Mad Men, Season 3

Week 7: A New Day for Dick Whitman?
Talking television.
Sept. 28 2009 4:36 PM

Mad Men, Season 3

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Week 7: A New Day for Dick Whitman?

The best thing about this episode was seeing Don backed into a professional corner. The worst was seeing him clocked in the head by a hippie while communing with the Phenobarbital-induced ghost of his deadbeat dad. Those hitchhikers were poorly conceived, historically suspect, and conveniently violent. The show's gimmick—showing us a bloody Don and then slowly unspooling the story of how he got that way—felt cheap. The only good I can say for this plotline: The girl was wearing a fantastic pair of shorts.

First, the office. I didn't think Don's initial conversation with Conrad was so mystifying. At first, Hilton teasingly pretends that he's talking about a mistress—perhaps testing Don's moral mettle, as you suggest, John—but by the time they strike their deal, Hilton makes clear that he's actually been speaking in veiled terms about his desire to cheat on whoever's currently doing his ad work. That's why he concludes by saying: "It's just New York, but my eye has definitely started to wander." He's implying that if Don handles the campaigns for his New York hotels well, the rest of the Hilton account might be his.

Julia Turner Julia Turner

Julia Turner is the editor in chief of Slate and a regular on Slate's Culture Gabfest podcast.

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I also loved Bert's deftly administered blackmail. You're completely right about how well the show's writers distinguish their characters' cadences, Patrick, and I particularly enjoyed Cooper's line: "After all, when it comes down to it, who's really signing this contract, anyway?"

The line actually raises an interesting prospect: If Don starts to feel too trapped at Sterling Cooper, could he wriggle out of his new contract by reassuming his old identity? If Don becomes Dick Whitman, what does it matter if the building says "Draper" out front (as Roger Sterling promises it might eventually)? Roger's comment this week—"I don't know if you don't want to do this here or you don't want to do this at all"—seemed designed to make us wonder if Don is over advertising.

So, too, did Don's bizarre, hallucinated conversation with his pops. I'll stick up for Betty's fever dreams, but Don's visions work less well for me. They offer a portrait of Don's interior that feels forced, more like a paint-by-numbers commentary on the evolution of American manhood than an organic outcropping of Don's character. Consider the fact that Don's dad mocks him about the ad business, telling him that his hands are soft like a woman's, that he "grows bullshit." Don has many problems, but I don't for a second buy that he's anguished about his distance from the American working man. He was born poor and now, by virtue of his bullshitting skills, is not. To the degree that he's happy about anything, he's happy about that. Whatever Don is, I don't think he's particularly romantic about America's agricultural-industrial heyday.

Perhaps the scene was simply intended to suggest that Don is increasingly disillusioned with (even bored by?) his own endless ability to reinvent everything, which could be another indicator that a return to Whitman-hood is in store. But it's hard to imagine how the show would solve the logistical problems that would create. Would the new Dick move to California? Would he go back to selling cars?

As for Betty's fainting couch, Patrick, it reminded me of her conversation with her father before he died—the one in which she insisted on being treated like a "little girl." Betty wants to be pursued and protected, which is why she feels like swooning after Henry Francis chivalrously shields her eyes from the sight of the eclipse. (Did you notice her clothes in the ice-cream shop and on the fainting couch at episode's end? They recall the florals and colors she was wearing in her fantasy sequences.)

I thought the bit about putting the couch right on the hearth, "the soul of the home," was a bit heavy-handed, however. We get it! Betty places her fantasy life before her family and can't square her dreams with her reality! Similarly, I thought having both Hilton and Cooper sit in Don's chair strained belief. So much clunky furniture symbolism this week! Sometimes the show pours it on a little thick.

Another question for you: Did Peggy move to Manhattan or not? The morning after her tumble with Duck at the Pierre, she's back at work in the same smart red vest and white pleated skirt she'd been wearing the day before. It's unclear whether Don noticed it during their brief exchange, but I'm sure Pete would, and who knows what might happen if he figures out whose bed her boots have been under. If she's living in Manhattan, why not dash home to change before returning to the office?

Finally, a question for Fraysters: Do you buy that a young man would get hitched to avoid being sent to Vietnam in the summer of 1963? The United States hadn't yet sent many troops at that point, and full-scale protesting didn't kick up in this country until 1965. The young hitchhiker's mission may be plausible, but I suspect he would have been an outlier, and his portentous appearance in this episode seems awfully convenient to me.

Desperately seeking an apple pie with cheddar cheese,
Julia

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