Mad Men, Season 4

Week 4: Pete Reaches for the Vick's VapoRub
Talking television.
Aug. 16 2010 4:28 PM

Mad Men, Season 4

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Week 4: Pete Reaches for the Vick's VapoRub

Allison (Alexa Alemanni). Click image to expand.
Allison

I'm typing this in my bear costume.

John Swansburg John Swansburg

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.

Julia, I love your observation that this episode was split between the "never happened" and the "actually happened" generations. Don has historically been the poster boy for the former camp, as you noted, but we saw him make some tentative moves toward the latter. He doesn't manage to finish that note to Allison, but he does start it, which struck me as significant. He also casually opens that letter postmarked California in the midst of a conference call and leaves the enclosed photo of Anna out on his desk for all to see. Baby steps toward acknowledging what's actually happened?

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I thought it was a nice touch that what made Alison snap was his suggestion that she write her own reference letter. Alison is angry at Don for sweeping their tryst under the rug, and embarrassed at having succumbed to his charms. But what really throws her over the edge is his unwillingness to sit down and write the letter himself. Asking Alison to write it is sensible, and probably something of an industry standard. But in context it's the ultimate insult. It's not just that he won't take the time to help her, but that he's admitting that he can't enumerate her qualities—the best he can come up with is the canned "you've been sparkling in your duties." It made me want to chuck something at him too.

(Having the paperweight smash Don's framed campaign art was fitting and made for a nice racket, alerting half the office to the drama. But how cool would it have been if Don, ice water pumping through his veins, had unblinkingly caught the orb in his hand and gently placed it on the credenza? In Season 1, it might have happened that way; the new regulations call for fewer shots of Don looking superhuman.)

Like you, Julia, I wondered what had gotten into Pete when he confronted his father-in-law and asked for the whole Vicks shebang. I think there were two things going on here. First, Pete was fresh from his lunch with Kenny Cosgrove. Harry Crane suggests Ken is a comer, but he seemed somewhat dispirited by his work situation. When Ken complained to Pete about Mountain Dew, explaining that his bosses had convinced themselves that landing the account would lead to scoring all of Pepsi, I think Pete saw an opportunity to outdo his old rival by bringing in all of Vicks—lock, stock, and VapoRub.

The other source of Pete's sudden swagger must be Trudy. Did you guys get a little Lady Macbeth vibe from her when she suggested that she be the one to tell her father about the Clearasil conflict? "He feels so guilty," she said. "He'll never feel the knife go in." She doesn't get the chance to get blood on her hands, as Pete ultimately decides to do the dirty work himself. But I think the comment made Pete recognize that he now has more power over Trudy than her parents do—he's the father of her unborn, unexpected child. It was no accident that Pete called to Trudy—ostensibly asking after the ice situation—in the midst of his negotiation with her father. It felt like a veiled threat to me: If you want your daughter to be happy—if you want her family to be provided for—you need to give me what I want. And I want it all.

Did Harry call the guys from CBS gonifs? I'm hoping this might mean we'll soon see some more of the chosen people. (Rachel Mencken barely counts; she was desperate to turn her father's perfectly respectable shmata shop into Bonwit Teller.) Might this Abe Drexler introduce Peggy to the Jewish Way of Love?

Wasn't it surprising that the result of Dr. Miller's focus group was to endorse the course of action suggested by Freddy Rumsen—that is, to market Pond's to women as a pathway to matrimony? Peggy sees Freddy's idea as old-fashioned, but it's supported by the newfangled market research guru …

Michael, you're pretty convinced the old lady didn't buy the pears. Are you similarly confident that you understand what that scene meant? I eagerly await your interpretation.

Finally, I'd like to raise a glass of Maalox to John Slattery for his directorial efforts this episode. That shot of Peggy peering over the transom that you mentioned, Michael, was at once hilarious and, I thought, totally believable. I also liked that we opened with a low shot of Don smoking, right before he explained to Lee that such shots were not allowed under the new guidelines. (A little cute, but it worked for me.) And I loved the composition of (and use of music in) the penultimate scene, the one in which Pete and Peggy exchange that meaningful glance. That glance could have easily collapsed under the weight of that meaningfulness, but Slattery lingered on it just enough. A wonderfully paced, blocked, and shot episode. In a word, swelligant.

I can't say for certain, but I'm pretty sure Ms. Blankenship goes on to be one of Murphy Brown's secretaries.

I'd like a danish,
John

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