes place on Friday, July 15, 1966, and the following morning. The murders occurred on July 14, and Speck was arrested on the 17th,  so during the days depicted, the horrific mass murderer was nameless and at large.  Stan gruesomely recounts how the lone survivor of Speck's killing spree hid under the bed. Next, in the most shocking scene we've ever seen on Mad Men, Don hides Andrea's body under the bed, her foot luridly sticking out. Finally, Sally hides under the couch overnight after Pauline has made her feel worse rather than better.

I suspect the scene we all want to talk about is Don and Andrea, but let's look first at Pauline and Sally. The swirling mass of chaos that is 1966 is affecting all the characters. Divorce, Vietnam, racial tension, sexual anxiety, promiscuity, rape, violence, drugs, the generation gap: they're all here. Once Sally has managed to frighten herself by reading the newspaper (not a forbidden piece of fiction, mind you, it's the newspaper that's unsuitable for the young) and gone to Pauline for comfort, Pauline blasts Sally with such a megaton of crap that I wanted to hide under the couch, too. Parents kick you for no reason, but that's a good lesson. A twelve year-old girl (Pauline is sure) already knows, not only what sex is, but what rape is. It's bad but it's sexy, and Pauline tells it like a camp counselor with a flashlight under her chin. Here, let me show you my big knife. Here, let me give you a Seconal. Holy crap. That one scene encapsulates, in its emotional tone and in the notes it hits, almost everything that happens in every other scene.

The episodic stuff this week was enormously eventful. Joanie kicks her scumbag husband out, Peggy extorts Roger, and DON . . . yet none of what we're seeing is entirely about the characters. This is a mood piece, and the mood is grim. Even the humor (and there are plenty of laughs) is grim: Stan with pantyhose over his head is funny, but then you can't help thinking he looks like a serial killer, especially given that's his "outfit" when Joyce (luv ya, Joyce) comes in with the unprintable student nurse photos.

So, did you know, when Don strangled Andrea, that it was a dream? I was reminded of 5G. We wondered, five years ago, if Don could possibly be planning to kill Adam. It was a new enough show that it was easy to be uncertain. Five years down the road, it's harder to imagine this can possibly be a direction the show will take, but we can't be sure. That scene was filmed with a feverish intensity that left you believing. At the end, Don leaving the foot sticking out seemed impossibly sloppy, and only then was I 100% convinced it was a dream or a hallucination.

Two dreams in two weeks. We're living in unreal times.

The violence permeates everything. Peggy, whom I'm sure has worked late and alone many times, is suddenly scared when she hears a noise. Finding Dawn, she sees someone (on another couch, by the by) even more constrained by the violence outside than herself. Dawn can't go home. Cabs won't go into her neighborhood, and her brother won't "let" her ride the subway. (Fancy that; her brother is still in his teens, but as the man of the house, he gets to make decisions for Dawn.)

See, I've worked in the city and been afraid to leave the office alone. Hell, I've felt that way working in the suburbs. That women's lives are restricted by the threat of rape and violence is not a "period detail." It's a reality that women live with every day, and that men often don't notice. So often, I've been in offices, making little pacts with other women to walk one another out, while the men assume we're overreacting, or don't pay attention. We women are bounded about by violence and the threat of violence, sexualized violence made light of, as if it's erotic, as if it's exciting, as if it's a dirty fever-dream like semi-willing sex with a former lover you then strangle. But it's none of that. It's real and confining and we tiptoe around it. Every. Damn. Day. Like Peggy. Like Dawn.

It's interesting that it's a man—new guy Michael Ginsberg—who notices how horrible it is. He objects to the excitement over the murder photos, but he's not above a sales pitch based on the sexiness of being stalked in a dark alley. "Too dark," he says with mock sincerity, but he's thrilled to make the pitch, which results both in a sale (to the client) and a threat of violence (from Don). That's almost like saying, "He Hit Me and It Felt Like a Kiss," (the closing song, by Goffin and King). 

The other side of the darkness of this episode is choice. Choice is as much a theme here as hiding under the bed. You have to do one or the other, is the thing. You have to hide or you have to make your own choices, because there's no escaping the grim reality.

"I'm glad the Army makes you feel like a man, because I'm sick of trying to do it."

We're all glad to see Greg go, I'd wager. This is a much more satisfying resolution for Joan than having Greg killed in Vietnam, which many fans were expecting. It's vastly better to see Joan making a choice than having one made for her. "Greg dying is not a solution," she said in Hands and Knees. Kicking him out on his ear is. I wonder what comes next in the saga of Joan and Roger, now that she's going to be divorced. I have no predictions, except to say that she's learned not to be victimized by one man, and I doubt she'll let herself be victimized by another.

Don is choosing to be faithful to Megan, when he has a different opportunity. (I'm unclear if Andrea's first visit, when he sends her out by a service elevator, is also a hallucination. Is there really a back door in that apartment?) And when he suddenly, depressingly, seems to change his mind, it's portrayed as foul. Andrea says sex is meaningless, she calls Don dirty and sick, she embodies everything he hates about his own promiscuous past. And, like Sally hiding under the couch, he fears his own doom is  inevitable. Don's impulse to kill the false Andrea is a suicidal impulse just as much as it's a murderous one: He hates himself for what he's done and for what he fears he may do.  The violent impulse he directs towards his own hallucination is a violent impulse he directs towards himself. (Richard Speck was arrested when he was hospitalized for a suicide attempt right after committing masss murder.)

Don can choose to do better. He can choose to eradicate, by strangulation if necessary, his own infidelity. Joanie can choose to kick her rapist husband out (and it's no coincidence that in this episode, with Speck hovering over the proceedings, she finally makes reference to that horrific day). She can't make Greg a good person, or a good husband, but she can stop being wounded by him. Don can't make women from his past disappear, and he can't stop Megan from being jealous when that happens, but he can choose how he behaves going forward. Choice is the only weapon in dark times.

Peggy, too, makes a choice. Dawn knew what Peggy was looking at. Peggy knew she knew. The racist thought, 'I can't trust a black woman with my purse full of cash,' came to her entirely unbidden. ("Racist" is an adjective, not a noun. It describes the thought or action, it doesn't define the person.) This happened then, it happens now: well-meaning people suddenly find racist (or sexist or homophobic or what-have-you) thoughts leaping into their heads. The choice, the only choice, is in what you do about it. Peggy could have taken her purse. She chose not to. Dawn may never feel truly at ease with Peggy, but she saw Peggy choose.

Some additional thoughts:

* Roger now has exactly one account and he didn't manage to assign the work. I can't wait to see how this blows up. It's going to be spectacular.

* We barely glimpsed Betty, and my eyes may be deceiving me, but she seems slightly thinner this week. I predict a Mother's Little Helper subplot very soon.

* Quote of the week: "Hey Trotsky, you're in advertising."

* Ginzo feels like a nickname that'll stick.

Deborah Lipp is the co-owner of Basket of Kisses, whose motto is "smart discussion about smart television." She is the author of six books, including "The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book."

Watch Mad Men Moments, a series of videos on Mad Men, produced by Indiewire Press Play.



Watch a clip from Mad Men Season Five, Episode Two: "Tea Leaves."

"When is everything going to get back to normal?"


In recent interviews, Matt Weiner has been sharing this quote, uttered by Roger at the end of Tea Leaves, as a kind of capsule of the entire season. There is no normal to get back to, and as Don said in episode 105, 5G, "I have a life, and it only goes in one direction. Forward." At the moment (late June and early July 1966), forward is a very strange direction indeed, for Don, for Betty, for Roger, for SCDP, and for the United States as a whole.

When forward gets strange, backward looks pretty good. Betty reached out to Don because she knew what she would get: "Say what you always say," she begs, and Don knows exactly what she means. There was a time she hated when he said that; "You don't know that," she answered, but now she reaches out to Don, not because she's in love with him, or threatening his marriage or her own, but because he is familiar, and she knows what he'll say, and she can use that to calm herself. Betty's parents are both dead, the only past that Betty can touch is Don, and it works, she calms down enough to breathe.

The title Tea Leaves suggests the future, and a fortune teller arrives a little before the halfway point to remind us that attempts to predict the future are a fool's game. Mad Men has treated tarot reading quite respectfully in the past, and even uses a tarot card as a production logo. The tea leaf lady doesn't represent a condemnation of the whole idea of divination so much as a demonstration that the belief in a controllable and containable future just doesn't withstand scrutiny.

"Time is on My Side" is the Rolling Stones song everyone’s talking about, and not because it was a big hit in 1966. In fact, the Stones recorded it in '64; if Mad Men simply wanted to reference a current song, why not "Paint It Black,"  which was released in May of 1966 and was huge. No, the song was selected for its title. Is time on Betty's side? On Roger's? On Megan's? Betty might not have cancer, but there's a kind of awakening to the future, to tea leaves, to the choice to reach forward or back.

It's also not a coincidence that the doctor refers to Betty as "middle-aged." Man, that's got to hurt. Betty is now all of 34, which we wouldn't call middle-aged now, but was not an unreasonable label in 1966. Still, I can't imagine she likes it. She's seething that Megan is 20 (she's 26 but hey, what's six years between enemies?). Youth culture has arrived. Our closing song, "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" (from The Sound of Music), Harry lusting clumsily after young girls, even Megan calling Don "square": it's all about the passage of time. Don's inability to communicate with his mother-in-law (he doesn't speak much French) seems symbolic of the gulf between Megan's youth and Don's age. These old squares can't even tell whether or not they've met the Rolling Stones! (I don't know how much scrutiny a closing song gets, but Hammerstein died of cancer shortly after The Sound of Music opened on Broadway, before it was made an Academy Award-winning film in 1965; that bit of musical trivia sure fits with the contrast of youth and death, which is one a theme of this episode.)

Naturally everyone will want to talk about Betty's weight gain, and naturally, the storyline was written to accommodate January Jones's pregnancy. It's strange that in Season 1, Peggy's story was that she looked fat but was actually pregnant, and now January Jones is pregnant, and Betty looks pregnant but is actually fat. The fourth wall kind of melted for me when I saw Betty, and I had a hard time understanding, for a few minutes, that this was a tale about Betty Francis becoming fat, because instead I was thinking, "Oh, that's how they are dealing with January's pregnancy." I was wondering if Betty was pregnant, instead of seeing the evidence on-screen: From the moment we saw Betty struggling to get into her dress, we saw a story about a woman who had gained unwanted weight. Thinking otherwise comes entirely from reading gossip columns and knowing what's going on behind the scenes. We really undermine ourselves when we suck up all that backstage stuff, because it prevents us from seeing the drama on its own terms.

Anyway. Betty got fat. Again, in interviews following Season 1, Matt Weiner expressed a lot of interest in the way that fat women are treated in our world, and he got to tell some of that story by having Peggy gain weight. In Season 2, we met Betty's friend Sarah Beth, who couldn't string three sentences together without including one about how awful it was that her daughter was fat. The oppressiveness of that ongoing monologue was palpable.

As is Betty's self-hatred. It's one thing to get fat, it's another to decide that your husband can no longer see you naked, and you can no longer go to fancy events unless you fit into your old, glamorous clothes, and you can no longer have an active sex life. One thing I've always loved about Betty is her libido: she may be prim and judgmental, but in the sack she is desirous, playful, and rarin' to go. Betty is denying herself things she loves: going out, showing off her beautiful clothes, making love, being admired. She's doing this because fatness is hateful to her.

I am not a doctor, but it seems to me that even a benign tumor sitting on the thyroid could cause weight gain, so it surprised me that the show played, at the end, with the notion that Betty is fat because she's eating extra ice cream. Maybe that's true, or maybe she's giving herself permission to indulge because she's unable to lose weight even when she starves herself (which is exactly what happens with a thyroid problem). Betty watches every bite she eats, even during pregnancy ("Jesus, Bets, have some oatmeal. That baby’s gonna weigh a pound," Don said in episode 3.09). This is why her silent, private indulgence in a chicken leg (episode 2.13) was so moving and so sensual. If there's a loss of control it's more than just "letting herself go;" Betty is control.

The other major theme of Tea Leaves is appearances. Betty is not just fat, she is deeply concerned with being seen as fat, and she is sure that Henry is incapable of seeing her accurately. Megan is concerned with how she appears to the Heinz people, and awkwardly makes sure they know she didn't sleep with a married man. Harry wants to look cool in front of, well, he's not sure…the girls backstage? Don? The security guard? If only someone would think he's cool, he'd feel better. Meanwhile, he's hiding his eating, which seems like a nod at Betty. Michael Ginsberg is a talented nebbish who wants to appear so obnoxious that he'll be mistaken for bold and exciting. And Peter, as ever, wants everyone to know how important he is. (Note Peter in a black suit, when he usually wears blue or green; he's dressed as the Head of Accounts and he doesn't want anyone to miss it.) Part of what Tea Leaves is about is the show we're all putting on for each other so much of the time.

Some additional thoughts:

In Season 1, Harry advised Pete that looking and flirting were the kinds of pleasures a married man can have. His one infidelity left him remorseful and quick to confess. I don't know if Harry is cheating, but what he's doing is worse, in a way. He's longing. Jennifer can't know what's hit her.

Henry is working for John Lindsay, who was Mayor of New York from 1966 through 1973. He doesn't want the mayor seen with (George) Romney because "Romney's a clown." Ha! I'm allowed to enjoy the cheap shots, aren't I? Mitt's father, George, was governor of Michigan at the time, but I'm sure the writer's room had a nice laugh sticking that in the script.

"Romney's a clown" would be the quote of the week if it weren't for "Someone with a penis."/"I'll work on that." My son came home from work just as Peggy said that, and I was laughing so hard he thought something was wrong.

I think we can give Jon Hamm's directorial debut a thumbs up, don't you?

Deborah Lipp is the co-owner of Basket of Kisses, whose motto is "smart discussion about smart television." She is the author of six books, including "The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book."

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