Mad Men, Season 3

Week 9: Don's Strange Response to "I Have a Dream."
Talking television.
Oct. 12 2009 10:56 AM

Mad Men, Season 3

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Week 9: Don's Strange Response to "I Have a Dream."

I couldn't agree more about these two affairs, Julia. I was really hoping you were right when you predicted last week that we'd seen the last of Henry Francis. And I didn't think it possible, but Miss Farrell makes me miss Joy from Season 2. I preferred her straightforward sensuality and carefully designed topless swimsuits to Miss Farrell's cocky idealism and Bowdoin T-shirt. "You think they can understand it?" Don asks Miss Farrell when she proclaims she's going to play the "I Have a Dream" speech to her class. "I think they already know it," she replies. I'm pretty sure I've rolled my eyes every time this woman has been on-screen this season.

I confess that this whole episode left me cold, even the action set at Sterling Cooper. I complained a few weeks ago that it'd been too long since we'd seen anyone come up with an ad campaign. Like you, Julia, I enjoyed the scene in which Don grumpily rejects his underlings' ideas. (His dismissal of Kurt was especially memorable: "Now that I can finally understand you, I am less impressed with what you have to say.") Yet the episode jumped too quickly from those bad ideas to the final campaign, with no sense of how Don got there or even whose idea it was. And while it was refreshing to see a client unmoved by the Don Draper hard sell, Connie's reason for not liking the campaign was so loopy, it had the effect of making me side with Don.

John Swansburg John Swansburg

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.

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I suppose that Connie's reaction to the campaign could have been what drove Don into Miss Farrell's arms, as you suggested, Julia. (Certainly, in a very literal sense, Connie made that assignation possible by giving Don an excuse to leave the house in the wee small hours.) But it was Connie who was really pushing the "you're like a son" thing. I've had the sense that Don wants to please Connie because he is a big client—one that Don reeled in on his own—and because he admires Hilton's trajectory from obscurity to wealth and power. Over that Prohibition-era hooch, Connie also calls Don his "angel" and calls himself King Midas. Is Don so desperate for a father figure that he'd latch on to such ramblings? Maybe. But I couldn't tell whether his response to Connie's rejection of the campaign was that of a spurned son or just a spurned creative who believes in his work. Or whether, like me, Don's getting a little tired of Connie's eccentric self-made-man routine.

As for Sal, I, too, was holding out hope that Don would protect him as he did Peggy last season. I found Don's response to Sal's description of the incident a little puzzling. At first, Don seems not to believe that Sal repulsed Lee Garner Jr.'s advances—"you sure you want to do that?" he asks when Sal swears on his mother that nothing happened. But then Don quickly changes his tune, insinuating that Sal should have done whatever was necessary to please the client, particularly one that's big enough to turn Sterling Cooper's lights out. Couldn't Don have let Sal lie low for a while, as Sal suggests? Was Lee Garner Jr. really going to demand to see Sal's pink slip? I understand that big clients get to be capricious. But how would Lee Garner Jr. explain his vendetta against Sal to Roger, or, for that matter, to Lee Garner Sr.? Maybe Don fired Sal simply because it terrifies him to contemplate a scenario in which a closely held secret comes between a man and his career.

Returning to the "I Have a Dream" speech, I wonder if you guys were also surprised at Don's reaction to it. He tries to turn it off when it comes on the radio, and when Miss Farrell makes him listen, he seems at best uninterested and at worst disgusted by the clip. I wouldn't have expected Roger Sterling to admire King's address, but I would have guessed that Don might recognize its eloquence and the import of the moment. In the past, we've witnessed Don's efforts to keep up with the times—smoking marijuana with his Village girlfriend in Season 1, reading Frank O'Hara in Season 2—and he seems more enlightened about race than some of his colleagues. As we've discussed previously, he chatted up a black waiter in the pilot, and this season he expressed revulsion at Roger's blackface routine. At the very least, as a man who uses words to sell ideas for a living, I was surprised Don didn't seem to recognize King's gift for delivering his message. 

Yet another mention of Dallas this week. The way things are going, I'm now half-expecting Don to be picnicking on the grassy knoll come the season finale.

I really want a pencil case to put in my loose leaf,
John

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