This just in: It's true. Robin Veith will not be back for season four of "Mad Men." The assistant who was with Matt Weiner nearly a decade ago when he was writing the pilot on spec has decided to leave the nest. Robin's segs include some of "Mad Men's" best, including "The Wheel" (season one finale), "The New Girl," "A Night to Remember" and "The Mountain King." Good luck and godspeed to Robin.
Struggle seems to be the overriding theme of this seg of "Mad Men": The struggles of a changing society, the emotional struggles of men and women, of the powerful and the subservient and the classic id-superego struggle to balance impulse and reason. (As voiced by Harry Crane when he finds himself in a pickle: "I'm not going to panic and do something stupid like I usually do.")
There was a fair amount of plot movement to digest in "Wee Small Hours," even if at first blush it didn't seem so. Betty takes a big step forward with Henry Francis but then turns on a dime and jumps three steps back. (Run, Henry, run!)
Our beloved Salvatore gets battered and bruised, professionally and sexually, and we're left with a big hint that he's heading into the wilds at a moment when he's wounded and vulnerable.
Don's weird power tango with Conrad Hilton continues at a feverish pace, and I think his frustration with that relationship has a whole lot to do with how demanding he becomes of the coltish Miss Farrell later on. And we see that no one at Sterling Cooper is running hotter under the collar these days than Roger Sterling. He's reduced to yelling for recognition of what value he provides to the agency these days. (Roger: "What do you think accounts does besides limit your brilliance?" Don: "I'd tell you but I don't want to hurt your feelings.")
Perhaps most intriguing to me in this episode, penned by Dahvi Waller and Matthew Weiner and helmed by exec producer Scott Hornbacher, was the advancement of the Hilton-as-Don's-father-figure storyline. Where the heck is this going? Beats me, but I don't mind. I love watching Chelcie Ross work. The exchanges between those two after Don delivers his trademark killer sales pitch for the international Hilton campaign, when the batty cowboy is criticizing Don for not giving him "the moon," as he'd asked, was such a father-son encounter that they didn't even try to mask it.
"What do you want from me, love? Fine, your work is good," Connie says in a patronizing, fatherly tone. "But when I say I want the moon I expect the moon!"
Don, of course, is stunned. The man with all the smooth answers is speechless. Especially after the all the evidence we've seen that Connie appreciates Don's independence as a self-made man, and his willingness to be more than a yes-man and drinking buddy to the mogul.
Just a few scenes earlier, when the two were sharing a latenight guzzle of Prohibition-era "hair tonic," Connie was wallowing in a crazy stew of ego-mania and pity. "By golly, I'm King Midas." Don cuts that right off. "Stop it. You're not."
For his forcefulness, Don was rewarded with words he's longed to hear from a father-figure and from anyone who recognizes how hard Don Draper has worked to make something of himself. (Betty senses it too, which is why she points out early on in the seg that Don seems to like all the attention he's getting at all hours of the night.)
"You're my angel. You're like a son," Connie tells him. "You're more than a son. "You didn't have what they had, and you understand."
After all these confrontations, Don is sure to realize the weirdly messianic nature of the Bible-thumping Hilton and his quest to bring the "goodness and confidence" of America to the world. Don will find a way to harness it in such a way that will bring a smile to Dad's face.
Underscoring the struggle theme are landmark moments in the civil rights movement that are woven into the backdrop, and the ambient sounds, of this episode -- from the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech on Aug. 28 to the Sept. 15 bombing of the Birmingham church that left four black girls dead and further ignited the push for social justice. There's also a brief radio reference to the stabbing deaths of two young white women in their Upper East Side apartment on the same day as the March on Washington. It was among a number of vicious murders that year that had New Yorkers "feeling the strains of the urban fabric," as the New York Times put it.
You can also interpret the stories in this episode as revolving around people wanting things they simply can't have. Hilton wants the moon. Blacks demand equality and face the slaughter of children. Betty wants Henry, but can't let herself have him. Don wants the schoolteacher but is rebuffed, at first. Lee Garner Jr., the craven Lucky Strike scion, wants a lot of things, including Sal.
Sal proves himself to be more of a man than Pete in the face of this rich-guy arrogance. Pete's clearly got an asthma problem but still lets the drunken idiot Garner force him to light up what looks to be an unfiltered Lucky during the commercial shoot, setting off a horrible coughing fit.
Sal, on the other hand, fends off Garner's amorous overture in the editing room. To Bryan Batt's credit as an actor, you can tell that he really is repulsed by the guy. He's not remotely turned on as he was in the season opener with the bellboy in Baltimore. Garner's a pig and a bully, but Sal's also freaked out by the fact that Garner surmised that he was gay. That's why he throws the film cans at the end of that scene.
Batt is great in this scene, as is Darren Pettie as Garner. But even better is the later scene in Don Draper's office, where Sal realizes that Don doesn't have his back, or anyone's, when the loss of a $25 million client is at stake. Batt acts brilliantly with his back, demonstrated by his pause in Don Draper's doorway before heading out. It's as if Don's words -- "I think you know this is the way this has to be" -- are just sinking and he needs the doorway to hold him up for a few seconds. And it's left wonderfully ambiguous as to whether Don believes Sal's version of events. "You people" -- the remark cuts Sal to the bone.
Toward the end of the episode, Roger attempts to browbeat Don by telling him "I want to put you on notice you are in way over your head." It sounds like desperation from Roger, but it seems to be true.
Don throughout this episode is incredibly gruff and jerky with his coworkers. The scene in which Peggy, Kurt and Smitty are pitching him Hilton international ideas, Don sits in his chair with his legs wide open as he carps at them (to Kurt: "Now that I can finally understand you I am less impressed with what you have to say"). Very uncool, very unpolished.
Back in Ossining, as Don chased down schoolteacher Farrell (nice work from Abigail Spencer), it struck me that Don has consistently been attracted to the type of women that Betty has it in her to be -- cultured, ambitious, sexy and self-assured -- as we saw last week when they were in Rome. So why does Don find it impossible to connect with his wife? Probably because he only sees her in the happy homemaker role, despite the mounting evidence that she's bored out of her mind. And let's face it, she's just a b-i-t-c-h, as Henry Francis found out this week.
"I do have thoughts," Betty wrote in one of her letters to Francis (I noticed she was using Hilton stationary).
What turned the worm for Betty? I don't think it was so much her moral code as it was her realization how their romance would have to play out -- in hotel rooms, or on his office sofa. "It's tawdry," she says. Betty the narcissist never, ever wants to look tawdry. "I'm very sorry I started this." I felt sorry for Henry.
I would not be surprised if this is the last we see of Henry. (Then again...)
**Loved Don Draper's delivery of the line "Who are you?" after he picks up Farrell on her predawn jog and she comments on King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Well, for starters, judging by her running shirt, she appears to be a graduate of a famously progressive liberal arts college in Maine, Bowdoin. (Whoops, a reader points out that Bowdoin didn't go co-ed until the 1970s so Farrell couldn't have attended the school.) A cursory Google search reveals that this college is where Harriet Beecher Stowe began writing "Uncle Tom's Cabin" while her husband was a faculty member.
** Is Francine pregnant again? It kinda looked that way in her side profile shots during the fundraiser.
** Peggy gets the Hilton account after all.
** I'm still convinced there's a blow up coming for Don and Betty over her drinking. Witness him coming home to find her zonked in front of the TV with empty wine glass in hand. Not that Don's doing much better. He barely gets both ankles in the door at home before he starts reaching for the whiskey.
** There was something very creepy about all the blood-red decor in Lee Garner Jr.'s hotel room.
** "God speaks to us. We have an impulse and we act on it," says Hilton. It's easier to do when you're a multimillionaire.
** Hilton sums up the Cold War. Forget the nuclear deterrent. "After all the things we threw at Khrushchev, you know what made him fall apart? He couldn't get into Disneyland."
** Paul Kinsey is so going to end up as a TV writer. You can just tell. He's probably writing a spec "Perry Mason" right now.
** Nice work from Deborah Lacey, who plays Carla. She said a lot with few words in this episode. My favorite Carla moment was the how-stupid-do-you-think-I-am look that she shoots Betty after she tries to explain why Henry Francis is standing in her entryway.
** Oh poor heartbroken Sal. You couldn't help but notice that the pay phone that he used to call Kitty was in a sketchy 'hood. Don't do anything stupid, Sal. (This episode did premiere on National Coming Out Day.)
** Can't say Don Draper wasn't warned. Don: "I can't stop thinking about you." Farrell: "Because I'm new and different, or maybe because I'm exactly the same?" She knows he's no novice philanderer, but why a local girl when he's got Manhattan at his disposal? "I want you. I don't care. Doesn't that mean anything to someone like you?" Apparently, it does.