As fine as the Don and Betty-centric episodes that began the first season may have been, Mad Men didn’t really gel for a lot of people until “New Amsterdam,” the episode which showed us that Pete Campbell was going to be a legitimately tragic figure and not just a scheming young nemesis for Don Draper. We’ve seen Pete suffer plenty since then, but not until “Flight 1” has there been an episode that reveals so much about his character. On the heels of the superb “For Those Who Think Young,” “Flight 1” suggests that Mad Men will be a deeper and more emotionally complex show this season, no small achievement relative to the quality of season one.
The action begins at a party at Paul Kinsey’s apartment in Montclair, NJ, about a week after the previous episode (for reasons we’ll come to in a bit, this episode is very easy to date specifically). In season one, Paul’s embrace of African-American culture was fairly cringe-inducing (you may recall his short story about hanging out with “negroes” in Hoboken), but it now seems considerably more sincere—about a third of the party guests are black and, of course, we meet Paul’s African-American girlfriend, Sheila. This time it’s Joan’s turn to come off as the clueless white liberal with her crack about how some day Sheila will be able to drive up to her supermarket in a station wagon and be a customer (as a native of the neighborhood, Sheila has of course shopped there many times). Joan’s doctor boyfriend surely makes far more money than Paul and is a better catch in all regards, but that doesn’t stop her from being jealous, cattily telling Sheila that “when Paul and I were together, the last thing I would have taken him for is open minded”. I’m pretty sure Joan’s just saying this to jerk Sheila’s chain, as I was under the impression that she and Paul were never really “together”—they may have hooked up a few times, but I can’t recall anything to suggest that they were ever an honest to goodness couple.
We’ve seen the Sterling Cooper gang getting drunk together many times, of course, but seldom if ever with their wives and girlfriends in tow, or with so many non-SC folks on hand. As a result, everyone is trying to inflate their importance at the agency—Pete tells Trudy most of them work for him (even if they don’t see it that way), Peggy is emphatic about how she works with the SC gang, not for them, and Joan is quick to describe herself as the office manager rather than the head secretary. The only person who doesn’t seem to be overselling his accomplishments is Ken, who, surprisingly, doesn’t use his Atlantic Monthly story (or any subsequent literary success) to impress the chicks as he aggressively hits on woman after woman at the party. The end credits reveal that Salvatore’s companion is no mere girlfriend but rather his wife. While it’s pretty obvious she’s a beard, their shared amusement with Ken’s lascivious behavior reveals that they have a close, affectionate relationship—indeed, they arguably seem more sincerely into each other than any other couple on the show—and I look forward to getting a closer look at their relationship later in the season (we also get our first look at Jennifer Crane, who I half expected to remain unseen a la Frasier’s Mavis Crane and a zillion other TV characters of note.
After a vignette of Peggy suffering from a mighty hangover, we leap forward a few days to see Roger and Don arriving at SC, where they discover the whole office gathered around a radio. It seems an American Airlines jet taking off from Idlewild plunged into Jamaica Bay, killing all on board. Don quickly moves to yank any Mohawk ads in the pipeline, while Duck Phillips goes another direction: He calls a contact at AA, learns that a new agency may be part of their post-crash spin-control strategy, and tells Roger and Bert Cooper that they need to strike while the iron is hot. Don winces and accuses Duck of acting in poor taste, but Duck holds fast, insisting that advertising is a field where the ends justify the means. Looking on, Bert Cooper is no doubt recalling his S1 advice to Don that he needs to develop a stronger stomach if he wants to be in the kitchen where the sausage gets made.
Next, we see Pete in his office getting a phone call he simply doesn’t know how to process. It seems his father was on the plane that went down and Pete, like many people who lose a loved one with no warning whatsoever, can’t process the reality of the situation. Don may have been his enemy last year, but Pete also knows in his gut that, aside perhaps from Bert Cooper, Don is the only real grown-up at SC. It’s to Don’s office that he staggers, then, dispassionately referring to his fathers’ death as “the strangest thing” and saying that he has absolutely no idea what people are supposed to do in such situations. “Go home and be with your family,” Don says. “Is that what you would do?,” asks Pete. “Yes,” says Don in response. After “The Wheel,” I’d like to think he’s telling the truth, but I’m not so sure.
At what I assume is the Campbell family’s Manhattan apartment, we see Pete and his fat, obnoxious older brother and their wives doing the best to comfort their mother. Pete’s brother is seething over the news that their father died broke and that the inheritance he was counting on (along with most of the Dyckman trust) was flushed down the toilet by their dad in the interest of keeping up appearances (“It was all oysters, travel and club memberships,” says Pete’s brother). Pete never loses too much composure here, in part perhaps because, as we’ve seen, Trudy ain’t exactly poor, and he’s basically been guaranteed a free ride by her folks as long as he can deliver the grandkids. We learn nothing about his brother’s wife, but he certainly doesn’t seem as fortunate. This scene brings up one of my few nitpicks about the episode: Given how thoroughly Eastern the Campbell/Dyckman clan are, it’s hard to conceive of a reason for Pete’s dad to have been traveling to Los Angeles, a city that (metaphorically, and I suppose literally too) is as far from the WASP establishment as one can go without leaving the United States. A throwaway explanation certainly wouldn’t have hurt (it would certainly be ironic if he had been flying to L.A. to make a connection to Palm Springs for a golf tournament).
At the Draper residence, Don finds himself strong-armed into a night of bridge with Peggy, Francine and Carlton, the latter of whom I don’t believe we’ve seen since “Marriage of Figaro”. Don uses the card game as an excuse to teach Sally how to mix cocktails, a sight that would probably be deeply disturbing if we saw, say, Roger Sterling teaching her, but which somehow comes off as funny and affectionate when Don does it (that said, I’d still love to see a flash-forward episode in which the adult Sally goes to a therapist and describes everything that Don and Betty did to screw her up!). Carlton has put on more than a few pounds since we (and Don) last saw him, which he attributes to the stress of being unable to please Francine no matter what he does to atone for having stepped out on her. Betty takes the weight gain as a sign of content, and when Don begs to differ, a fight begins to ensue. Don quickly reverses course, telling Betty he’ll say whatever he has to in order to ensure they don’t fight, but that’s not good enough for her, so Don is once again left baffled by his wife’s emotions.
The next day at SC, things get ugly again between Joan and Paul when he asks her what she said to Sheila at the party. She tears into him without mercy, saying that there’s only one reason he’s with Sheila and that his life in Montclair is a poor-little-rich-boy fantasy. He doesn’t respond-or can’t because he’s too angry—when Joan hollers “What part is wrong?” as he storms off. Maybe I’m as naïve as Joan thinks Paul is, but I really don’t think she’s giving him enough credit. She’s just fucking with his head as she’s fucked with those of Peggy and Lois before him, and I gotta say it’d be a crying shame if Sheila was left high and dry as a result. In any event, Joan gets a taste of her own medicine later that day when she sees giggling secretaries leaving Peggy’s office and discovers a Xerox of her drivers’ license posted on the wall, with her age—she’s just turned 31—circled in red (today, naturally, it’d be her weight of 140 lbs that would have other women mocking her). If we see someone swiping the license from Joan’s purse, I didn’t notice it. Peggy seems like a logical suspect for a few seconds, until the scene unexpectedly turns into an unexpected and rather poignant burying-the-hatchet moment between the two women, a situation that is rife with possibilities.
For a lot of people, the big reveal about the fate of Peggy’s baby will be remembered as one of the episode’s highlights. Personally, I hoped we’d seen the last of the kid, but the scenario that Matthew Weiner has given us—her doctors and the state decided she lacked the mental capacity to make decisions for or about the baby, so the kid was sent to live with Peggy’s mom and sister—is at least a plausible one. It’s implied that Peggy generally lives at the same apartment she was in last season, only coming by her mom’s place for periodic visits, and given what we see of her mom’s unpleasant personality, I don’t think anyone can blame Peggy for keeping the visits to a minimum. It seems likely that Peggy’s story line will ultimately converge with the plot threads concerning Pete and Trudy’s efforts to have a kid, and in light of Peggy’s baby’s living arrangement, it looks like it’ll take some pretty fancy narrative footwork to put Pete and the kid in the same room by the end of the season. Here’s hoping Mad Men doesn’t turn into a soap opera in the process.
Traditionally, there have been two ways that Don’s emotions get him into trouble: When he opens up to somebody and gets a response he doesn’t know how to interpret (see above), and when he suffers a slight that pisses him off so much that he fails to notice vital details because he’s too distracted by his fuming. The latter is what happens when he’s stewing over being ordered to dump Mohawk as a client and Pete comes by to tell him about his conversation with Duck.
Pete is in a double bind here: It isn’t just the WASP culture of reserve that’s preventing him from processing his fathers’ death but the attitude of the times as well—it’s ages before men are supposed to get in touch with their feelings, and sentimental father-son movies like I Never Sang For My Father and Ordinary People (heck, even The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) are still decades off. Lacking the capacity for grieving (though it sure ain’t like his dad gave him any incentive to develop that capacity), he responds by seeking out a new father figure—which could have been Don Draper if he hadn’t been so pissed off about being forced to dump Mohawk Airlines. Duck, however, seems to have picked up on Pete’s needs intuitively—while his initial appeal to get Pete to sign off on going after American is certainly tasteless, it’s couched in flattery and sweet talk that makes his true motives fairly transparent. As Don’s break-up scene with the Mohawk CEO proves, Don may be a drunk who neglects his wife and kids, but at the end of the day he’s basically an honorable guy. Duck, it’s increasingly apparent, is anything but. By agreeing to pimp out his father’s death to help SC land American, Pete becomes the latest member of an anti-Don cabal within SC: Duck, Roger and Pete are all lined up against him. Making matters worse, Don appears too distracted by his personal life to even be aware that something is afoot. With two season two episodes down, it sure doesn’t look like he’s in for an easy time in the eleven that remain.
Miscellaneous notes: In real life, there was indeed a tickertape parade for John Glenn on March 1, 1962, the same day that an American Airlines Boeing 707 plunged into Jamaica Bay, killing 95 people. However, Don and Roger’s dialogue suggesting that the parade was in midtown near the SC office is off base—Glenn’s parade took place in the Financial District’s “Canyon of Heroes,” the customary site of such events (given the source of the actual ticker tape thrown in the parade, it’s not like it could have happened in any other part of town). I’m sure I can’t be the only viewer who said “huh?” when Roger made his remark about two-way traffic on Fifth Ave., but apparently Fifth Ave. was indeed a two-way thoroughfare until January 14, 1966, when it was converted into a one-way street heading downtown (on the same day, Madison Ave., also previously a two-way street, was designated one-way, uptown only).
The barber shop where Pete had his final conversation with his dad is still in business after close to a century—it’s the Paul Molé Barber Shop, on the second floor at 1031 Lexington Ave., between 73rd and 74th Sts. A men’s haircut (by appointment only) will set you back $29, which sounds exhorbitant until you think about what women pay to get their hair done. As far as their argument about dogs goes, I think Pete was actually right and Pete’s dad (and Trudy) were wrong: The two breeds look very similar, but per Wikipedia at least, French bulldogs have black ears and not brown ones, while the late Andrew Campbell argued otherwise.
I used Google Maps’ street view to look up Joan’s address, 42 W 12th St., and found a very nice looking residential building whose tenants will no doubt be thrilled to have their building referenced on Mad Men. Unlike the Sterling Cooper building’s address (285 Madison Ave), this one corresponds to an actual building (speaking of SC and addresses, take a look at www.sterlingcooper.com—I can’t believe I never tried it out before).
The final scene of Peggy at church is made all the more ominous by the Latin liturgy, which is a clever period detail: In March 1962, the first sessions of the Vatican II conference were still five months off. In late 1963, the assembled bishops signed off on the Sacrosanctum Concilium (or “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy”), which encouraged priests to incorporate vernacular languages into the mass. The practice of saying the Mass in English began informally the following year and was officially incorporated into the liturgy by 1969.
Finally, Duck must have more social juice than anyone at SC short of Pete if, as it appears, he has his own membership at the University Club of New York. One of the city’s most venerable WASP institutions, the club is situated in a dazzling 9-story McKim, Mead & White building from 1999 located at 54th St. and Fifth Ave (it has a really slick façade that makes it look like the building has three floors instead of nine). Like the Chrysler Builing, it’s one of those privately-held architectural landmarks that merely mortal New Yorkers seldom have the opportunity to venture inside. I’ve been there twice, for a brunch preceding a wedding and for a reception following a memorial service, and its wood-paneled opulence lives up to the hype.
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