“Field Trip,” last night’s episode of Mad Men, was another dense, extraordinary, and awkward episode of television that saw Don Draper’s character arc continue to move in unexpected directions, while Betty Francis also made her first appearance of the season, if only to demonstrate that the old Betty is back, reminding us that no one on television — and that includes King Joffrey — has a better bitch face.
“We were having a conversation!” — We’ll start with Betty this week, in a B-plot that wasn’t particularly compelling but that did allow us some relief from the awkwardness of Don’s storyline. Betty had lunch with a blast from the past, Francine (Anne Dudek). Francine is still annoying as hell, and Betty still has the keen ability to casually throw a bitch face at her that says, “I’m just bored enough to hang out with you, but you’re a ridiculous person and I loathe you.”
Nevertheless, Francine left Betty feeling insecure about how she spends her days, but also spiteful, wanting to prove the old-fashioned necessity of a stay-at-home mom (because the alternative would have meant Betty finding a job, and she’s not about to sully herself with work). So, Betty volunteered to be a chaperone on Bobby’s field trip to a farm, where she spent the day blowing second-hand smoke all over elementary school children and reminding us how ridiculous our smoking policies were back in the 1960s.
The day was almost perfect, too. Bobby clearly has had so little intimacy with his own mother that a conversation with her felt monumental to him, and he even got to experience a twinge of pride when his mother volunteered to drink freshly squeezed milk from the bra-less farmer’s daughter. Betty even made a bitchy new friend with another of the old-fashioned mothers.
Of course, Bobby ended up ruining everything, and by that I mean, Betty ruined everything by acting like a child when Bobby traded away her sandwich for gumdrops. Betty soured the entire affair when she gave Bobby a bitch-face that said, “Now my lunch is just cigarettes, you little sh*t! Look at what you’ve done! For f**king gumdrops? What is wrong with you? Christ, it’s time recast Bobby again.”
“Eat your candy” is the new “go f**k yourself.”
“It was a perfect day and he ruined it,” Betty said of her son, and then wondered aloud to her husband why her children don’t love her. Maybe it’s because you’re a terrible f**king human being, Betty.
But she does throw terrific shade. Welcome back, Betty.
“I love you.” / “Goodnight.” — Meanwhile, everything about Don Draper’s plotline was perfection. The episode began with an unemployed Don making a surprise visit to California in an attempt to calm Megan’s nerves, and ended with an employed, but nearly divorced, Don. For Christ’s sake, he ordered TOMATO JUICE on his flight to California. We don’t even know who this man is anymore.
To his credit, I don’t think his heart is in his relationship with Megan, but he really is trying, if only because he believes that being a good husband is a necessary step toward regaining his old life. It’s the Don Draper version of AA. But Don also can’t help coming off sounding more like Megan’s father than supporting husband, which really only highlights what a child Megan can also be.
“They’re getting rejected too,” Don tells Megan coldly, after she makes a fool of herself in a follow-up to a bad audition. “Maybe they’re just handling it better.” Mean, but accurate. “You just have to stop acting like a lunatic,” he later tells Megan, which provokes Megan into accusing Don of cheating on her. He finally came clean about being fired, but honesty is not working out well for him AT ALL. Don admitted the truth to Megan, and it only exposed how over his relationship really is.
“So, with a clear head, you got up everyday and decided you didn’t want to be with me?” Megan asked. Yup! Sounds about right. But later, Don gave Megan even more honesty, telling her that he couldn’t bear to let her know he’d been fired until he could fix the situation. He didn’t want Megan thinking of him as a failure, because Don still thinks that Megan would react the same way that Betty would.
“I know how I want you to see me,” Don Draper says to Megan, summing up his entire existence. But it also revealed how insecure he is about his marriage that he can’t confide in his own wife when he loses his job.
It’s not quite over for Don and Megan yet, but it’s well on its way. Megan is falling apart out in California, and if Don truly did love her, he’d have found work in Los Angeles. But that’s not what he wants. He wants his old job back, and there’s no amount of pride he won’t swallow or opportunities to get laid he won’t turn down. Emily Arnett — the attractive blonde who interrupted Don’s dinner meeting — demonstrated exactly that. Don has no interest in other women, and though he still looks the part of Don Draper (obviously, judging by the women that continue to throw themselves at him), he feels impotent without the source of his power, his career.
Who was Emily Arnett, anyway, other than a blonde with a striking resemblance to Anna Draper’s niece, Stephanie?
So, he turns down that temptation and instead, swallows his pride and goes to Roger with a shred of leverage in the form of another job offer, but Roger doesn’t give two sh*ts about his leverage. “I miss you,” Roger says, three words that are almost as good as the other three words he delivers to Don. “COME IN MONDAY.”
And so Don does come, only to put us through one of the most thoroughly awkward half-hours in Mad Men history. Ginsberg, Rizzo and the guys are happy to see him, Ken can’t believe his eye, and Meredith says what we were all thinking when Peggy asks, “What’s he doing here?”
The rest of the office is not as pleased. Lou, obviously, is wary, as he should be, because Lou is an incompetent, cardigan-wearing f*ckstain who is about to get lit up by a superior creative mind. Joan is downright chilly toward Don, which is a little upsetting, given that at least Don tried to save her from that nasty Jaguar business. But she’s thinking like a partner now.
“It’s nice seeing you,” is the new, new “go f**k yourself.”
Peggy, however, offered the cruelest welcome. “I can’t say that we miss you.” Ouch. On the one hand, damn, Peggy, what the f*ck? But on other hand, I get it. Peggy has not been privy to Don’s recent turnaround, and the last she saw of Don, he basically destroyed Peggy and Ted’s relationship, which is the reason why she’s been so glum and terrible this season. Still, Peggy needs Don more than anyone, and that’s the relationship that needs repairing far more than the Megan and Don relationship. At least there’s something meaningful between Peggy and Don.
In the partners’ meeting, however, Roger bro’d the f**k out on behalf of Don, proving that a sober Roger is not to be screwed with. He was flawless. It was telling that Roger’s defense of Don was that he is “a genius,” while Cutler’s defense of Lou Avery was that “he’s adequate,” which has to be the understatement of the season.
In the end, though, Roger appealed to the partners’ financial sense, and the partners agreed to allow Don back, but only by establishing conditions designed to ensure that Don fails, which would save them from having to buy out his partnership stake: 1) He’s not allowed to meet with clients alone, or go off script; 2) he’s not allowed to drink in the office, and 3) he must report to Lou Avery.
I think every instinct in the old Don Draper’s body would’ve told them to go eat candy, and I think that’s what many of us wanted to hear. When he said, “OK,” I felt my soul tear in two. But the new, humbled Don swallowed his pride because he knew that he could never be truly himself again without working in Sterling Cooper & Partners, and because he probably hopes he can earn back their trust, dazzle them with his creative genius, and get out from beneath the thumb of Lou Avery. Sterling Cooper & Partners is a a shadow of its former self without him, and the fact that Cutler thinks a computer will give them an edge is a testament to that.
It remains to be seen how creative Don can be when he’s off the sauce, and reporting to Lou is the most neutering development I can imagine. But it’s going to be incredibly satisfying if and when the new, humble Don Draper completely regains his confidence and drives Lou to a window-jumping suicide.
It’s fitting that they put Don is Lane’s old office, too. His new agreement practically put a noose around his neck, and they’re just hoping he’ll kick out the chair and hang himself with it. It’s up to Don to pull it off his neck and lasso Lou with it.
“OK” is the new, “Watch your back, Lou.”
Over the course of two episodes, Don Draper has gone from the unredeemable, philandering alcoholic monster to the likable, sympathetic underdog. He’s no longer the anti-hero of Mad Men. He’s the hero, and I think we’re all hoping to see some of that first-season Draper magic again. But it’s impossible to know where Matthew Weiner is taking him: Is he going to redeem himself, only to repeat all his past mistakes and falter again? Or will Don regain his old position as a new and changed man and ultimately conquer the advertising world with Peggy?
– The movie Don was watching at the beginning is called Model Shop, directed by Jacques Demy. The plot description doesn’t seem to echo anything going on Don’s current arc.
– Dawn is no longer Don’s Girl Friday anymore, although I really wish she’d have said to him, “Dude. I can’t be getting your coffee anymore. I’M THE HEAD OF PERSONNEL, so step off.”
– Here’s a fun fact: The twins who play Gene Draper on Mad Men are the same twins who play Abel Teller on Sons of Anarchy.
– I love that, in the conversation with Megan’s agent, the only thing that Don cared about was the same thing the rest of us cared about: Did Megan actually get to meet Rod Serling?
– Jim Cutler had the two best lines in the entire episode, both delivered to Harry: “Are you aware that your self-pity is distasteful?” and “You have stiff competition, but I believe you to be the most dishonest person I’ve ever worked with.”
– Roger’s line to Don had a nice double meaning: “I found you at the bottom of a fur-box.”
– “She likes you.” / “That blouse says she likes everyone.” — Betty Francis, queen of the subtle put-down.
– From now on, whenever anyone asks how I’m doing, I’m going to borrow Bert’s line: “Capital.”
The end credits song? Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 was 9.”