Mad Men 4.4 – “I’m going to need a new secretary.”

This week’s “Mad Men” blog starts off in much the same way as this week’s “True Blood” blog: with a thank-you to the gentleman who so capably filled my shoes while I was at the TCA press tour. Kudos to Bob Westal, who – unlike the Beverly Hilton – actually gets AMC, thereby putting him in a far better position than myself to write up last week’s episode. Fortunately, I had the chance to watch the episode when I got home, but I also read Bob’s blog, which should ostensibly mean that I’m doubly prepared this week.

Rarely does a basic cable program which opens with the words “the following program contains brief nudity” ever disappoint me, so I was glad to see that particular phrase gracing the beginning of tonight’s episode. Based on Bryan Cranston’s comments about how he hates to direct episodes of “Breaking Bad” without having as much lead time to prepare for them as possible (to date, he’s only helmed season openers), I presumed that seeing John Slattery’s name in the directorial slot meant that we’d see little in the way of Roger Sterling, but damned if he wasn’t the second person to show onscreen. John, don’t work yourself so hard!

The national crackdown on smoking advertisements would seem to be cutting into what SCD&P can accomplish, but, of course, Roger’s telling everyone that “Don doesn’t think there’s a problem.” Meanwhile, there’s clearly a problem with Don, who picks up an empty bottle of Scotch, only to be informed that the reason it’s empty is because he drank it all. The “ladies” are looking for him to make business decisions, but he’s just looking for ice. The poor bastard: with everything going on in his personal life, he’s clearly hovering in the vicinity of a nervous breakdown, but he’s stuck having to be the big man on campus with the new firm. The moment he pulled out the photo out of the letter, there was no question in my mind that it would, by episode’s end, prove to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, and it was only cemented by the bug-eyed look Don gave Allison when she saw the photo and asked if it was from the letter from California.

Pete’s in a grouchy mood from the moment he turns up this week, bitching about not being included in the Lucky Strike call, and things only get worse when Roger tells him that SCD&P is going to have to kick Clearasil to the curb. Lane attempts his version of putting salve on the wound by explaining the mathematics behind the decision, leaving Pete even more upset, but Roger tells him to throw himself on the grenade, as it were, for the good of the company. “This evening, if you can,” adds Lane. What a guy. “I hate this office,” says Pete, as he storms into his office, where he finds…Harry Crane? Yep, dude’s just hanging out, having a snack, and waiting to cheer down Pete even more with the news that his old nemesis, Ken Cosgrove, is marrying the daughter of the CFO of Corning. When Harry says that he’s going to the opera with Ken because they’re friends, Pete sneers, “Friends? Why are you always looking for a job?” Oh, Pete, you’re such an unlikeable little shit. If we’re supposed to feel sorry for him…well, sorry, but I don’t. With an attitude like that, you reap what you sow. But with that said, I did have to smile at his excitement at learning that he was going to be a father, and the scene with him and Trudy was genuinely touching.

After Lane battled back from being a British Businessman to offer Pete legitimate congratulations on his impending child, it seemed as though all was right in Pete’s world, so much so that he even agreed to join Harry for a lunch with Ken. Still, I sensed that something would go wrong at the luncheon. I just didn’t expect that, as soon as Harry went to take a phone call, Ken would be the one who came roaring out of the gate, pissed off at Pete. Not a surprise: Pete flailing to avoid being seen as guilty. Less expected: offering an apology that sounded at least 10% sincere. (I was only expecting 3% sincerity, tops.) Fast forward to Pete’s dinner with the in-laws. The kid’s clearly gotten his second wind with this kid coming, giving Trudy’s dad the smackdown. Calling him a son of a bitch was probably more polite than I would’ve been.

Peggy has an inter-elevator encounter with Joyce, an assistant photo editor for Life. I couldn’t quite tell from the content of the conversation and the look Joyce gave Peggy: was it flirtation, or an instinct for spotting a potential nude model? There was definitely some serious up-and-down action going on when Peggy left. Even after Joyce invited her to the art show in a decidedly date-like fashion, I felt like I might be falling for a red herring. Plus, I’m not even good at picking up on flirty vibes from straight women, so there was really no reason to think I’d be able to accurately identify a lesbian in action. As it turns out, of course, my suspicions were correct…and, surprisingly (if somewhat unrealistically for the era, I’d guess), she declined Joyce’s advances in a calm, polite, and very funny fashion, instead finding favor in a young man named Abe. Will we see him again? I guess that depends on whether or not Joyce is willing to take “no” for an answer and tell him where Peggy works.

Why is it that I hear John Lennon’s “Mind Games” whenever Faye comes onscreen? I thought it was pretty cool to see her playing the squadron of young ladies like each was a prize fiddle. I couldn’t help but notice Freddy Rumsen’s reaction to Don’s belief that his future wasn’t directly connected to how Faye’s experiment went down, just as I caught Freddy’s less-than-subtle comment about not having an office at SCD&P. (What do you want to bet that he has one by the end of next week’s episode?) Faye’s gifts are clearly not lost on Peggy, who’s no doubt getting further vindication of her belief that women can be just as important to the world of business as men, but they’re having a profoundly depressing effect on Allison…which, to bring it full circle, is not lost on Don. Unfortunately, this all leads to a tense discussion between the sobbing Allison and a furious Peggy…not that Faye thought for a moment about the poor girl who ran crying from the conference room.

At last, Allison can take no more: she confronts Don directly about their one-night stand, conceding to its awkwardness and suggesting that “moving on” might be the best course of action. Don plays the “we’re both adults” card, but it’s a no-go. For a moment, it looks like it’s going to be as smooth a departure as could be hoped for under the circumstances, but the discussion hits a wall – ho, ho, and, indeed, ho – with her request for a letter of recommendation: Don, even oblivious to the workings of the female mind, suggests that she simply write whatever she wants and he’ll just sign it. From her perspective, though, it just means that he doesn’t even care enough about their business relationship to write a freaking letter.

Unlike my feelings toward Pete, I feel a little more pity toward Don with each passing episode. Seeing him sitting alone in his office, drinking ’til the wee hours, was bad enough, but then to see him sitting in front of his typewriter, trying to find the right words to explain how much his life sucks, let alone to apologize to Allison…? Kids, remember: if you’re going to drink, don’t type; if you’re going to type, don’t drink.

So Pete’s the new conquering hero of the firm, eh? As I watched that handshake between him and Don, I couldn’t help thinking, “When we look back, this will be the moment that Don and Pete’s lines on the flowchart converge.” Pete’s got Lane singing “We Are the Champions” as they go out to lunch with the clients, Don’s drinking away his respect in the office and going home alone…yeah, I’d say the new guard is definitely showing up the old guard at the moment.

10 random bits I loved:

1. Roger’s instructions to Don’s secretary which began, “Remind me to remind Caroline to tell Lane…” Way to pass the buck, Rog.

2. Harry’s between-the-lines “Honeymooners” reference when, while talking with Pete about Ken’s future father-in-law, he remarks, “My father-in-law’s a bus driver. The only place he can take me is to the moon.”

3. The moment when Pete tells Trudy that finding out about his impending fatherhood feels much different than he expected, to which she replies, “How would you know what this feels like?” Cue everyone’s collective flashback to Pete getting Peggy pregnant.

4. Ken’s description of his firm: “My mother was a nurse at the state hospital in Vermont, and that was the last time I saw so many retarded people in one building.”

5. Peggy’s exchange with Joyce over their shared joint. Peggy: “I have a boyfriend.” Joyce: “He doesn’t own your vagina.” Peggy: “No, but he’s renting it.”

6. The initial shot of Don’s new secretary. Well, that’ll help him keep it in his pants, I reckon.

7. New Boy saying of Trudy, “I would get her so pregnant…”

8. Following the incredibly awkward moment between Pete and Peggy with Peggy banging her head on her desk (a callback to Pete banging his head on the wall earlier in the episode), then later spotlighting the fact that, although they may share a child, they’re walking in two very different worlds.

9. Joan commenting that she’s going to work in Roger’s office because “he won’t be coming,” thereby giving John Slattery a chance to concentrate solely on directing for the majority of the remainder of the episode.

10. Joan walking around the office…which, of course, isn’t something that’s limited strictly to this episode. Christina Hendricks is a solid actress, but, seriously, if Matthew Weiner dropped every other character from “Mad Men” and just gave us a dialogue-free hour of Joan strutting around SCD&P every week, I’d still give it a season pass on the TiVo. I mean, damn

  

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