Adam Whitman makes his second—and last—appearance on Mad Men in “Indian Summer,” checking out of the series at the beginning of an episode that favors plot and narrative momentum over the thematically self-contained brand of storytelling that has prevailed in recent weeks (and which couldn’t have been timed better in light of today’s humid 86-degree weather). Each of the last few episodes has had more references to earlier ones than the last, and the increasing number of callbacks, combined with the way narrative strands are converging, suggests the season will play fairly differently on DVD when viewers don
The package that Adam sends his brother—which presumably contains something other than what’s left of the money from “5G,” otherwise Adam wouldn’t have so much cash on hand when he slips the noose around his neck—is like the gun that Anton Chekov spoke of so memorably: If it shows up in act one, the writer’s doing something wrong if the trigger isn’t pulled in act three. Pete’s acquisition of the package is close enough for government work where Chekov’s maxim is concerned: It doesn’t give us a climax, but it does end the episode with the series’s most significant cliffhanger yet. Pete has the gun in his hand—now, the question is how much damage he can do with it.
For the most part, I’ve shied away from specific prognostication in these recaps, but it’s hard to resist where the next two episodes of Mad Men are concerned. Next week’s will reveal a lot about what we can expect from the series in future seasons: On The Sopranos, where Matthew Weiner earned his stripes, the season’s most eventful episode was always the penultimate one, while the finale was usually something of a coda that reflected on the season’s preceding twelve installments. Given that the title of next week’s show is “Kennedy vs. Nixon”, the pattern seems likely to hold. If it is the season’s climactic episode, then one of two things will happen: Don will succumb to blackmail and appoint Pete as Sterling Cooper’s head of account services, or Bert Cooper will learn that Don Draper came into this world as Richard Whitman.
My personal hunch, fostered by this week’s revelation that Bert Cooper isn’t just an admirer of Ayn Rand but is apparently a satellite member of her circle of followers, the Collective (though Cooper is significantly older than key Rand devotees such as Alan Greenspan, Nathaniel Branden and Leonard Peikoff, not to mention Rand herself, who was 55 in 1960), is that Cooper’s opinion of Don would only rise upon learning just how much of a self-made man Don is. Since we’ll have our answers soon enough, I’ll refrain from further attempts to divine Weiner’s intentions and will return to the episode at hand.
Although Betty and Peggy’s shared sexual frustration plays a big role in “Indian Summer,” the link feels more coincidental than thematic; Betty’s scenes are there to remind us that Don’s pursuit of Rachel (and before her, of Midge) is not without consequences at home, while Peggy’s feel like groundwork for a later exploration of the changing role of women in an office such as Sterling Cooper. Peggy’s increasing role as a copywriter—which gains her more respect from Don, Fred Rumsen and Ken Cosgrove—is paralleled by a plunge in her self-esteem, courtesy of Pete’s callous behavior, that leads to her putting on weight (Elisabeth Moss, by the way, deserves kudos for her lack of self-consciousness while wearing the fat suit that simulates Peggy’s physical expansion). Peggy initially thinks she’s being asked to write about the dubious weight loss device because she’s fat, not because she did well with the Belle Jolie account, and the realization that it has more to do with the latter (a little more, at least) clearly gives her an ego boost, as we see from her date with the truck driver. Even so, it also reminds us how naïve she is, via her chirpy conclusion about why people in Manhattan are “better.” Nonetheless, the scene at the end where she straps on the vibrating belt is less sad than it is, arguably, a display of an admirable pragmatism that makes me very eager to see what will become of her in future seasons.
Betty, on the other hand, still has a ways to go with sorting out her sexuality. I loved how she kept herself from going through with her potential Penthouse Forum scenario with the salesman by telling him Don would probably rather buy an AC from Sears, a comment that aims a howitzer right at his balls (to borrow a phrase from Roger Sterling) by invoking the new model of consumerism that would soon torpedo the door-to-door biz. The specificity with which she invokes his sales pitch while in bed with Don later suggests that, subconsciously, she wanted to let Don know that she has options and could easily stray if she wants to. Don doesn’t pick up on this, however, and reads the situation as an attack on the sanctity of ’his house’. With a lot of men, that would be equivalent to a potential attack on their wife’s virtue, but for someone who moved up in the world as Don did, being lord and master of a middle class household probably means a lot more to him (and means different things) than it might for many other men of the era. The scene where Betty tells her friend about the salesman takes the point about men and property a little too far via Francine’s observation that her husband would break her arm for letting a salesman into the house, but I’ll let it slide since I’m just so relieved that Francine’s baby apparently turned out OK despite all of the anvilicious drinking and smoking we saw her due during the pregnancy (although their circumstances are totally different, Francine’s bearing as she fired up a Kent in her milk- and sweat-stained housedress couldn’t help reminding me of the young Livia Soprano we saw in “Down Neck,” who, about 45 miles south of Peggy and Francine, would then be tending to the six- or seven-week-old Tony).
Finally, there’s the fate of Roger Sterling to chew on. When Roger arrives at Sterling Cooper, he seems a completely changed man, a development that seems a little too pat to be true. It is: His confession to Joan that she’s “the best piece of ass he ever had” brings to mind a certain cliché about old dogs and new tricks. I was pretty dubious about the need to bring in Roger to serve as “both dog and pony,” as he puts it, especially in light of Lucky Strike Sr.’s relatively muted reaction to Roger’s second heart attack. Mona Sterling tears into Bert Cooper for being more cynical than she thought was humanly possible, and I’m wondering if perhaps he was even more cynical still: Could he have deliberately been setting up Roger to take a fall in order to more easily persuade clients to accept the necessity of bumping Don up to partner? I certainly wouldn’t put it past the guy.
The weekly grab-bag:
I was briefly taken aback by Rachel’s sister invoking the name of Robert Morgenthau without specifying who he was (he was mentioned by surname only), which seemed surprising for the time. Morgenthau has been Manhattan’s district attorney for more than 30 years, but in 1960 he was still in the private sector, as a partner a the firm of Patterson, Belknap & Webb (now Patterson, Belknap Webb & Tyler). In 1961, JFK appointed him U.S. Attorney for the southern district of New York (the job that made Rudolph Giuliani’s career), and he was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1962, losing to Nelson Rockefeller. The Nixon administration forced him out of the Justice Department seven years later, and, following a stint as deputy mayor under John Lindsay and a failed attempt to score the Democratic gubernatorial nod a second time, he became district attorney in 1974. His name isn’t mentioned in the lede of a single New York Times article in 1960, which suggests that the only way the Menken sisters would know who he was would be if their family did business with Patterson, Belknapp & Webb (at which potential future U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey is presently a partner).
The Nixon-Kennedy bebate mentioned by Roger was presumably the first of the candidates’ four such events, which took place in Chicago on September 26, 1960, about a week to ten days before tonight’s episode. Roger must have seen the debate on a TV in his room at the hospital—which seems kind of extravagant for 1960, though as Don points out, “He’s rich—they’re taking good care of him”.
Somewhat to my surprise, the season premiere and ABC press info on the next few episodes of Desperate Housewives, it doesn’t seem lke John Slattery’s going to be leaving Fairview anytime soon. Depending on when Mad Men wrapped for the season, he must either have been shooting both shows simultaneously or segued from one to the other with no more than a couple of days off in between. Here’s hoping the quality of his work on Mad Men inspires the DH writers to give him better material this year—it pains me to say it, but his long courtship with Eva Longoria last season was one of the dullest patches that
series (which, when it’s on top of its game, I really like) has ever suffered through.
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