Mad Men is back and it’s business as usual with Don Draper. Though he now needs an answering service to keep track of all the women he’s currently sleeping with, his behavior is essentially the same as ever. Except now, he’s actually a single man. We’ve seen him order women around in the bedroom before – most memorably with Sylvia in season 6 – so I was surprised to find that the opening scene was a casting call and not a behind-closed-doors rendezvous. But Don is in full bachelor mode and we see him with several women before the episode’s end.
One thing that has changed is how comfortable he’s become about sharing the details of his childhood. At a diner, accompanied by Pornstache Roger and some models, he seems almost eager to regale the table with a story from his past. Perhaps Don is happier living without all the secrets and lies, and without being confined to marital commitments he could never truly keep.
Yet, even with three women surrounding him, the diner waitress catches his eye. She looks familiar to him and though they’ve never met she’s definitely his type: the mysterious brunette. Roger ends up insulting the waitress and leaves a $100 bill for an $11 meal as an apology. Later, when Don goes back to the diner, the waitress assumes he’s there to collect on that large tip and they have sex in the back alley.
In a sort of strange premonitory dream, Don sees Rachel Menken Katz – one of his love affairs from season one – only to find out the following day that she died just a week earlier. Don is visibly struck by the news and later visits her apartment to pay his respects. He meets her sister, Barbara, who tells him Rachel was very content and had everything she wanted out of life. It’s clear Barbara remembers who Don is and takes some delight in telling him how happy Rachel was.
Just as the diner waitress was familiar to Don, this episode’s underlying theme with the question “Is that all there is?” should be familiar to us. It’s the same drum Mad Men has been beating since season one and that’s okay because it’s something this show does well. Two particular instances in the episode give Don more reason to reflect on what he has made of his life. One being Rachel’s death but sincere happiness with life, and the other being Ken’s positive reaction to getting fired. Something tells me Don has had far too many chances to turn his life around at this point and dream Rachel was correct in telling him that he has “missed his flight.”
Ken’s father-in-law is retiring from his post at Dow Chemical. This inspires Cynthia to encourage Ken to leave his job at Sterling-Cooper to pursue his dream of writing. At first he’s resistant, but when Roger is forced by the executives at McCann Erickson to fire Ken, he sees it as serendipitous timing. Ultimately though, Ken takes a job at Dow Chemical and will now be a client of SC&P. He hasn’t always been a saint, but as one of the better-behaved men on this show – the bar is pretty low here – I do hope his character has one of the happier endings. I mean, he did lose an eye already.
Peggy and Joan were the highlight of the episode this week. Well, aside from the ridiculously amazing mustaches Roger and Ted have acquired. It’s refreshing to see two women in a meeting with a client – even if it is for pantyhose – where a decade prior just one woman in the room would have been no small feat. Though these women have been successful in their careers, the men they work with can still easily reduce them to mere objects. In a meeting with McCann Erickson reps, Joan and Peggy are subjected to some particularly nauseating sexist “jokes.”
I’ve always wanted Joan and Peggy to be closer, but their vastly different reactions to this meeting only serves to reinforce why these two could never truly be great friends. While Peggy grins and bears it, trying to focus on what needs to be done, Joan can barely say a word as she stares daggers at the childish men across from her. Almost worse than listening to those misogynist jerks, Peggy victim blames Joan for the way she dresses and Joan, more or less, calls Peggy ugly. It’s a shame they can’t at least be close colleagues given all their shared history and the bullshit they both have to put up with.
While Joan mends her wounds with a shopping spree, Peggy does the same by going on a date with Mathis’ brother-in-law, Stevie. They hit it off, drink too much wine, and plan an impromptu trip to Paris. When Peggy can’t find her passport at home their trip is postponed, but things end on a positive note between them. She later finds her passport at the office, possibly signifying that work is her true home.
Interesting Bits & Pieces
The casting call, meant for a razor blade ad, but which focused heavily on the fur being worn by the model, was a nice nod back to Don’s beginnings as a fur salesman. In fact, there were quite a few moments that harkened back to season one, helping to bring Don’s story full circle. It truly is the beginning of the end.
We didn’t see much of Pete this week, but he did mention that the sale to McCann Erickson hasn’t exactly paid off for him in the way he had hoped. He’s still as miserable as ever, and perhaps he’s the one who needed the lesson from Bert Cooper’s ghost about how the best things in life are free.
Speaking of the late Mr. Cooper, this is the second episode in a row where Don has a vision/dream of someone who has died. It’s a wide spread theory that Don will die at the end of the series, could these ghosts be signaling his impending doom.