The Chat Room

Don Draper Bites the Hand

John Swansburg chats to readers about an ominous episode of Mad Men.

Ron Jaffe/AMC.

John Swansburg was on Slates Facebook page on Monday to chat with readers about the latest episode of Mad Men. The following transcript of the discussion has been edited for length and clarity. To see the full conversation, click on this link.

John Swansburg: Hi all. Looking forward to chatting with you about this week’s episode. In unwitting preparation, I dined at Minetta Tavern on Friday night. They do have good steak.

Marc Naimark: Just when I was enjoying a relatively quiet episode of Mad Men, they did that to Sally! Ugh! Also: “It is what it is”!? And I don’t buy “spread her legs” as an ESL issue. Definitely Freudian.

John Swansburg: I don’t usually get too upset about verbal anachronisms, but I was surprised by Joan’s “it is what it is.” Felt very two thousand and late.

Lisa Merryman Hamilton: I think the “spread her legs” thing was intentional, and Marie was just trying to cover it up.

Alex Mizrahi: Speaking of verbal anachronisms, was Ken’s line about Megan passing “double secret” signals to Don (I don’t remember the quote exactly, but double-secret was definitely in there) a Cosgrovian sci-fi premonition of Animal House’s “double secret probation”?


Marc Naimark: I don’t get Megan’s reaction to Peggy’s congratulations.

John Swansburg: I’m not certain I understand Megan’s response to Peggy’s congratulations either. Later, at the awards dinner, it seems like she’s disappointed in herself for not pursuing her dream, which I presume to be the acting career we’ve heard about previously. But in that moment with Peggy, it’s hard to tell what the problem is, exactly. It could be that she’s realizing that the triumph isn’t as thrilling as she thought it’d be—a glass of champagne, some back-slapping with the boys, then back to the drawing board. It’s not exactly Broadway.

Maxine Pitter Lunn: I was happy that Slate’s posts pointed out Megan’s reaction to Peggy—I had the same theory—that it hit her in that moment (she left the room happy) that it wasn’t much of a victory and this was really not her dream. I’m loving Megan—finally a character I actually like.

Laurie Kaufman: I thought that the parallel between Megan/job success and Peggy/Abe was interesting. Initial excitement followed quickly by the uneasiness, as if to say: What if this is as good as it gets?

Julie Kramer: I’m enjoying Jessica Pare’s performance (and Megan’s wardrobe) but I’m ready to see some of her flaws. They must be coming, right? It seems unlikely that her intellectual communist father would really be so disappointed that she set aside the dream of being an actress.


Jaclyn Mosher: I was actually surprised that Peggy accepted Abe’s moving in—were you? She is a trailblazer in many ways, but living together can still be shocking to Catholic parents today, so no wonder her mother was so upset to hear it in the late ’60s. (Also, Glen and I went to the same boarding school!)

John Swansburg: ‎Nice, a Hotchkiss alum! You’ll have to tell us if Weiner gets the place right. As I noted in my TV Club entry, I found that game of hall lacrosse unconvincing—should have been more antic. Your thoughts? As to Peggy and Abe, I was also a bit surprised. But I think Peggy sees herself as progressive, and I also thought that she felt like to some degree this was a chance to give Abe the chance she knows she’s been denying him lately; I think she feels guilty that she always puts work ahead of him, and this might have seemed like a way to give him a fairer shake.

Jaclyn Mosher: As to the accuracy of Hotchkiss, I will say they got the one-phone-per-hall gossip mill dead right. We still had that lone receiver in 1999, and everyone knew who you were talking to!

John Swansburg: Yeah, that part gave me prep school flashbacks as well. “I said me too, Mom.”


Maxine Pitter Lunn: I’m really starting to appreciate Roger for his fabulous asides—corning, and the bow tie, for example. And didn’t he also say “My money was on Lane?”

John Swansburg: Roger’s always been a font of terrific asides, but he’s been on a roll lately. The “napalm” line was great. He was also just very sweet with Sally in this episode, in a way I found very charming. Of course, it made what she witnessed that much more jarring.


John Swansburg: Were other folks as excited as I was to see Mona Sterling return last night? I liked her line about how she first assumed Roger left her because she was getting old, but then she realized it was because he was getting old. I miss Mona! Talia Balsam and John Slattery are married in real life, and it’s always fun to see them together on screen.

Annette Christy: Mona looked awesome—great to see that last night.


Julie Schadler Chun: I was glad to see Don finally back to doing the actual work of creative ideas, even though it had to be sparked by Megan. I don’t care how whipped he is, I don’t buy that his whole ego wrapped up in the Myth of Don’s otherworldly genius suddenly takes a back seat to a relationship with Megan and putting his complete trust and faith in Pete Campbell to make the business a success.

John Swansburg: I agree. It was good to see him sell an idea, even if it wasn’t his, and I suspect that the revelation that his tobacco letter backfired will spur him into action in upcoming episodes—he’s got something to prove again.

Natalie Brender: How big a blow to Don’s career prospects was the revelation at the end (“you bit the hand”) supposed to be? Is that meant to be a death knell to the firm’s prospects re: all big corporate clients? And shouldn’t Don (and Roger) have seen this coming?

John Swansburg: ‎Great question—I really don’t know. It seems like a big blow, but who knows. Maybe the firm can get by with the smaller clients who don’t seem to have been offended. Or maybe a big fish will come along who does appreciate Don’s gesture. But it seemed ominous, for sure.

Maryrose Larkin: The “you bit the hand” remark really points to how profoundly Draper misjudges his relationship to the larger, corporate world.


John Swansburg: Been meaning to look: What Albee play was on Broadway in late summer ‘66? Anyone look it up?

Lisa Merryman Hamilton: I hope the play was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? because the Calvets are headed that way.

Miriam Isserow: I assumed the play was Virginia Woolf (all those fighting couples!) but online I found out it was Malcolm, an adaptation of a James Purdy novel. And here’s a synopsis for whatever it’s worth.

John Swansburg: OK, all, thanks as always for joining in. As Marie Antoinette said, “Let them eat beans!”