Mad Men, Season 4

Week 4: "This Actually Happened"
Talking television.
Aug. 16 2010 10:57 AM

Mad Men, Season 4

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Week 4: "This Actually Happened"

Well, gentlemen, we got our wish: The action returned to the office this week, although we still haven't quite seen the gang draft a successful ad campaign. Instead, Faye Miller's Pond's-sponsored sobfest prompted two fascinating confrontations: the first between Allison and Peggy, the second between Allison and Don.

On the first, Michael, I definitely think Peggy is more appalled at Allison's suggestion that she slept her way to the top than she is upset that Don never put the moves on her. What's more, Peggy is unimpressed by Allison's unseemly sentimentality: "Honestly, you should get over it."

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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But Allison can't get over it. When Don tries to comfort her without acknowledging that his actions are the source of her distress, Allison calls him on it: "This actually happened," she says. Don squirms.

This episode was all about the growing schism between the "This actually happened" generation and the "This never happened" generation. Remember Don, to Peggy, after she delivered Pete's secret baby? "This never happened," he told her. "It will shock you how much it never happened." A host of Sterling Cooperites have lived by this rule—your personal business is personal; your mistakes should be handled privately and carried with you to the grave. But Allison can't understand why she must subordinate her own (painful) experience to some abstract code of decorum and "getting over it." And so she cries, and confronts Don, and throws a paperweight at him, and quits.

Pete and Peggy were at the heart of last night's show because they're caught between these two modes of dealing with emotional trauma. For the most part, they're old-school: There was no confrontation and no thrown desk ornaments when they conceived a child and Peggy gave it away. At separate moments in last night's show, they both retreat to their private offices and silently bang their heads against inanimate surfaces—Pete in frustration that he must ditch his father-in-law's account, and Peggy in response to the news that Pete and Trudie are expecting. But as the culture changes around them, both Pete and Peggy wonder what might have been. If Peggy had handled her own pregnancy with the directness and emotion with which Allison handled her dalliance with Don, she might be wearing an engagement ring, rather than just trying Faye's on. (Loved Don's amused look as he catches Peggy in that reverie. Also: Faye is married? Look out, Mr. Faye—I expect Don will be assaying those hillsides before the season's out.)

Instead, Pete and Peggy are left to glance at each other ruefully in the lobby as their paths split: Pete the partner who's just landed a new account, headed for a business lunch and fatherhood, Peggy the creative headed for pot-fueled art happenings, and lesbian flirtations, and possibly some sort of future with the activist writer Abe Drexler (what will Peggy's mother say?).

Mike, I was more charmed by Peggy's new bohemian friends than you: I loved the moment when Megan (of French extraction) says of Joyce, "She's kind of pretentious," and Peggy, intrigued and pleased, says, "I know." It was a funny portrait of falling in with a cool new crowd, and I think Peggy's voyages through bohemia should be more interesting than Don's. ("I'm Peggy Olson, and I want to smoke some more marijuana.") You're right, though, Mike, that the vagina-rental line felt Silverman-esque—although perhaps it's also that Zosia Mamet, who plays Joyce, looks a bit like Sara Silverman. (And yes, it's that Mamet.)

A few further points:

*How much did Joan hate giving up her office for the focus group? I loved her coy "Is it all right if we put this back the way it goes?"

*Why was Pete so confident he could nab the whole Vicks account? I understood what he meant when he said "I'm done auditioning"—he has done well by Clearasil—but why was he so snotty with his father-in-law? (Tom: "You've given me something to think about." Pete: "Really? I think it's pretty simple." Tom: "You son-of-a-bitch." Pete: Insolent shrug.)

*Fill in the blank: "Right now Don's life is very ________." That aborted apology letter actually felt a bit too on-the-nose to me, even if it did show how uncomfortable Don is in Allison's new touchy-feely mode. Still, I'll go with "depressing."

Oh my God, there's some kind of fire—right down by Radio City! I've gotta go,
Julia

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