After all the rip-snorting plot developments in the previous "Mad Men" episode, "A Night to Remember," we take time in this week's seg for a few then-and-now reflections on American culture -- capped by a blast of plot-thickening in the closing minutes.
Before we dive in to episode-dissection, a hearty congratulations go out to Matthew Weiner, Scott Hornbacher, Robin Veith, the ensemble cast extraordinaire and to everyone else involved with the show for last Sunday's Emmy win for best drama series. Well done and well deserved. (Trivia question: In which category did "Mad Men" win its first Emmy? Answer at the end of the post.)
So let's start at the end of tonight's episode, "Six Month Leave." (Quit reading now if you haven't seen it yet.)
As our hearts and minds are so focused on Betty and Don's travails, we're thrown for a loop by the news that Roger has left his wife Mona (played by John Slattery's wife Talia Balsam) for "a secretary" in this episode, written by Andre Jacquemetton, Maria Jacquemetton and Matthew Weiner and helmed by Michael Uppendahl.
Specifically, Jane, Don Draper's new-ish secretary who seems predisposed to rub everyone at Sterling Cooper but Roger the wrong way -- most of all her boss. Given Don's angry reaction to this news, I guess the big question is whether this is enough of a jolt to force him to try to repair his own marriage. He sure didn't seem to be leaning that way earlier in the episode.
At first I couldn't decide whether Roger had actually left Mona for Jane, or perhaps he intended to throw his newly single self at Joan.
The scene where Roger walks into his dark office to find a teary-eyed Joan stretched out on his coach in the late afternoon is brief, but we know that not one word is wasted on this show. Roger is a little condescending about Joan's despair over Marilyn Monroe's suicide (the news that opens this seg -- more on that later), but as Joan walks out she delivers a zinger as only Christina Hendricks can.
"One day you'll lose someone who's important to you. You'll see. It's very painful," she says. I'm guessing that is foreshadowing that Roger will soon realize his mistake in running off with a girl he barely knows. (I was torn on this point for a while but got the strong Jane vibe from some of the extras posted on the "Mad Men" site.)
As for Don's last line of the seg, telling Roger re Jane: "I want her off my desk," I think it's also prompted by Don's distaste at Jane's efforts to worm her way into his life, especially now that she's aware of the Draper's marital woes. Think of the scene where Jane gives him the bag of shirts from Menken's (a fantastic touch). Even if they hadn't been from a department store fraught with baggage for Don, I don't think he would've taken kindly to her gesture. It's almost as if Jane was hedging her bets on which big Sterling Cooper fish she was going to bag.
The shakeup in the final scene is particularly interesting in light of the boozy confession of sorts that we got from Don earlier in the episode. He's not particularly anxious to get things back to normal (or shall we say, status quo) with Betty. I've been thinking that the separation has to be bugging Don, if only for the sake of keeping up appearances in his carefully crafted life. But it's such an interesting choice of words that he uses in his oblique discussion of his domestic predicament with Roger -- and we know that he was paying close attention to Don's words.
"I don't feel bad at all," about being booted out of the house, Don tells Roger. "Mostly I'm just relieved."
This certainly suggests that there is no harmony in the future for Don and Betty, not by a long shot.
For a moment I thought Betty was softening, after Don dropped Sally (love his nickname "salamander" for her) and Bobby off and they spoke briefly by the stairs. I think in fact she was, especially after realizing that he's not exactly fighting for her ("If you're mind's made up, I'm not going to talk you into it.") But in the same breath she's revolted by the ease with which Don concocts a cover story to explain to the kids why he's not sleeping at home.
"Jesus, did you just think that up?" she asks him, wondering how many times he's put that skill to use on her behalf.
Betty has two opportunities to open up about her infidelity nightmare -- one in the bedroom exchange with her friend Sarah Beth when the latter comes over to borrow a party dress, and the other in a tragic, touching moment with Carla. Even the Draper's housekeeper can't help but be human and reach out to Betty in her obvious suffering.
Betty's response was so telling -- she's obviously not someone who grew up with hired help around her because she immediately feels bad about treating Carla as a mere employee when she's is only trying to extend a helping hand.
Even Don, after a few gallons of booze, opens up a sliver to Roger. Not Betty, though she does take Carla's advice on the going-outside part.
Meanwhile, the Freddy Rumsen storyline was heartbreaking and well rendered by the scribes and thesp Joel Murray. (In the screener AMC sent out, there was a brief glimpse of a puddle of urine at Freddy's feet after he let loose, but unless I blinked and missed it, it was snipped from the on-air cut tonight.)
It seemed clear that Freddy had played a part in Don's early career at Sterling Cooper, and of course we know how important he was more recently to Peggy's ascent. There's obvious parallels between the Freddy story and Roger-leaving-Mona story. Out with the old and in with the new. Don's reluctant to cast off a guy who's worked long and hard for the agency, but not Roger. (Later in the episode, Freddy let's Don know, as he's about to be shipped off in the taxi, that he's about to lose himself, not just a job.)
"You're loyalty is starting to become a liability," Roger tells Don. (This sentiment takes on additional meaning by the time we get to the fireworks at the end.)
Moments later, Don scolds Paul, Harry and Ken for joking loudly about Freddy's liquidity.
"Can't you find something else to do besides dining out on the drama of other people's lives like a bunch of teenage girls." (Wait a sec, isn't that basically TV drama in a nutshell?)
The decision to open the episode around the early-August news of Marilyn Monroe's death and how it affected the younger and older generations at Sterling Cooper was a nice touch that set a jarring tone for this episode. Loved the elevator operator's line about "I keep thinking about Joe DiMaggio."
At this rate, next month's season finale ought to find us in the thick of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
**"Ship of Fools," Katherine Anne Porter's popular novel of the day, made a big cameo in this seg as reading material for Betty. But there was another literary reference that was almost as overt, yet it was for a book that wasn't published until 1963. Betty's friend Sarah Beth might as well have been reading from Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" in discussing her psychoanalysis "diagnosis" of being "bored" and feeling "invisible." (I've never forgotten the passage in Friedan's tome about how she was once fired from a job as a newspaper reporter because she got pregnant.)
**BBDO may have just hired a "colored kid," as Roger informs Don, but Sterling Cooper seems to have taken a major step in promoting Peggy to full-fledged copywriter. Here's hoping she finally escapes the indignity of sharing her office with the copy machine. Though her distaste at moving up at Freddy's expense makes me think she's not eager to move into his office. Don was obviously impressed at Peggy's sharpness in observing about how bad off they would have been had Maidenform gone for the Marilyn/Jackie ad campaign. And I loved the fact that Duck Phillips showed Peggy some immediate respect in the post-Freddy firing meeting by asking her if she was "on board" with a pitch from Paul.
**Classic Pete Campbell. He's quick to take credit for his command decision to have Peggy deliver the Samsonite pitch after Freddy's passes out, but if I'm not mistaken, it was Salvatore who first suggested that Peggy pinch-hit. But Pete still has a strange sway over Peggy, even when she gets mad at him.
**What's up with Betty the Matchmaker? Am I nuts or is there something vaguely malicious going on with her throwing the Casanova Arthur Case and her friend Sarah Beth together at lunch. In the scene at the stables where Betty is setting the date up with Arthur, she's all sweetness and smiles as they're talking, but as soon as he walks away her expression turned weirdly evil. In her state, I wouldn't put anything past Betty. I'm sure Sally already has the BB gun hidden away in a safe place.
**Swordfish, or Milwaukee, may have been the secret word at the underground gambling joint that Roger, Don and Freddy roll into on their send-off night for Freddy, but more revealing was Don plucking the name "Tilden Katz" out of thin air. Maybe he is still hung up on the former Rachel Menken.
**Don's no tenderfoot, as he proved in decking Jimmy Barrett at the club. "A real Archibald Whitman maneuver," he mutters to Roger. "A hot-head drunk I used to know," he explains.
**The Tao of Don Draper: "Life -- you don't know how long it's going to be, but you know it's going to have a bad ending...You have to move forward, as soon as you can figure out what that is....This can't be it, right?" These quotes reminded me of the book he read in this season's opening seg -- you know, the one he mailed off to a mystery person.
**Was it just my imagination or did the lengthy spot for the Leonardo DiCaprio-Kate Winslet 1950s-set melodrama "Revolutionary Road" that ran during in the 8 p.m. PST airing of this episode make the Sam Mendes pic look a whole lot like "Mad Men" with a bigger budget?
ANSWER TO THE TRIVIA QUESTION: "Mad Men's" first Emmy win came in the category of hairstyling for an hourlong series. It was the first of four trophies that the show took home at the Sept. 13 Creative Arts ceremony, a week before it landed the Big Kahuna and the drama writing nod for Weiner at the main Emmy event on Sept. 21.
Kathy Lyford's thoughts
As always for me, God is in the details with this show. These are the things that I noticed:
1) I also was struck by the fact that Don used the name Tilden Katz for entry into the club. I think that just shows that Rachel is on his mind. With all his philandering, I think she is the one woman who captured his heart.
2) I found it so ironically funny that Don punched Jimmy with heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson just feet away.
3) At the risk of sounding like a total nerd, did anyone else notice the tiny detail with the dress? When Betty's friend came over to borrow a party dress, Betty kept trying to push on her the pink halter dress. I was wondering what it was about this dress that made Betty so eager to pawn it off on her pal. Then when I went searching for art for last week's post, I noticed it's the very dress she wore the night she met Jimmy -- the night Don had the shocking encounter with Bobbie in the hallway of the restaurant. It was almost as if Betty, either consciously or not, wanted to rid herself of any memory of that night. And this isn't the first dress-related detail that struck your Variety obsessives. Cynthia noticed that the blue dress Betty barfed all over was the same one she wore in Don's "Carousel" slide show -- the New Year's Eve shot specifically. She definitely wore it in happier times.
4) I keep thinking that Freddy's address, the one he gave the cab driver, has some significance. But I can't for the life of me figure it out. Anyone got an idea?