Let's call this one "The Hobo Code," part II, in which our "Mad Men" hero Don Draper runs away from his problems in New York, runs away some more and then gets smacked in the face with Palm Springs heat and the reality of how his actions are likely to affect his kids.
Episode 11, "The Jet Set," is one of those intriguing hours of the show in which at first it doesn't seem like much is happening, but on reflection there's a whole lot of moving and shaking below the surface.
In this seg, penned by Matthew Weiner and helmed by Phil Abraham, we learn, to use Ken Cosgrove's shorthand, that "Kurt's a homo," and that Peggy Olson with her strict Catholic upbringing is a model of tolerance and respect for diversity (Can we enlist Peggy to help fight California's evil anti-same sex marriage initiative, Prop. 8?).
We learn that Duck Phillips really is an incredible schemer, with a few martinis in his belly, and it sure seems like he's been laying in wait for his attemped Sterling Cooper coup attempt for a while.
We learn that Jane Siegel really shouldn't be writing poetry. We learn that Pete Campbell is just not a West Coast kind of guy. And in the most tantalizing tidbit, we learn there's someone out there somewhere that Dick Whitman, not Don Draper, wants to see -- "soon."
There's lots more to digest.
The great first-season seg "Hobo Code" immediately came to mind when Don falls in, as only Don Draper can, with the group of frisky, jet-set "nomads" after he and Pete arrive in sunny L.A. for the aerospace convention where they're trying to drum up biz.
Don resists the come-on when he's first targeted by the young woman, Joy, at the hotel where he and Pete are staying. In fact, Don's being a hard ass to Pete who wants to spend a little time chasing bikinis by the pool. ("You want to be on vacation, Pete? Because I can make that happen.")
But Don is quite literally unbound by the time he gets to the hotel, having lost his luggage on the flight. After a day at the convention sitting through dry lectures from engineers -- who even manage to make their discussion of the weapons that could destroy the world boring -- Don's hyperactive id can't resist the gravitational pull of cheap sex and free booze. (Tangent: The way the lecture scene in the white room with all the suits and horn rim glasses brought to mind the look and feel of the early Heywood Floyd scenes in "2001: A Space Odyssey.")
So Don follows the hobo code instilled in him so many years ago and hops into Joy's convertible for a jaunt to Palm Springs -- leaving Pete to explain his absence at a client dinner. The whole L.A. trip is a getaway vehicle for Don to leave his troubles in Manhattan and Ossining behind. And it's a Betty-free episode other than the oddball scene early on when he walks into the hotel bar and sees a woman from behind who looks just like Betty. He reacts with a kind of awe, but you can't tell if he wanted it to be her or not, to Jon Hamm's credit.
Don indulges his chuck-it-all-fantasy with a bunch of Euro-trash types who seem to hop around the world to resorts and mansions and an endless supply of free champagne without ever having to work a day in their lazy lives.
There's a lot of silliness with Joy's pals that seems to come right out of a '70s-era Truman Capote roman a clef, although at first there's a vague bit of sinister-ness about them them, especially when Don keels over by the pool from the heat (and we know about his high blood pressure problem).
For the first time all season, the guest casting in this episode is less than great. Especially Laura Ramsey in the role of Joy. She just wasn't convincing, IMHO.
Don reverts back to be the strong silent type he was around Midge's beatnik friends in season one. He almost looks a little smug, but he dutifully beds the girl who brung him and banters a tiny bit with the creepy guy, "Willie," who turns out to be her father.
What breaks Don out of his fantasy-reverie is the arrival of another nomad, Christian, who has two kids in tow, just about Bobby and Sally's age (though the boy is older and the girl is younger) and muttering under his breath about what we presume is his wife's divorce lawyer.
The experience of seeing the miserable-looking kids with an angry, stressed-out dad gets to Don in an instant, even though he's in the fantasy land of skinny dipping in a pool by moonlight with plenty of booze on tap. He looks hard at what appears to be a crack in his glass (I think -- would love anyone else's insight) and then seems to have both feet back in the real world. It's almost as if this moment is to Don what Betty's moment on the couch with Glen was in the previous seg, "The Inheritance."
But we don't have any idea just how grounded he's getting until the next morning when he makes a call as Dick Whitman to someone whose phone number is already in the address book he carries in his suit pocket. He dialed 10 digits on a rotary phone (love that sound) -- that's all I could gather.
I still think the catalyst for all this was the sight of the kids the night before. Don/Dick can't make peace with himself and his children until he makes peace with his past. Something like that? Unlike Betty, Don didn't grow up with a wise housekeeper who could put his head on her shoulder and gently tell him to get his #$%^^ together. Don had to come to it all on his own, by way of another woman's legs, of course.
Now, back home at Sterling Cooper, things are getting Machiavellian as Duck schemes to sell a controlling interest in the agency that he's not even a partner in to his old employer, Putnam, Powell and Loeb. Duck artfully convinces both sides that they have five days to consummate a deal. This of course made me wonder whether Draper will come back into the picture in time to have any say or sway, especially if he's heading off AWOL on a find-my-roots/settle-my-scores journey.
Lower on the pay scale at the agency, the big news is the bombshell dropped matter of factly by the youthful Kurt. The scene is so well played for laughs that are anything but exploitive or homophobic. Joan, Peggy, Harry, Ken, Salvatore have gathered in the kitchen area to enjoy the case of doughnuts that some new client or other has just sent over. Ah, there's something for everyone -- crullers, jelly-filled, cheese-filled, lemonaires, etc.
This celebration of diversity stands in sweet, sharp contrast to the reaction when Kurt offers, "I make love to the man, not the woman" when Ken teases about him and Peggy going on a date to see Bob Dylan. (At Carnegie Hall in '62 no less!!) Harry looks like he's about to gag on his mouthful of doughnut. Ken stands stock still, frozen and white as a sheet, as if he might catch something horrible if he moved a muscle in Kurt's presence. (And Salvatore -- how could I have forgotten to mention his react on the first pass at this recap?! Bryan Batt speaks volumes without saying a word.)
Peggy, bless her Brooklyn-bred heart, is obviously shocked most of all -- she'd thought she was going on a date with romantic potential when Kurt first suggested they take in the show together. Ever the stoic, Peggy takes the blow with barely a flinch -- and in front of all of them she makes it clear this revelation is not getting in the way of her keeping the date with Kurt.
She lets her hair down (literally) when the two are alone in her apartment later. She's not remotely shy about opening up to Kurt -- perhaps because he's so damn self-confident and well-groomed.
"I don't know why I pick the wrong boys," Peggy asks Kurt (or more like, thinks outloud as he's sitting next to her) as they sit down to a glass of chianti in her apartment. "What's wrong with me?" It takes an actress of Elisabeth Moss' talent to pull off this stuff.
Kurt instinctively knows that sometimes the only thing standing between a girl and a little piece of happiness is a good haircut. Finally, somebody doing something out of pure kindness for Peggy. Long overdue. Plus you get the feeling that they still made it to Carnegie Hall. (I'll bet he did "Man of Constant Sorrow" and I'll bet Peggy can still hear it in her head when she wants to. And perhaps he peeled off a "Pretty Peggy-O," just for her.)
**Interesting scene early on with the younger gen of Sterling Cooper at the meeting regarding Right Guard. Peggy was clearly running the meeting -- perhaps only because Don was out of town, but still. Harry defers to her on whether they can have lobster at lunch.
**Where in the world is Paul Kinsey? When last we saw him in episode 10, he was pompously pontificating on a bus ride to Mississippi to fight Jim Crow laws by registering voters. In this seg we see the Sterling Cooper gang watching the deadly riots that broke out at the U. of Mississippi in early October 1962 when James Meredith was admitted as the school's first black student.
**Typical "Mad Men" connectivity -- Joy is reading William Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury" in bed post-coitus with Don. Faulkner is a famous a son of Oxford, Miss., the college town where the riots that Kinsey may or may not be in are happening. (BTW, hope Joy wasn't dying to know what happens at the end of the novel, because Don tore out the last page when he wrote down the address of the mystery person that Dick Whitman is dying to see.)
**Jane Siegel is no Sylvia Plath. Good grief this woman is bad news. She at first almost had me fooled when she tried to talk to Roger about how "hard" it must be for him to break up his marriage with Mona. But when she instantly accepts his marriage proposal, she drops all that compassion crap and smiles like the cat that ate the canary...or Sterling Cooper...or so she thinks.
**Interesting aside when Pete briefly meets Joy's creepy father at the hotel with Don. Pete thinks he recognizes "Willie" from East Coast social circles. Willie isn't very convincing in dismissing the notion. Wonder what's up there?
**When Don asks Joy how old she is, I wonder if he was flashing on Roger's cradle-robbing? And when he asks his 21-year-old seductress "who are you?" I could hear viewers around the country yelling at the TV set: "Same to you, buddy!"
**"It's a gold rush!" And with that, Pete Campbell sums up the entire arms race of the Cold War era.
**Some of the folks at Sterling Cooper may be ready to be progressive about women in the workplace, and some of the more progressive among them might even be ready to open the equality door a tiny bit to blacks. But the idea of accepting homosexuality is too much of an additional strain. You can actually see the weariness on Joan's face when Kurt forces the discussion. Society is changing all around these folks -- it must be exhausting.
**Great closing scene. Don's "baggage" is literally placed on the doorstep for Betty to deal with. Wonder what she'll do? (I'm a complete idiot, and not until reading other "Mad Men" blogs did I remember Betty's oddball line from the previous seg, about how's she's been "dreaming of suitcases.")