First off, my thanks to Bob Westal for quite capably filling in for me last week. It’s not that I couldn’t have blogged both “True Blood” and “Mad Men,” it’s just that I really, really didn’t want to, so I greatly appreciated his assistance…and I hope he didn’t hate it so much that he’s considering backing out of doing the same thing next week while I’m tackling the “True Blood” season finale.

Wow, remember the good ol’ days when kids could get away with taking the wheel for awhile while their dad…or, in this case, their granddad…was sitting in the passenger seat? Actually, even *I* don’t remember the days when kids were doing it quite that young. Maybe it’s just because we lived in a pretty heavily populated area, but while I remember sitting in my father’s lap and handling the steering wheel, I don’t think he trusted me to drive like that on a public street until I was, like, 14. Maybe we can chalk it up to Gene’s increasing senility…? I spent the first part of the episode convinced that Gene was going to suddenly snap and scream at Sally, “You took my five dollars, you little shit,” but when he sat down with Betty to discuss his funeral arrangements, I sensed that we’d see them put into action sooner than later…and, of course, I was right. (As far as the disposition of his worldly goods, wow, isn’t it amazing how much has changed since the ’60s when it comes to the importance of fur as a status symbol?) If Gene had to depart the “Mad Man” universe, at least he got a lot of love in his final few episodes. This week’s tense discussion between him and Don over the merits of war was one of the moments which makes you nod as you take in the similarities to today’s world, though you rarely hear anyone today dismiss a suggestion that war might be bad by replying, “Maybe, but it makes a man out of you.” That whole sequence was great, particularly Jon Hamm’s acting with his eyebrows as Don listened to Gene giving Bobby a lesson on how to cut open a box properly, but, damn, I wanted to hear the story about how Gene got that fan!

Gene and Sally continued their bonding sessions – last week, it was The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; this week, it was ice cream – and grew closer, but as soon as he made that comment about the chocolate tasting like oranges, I immediately thought, “Uh-oh, that ain’t a good sign,” and promptly Googled the symptom. As a result, I was horrified…much as I suspect the rest of the viewing audience was…that we were going to see Gene suddenly slump against the wheel while driving his grandchildren to school. Thankfully, he at least made it to the A&P before he had his stroke or seizure or whatever it was that claimed his life. After the episode was over, I said to my wife, “You know, even in the ’60s, I just can’t believe that someone would arrive at the house and present the news to a very pregnant woman like Betty without first having her sit down.” She felt otherwise, suggesting that tact wasn’t necessarily first and foremost on the minds of those folks back then, but I’m still skeptical. Even so, however, the imagery of poor little Sally, sobbing against the front door in her ballerina outfit, was heartbreaking…even if it quickly slipped into annoyance at Betty. Seriously, is she the worst mother on this show…?

Actually, come to think of it, there are quite a lot of really shitty moms on this series. (What kind of childhood did Matthew Weiner have, anyway?) Certainly, Peggy Olson’s mother isn’t exactly peaches and cream, either, given that her reaction to her daughter getting her own place in the city was to say, “You’ll get raped.” Hey, thanks, Ma!

Despite Mother Olson’s feelings on the matter, it’s no surprise that Peggy would continue along her path of self-discovery by getting out from under the yoke of her family. Mind you, her classified ad writing skills could do with a bit of work, as Joan’s brilliantly highbrow joke indicated (“It reads like the stage directions for an Ibsen play”), and despite expanding her mind last episode, she’s still so naive. Even with Lois using the most stilted delivery imaginable when she prank-called her, Peggy still bought into every word until the guys’ laughter finally gave them away. And her idea of an angry response…? “You’re a jerk!” Strong words, Peggy. Let’s hope you and Carla Gallo work out as roommates, despite the cultural differences between the Norwegians and the Swedes.

But with all of these family shenanigans, let’s not forget about all of the business going on within the walls of Sterling-Cooper this week. I wasn’t sure if Don’s good nature was going to lead him to demand that the firm stop taking advantage of poor, deluded Ho-Ho and his dreams of making Jai Alai into the next big thing, but after meeting with Horace Cook, Sr., and hearing the man’s willingness to allow his son to follow his dream, despite its ridiculousness (“It’s like Polish handball; you can’t even play it if you’re left-handed”), he basically just shrugged and said, “Hey, if his dad doesn’t mind, why should we?” Hey, that reminds me: I’m interested in fast-tracking an action-adventure series about a jai alai player who’s also a secret agent, so if you’re interested in submitting a spec script, drop me a line. But, seriously, folks, the board meeting with Ho-Ho was one of the funniest scenes in “Mad Men” history, as far as I’m concerned.

As far as the Patio campaign, Sal managed to get his big break into the world of commercial direction, even if the final product didn’t end up floating the client’s boat. But, hey, it’s just further proof that there’s only one Ann-Margret, baby…not that Sal doesn’t do a cracking good impression of her moves, by God. Now that was quite a performance. It was already clear that the sight of Kitty in a lime-green negligee wasn’t enough to get his motor running, but, man, his unabashed excitement at recreating that “Bye Bye, Birdie” sequence – and her attempt to look happy for him while dying inside at the inarguable realization about which team he bats for – was decidedly disconcerting to watch.

In closing, I just had to mention that, in the waning moments of the episode, as a still-mourning and now highly pissed-off Sally watched the news footage of the Buddhist monk who’d sent himself on fire, despite knowing in my heart just how incongruous it would be, I secretly hoped that we’d get a close-up of Sally’s face, lit only by the TV, as “Killing in the Name” began to play over the closing credits. I mean, clearly, she was on the verge of screaming at Betty, “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”