(STUART LEVINE ADDS HIS THOUGHTS ON THE EPISODE LATER ON IN THE POST)
Now I'm convinced -- Don Draper is losing his grip. I will never understand what our handsome anti-hero of "Mad Men" sees in the sleazy Bobbie Barrett.
After watching their further adventures in episode five, "The New Girl," I stand by what I said last week -- the woman is bad, bad news. But kudos are in order for thesp Melinda McGraw (pictured above) for playing her so, so well, or bad, in this case.
Although it feels like the twisted Don-Bobbie storyline dominates this seg, it's action-packed and includes the (brief) return of fan-fave Rachel Menken; a very emotional turn of events for Pete and Trudy; the introduction of what looks to be an important new character, Don's latest secretary; Don revealing himself to be an Antonioni fan; Joan delivering big news to Roger; and most significantly, at the 27-minute mark, we finally get a bit more info on what in the world happened to Peggy in the days immediately after she gave birth, at the end of season one.
It's a credit to Matthew Weiner and his team that the show's characters and stories are so strong that they've been able to wait this long to give us anything on this key plot point without fans howling. Peggy's flashback caught me completely off guard, as I was thoroughly engrossed on the Don and Bobbie storyline when it arrived. And the flashback is deftly woven in to shed light on another big turning point in Peggy and Don's relationship that comes in this seg.
Penned by Robin Veith and helmed by Jennifer Getzinger, the episode is titled "The New Girl," and it does introduce us to a young and very pretty new secretary for Don, Jane Siegel (sp?), but she doesn't get much screen time overall.
After giving it some thought, I think the title refers in part to the dynamic of Don's life, and in part to the changes that Peggy is undergoing. I think Don is a pathological Lothario in one sense, and hopelessly insecure (duh) in another. I don't think it's the power of the conquest that he's after, or even the sex per se, but just the insatiable desire to be liked, to be wanted, to be idolized. That's probably a lot of what he's responding to in Bobbie -- she's relentless.
I also think this episode is very focused on spotlighting the sharp contrasts between men and women in this era, which can't help but prod us to think about how much has, and has not, changed in contempo times.
We open on this note in a strict biological sense, with Pete and Trudy visiting a baby doctor to figure out why they can't conceive. The nervousness between them as the doctor asks a few clinical questions about their relationship is palpable. Allison Brie, who plays Trudy, holds her own against Vincent Kartheiser, who gets better and better in the role of Pete.
He sounds like he needs a shrink as he unloads on the doc during their private conversation. He drops the first great line of the seg.
"I spend half my day tiptoeing around creative crybabies, and the other half drinking with ungrateful turnips who just fell off the truck," Pete explains when the doctor remarks that it must be "fun" working in advertising.
From this brief opening scene we cut to another scene of X and Y chromosome contrasts, as Don walks into Sterling Cooper with Freddy Rumsen, who as usual is telling an off color joke. Guy stuff. As they walk in they're attention is diverted to the secretarial break room, where the gals are oohing and ahhing and tee-heeing over the engagement rock on Joan's finger. Yes, it's finally happened. She's engaged to her doctor.
"When it sounds like that it's either a visit from the stork or DeBeers," Rumsen snickers to Don.
Don seems to barely settle into his office when Bobbie Barrett calls, cooing him into meeting her at Sardi's. ("We can call it business," she purrs. "No, let's not confuse this," Don replies.)
At some point, all of this extracurricular activity is going to catch up with Don on a professional level, especially because he seems so generally cocky about his ability to juggle everything. I'm guessing that his star as hot-shot Creative Director guy is going to start to fall soon -- giving him a whole new layer of angst.
Of course, Don heads on over to the restaurant, and he has a tense, anything-but-sexy exchange with Bobbie and her cigarette holder which she fondles and tongues in a most off-putting way. She's tipsy because she just got a pilot order for her game show vehicle for her comic husband, "Grin and Barrett." Don learns that she really does handle the negotiations for her husband's gigs.
"This is America. Pick a job and then become the person that does it," Bobbie explains to Don, who seems to respect her spirit but looks wildly uncomfortable ever time he's near her. We get a little insight into Bobbie's burden of having to be mother-wife-and-punching-bag to her neurotic comic husband, Jimmy Barrett. Even after she secures the pilot (from ABC, I think), Jimmy wigs out when Buddy Hackett tells him that "Gleason didn't have to do a pilot."
And then we get to the real point of this scene. Rachel! She runs into Don and guess what? She's Mrs. Katz now. Mrs. Tilden Katz, and she and the husband are on their way to go so "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." Her appearance is brief, but the daggers in her eyes for Don and Bobbie made me flinch.
"He's all business, isn't he," Rachel says to Bobbie without masking the contempt in her voice.
Don is clearly shaken by the encounter. So much so that he orders steak tar-tar (yeeech) for Bobbie and a Hearts of Palm salad for himself (Is he trying to tell Bobbie something, ordering her a dish made of ground-up meat?). And then at some point they decide it would be a good idea to get a big bottle of whiskey, crank up "Theme from 'A Summer Place'" (a movie about a doomed affair) on the radio and barrel out to Bobbie's beach house on the shore. (Bobbie's line about "I want to have you on the beach" struck me as a little hackneyed, I gotta say.)
The car crash seemed kinda standard issue, but the aftermath in the beach town cop shop was intriguing enough to make up for it. First Don tries to bribe the cop -- "I"ll send an employee down with $500 tomorrow" he says even though the fine he's facing is only $150. Don says it so effortlessly you wonder if he's done this before. The cop is repulsed at Don's assumption that he's a yokel who can be bought off so easily, and his remark about kids being out on that road puts Don in his place.
In need of cash to get out of the clink, Don calls Peggy, who dutifully borrows her brother-in-law's car and scrapes up $110 to come to the rescue of a Don, Bobbie and her shiner. It's decided that Bobbie needs to spend the night with Peggy in Brooklyn to pull herself together, and that Don will rent a car to get home. There's also a near-wordless understanding reached between Don and Peggy that the incident can never be discussed. "This can be fixed," Peggy assures him, in a line that will taken on greater import later on after her flashback.
But in an instant, in that front seat, Don and Peggy's relationship shifts about 45 degrees when she tells him she'll take him to La Guardia to get the rental car. No, Don says, Idyllwild will be easier. No, Peggy replies, without a pause. La Guardia will be faster, and so La Guardia it is.
It's after Peggy and Bobbie arrive at Peggy's apartment that the we get the flashback that explains why Peggy so willingly answered Don's distress call. And in between this welcome bit of enlightenment about Peggy, we get some wonderfully tense-but-polite sparring between Peggy and Bobbie, two smart women who are trying to figure each other out but can't.
We learn that Peggy was in a mental hospital after giving birth, and was doped up for a stretch while her family and doctors tried to make sense of it all. Don appears in her room one hazy evening and gives her some advice right out of the Dick Whitman play book.
"Get out of here and move forward. This never happened," he tells Peggy, who thinks she might be imagining him at first. "It will shock you how much it never happened."
As we know from watching the last few segs, particularly last week's ("Three Sundays"), Peggy wasn't too narc-ed out to take Don's advice, to the letter.
Back in the present, in her apartment, the exchanges between Bobbie and Peggy feel like the hand-to-hand combat of negotiating that Bobbie was waxing on about with Don at Sardi's before they went on their joyride. Bobbie isn't shy about trying to put her finger on the mysterious Peggy. She quizzes her about her relationship and her intentions toward Don. Peggy holds her own and bats it right back to her less than gracious house guest: "Are you still trying to say thank you?"
Finally, Bobbie leaves Peggy with a parting bit of advice, to which Peggy has no rejoinder, just a nervous nod.
"No one will tell you this -- you can't be a man," Bobbie instructs. "Don't even try. Be a woman. It's powerful business when done correctly."
Peggy seems to have taken this to heart, because in her next scene with Don in the office, the shift that began in the car on the way to La Guardia moves another 45 degrees. Peggy reminds Don that he owes her $110. When she confidently says "Thank you, Don," after he peels off a few bills, you can see his surprise (thanks to a great bit of face-play from Jon Hamm) at her use of the familiar "Don" instead of her usual "Mr. Draper." This car crash incident may not be so easy for him to forget after all.
A few other thoughts:
**Just before the accident, we learn that Don likes "movies," and when Bobbie mentions foreign flicks, he one-ups her by citing Antonioni's "La Notte," a 1961 drama starring Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni.
**Sterling Cooper's new girl Jane is clearly ambitious and clearly cunning. "I feel like I'm walking in tall cotton" she gushes to Joan as she hugs her desk as if it's a pillow. Joan seems taken with her new charge at first ("Aren't you darling"), but a few days later she has to dress her down (actually, up) when Jane is showing a bit too much decolletage for Joan's liking. She sends Jane out to get a sweater on her lunch hour, which is decidedly different from the errand Joan sent Peggy on during her first lunch break at Sterling Cooper.
**Freddy Rumsen, office clown. No sooner is Joan done lecturing Jane about how the office "hinges on professional decorum" than Freddy leaps out of his office to regale everyone with his discovery that he can play "Ode to Joy" on his pants zipper. It's the comic relief moment of this hard-charging seg, for sure. But like all clowns, there's a sad sensibility about Freddy that I suspect we'll learn more about before the season ends.
**Pete is so wonderfully consistent. When Trudy gives him the doctor's report that his sample was sufficiently "viable," he's smugly pleased with himself without a seconds thought to her feelings. Even after she tells him, he treats her pain as an annoyance. He's a dog, but a consistent one.
**Vintage mags: Pete goes for "Jaybird USA" after thumbing through a stack of nudie mags (and one copy of U.S. News and World Report??) in the doctor's bathroom where he gives his semen sample. I Googled a bit but could not determine whether Jaybird was an actual rag of the day. The scene is a great bit of dialogue-free work by Kartheiser. Meanwhile, we learn that Peggy has an appetite for dish. She's got issues of the famed gossip rag Confidential at her apartment, to Bobbie's delight.
**Joan's big scene in which she informs Roger Sterling of her impending nuptials is another one of the elements that marks the contrasts between men and women in this seg. Whaddya know, the news that Joan is off the market (as she makes clear to Roger) seems to have actually pierced his cynical, skirt-chasing, artery-challenged heart.
**Interesting that Bobbie mentions in passing to Peggy the upcoming "fund-raiser at the Garden" for JFK in which Marilyn Monroe is supposed to appear. And appear she does, delivering her famous breathy rendition of "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" to the leader of the free world and her occasional lover. "Most women would love to have Marilyn Monroe's problems," Peggy tells Bobbie. In this case, she's dead wrong. If this seg of "Mad Men" is set in April/May 1962, then poor mixed-up Norma Jean has only about three months to live.
**Not much Betty in this seg. But as Don is dancing around the explanation of why he was out all night and came home with cuts and bruises, Betty has an interesting line: "You promised you wouldn't disappear like that anymore." Kinda suggests that they've come to blows over his recreational roving ways before, doesn't it?
STUART LEVINE'S THOUGHTS
Not a lot of office business going on in this episode. Instead we get some great two-handed conversations: Don and Bobbie, Pete and Trudy, and, what I found most revealing, between Bobbie and Peggy.
It felt like Bobbie saw a lot of herself at a young age when seeing Peggy struggle to find her place in the working world. The dialogue between those two was wonderfully written by Robin Veith, and while Peggy wouldn't ever imagine herself in Bobbie's shoes on a personal side — drunk, having affairs with married men — she does admire her for controlling her own destiny, business-wise. And when Bobbie tells Peggy that the way to get the corner office is to treat Don as an equal, and to act like a woman and not a man, Peggy takes the advice to heart.
When Peggy asks for her $110 back and then thanks "Don," rather than calling him Mr. Draper, she walks out of his office with a smile on her face that practically screamed, "Yeah, I'm an equal on your playing field and not the little girl I used to be."
I sincerely hope Matt Weiner isn't writing from personal experience, but there's nothing but bad marriages on this show. Everyone's cheating on each other's spouse, and there hardly seems any remorse to boot.
We all know about Don's womanizing ways. Is there anyone he won't sleep with? I'm a bit unsure about what he sees in Bobbie, who's crass, demanding and not exactly demure. Maybe Don has a thing for women of power. That could explain his relationship with Rachel Menken, who ran a department store, and why he feels like he has nothing in common with his own wife, Betty, who often cowers when Don starts calling the shots without regard for her opinion.
Speaking of Rachel Menken, now Mrs. Tilden Katz, Don's shocked response to seeing her at Sardi's felt to me as though that when he learned she was married, it felt like a lost opportunity to him. It's obvious he had very strong feelings for her, and not just in the bedroom. At some pont, he probably imagined a life with her.
Pete is not only a philanderer but quite an ass, too. I just wanted to smack him when he was so gleeful after discovering that his semen was viable and that their difficulties in getting pregnant might be Trudy's fault. Way to feel compassion for your wife, Pete. And nice touch ordering her around: "Trudy, get back here."
And we all know about Roger's relationship with wife Mona. I wouldn't doubt it if he was cheating on her from day one. When he tells Joan "she won't be back" in the office after she gets married, I'm not positive if it was because he'll miss the sex -- although they probably haven't been seeing each other for a while now -- or that he'll miss her as a companion, someone he can talk to.
Other thoughts while wondering when New York state figured out the blood alcohol limit of 1.5% might be a bit too high to legally drive:
-- Although Cynthia mentioned it, cracked me up when, among the nudie mags, there was a copy of U.S. News and World Report. Were people that sexually aroused about Lyndon Johnson as VP?
-- All "Mad Men" fans have become accustom to the incessant smoking, but to see Dr. Stone -- a doctor no less! -- puff away during a consultation was mind-blowing, considering what we know now on the dangers of second-hand smoke.
-- The most interesting piece of dialogue in the entire episode might've been Don's response to Bobbie at Sardi's, when she asks him, "What do you like?" His retort: "The answer is huge." Wow, what exactly does that mean? And then, on their way to Stony Point out on Long Island, when she exclaims, "I feel so good," he comes back with "I don't feel a thing." This is a man that could clealy benefit from a good psychotherapy session.
-- Speaking of psychotherapy, I guess a woman in the early 1960s who became pregnant -- and didn't know it -- was reason enough to be sent to a mental hospital. Every time I see someone in there who clearly doesn't belong makes me think about Jack Nicholson in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." He didn't play by the rules and never came out.
-- The ironic thing about Peggy giving up her baby is that it's apparent she'd be a great mom. She's very nurturing and maternal in helping Bobbie recover from her injuries and making sure she's comfortable at her Brooklyn apartment.
KATHY LYFORD'S THOUGHTS
Neither Stu nor Cynthia mentioned the point I found most interesting in this episode. Peggy's sister Anita looked to be about 8 months pregnant while visiting Peggy in the hospital, immediately after the birth of Peggy's baby. And yet, Anita doesn't appear to have two babies the same age; only Peggy's, whom she is raising. We saw two kids in a bed in the scene in episode 2 where we first saw Peggy's baby (in the crib), but they were clearly older than Peggy's boy. Did Anita lose her baby? Is this how she explained the sudden appearance of an infant in her life? And is this partially an explanation for how much resentment she feels toward Peggy? After all, if this is true, Peggy away her sister's grieving period. Poor sis would have been forced to just put aside her own devastation in order to jump in and care for Peggy's baby; all while Peggy just moves on as if nothing has changed. That really would explain her bitterness.
Also, I think the title "The New Girl" refers to all the women on the show finally standing up for themselves a bit. Joan certainly showed her power over Roger; Peggy's mentor-teacher relationship with Don has been turned on its head; Pete's wife finally found the strength to tell him "Yes, a child is important to me"; and even Betty finally got a bit of backbone with Don in her own meek way by refusing him salt at the dinner table.
All in all, a powerful episode in which we finally get to see some stories sprout from the seeds that have been planted along the way.