Is it just me or has Mad Men become more experimental with its narrative structure? Already this season we’ve seen an extended dream sequence that initially seemed real, and on Sunday we were treated to three vignettes, three versions of the same bad day. Peggy, Roger and Don all had rather revelatory experiences. Peggy dug herself a bigger hole, Roger seems to have found freedom, and Don became Don again, at least for a short while. Let’s start with Peggy.
Peggy’s slumping right now, and slumping hard. This narrative has been building since the season opener. You’ll recall that she was unhappy with some of the copy Megan handed in (I believe it was related to coupons), but Peggy swallowed it because she didn’t want to complain about the boss’ wife. Her initial pitch meeting to Heinz failed when the representative didn’t understand her work, and then Don essentially betrayed her by not sticking up for her. In this episode Don saddled her with even more responsibility, and once again she failed to come through. This time there were consequences; this time she got booted from the Heinz account.
We saw her trying to emulate Don in the meeting by essentially ordering the executive to swallow her ads, but I think that Peggy was trying to do more than just emulate Don; I think she was trying to fill in for him. That’s different from merely copying Don’s style. Don’s been almost like an absentee father of late. He’s not paying attention to their work, for instance. Peggy’s ads seemed substandard to me, and I assume it’s because Don’s not even around to sign off on his underlings’ work. But more importantly, Don hasn’t been there to pick Peggy up when she falls. I think Peggy was trying to fill in the gap Don has left. She failed.
Peggy has always been ambitious. She’s always asked for more than what a normal copywriter gets; she’s similar to Pete in the respect that she always wants to be at the next stage in her career. She certainly wants to become a creative head at some point. She may even feel that she deserves that status now. But she’s not going to get it where she is. Last week we found out that Peggy and Ken Cosgrove have agreed to jump ship with each other if either secures a job at another agency. You’ll recall that Peggy threatened to work for Duck Phillips in the past. I wonder if a similar opportunity might arise in the immediate future.
I would never have guessed that Roger and Jane’s marriage would end so suddenly. It was very evident that the two weren’t exactly happy together, but it didn’t seem that the end was near. Then, unannounced, they take LSD and promptly decide that it’s time to sever the bond between them. If you had to pick the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce employee least likely to take LSD, Roger Sterling would be a sure bet, wouldn’t he? As much as Sterling likes his vices, he’s never displayed any hankering for narcotics. Yet, there he was, as high as a kite, conducting a orchestra by opening and closing a bottle of booze, seeing himself in the mirror, half with black hair, half silver fox.
The episode’s close left me with the impression that Roger is more alive than ever now. He seemed genuinely happy about the breakup—he wouldn’t have insisted on it otherwise, because Jane had apparently forgotten about their profound, drug-induced discussion—and his proclamation that it was “going to be a good day” to Don suggests to me that Roger has been revitalized. He’s rebooted himself, and now he can go back to the one-night-stands. So, he’s free again. I expect to see a much more tenacious Sterling going forth, and I hope we get to see him continue the work against Pete that Lane started.
Don is attracted to chaos. We’ve mentioned this before; as a child, he never knew his biological mother and at age ten he lost his father in a stable-related accident. He was raised by his abusive aunt and her husband before he used the army as a way out. Modern psychiatry suggests that we repeat the same events over and over again across our lifetime. If a child grows up in a troubled household, where his parents are fighting violently or are otherwise somehow absent, then that child will grow up to repeat that behavior in their adult life, usually unintentionally.
This is true of Don. He never connected with his parents, and certainly never grew up in a house where two adults were in a loving, caring relationship. Accordingly, he has gone on to have a spate of chaotic relationships, first with Betty and now seemingly with Megan. It can be encompassed by a simple piece of common sense: Don never saw how to live a normal married life, so he is impossible of having a normal marriage now. Because he knew only chaos as a child, he now goes about creating chaos in his adult life, all the while forcing his children to relive his own childhood experience. (The image to the left is a piece of framing that reminds me of Roy Lichtenstein's In the Car. Lichtenstein's work seems particularly relevant here.)
It’s clear that Don is doing this inadvertently. He wants to do well by Megan and his three kids, but he’s almost incapable of it. His clash with Megan in this episode arose because he was trying to correct past mistakes. He was showing too much love for his spouse. He pulled Megan out of work to take her to an iconic, fun touristy establishment, but he failed to realize that Megan felt obliged to stay with the team to work on the day’s presentation to Heinz. He doted on Megan, buying her a new and his favorite dessert, but he failed to appreciate how distraught she was that he dragged her away from the office. Megan became irritated because Don couldn’t understand her. He wouldn’t—in his mind, he was doing everything right for once. But she sarcastically wolfed down the dessert he bought her. Her act of frustration was immature—the kind of juvenile stunt that someone like Betty would burst out with. And that’s not the kind of Megan that we or Don know. Megan always comes across as responsible and composed and happy-go-lucky, not immature. Don thought he left Betty to escape that, but he found a way to coax it out of Megan as well.
We’ve seen that Don is prone to extremes, which is more evidence to me that he can’t read a relationship correctly. He doesn’t know how to act. He made out with Bobby Barrett just minutes after meeting her at the start of Season Two, when she was still practically a stranger. In Season One he begged Rachel Menken to go to California with him; he planned a vacation with the schoolteacher in Season Three, only to have their escape foiled by Betty. And, most crucially of all, he flipped on Faye Miller in Season Four, proposing to Megan after a week-long vacation with her and the kids.
The episode’s end made the biggest impression on me, where Bert Cooper essentially ordered Don to get back to work, confirming what we all thought: that Don was taking it too easy. I wonder if we’ll see him respond next week. I imagine he’ll find a way to insert himself into a pitch; I want to see if he’s still up to the task or if he’s lost his touch.
What did you guys think of the episode’s little plotlines? Don’s side made the biggest impression on me, so I took it easy on Peggy and Roger, but I’d love to hear your takes on that, specifically on Peggy. I’ll be honest—I have no idea what to make of the end of her story. I found her interaction with Ginsberg very haunting, but I don’t know what any of it means. Any ideas?