"One minute you're on top of the world. The next minute some secretary is running you over with a lawn mower."
This was quite possibly the most action-packed, darkly comic and confounding episodes of "Mad Men" yet. I've been trying to sort it out for two days now and I still don't have many conclusions about "Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency." From the title on down, it's a rip-snorter. But what does it all mean??
I know the story thread about Sally Draper and her need for a night light was symbolic of being afraid of the dark, or fear of the unknown. I know it wasn't accidental that Joan's big moment with her creepy husband came in the dark, after she fell asleep waiting for the bastard that she supports even after she calls him out for being drunk and for telling her an abject lie.
I know it had to be a conscious decision by scribes Robin Veith and Matthew Weiner (I noticed Veith got top billing) that this episode had more uses of the term "Mrs. Harris" than any other, as it to reinforce to Joan as she's on her way out the door that she is no longer herself, but her husband's wife.
I know that Harry Crane's line "What just happened here?" after the board room coup instigated by the doomed Brit executive Guy was clearly meant to encapsulate the randomness of life in the business world and life in the cosmic scheme of things. It takes someone else to explain to Harry that he's the only one who got an actual boost in responsibility in the reorg that was so cheerily and quickly detailed by Guy Smiley.
It took me longer than that to realize that the hierarchy laid out by the Brit emissaries not only leaves Roger Sterling out (duh?) but also essentially demotes Don as he would have had to work under share authority with Guy Mackendrick. Yes, I know Don's crestfallen look should have made this clear but I can be a little Harry-ish at times, especially when engrossed in this show.
And then what happens next in this show is straight out of "The Twilight Zone." The lawn mower that Ken Cosgrove so playfully rides into the office to illustrate his latest account snaring coup becomes the lethal weapon that takes Guy's foot and kills his career, in the eyes of his corporate overseers. Office parties at Sterling Cooper are just plain dangerous. And of course, it would be Lola! Lois! Of course!
The scene in which Lois and the lawn mower go out of control was as jarring a scene of random violence as anything I've ever seen on TV.
It was so well directed by helmer Lesli Linka Glatter. It's all laughter and levity in the office while Joan and Peggy are trying to have a heart to heart. The sound of the lawn mower draws closer as the camera stays on the two-shot of Joan and Peggy and then wham! We see a spray of blood splatter spreading across the Brooks Brothers shirts of Harry, Paul and one of the secretaries. Guy is on the ground screaming in pain while Lois continues out of control before crashing into the outer glass wall of an office, adding the sound of glass shattering to the chaos.
Peggy faints and is caught by Pete (interesting), while Joan is the only one who has the presence of mind to help Guy by administering a tourniquet. She's such a sharp cookie, she's obviously picked up a few pointers from her husband.
Although there's still some background noise, once the lawn mower sound stops the stunned silence of everyone around Guy and Joan is deafening. It's all so unnerving. So naturally, what's next? A great Roger Sterling bon mot to cut the tension: "Somewhere in this business, this has happened before."
In hindsight I think there's an obvious connection to the shockeroo scene with the lawn mower in the office and the shock of Sally's blood-curdling scream later at the Draper home. Not only does Sally wake the dead with her piercing scream, but the dog starts barking loudly and the baby wakes up and starts crying. It's just a mess and Don has to be the one with the presence of mind to calm everyone down. And clearly he's been doing some introspection or maybe he's been leafing through Dr. Spock, but he's found his footing as a caring parent for Sally, in the nick of time.
There's a parallel too between the storyline for Lane, who is unexpectedly told by the Brit visitors that they want him to pack up for the Bombay office, and Joan's reticence to leave Sterling Cooper.
No matter how many times she voices her desire to be done with her job, it's clear to the very end, even as she's covered in the blood of a now-crippled Brit executive, that she does not want to leave this part of her life behind. That said, her desire to keep working does not make it any easier no fun for her when her loser of a husband comes home wasted and basically orders her to get another job because he didn't get his promotion to chief resident. It only reinforces how much she's giving up to be with him.
On the surface it doesn't seem that Joan's fierce pride would allow her to go back to Sterling Cooper under the circumstances. Heck, maybe she'll be the one to move to Gray Advertising. I found it interesting that there was not a hint in this seg of Pete or Peggy weighing Duck's offer from last week's episode to jump ship to the rival firm -- not that there was much spare time, but that too was obviously a conscious move by Weiner and Co.
And as for Lane, it was kind of heartbreaking when the fussy Brit scolded him when he expressed his unhappiness at pulling up stakes yet again after only nine months in the States. "Don't pout," he was instructed, and sure enough Lane looked like a 12-year-old in that shot. Great work by Jared Harris.
Don's detour in this episode to the meeting with Conrad Hilton at the Waldorf-Astoria was fraught with ... stuff. (I didn't know until I looked it up but yes,the Waldorf has been owned by Hilton Hotels since 1949.)
Thanks to keen-eyed "Mad Men" fans in the blog-o-sphere, we had some advance notice that the man Don encountered at Roger Sterling's country club back in "My Old Kentucky Home" was in fact Conrad Hilton -- and it was pretty clear that he'd be coming back into the story at some point. Don even chastises himself a bit for not putting it together at the time when he realizes who Connie really is. The scene ends with Hilton chiding Don for not recognizing Hilton's offer of an executive role within his company. Don then hits Hilton with a trademark Don Draper quiet-storm moment in talking metaphorically about "snakes that go months without eating" and wind up suffocating when they do because "they're so hungry."
At first I thought this was a rare example of a bit of ham-fisted dialogue and a weak delivery by Hamm, but on reflection I think it was meant to be clunky. I think it was meant to be a scene where Don reaches for the stagecraft that usually works for him, but he doesn't deliver it with the same usual effective punch. Still, Conrad likes him, and moments before Don learns that the demotion he's just suffered is about to be put on hold, Don is thinking about the possibility of a new door opening for him at a Hilton hotel. But he tries to play it cool and professes his preference to focus on "one opportunity at a time." Fine work again by guest star Chelcie Ross as Hilton.
Sally's trauma with the new baby seems pretty straightforward, particularly after she explains her fear of Gene's ghost inhabiting her baby brother. The situation forces Betty to try to muster up some maternal instincts toward her oldest, but other than handing Sally a Barbie doll with all the warmth of Cruella de Ville, she just doesn't have it in her. ("You're very important to me too," Betty says, not recognizing that all Sally heard was "too.")
Don is digging deep to find the wisdom, patience and the nurturing spirit to help Sally through her difficult passage. Perhaps it's a delayed reaction to the swell of emotion he witnessed in the last episode in the waiting room with the prison guard. Don's burden is even greater because he has to battle the Ice Princess who's turning her newborn into a surrogate for her father (oh how weird is that?).
And Sally's not the only one who will bear the scars. Betty's lines to Bobby are real zingers: "Only boring people are bored" and "Go bang your head against a wall." Does she hear herself? Meanwhile Don is finally putting his talents as a master persuader to work on his daughter.
Don's trials at home probably helped make him a bit more sensitive to Joan's feelings about leaving her Sterling Cooper home. Fantastic scene between Don and Joan in the hospital ("You will be terribly missed"), on top of great work all around from Christina Hendricks.
Joan delivers the money line of the seg in this scene: "That's life. One minute a you're on top of the world, the next minute some secretary is running you over with a lawn mower." It's funny, but also painful given the reality of her situation.
** Gallows humor at its best. Joan Paul: "He might lose his foot." Roger: "Right when he got it in the door."
** She's still our Joan. The first thing Joan says to Don when he gets to the hospital is "I know, it's ruined" as he stares at her blood-stained dress.
** Thankfully, we got one last testy-snippy exchange between Joan and "Mr. Hooker," aka Moneypenny. Hopefully it won't be the last.
** The yin and yang of salesmanship according to Bert and Roger. Roger: "It's listening to people and never saying what's on your mind." Bert: "No, it's about letting things go so you can get what you want."
** Apparently two men can't hold a grudge if they share a shave together. Bert Cooper sends Roger and Don out to Angelo's barber shop to "kiss and make up" in advance of the British invasion.
** Neatness counts. After telling them that their Fourth of July holiday has been derailed by the visiting corporate Brits, Lane admonishes them to get their desks "ship-shape and Bristol fashion." I had to look that one up.
** Betty is still soaking up her share of wine at home. Wonder when Don's going to say something?
** Loved the shot of Paul Kinsey sitting on his desk strumming an acoustic guitar as the Brits are doing their royal walk-through of the Sterling Cooper offices.
** It was brief but they sure seemed to hint at Guy as potential romantic interest for Peggy in the scene where they meet. He indicates he knows all about her. Love how the other Brit commands her "as you were" as they move on.
** Guy proves himself to be an inexperienced manager with his exuberance in rushing out to tell the staff of the new exec structure at Sterling Cooper before the news has settled in for those who were in the board room presentation. And then he insists they switch gears immediately into party mode in honor of Joan's last day. "Enjoy the liquor and delicatessen." Famous last words.
** I noticed that Don and Peggy were at odds on whether the company-supplied champagne was any good. Small thing, but nothing is insignificant on this show.
** The Brits make the snap judgment that Guy's career, however promising, is now irrevocably over because of his injury. "The doctors say he'll never play golf again," one of them laments. Heavens!
** The final head-scratcher in this episode was the use of Bob Dylan's "Song to Woody" over the closing credits. (Give AMC and Lionsgate credit, they spent the money for the real thing). I can't quite suss out the specific connection other than that it is from the era and the opening verse certainly relates to the Don Draper story.
I'm out here a thousand miles from my home,
Walkin' a road other men have gone down.
I'm seein' your world of people and things,
Your paupers and peasants and princes and kings
On further reflection:
** Can't believe I forgot to give a shout-out to the scenes with Don and Sally. Kiernan Shipka -- what a talent.
** Can't believe I missed the JFK assassination foreshadowing in Joan's blood-soaked dress.
** In contrast to all the fear and nervous anticipation detailed in this episode, it's all tied together beautifully by Don's soothing comment to Sally in the closing scene about baby Gene being an unknown quantity at this stage and how that "is a wonderful thing." Artfully done.