Well, I’ll say this for tonight’s episode of “Mad Men”: it might have had to suffer the indignity of airing opposite the Emmy Awards (where the series ultimately took home its second win for Outstanding Drama Series, thank you very much), but that didn’t mean that it had to offer up a throwaway episode. Not that anyone would’ve expected Matthew Weiner to turn in anything less than another outstanding chapter in this season’s stellar saga of the folks at Sterling-Cooper, but, wow, I don’t think anyone could’ve anticipated the turn of events that we ended up getting. There was so much going on in this episode that I know I’ll end up missing some of it, but here goes…
Things started and ended this evening with Sally Draper. The addition of a new child to a household is always difficult for the existing siblings, but it was definitely a bit different for Sally. First, she was afraid of what was to happen when Don turned off her light, but as the episode progressed, she basically began to believe that perhaps she was being haunted by the spirit of her late grandpa. You can kind of understand her concern, given that -as she observed – the new baby is named Gene, sleeps in Grandpa’s old room, and even looks a little bit like him. Fortunately, Don got her all straightened out by episode’s end…with virtually no help from Betty! Seriously, if she’s not one of the worst mothers in TV history, she’s got to be right up there. How anyone can have three kids and still end up as cold and detached from them as she always seems to be is beyond me.
Let’s be honest, though: Sally’s story, while serving as a very nice way of book-ending the episode, paled in significance to the shake-up within the offices of Sterling-Cooper this week.
First, there was the big meeting of all Sterling-Cooper employees, so that the announcement could be made that the board of directors from Putnam Powell Lowe would be arriving for a friendly chat and to evaluate the office’s performance, with the added bonus that their visit would be totally screwing up everyone’s 4th of July holiday, not to mention putting a wrench in the plans for Joan’s last day at the office. John Hooker got in a good joke at Paul’s expense, telling him that he’d be expected to shave his beard, thereby resulting in an indignant Mr. Kinsey demanding to know, “Who the hell are you people?” Settle down, Paul, settle down. Despite Sterling’s suspicions that the Brits might be flying across the ocean for the sole purpose of getting their knobs polished, Cooper’s theory is that they’re coming to see Don in an attempt to study him and determine his specific American genius, and Cooper floats the idea that they’re going to offer Don a dual position in both New York and London. It’s a tempting enough concept for Don to ask Betty what she thinks of the idea of living in London, so you can imagine his disappointment when it later turns out that Cooper’s just had an overactive imagination.
Joan’s storyline tonight was certainly a strong one. Even in what appeared to be her final moments in the office, her banter back and forth with John Hooker was pretty snappy, even if she did get her facts wrong when she brought up the sex scandal in the British government. It was when she got home and waited up for her fiancee, however, that things really got interesting. For viewers, there’s been a lot of tension in that relationship due to the way he’s treated her in the past, but their conversation tonight felt about as real as a scripted drama can feel. He’s trying to tell her what’s happened to him at the hospital, she’s sympathetic and trying to be supportive, but as she’s doing so, he’s torn between accepting what she’s saying in the spirit in which it’s intended and lashing out and saying, “Oh, you just don’t understand…” The stops and starts and uncertainties within their discussion were so authentic that one has to imagine they’re ripped straight from somebody’s real life.
When the gents from Putnam Powell Lowe showed up…well, first off, with all due respect to Charles Shaughnessey as an actor, as soon as I saw him, I still thought, “Hey, it’s Mr. Sheffield!” But he does still cut an authoritarian figure, so it worked well within the part he was playing here. I laughed out loud when they took the stroll through the offices of Sterling-Cooper and passed by Paul’s office, where he was sitting on his desk, playing his guitar and singing, but then I started paying more attention to the young gentleman known as Guy McKendrick. Once I did, I realized just how much he was being set up to be the Don Draper of the British office. (Maybe that’s why Don looked so mystified when he was introduced to him: he couldn’t quite place why he looked so darned familiar.) After touring the facilities, the trio swung in to see Layne Price, who proceeded to be completely and totally shit on by his fellow countrymen. Seriously, how completely cold up was it for them to give him a cobra as a way of telling him that he was being shipped off to Bombay? Ouch. And then when he complained, their snappy comeback was to say, “One of your greatest qualities is that you always do what you’re told.” Anyone who thinks that Brits can’t be just as devious as Americans needs only to see this episode to be set straight.
The reorganization meeting proved highly illuminating, both with the announcement that Harry had scored the only promotion – behold the power of TV! – and the complete and total omission of Roger Sterling from the flow chart (suuuuuuure it’s just an oversight), and Guy’s speech before the huddled masses was one which was clearly intended to rally the troops, even though it served to bring Joan to tears. I kept waiting for her to say, “Actually, I’m not leaving after all,” but I knew she’d be too proud to do that. The conversation between Don and Peggy was cold, demonstrating that she’s still not happy with him about his refusal to go to bat for her last week. Meanwhile, Sterling’s pissy reaction to being left off the chart resulted in a great line from Cooper: “We took their money, and now we have to do what they say.” Well, maybe Don doesn’t. What a nice touch, having it turn out that the fella he had drinks with at the bar a few episodes ago was actually Conrad Hilton. I’ll be interested to see where this leads.
Okay, we’ve waited long enough: it’s time to talk about the mower.
Boy, when Ken drove into the office on that John Deere, who could’ve imagined where it would go later in the episode? At the time, I was more focused on Pete’s expression, which is always classic whenever he’s reacting to Ken getting the upper hand with an account, and even when they were tootling around the office later, it absolutely never occurred to me that the goddamned blade would even still be on the thing, let alone be in a position to be activated. But leave it to Lois to find a way to not only drop it down but cruise right over Guy’s foot, then through the wall of a nearby office. The blood spatter over the creative team was ghastly, and yet I was laughing my ass off. In fact, when it happened, I actually yelled, “What the fuck…?!?” I don’t have a clue the last time I was that surprised by a moment of television. Rest assured, they’ll be talking about this for weeks, and although I wouldn’t put it past Mr. Weiner to top it by season’s end, it will prove to be a signature moment of the series. It really was that momentous. You don’t get TV moments like that very often. I don’t know which mocking comment I preferred best: the suggestion that “somewhere in this business, this has happened before,” or the comment that Guy might lose his foot, “right when he got it in the door.”
No, wait: the best was when it was said that Guy’s career in advertising was over, explaining that “the doctors say he’ll never golf again.”
So it looks like Layne Price isn’t going to Bombay after all. But is Joan going to stick around Sterling-Cooper as well…? Well, given her quick thinking during the mower incident, it’s safe to say that she’s still well respected around the office. I guess we’ll see if she’s too proud to come back.