Now that’s what I call an episode. Last week we saw Mad Men at its soapiest and most predictable. This week, the series returned to its best material—the business of selling advertising, the double life of Don Draper—and delivered several big surprises. Let’s start with the biggest: Lois still works at Sterling Cooper. So let me see if I have this straight. Turning down the unwanted sexual advances of a client: firing offense. Running over the foot of an executive with a lawn mower: not a firing offense. Poor Sal.
OK, Lois’ continued tenure at Sterling Cooper was probably the second biggest surprise of this episode. The biggest was that Betty finally discovered Don’s secret. After depositing a wad of cash in his locked desk drawer, Don forgetfully leaves the key in his blue bathrobe. (In retrospect, Don, a safe-deposit box probably would have been a better place for that stuff—I’m sure Liberty Capital Savings could have hooked you up.) The writers drew out the suspense of whether Betty would find the key—we hear it jingle as she puts the robe in the wash; she doesn’t seem to notice—but I loved the scene of Betty sitting on the couch reading Mary McCarthy’s The Group and hearing the key plinking around in the dryer. As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, Betty has long suspected that Don’s desk holds dark secrets. She had no idea just how dark.
Julia, Patrick, I’m eager to hear what you made of Betty’s response to her discovery. Her first instinct seems to have been to confront Don—we see two shots of her sitting at the kitchen table with the shoebox, waiting to pounce when Don comes through the door. Yet when Don never shows, she returns the box to the drawer and the key to the robe. Don calls her from the office the next day, and Betty seems close to revealing what she knows, then holds back. She allows Don to show her off at the Sterling Cooper 40th anniversary party, but as Roger Sterling enumerates the qualities of his “friend” Don Draper, she wears a look of barely disguised horror. How will Betty act on her knowledge? Will she confront Don? Or will she keep the secret to herself—and perhaps treat it as a license to pursue her own secret life? Henry Francis is still in the picture, as we learned when both Don and Betty accuse their paramours of calling the Draper residence and hanging up. (My money’s on Miss Farrell.)
That final scene of the episode, at the anniversary party, was quite something. It’s Don’s night to shine, yet he’s surrounded at the banquet table by people in a position to threaten the life he’s built since returning from Korea. Roger Sterling, the man who discovered him selling furs, has come to resent him. Bert Cooper knows his secret, as does his wife. Connie Hilton has forced him to sign a now fully completed contract with Sterling Cooper, which, unbeknownst to Don, the Brits have put up for sale. Don gets up to speak—and the credits come up right as he’s about to begin his remarks. Is it just me, or was there a faint echo of the Sopranos finale in this moment? An abrupt cut to black as an air of ominous uncertainty swirls around our (kind of) hero. Thankfully, there’s another episode next week and at least one more season before it’s time to cue the Journey.
On a lighter note, how awesome was the Paul and Peggy subplot? The TV Club has clamored for more action set in the offices of Sterling Cooper, and this episode delivered. We saw the creatives bouncing around ideas about hairspray and telegrams, and we were offered a hilarious glimpse into Paul Kinsey’s creative process, which apparently is fueled by whiskey, jazz, and, when he’s really feeling blocked, a little self-love. Inspiration finally hits him as he’s foraging through (someone else’s) lunch bag and chatting with a janitor improbably named Achilles—but Paul forgets to write down his idea and can’t recall it the next day. It was great fun watching Peggy come to the rescue, getting Paul to confess that he forgot his idea, then turning his excuse into a winning pitch for the Western Union campaign.
Also great fun were the scenes involving Lane Pryce, who is fast becoming one of my favorite characters. Unable to get Bert Cooper to agree to attend the anniversary party by buttering him up, he suggests that his absence will be interpreted as evidence of physical infirmity. “Who told you I was vain?” Bert asks. “Please. It’s obvious,” Lane replies with a smile. Bert shows up.
I’d love to give this episode a gold star, but I seem to have misplaced my gold star sticker. It was here a second ago. Where could it have gone? Oh well, it’s probably for the best. While this week’s episode was a welcome return to form, I’m still irritated by the Miss Farrell plot line, which took up a good bit of airtime and continued to elicit dopey lines of dialogue from Don. (This week’s “Nobody feels as good about what they do as you” was almost as bad as last week’s “Are you dumb? Pure?”) Yet even the Miss Farrell subplot seemed to point to a reckoning for Don—he has brazenly started forwarding his calls to her apartment, she brazenly accosts him on the commuter rail. Then there’s the business of her kid brother: Did he show up just to remind us that epileptics—like blacks, gays, and secretaries—had it rough in 1963? Or might a drifter with an avowed need for cash and now Don’s business card make trouble in an episode to come?