Mad Men, Season 3

Week 7: Duck!
Talking television.
Sept. 27 2009 11:08 PM

Mad Men, Season 3

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Week 7: Duck!

Dear Julia and Patrick,

I am writing to you from my fainting couch, which is where I landed after hearing Duck Phillips tell Peggy that he wanted to take her clothes off with his teeth. This is not the Uncle Herman I thought I knew. Last season, he showed up stag to the couples night the Drapers hosted for Crab Colson and his wife; now he's telling Peggy he wants to give her a "go-round" like she's never had before. Perhaps even more shocking than Duck betraying his libidinous side was the fact that Peggy was receptive to his advances—and after fielding one of the worst come-ons in the history of come-ons: "I was just thinking of all the times I walked by you and didn't even notice." 

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Peggy, of course, has arrived at the Pierre fresh from a brutal dressing-down by Don. "You were my secretary," he reminds her, and she could go back to being one, as far as he's concerned: "There's not one thing you've done here that I couldn't live without." Yet even after suffering through Don's tongue-lashing, Peggy doesn't seem ready to leave Sterling Cooper for Grey. Why, then, accept Duck's offer to dentally remove her clothing? It made me think back to her previous tryst, with the guy she picked up at a bar earlier this season, which also came on the heels of a rejection by Don (of her ideas for Patio). Confronted by the limits of her power in the workplace, perhaps Peggy finds some reassurance in the power she has over men in the bedroom. In this instance, though, she did little more than acquiesce to Duck's wishes; she seemed less a man-eater than wounded, vulnerable prey.          

I'm curious what you guys made of Don's lashing out at Peggy. Her inquiry about the Hilton account wasn't any more forward than Pete's had been earlier in the episode. Don is prickly to Pete, as is his wont, but ultimately suggests that if Pete lands North American Aviation, Don might consider him for Hilton. Did Peggy just catch Don at a really bad moment? Or does he actually believe that she's only moderately talented and an ingrate to boot? ("You're good. Get better. Stop asking for things," as he puts it to her.)

Peggy's timing was really bad. If there's one thing guaranteed to put Don Draper in a lousy mood, it's talk of a contract. It was his lack thereof that allowed him to thwart Duck's coup last season, and as he impatiently explains to Betty, "no contract means I have all the power—they want me, but they can't have me." (To her credit, Betty makes clear that this is a "business" strategy her husband has made her all too familiar with.) But now Conrad Hilton wants Don, and Hilton's lawyers want him to be secured. Don is so rarely caught off-guard, it was nice to see his preternatural poise shaken in this episode. Having Connie Hilton in his life is indeed going to change things, and not in the way he—or I—anticipated.

It's telling that Don twice finds himself on the wrong side of his own desk in this episode—the first time when Connie shows up at Sterling Cooper unannounced. Patrick, Julia, I wonder whether you guys also found this scene perplexing. Connie tells Don he wants to discuss a matter not fit for the phone, then goes on to describe that matter in terms clearly meant to imply that it's an illicit affair: "I have this involvement"; "I have significant needs—you catch my drift?" It was as if he were testing Don, whose moral makeup he doesn't seem to trust. Yet if this was a test, what exactly did Don do to pass it? His response, essentially, is "Why bring this problem to me?" Was Connie just making sure Don wouldn't say something to the effect of "I know this guy who can make troublesome broads disappear?" Or was this merely the Hilton eccentricity that Bert Cooper mentions later in the episode, his stocking feet propped comfortably on the coffee table?

Bert was the other man to commandeer Don's desk this week, and we were treated to a whole new side of Sterling Cooper's pudding-loving senior partner. Lane tries to get Don to sign the contract by citing its generosity, Roger by making trouble for Don at home. But it's Bert who succeeds in getting Don's Hancock on the document, by playing the trump card he's been patiently holding since 1960, when Pete told him that Don isn't who he says he is. It's thrilling to see Don's tenuously held secret come back to the fore, though I'm concerned about this "no more contact with Roger Sterling" rider Don mentions. Here's hoping that doesn't make it past the lawyers.

After this week's episode, I think it's safe to say that a memo went around to Mad Men's writers and directors before this season began encouraging formal experimentation. Two weeks ago we had the horror movie feel of the hospital scenes, last week the B-movie gore of the foot-shredding. This week, the show opened with three flashes forward in time. What did you guys make of this move? I suppose you could argue that in an episode featuring an astronomical event that turned day to night, it's natural to play with chronology, but I wasn't sure how much this latest experiment really added. I am, however, looking forward to the surely forthcoming Rashomon  episode.

Patrick, as the TV Club's resident lawyer who doesn't use it much, I'll leave it to you to dissect the Henry Francis plot. I'm also eager to hear what you make of the saucy Miss Farrell. Is Sally the only Draper with a crush on her?

I'm not bored,
John

John Swansburg is Slate's editorial director. Follow him on Twitter.