We enter a lunch already in progress between former neighbors.
As Betty Francis (January Jones) primes a cigarette, Francine Hanson (Anne Dudek), now working three days a week in a noisy little strip-mall travel agency, enthuses about coming home with a stiff neck and numb ear. Stay-at-home mom Betty, for whom money is no issue, doesn’t get it.
“Oh, your time’s occupied,” Francine says with almost no condescension. “But for the rest of us, as [the kids] get older there’s less and less to do. Being alone in the house all that time, I really needed a challenge.”
Betty, slightly defensive (probably because housekeeper Loretta is back home overseeing homework), contends that being a housewife is plenty challenging.
“All right,” Francine smiles, “maybe I needed the reward.”
Betty points her brow. “I thought they were the reward.”
That ennui hung heavy over last Sunday’s Mad Men. Duty, love, work—why do we bother getting out of bed, exactly?
For, Betty—inexplicably dissatisfied after remarrying into both wealth and status—she wants everything to be perfect all the time, even though perfection depresses the hell out of her. Which may be why she ruins a perfectly pleasant field trip by scorning son Bobby after he trades her sandwich for gumdrops. (Well, who wouldn’t make that deal?)
“Eat your candy,” she says coldly.
That Bobby proceeds to, and looks so miserable doing it, is what getting what you want looks like in Mad Men's crumbling version of Camelot.
Promoted copy chief Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) craves professional recognition, but her boss is too much of an ass to even submit her work for award consideration.
Megan Draper (Jessica Pare) wants a husband who doesn’t give her reason to doubt his affections to the degree that she goes stage-five during acting auditions.
And, much like his boy Bobby, who glumly wishes it were yesterday when he and his mom got along, Don wants things back the way they were. Back when the rudderless adman was atop the corporate pyramid and his creative game. Before he flamed out and started relating to Antonioni movies.
That Don both gets his wish and doesn’t this episode winks at predictions of a returning status quo and acknowledges that being a white guy in 1969 America is more forgiving than not being one.
But it’s also no cakewalk for a self-made identity thief who can’t stomach being an object at rest. In a balletic display of plotting, punctuated by and rewarding payoffs, Don learns the limits of his reach.
Surprising his wife in Los Angeles, he ultimately confesses that he’s played hooky since getting dismissed—not fired—late last year, resulting in an emotional reckoning that’s bubbled since last season’s premiere. “So with a clear head, you got up every day and decided you didn’t want to be with me,” a wounded Megan says before coolly evicting her bi-coastal betrothed. “It’s OK, Don. This is the way it ends.”
Back in New York, after dining with a rival advertising firm, Don confronts Roger Sterling (John Slattery) about being abandoned after last season’s breakdown. “I got your card,” Don cracks. “’Merry Christmas. Love Judas.'”
The scene crackles with passive aggressive barbs until the two finally make up and admit they both want Don back. “I miss you,” says Roger.
But that return doesn’t go smoothly. Director Christopher Manley peels this scene beautifully, amping Don’s unease with each familiar-yet-strange encounter. New faces buzz past, Peggy has a new title ironed to her door, loyal receptionist Dawn (Teyonah Parris) has an office. Most awkward of all, no one knows why he’s there and treats him like a ticking package.
“Good for you,” the reliably patronizing Lou Avery says after Don walks right up to his replacement and sticks out his hand.
But it’s Joan’s (Christina Hendricks) dismay that threw me, especially considering Don is the one man who never tried to exploit her.
Only Don’s geeky creative bullpen tosses him a bone. Copywriter Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) hits him up for free notes on a perfume campaign after offering a borderline compliment: “Boy you smell good!”
Don politely hears out a young squire’s engagement-ring quandary when Roger finally stumbles in, three sheets to the wind and ready for a nap. But Don’s not having it. “I’m not slinking out of here with my tail between my legs. Now call a damn meeting,” he snaps.
And oh, what a meeting. Testy sparks fly between Roger and his Bizarro double, Jim Cutler (Harry Hamlin), who not only dislikes Don, but needs his fat salary to cover up an error the other partners aren’t onto yet. But Cutler’s creaky defense of Avery does him no favors: “Lou is adequate!” he says.
Ultimately, Roger convinces the senior partners that his “genius” BFF is better suited working for the firm than competing against it. Buying out Don’s shares would also cost a mint.
But the partners make a hard-nosed conditional offer: Don can’t be alone with clients, can’t drink in the office (unless it’s in the course of wooing clients), has to stick to an approved script during pitch meetings and has to report to that uninspiring prick Lou. Oh, and he has to work in the office of Lane Pryce, the British expat numbers-cruncher who resigned by hanging himself.
It seems like Don’s old colleagues are setting him up to rebuff their offer or accept it and fail. Not only is this a demotion, it’s an insulting one at that. As the camera pulls in, Don’s concentrated face relaxes and he shrugs. “OK.”
Does Don want back into the fold that desperately? Or does he really hate the idea of moving to California? Or does he think he can reclaim his former status after a couple months of good behavior?
Maybe Don knows why he gets out of bed in the morning. It’s not the booze or the smokes or the loose women. It’s working in an industry that makes everyone else think that’s what life is about.