‘Mad Men’ recap: “Field Trip”

GroupfiringDonThis week’s Mad Men is all about field trips – Don takes one to Los Angeles and destroys his marriage, while Betty chaperones a field to trip a farm, and falls deeper into her patented spoiled, Bettyness. In between we have a lot of tense moments between the partners and staff members at Sterling Cooper & Partners who are trying to figure out what to do with a problem like Don Draper. I really liked this episode because it pushed forward a lot of the characters’ story arcs, while at the same time, it highlighted just how things have changed since the show started some seven years ago. Characters take on new responsibilities, while some let their obligations slip away. Don learns a valuable lesson about the importance of relevance – not just his own, but of his allies, as well.

All of this starts because Don finally tells Megan the truth about his job. He flies to Los Angeles at the request of Megan’s fey agent, Alan Silver, who recounts a mortifying story in which Megan pulls a Sean Young and stalks a director, hoping for a second chance at an audition. Worried that she’ll get a reputation (much like Sean Young has), Alan has Don fly over to L.A., to set the comely Mrs. Draper right. Unfortunately, Don’t not great at comforting people, and instead of helping her relax as Alan prodded, the two end up in a fight: it’s amazing just how unsmooth Don can be when he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He can charm clients with a bionic-like talent, but when it comes to his own family, he’s an emotional idiot.

The two have a nasty fight – one in which Megan accuses Don of infidelity. She was once his secretary, so she knows his shenanigans. It’s telling that in his defense, Don says, “I haven’t even been drinking…that much.” And lest we forget about Sylvia Rosen, Megan’s not that far off. She’s not a dummy, so when she can’t get in touch with Don, or when he answers the phone and it’s weirdly silent in the background, she knows something is up. But instead of being relieved at Don’s revelation, she’s pissed – and rightly so – because his unemployment meant that he could’ve lived with Megan in L.A., this whole time, and he chose to stay away from her. It’s an awful epiphany to have, and she ends their fight – and possibly their marriage by saying, “This is the way it ends. It’s going to be so much easier for the both us.”

So without a loving and loyal starlet wife behind him, Don gets a job interview for a competing firm. He takes the offer and shows up at Roger’s door. The two finally have their much-needed confrontation. They fight, but there’s love underneath it – and if not love, then maybe an affection, or at least a history. Roger simply says, “I miss you” and the two reconcile. Don’s promised a job back at Sterling Cooper & Partners. Except for one thing. Roger’s no longer da man, either.

So poor Don returns to the office and like a ghostly apparition, he floats through the office, a sad novelty. Lou sizes him up and doesn’t trust him. Jim’s unhappy, Dawn feels pity for the guy. Instead of getting a warm reception from Joan and Peggy the two women who at one point meant so much to him, receive him with coldness. Joan is all “business as usual” while Peggy’s hostile, sniffing, “Well, I can’t say that we missed you” (more on Peggy later).

Don does get offered a job with some restrictive stipulations: he can’t be alone with the clients, he’s prohibited from going off book, and most importantly, he can’t drink on the job. And he takes the job.

I normally don’t feel too sorry for Don – he’s an architect in his own destruction the majority of the time, but his alienation from Sterling Cooper & Partners was disconcerting, as was Roger’s much-reduced influence. Don just assumed things were like they once were – but they weren’t. Dawn has her own office – and even though she politely obeys his commands, he’s gonna have to stop that shit real soon when he realizes that Dawn’s personnel manager and not his personal assistant.

And why did he take the job, despite all of the hemming rules? Well, here’s a theory: Don wants Lou out. The only way to do that is to get back to what he does best:  making brilliant copy. And Lou has a potent weapon that he never uses: Peggy.  If Don can get Peggy on his side again, the two can create the sort of magic that was a constant in season 5.

And speaking of Peggy – the writers are really getting a lot of mileage out of making Peggy’s life crap. Lou doesn’t respect her, and neither does Ginsberg – both of whom sling the misogyny so freely, I’m starting to wonder what the hell is going on. I also am wondering just how much more of Ginsberg’s nonsense is Peggy going to take before she a) fires him or b) kicks him in the balls (I’m hoping for the latter). I’m not really on board with angry, bitter Peggy, but season 7 seems content on making her the grousing grump, frustrated and immature. And having Don back is just another addition to the long list of frustrating insults she has to endure: not only is her work being continuously dismissed, but she was shut out of the CLIO nominations because Lou refused to submit any of her work (Ginsberg is the sole nominee from the office). At this point, I’m just hoping Lou fires Peggy, and sets her free.

Speaking of immature – guess who’s back: Betty Francis. I’ve missed Betty. I know she’s a controversial figure, and she’s more of a satellite than a real character, but she injects some life into the show with her withering petulance. We see Betty hanging out with Francine (remember her?), who sounds like she just finished reading Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. She’s a working gal, now, a travel agent. The two share some barely-concealed barbs as they play “who’s more fulfilled!” Betty tries to project the image of the doting mom, except she’s an awful mom with only a glancing knowledge of mothering, but because she made such a big how-do-you-do of being a mother, she agrees to chaperone Bobby’s field trip to a farm.

 

 

Bobby, like Betty at this point, works more like a plot device than an actual character. For some reason, Weiner and company don’t give him the complexities and shading of his sister, Sally (who’s MIA in this episode). But who cares? He’s adorable and his naked, devoted love for his mother is painful to watch, only because Betty’s interest in mothering comes and goes. But I have to give credit where it’s due, for most of the farm trip, she’s a good sport, gamely drinking the still-warm milk from a pail, and sharing a laugh with the other mother at the expense of the braless teacher. But things turn sour when Bobby ignorantly trades Betty’s sandwich for some candy. A dark cloud settles on their happy day. He innocently figured she wouldn’t eat – and later, Henry comes home and the first thing he asks Betty is if she ate. Huh. I guess Betty’s miraculous weight loss may have a dark source. Eating disorders weren’t commonly discussed in polite society in the 1960s – hell, they’re not discussed all that openly now – but it’s quite possible that Betty’s tantrum is linked to an eating disorder.

And like Betty, Harry Crane returns. Jim Cutler and he duke it out in the office after a competing ad agency boasts of new computer technology. One of Sterling Cooper & Partners’ clients is concerned about being tied to a mom-and-pop ad agency, but they’re quickly assured that all is well by Crane, who’s lying. Unlike Gray Advertising, Sterling Cooper doesn’t have a computer. But Harry isn’t a pushover, and swats Jim’s admonitions away. When Jim keeps pressing, Harry simply replies, “This conversation is over” and he strides away. Poor old Jim can’t catch a break: what with Don’s return and Harry’s sass, it’s neat to see the eccentric Jim Cutler off his game.

What is so great about “Field Trip” is that we know can begin to see where the show may be heading with the characters – and not all of the endings will be happy. The office moved along at its new pace, and Don’s forced entry will undoubtedly make for a bumpy ride. His former allies, Peggy and Joan are both irritated with his self-indulgent past, and cannot look past that – Joan, especially, has a lot to lose if Don fucks up, now that she’s partner. When she was a secretary and office manager, she was able to look at his debauched behavior with sly bemusement because she planned on moving away from the working world. When her real life got in the way and she had to make a living to support her kid on her own, she had to get a lot more strategic about the way she did business. The success of Sterling Cooper & Partners is vital and means a whole lot more to her at this point. So it’s clear that Joan’s distrust of Don’s return is wholly warranted.

Peggy’s wariness is different because her relationship with Don is far more complex. She began as his secretary before quickly graduating to copy writer. Her brilliance, which at times is equal to Don’s , worked in tandem with his talent. But as with most protégé/Svengali relationships, the mentee wants to break away, and often the mentor isn’t too pleased about that. Peggy also had an unfair reputation of being a spin-off of Don’s power. She worked her whole professional life to move away from that reductive role and having Don back not only means that she’ll have to work with a chauvinistic jerk like Lou, but a patriarchal condescending jerk like Don.

Some random points:

  • When Don surprises Megan in her L.A. place, she jokingly asks, “Did you get fired?” Ouch. Little does she know…
  • Bobby’s incessant chatter on the way to the farm is funny, as his proud announcement “We were having a conversation!”
  • Betty’s fantastic putdown of the busty schoolteacher: “That blouse says she likes everyone.” Say what you will about Betty Draper (there’s a lot to say), but she’s a wit.
  • I loved Don’s subtle take when he wanders through the office and takes in the changes – particularly Dawn’s name on her office door.
  • Betty’s indulging in some mean girl ‘tude with the other mom at the dairy farm. “I hope no one grabs on the wrong udder,” her new friends quips.
  • Joan doesn’t walk into Bert’s office because she’s wearing boots.
  • Bobby’s devotion to his ma is beautiful. “You can’t sit there,” he scolds a school buddy of  his, “that’s my mom’s spot.”
  • Bobby’s desolate wish that “it were yesterday” was just heart-breaking.

 

 

 

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1 Comment

Filed under commentary, Television

One response to “‘Mad Men’ recap: “Field Trip”

  1. Anonymous

    Loved Roger going it to bat for Don at the Partners meeting. With that the show’s spark was back.

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