I thought this was, as always for Mad Men, a strong episode. The most prevalent themes present were the notions of false love and prostitution, nature and betrayal. Nature is a new addition into the Mad Men fold, and I’m not quite sure of the deeper meaning. Mostly, however, these themes are facades - a thin veil of makeup for the characters’ inner blemishes. This has been a consistent part of Don’s character throughout the series, but as we see Pete and Peggy grow to become more like Don, they will replicate his subterfuge. I feel the transformation of Pete and Peggy into different aspects of Don will be a major plot point for this season, while Don’s decay will become increasingly prevalent.
Scene by Scene
Firstly, we see Pete and Trudy hosting a dinner party. Both are flirting, much like the Don and Betty situation of a few seasons prior. Both seem superficially happy during these scenes, but as soon as the front door shuts, they let their frustrations out. Trudy is unhappy with their guests, but adopted a ‘housewife’ attitude so as to please the guests. Pete is generally unhappy.
What does Pete want? What event will make him content? Where will he find happiness? “A temporary bandage on a permanent wound” is the perfect analysis of Pete’s character, but whence did this wound come? This sense of inadequacy is delineated by the malfunctioning remote, which, like the leaky faucet, represents Pete’s inability to control his life.
Nature makes its first appearance as well, with a pastel, hideously designed representation of nature being printed on the couch, and a gilded flower entwining the lamp behind Pete. Pete finds himself trapped between false-nature, a suburban household and a desire to be in the city. We see this theme of nature again in the episode, so if you think of any good meaning behind it, please let me know.
Next, we see Don in the elevator with Dr. Al Rosen. Elevators are becoming increasingly noticeable in Mad Men; I think Don will get caught cheating in an elevator or reveal himself in the elevator. A fatal blunder will cause him to metaphorically plummet down an empty shaft as was alluded to last season.
The most noticeable symbols in this scene are the mirrors on the far wall and the fake plants lining below it, as well as Sylvia’s dress with flowers on it. I wish I had a better read on the motif of nature, I think it probably represents an attempt to control things - along the lines of Shelley’s Frankenstein - but this is a weak interpretation. The mirror has all the usual connotations and meanings that a mirror brings, so I won’t dwell on them.
“I give her cash every month but I think she’s secretly sending it to our kid.”
When Don hits the elevator button, Dr. Al immediately retorts “you gotta stop that nonsense.” This is in response to Don’s smoking, but I considered it further foreshadowing of the elevator’s importance, as well as warning to Don to stop his infidelity. Don’s death is being hinted at again this season, but I think it will be Pete, as one of Don’s ‘offspring’ that dies next.
Don arrives at Sylvia’s doorstep, and a flashback arrives. I love Mad Men’s flashbacks - they allow us insight into the enigma that is Don Draper. The brothel is draped in red, suggesting love, and thus Don’s childhood association with love is this whore-house; he thinks this is what love truly is. Again, Don’s mother/step-mother (?) is wearing a floral dress and the wallpaper has flowers. The theme of falsely placed love and prostitution is again prevalent, and heightened by the fact that Don ‘pays’ Sylvia for sex.
Uncle Mack’s evaluation of “I’m the rooster around here” surely has deeper meaning: Don considers this man the ‘alpha male’, and as such attempts to emulate him. Thus, Don’s philandering has a root cause - his attempt at being the rooster of the flock has allowed him to “help all the hens.”
“This didn’t happen… just in here.”
Don’s assessment of their relationship is surely hinting at a mental deterioration on either Don or Sylvia’s part, but further than that I’m not sure. Through the conflictions of the radio and the people, we get a nice juxtaposition of love and war/terror/violence. We are also introduced to a motif that is certainly going to come up again in a more salient postition: the Christian cross on Sylvia’s necklace.
“You love to go.”
Now we go to Peggy, who seems to have developed a great deal of confidence and stature at the new company. She has a painting of flowers behind her, and is dressed in block-colour pink and blue; clearly, she has control and confidence. This makes her salient against the city backdrop, and hints at her (continued) meteoric rise. Of course, Peggy is awful at speaking and muddles her words. I love this part of Peggy’s character. It’s hilarious: “There you go!”
Now we change to Pete, who’s meeting his lady friend in the city apartment. She’s noticeably dressed in all-black, indicating the death of Pete’s marriage and perhaps Pete’s ultimate death.
“Peanuts… cheese crackers… bourbon… vodka… gin… champagne… music.”
Much like Tolstoy’s accumulation of bourgeois, materialistic desires in The Death of Ivan Ilyich, this indicates Pete’s attempts to fill his life with things to impress others, and he is never happy as a result. I feel the life of Ivan has nice similarities with Pete’s, though Ivan is an infinitely nicer guy - go and read it, it’s short. In the background, Pete’s cupboards appeart to be ajar or missing pieces, indicating holes in Pete’s life and happiness, as well as revealing a dark core. Noticeably, Pete’s lady friend (I don’t know her name) still has her hat on, depicting a carelessness that will ultimately lead to Pete’s marriage deteriorating at the end of the episode. Perhaps carelessness will come to ruin something more than his marriage? Also, there are two half drunk glasses of whiskey on the counter and table, which I thought represented Pete’s loneliness. At the end of the scene, Pete leads the woman through semi-opaque, coloured glass-walls and curtains, which has connotations that lead to prostitution and promiscuity.
“I’d rather retire than watch that guy screw my girlfriend.”
We go to the office in the next scene. GOD DAMN BOB BENSON WHO ARE YOU? WHY ARE YOU HERE? I thought it was a little strange how Ketchup kept touching Beans’ arm during his little speech, and a romantic relationship was certainly alluded to in the above quote. I doubt it will be pursued any further though. Beans’ statement above further hints at infidelity - Don and Pete - which is a major theme of this season. Good Guy Kenny is dressed in green, representative of an economic focus.
Quick cut back to Pete and Lady Friend: “can you move it along a little?” What a jerk.
Next we go to the laundry room for an encounter between Megan and Sylvia. Megan’s red basket is a conspicuous symbol for her anger towards the maid, and indicates that Megan will further her indepence, becoming less reliant on Don as time progresses. Their relationship will suffer. Sylvia’s pink basket is a faded red, and thus represents Megan at a later age. Their physical similarities certainly do not inhibit this view. We will see increasing parallels drawn between Sylvia and Megan in this season.
Sylvia is perhaps a ‘better’ version of Megan at this stage. She finds herself in a blue room, wearing a dark blue dress and generally an ‘all-together’ appearance. Megan, conversely, is in a horrid green sweater, red lipstick and scarf, and awful plaid plants. This terrible amalgamation of garments indicates Megan’s emotional inconsistency. I still feel Megan’s acting, as foreshadowed by the soap opera recount, will become critical to her relationship with Don, and she will use it to discover Don’s actions in some way. It may just be that it will cause their relationship to move apart. Sylvia’s eyes squint slightly when Megan kisses Don - brilliantly acted jealously.
The scene where Peggy finds the Quest powder is cruel, but I don’t really think there’s any meaning there besides her unpopularity with subordinates; her cruelty is much like Don’s.
“I had no idea you’d be darkening my doorway.”
Joan is brilliant.
“There’s a part of you you haven’t seen in years.”
That’s clearly hilarious, but I feel it also denotes Herb’s loss of innocence and moral compass, much like the rest of the male population at SCDP (besides Good Guy Kenny). Pete is extremely excited by Herb’s arrival and WHAT THE FUCK BOB BENSON IS HERE WITH HIS DAMN NOTEPAD AGAIN. The salient artwork in this scene is the large, deep blue sailing painting on Don’s wall. The blue indicates depression and isolation, and the sailing boats represent departure - Don is leaving Megan, and appears to be falling away from advertising.
I love the friendship with Stan and Peggy in the next scene. Peggy is going to come back to SCDP soon; Don’s work has declined too much not to have her there.
We now get into some shorter scenes: an interspersion of Don, Pete and Peggy via ‘door cuts’ indicates a blurring of their characters, and thereby shows that the latter two are becoming like the former.
Megan is in a robe or gown that resembles Betty’s and the remote works for Pete this time.
“These two little piss ant countries handing our head to us.”
Perhaps a metaphor for Pete and Peggy’s growth into someone more like Don; they may overtake him. Don’s death is again alluded to. This scene is the most notable inclusion of betrayal other than infidelity and Peggy’s divulgence of Stan’s story to Ed/Ted(?). Everyone walks out on Don at dinner - he lacks any true friends, and he is mostly to blame for this, not them.
Pete’s lady friend returns, and his inability to control any aspect of his life again manifests itself.
“Just because they cleared their place settings doesn’t mean we’re alone.”
Sylvia says this as she fondles the cross on her necklace, including the religious paradigm of the post war era. Again we see the cross on the wall in her bedroom or maid’s room. This motif outlines the moral decadence caused by a lack of focus on religion or ethics, and thus warns the audience to focus on good and bad, rather than love (which is likely to be falsely placed). Again, patterns and habits come into play when Don tells Sylvia “I love you.”
Don gets back to Megan and she tells him about the miscarriage. What is this miscarriage a metaphor for? Let me know.
Pete and Trudy, the next morning, are shot in darker light and muted colours, though Trudy is in a nice shade of green - she’s done nothing wrong. In this instance, Trudy is nearer to the natural light of the window, and thereby closer to nature; nature appears to be a metaphor for escape.
“There’s no way for me to escape.”
Trudy has an awesome scene here and completely immasculates Pete, in a way that Betty or Megan would never do to Don, and I wonder how this will affect Pete’s character. A great deal of foreshadowing comes into play with the close up of the blood-soaked rag; I sense an implosion or death of Pete’s character.
“You’re going to go to bed… you’re going to realise… you don’t know anything.”
In the next scene Ed/Ted talks with Peggy about betraying Stan: “He’s not your friend, he’s the enemy.” The theme of betrayal is made clear here, and links back to Don and the Doctor’s relationship using dramatic irony.
We go back to the office for the Jaguar meeting, and Harry again personifies incompetence. Don ‘destroys’ the Jaguar pitch, and Pete becomes indignant, while Roger considers it the “deftest self immolation”; this paradox indicates a confliction within Roger’s character as explored in the previous episode. Pete’s extreme anger at being undermined again is a sign of things to come. Do you think Pete would kill Tammy? Don is noticeably out of touch and drifting away from advertsing. Don’s lack of quality work has always been a manifestation of inner turmoil; Don is coping with his imminent death (Jonesy) and lack of true identity, and seems to be losing his wife, friends and coworkers. Don still seems to have a little nous about him. In his conflictions with Pete, Don reminds me of Pericles, who in response to the Spartan Ultimatum in the Peloponnesian War, said “If we give in we shall be immediately confronted with some greater request.” Evidently, attitudes in times of war have hardly changed. BOB BENSON.
In the final scene, Don is looking through the keyhole at his mother’s/step-mother’s relations with Uncle Mack. A whore tells Don that he is a “dirty little spy.” I’m not entirely sure what to make of the keyhole metaphor, perhaps it indicates Don’s detachment and observation of love - he grew up with this kind of ‘love’ and now that’s what he considers to be true. Regardless, whenever Mad Men uses flashbacks, it’s always when Don is in a state of rapid degeneration. We will see Don fall down the elevator shaft this season.
The episode closes with Don slumped in the doorway; the closing song is brilliant, considering the aforementioned themes of false love, prostitution and betrayal, as well as Don’s existential and nihilistic pivot.
If you admire me, hire me/ A gigolo who knew a better day/ Just a gigolo, everywhere I go/ People know the part I’m playing/ […]/ When the end comes, I know they’ll say/ ‘Just a gigolo,’ as life goes on without me.