There haven’t been many episodes in the history of “Mad Men” which have quite as streamlined as this week’s entry: it was split evenly down the middle between Don and Betty and Pete. Oh, sure, other characters made appearances during the course of the hour, but when you look back at the description of the episode on TiVo (“Don and Betty go on a business trip; Pete helps a neighbor”), it’s hard to argue against its simplicity because, well, those were the two stories this week.
When we first see Pete Campbell this week, he’s reading…”Ebony”? Has the world gone topsy-turvy…? No, of course not. This is just the residual effect of his discussion about how African-Americans have specific purchasing tendencies. Leave it to Pete to dive headlong into the concept. But what else has the guy got to do? His wife’s away…and it shows, with his offer to buy the guys a drink. The poor bastard is definitely one of those guys who can’t stand to be alone, and his tendencies toward alcoholism are evident, if only by his television viewing habits. (Many a member of AA has testified that they took their first drink while watching “Davy & Goliath.” But don’t quote me on that, since I just made it up.) In his quest to keep busy, Pete helps out his neighbor’s au pair, Gudrun, by offering to help solve her dilemma with the dress that she accidentally messed up, which results in a couple of interesting developments. The first, of course, is that the trip to the store leads to an unexpected encounter with Joan, whose face is almost as red as her hair when she’s outed by Pete in her post-Sterling-Cooper gig. She replaces the dress for him, he asks her not to mention the incident to Trudy, and it’s pretty evident that she’d prefer that he kept his mouth shut about seeing her, too. When he goes to return the dress to Gudrun, he promptly hits on her and gets shot down when she assures him that she has a boyfriend. He shrugs and accepts her claims until he gets a few drinks in him, at which point he returns to the apartment in the wee hours, says he deserves the chance to see her in the dress, and then quickly gets her out of it.
Yes, Pete’s still just as lecherous now as he was with Peggy in Season 1. The difference this time…? He gets nailed to the wall by the au pair’s boss, who basically says, “If you can’t keep it in your pants, at least don’t take it out in the building.” When Trudy gets home, we bear witness to the incredibly awkward elevator ride with her, Pete, and Gudrun, and once they get back into their apartment, Pete has something approximating a nervous breakdown when Trudy comes on to him. Surely it’s not out of guilt…or is it? I really thought he was on the verge of asking for a divorce for a second. Instead, he admits to no wrong-doing (or if he did, we didn’t actually get to see it), but he does inform her that she shouldn’t leave him alone again. Translation: whatever happened while she was gone is her fault, not his.
As for the Don and Betty storyline, it’s really far more about Betty than Don this week. When their storyline kicks off, Don’s off to catch lightning bugs with the kids while Betty continues on her quest to try and save the reservoir. As it turns out, the quest proves successful when her dear Mr. Francis turned up at the city council meeting and, by throwing his weight around as the governor’s right-hand man, saved the day and got the reservoir a reprieve. In return for his assistance, Francis decides he deserves a kiss. The sexual tension immediately prior to the lip-lock was downright palpable, and although Betty didn’t exactly seem ready for a roll in the hay afterwards (she just wore her usual pissed-off expression), she neither pulled away during the event nor complained afterward. It seemed clear that there would be more to this relationship…but, then, the Drapers flew off to Rome on a Hilton-related business trip and seemed to rekindle some of their marital magic. Betty put on her best beehive (or a hairstyle not entirely unlike one, anyway) and utilized her knowledge of Italian to shoot down a couple of rico suaves, seemingly doing a bit of roleplaying with Don up until the point that Connie turned up. I liked his description of Don as “an indecently lucky man,” and, indeed, Don got nice and indecent with Betty while in Rome, so much so that it really looked like the two of them had finally fallen back in love with each other.
Unfortunately, it seems that what happens in Rome stays in Rome: almost as soon as they got back, Betty had returned to full bitch mode, a move made all the more surprising by Don’s attempt at being romantic via his jewelry purchase. I guess we can blame that on Sally, whose macking on neighbor boy Ernie in her parents’ absence led to her treating her teasing brother like he was her opponent in Mike Tyson’s Punchout. Upon her return, Betty actually offered a moment of sweetness and understanding to her daughter about her first kiss…but, apparently, the conversation led her on a trip down Memory Lane that made her learn to hate Don all over again.
All told, it was another slow week on “Mad Men.” Let’s hope things pick up a bit next week.