Mad Men, Season 4

Week 8: Dear Diary …
Talking television.
Sept. 13 2010 2:22 PM

Mad Men, Season 4

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Week 8: Dear Diary …

Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) and Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks). Click image to expand.
Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) and Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks)

Oh dear. Don Draper is keeping a journal. And as introspective-scribblings-delivered-by-voice-over go, Don's musings fall somewhere below Carrie Bradshaw's on the tolerability index. "My thoughts are a jumble," he writes. And how.

Julia Turner Julia Turner

Julia Turner is Slate's deputy editor and a regular on Slate's Culture Gabfest podcast. Follow her on Twitter.

This week, Don begins an attempt to turn his life around. He's swimming laps at the New York Athletic Club, cutting back on workday drinking, and learning the pleasures of sleeping alone. He also may have joined—or at least be reading up on—AA. When Don writes, "They say as soon as you have to cut down on your drinking, you have a drinking problem," it's not entirely clear who the "they" is. Don doesn't appear to have a sponsor and certainly hasn't gone cold-turkey. But later in the episode, when Don writes about the kind of man he used to be, a man who thinks he's an angel and strives for perfection, before realizing "the world isn't perfect," he's using language that echoes some of AA's key tenets (at least as they're expressed on the Wikipedia page). However he's doing it, Don seems to be regaining some semblance of control over his life.

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The episode was a let-down after the bravura of last week's emotionally charged all-nighter. Not only was the voice-over clunktastic, but the plot points felt disjointed and a bit mechanical—the chess pieces being put in place for the second half of the season. Suddenly we learned that Henry Francis may be joining forces with New York mayor-to-be John Lindsay. That Stan may have a bit of a crush on Peggy. That Faye Miller's father is at least a little mobbed-up. And that Harry Crane has developed strange taste in … well, furniture, at least. Still, despite this mash of odd elements, the episode had its charms: I liked its portrait of incipient summer in New York City, and Peggy's clothes have never looked better.

I don't think it was a coincidence, actually, that Peggy looked so smashing this episode, in a smart yellow blouse with a beautifully yoked shoulder, and a trim blue dress that flashed red from its kick pleats. Her fresh and confident wardrobe stood in sharp contrast to Joan's. Mrs. Harris looked as lovely as ever, of course, but Joey's cruel comments about her—that she dresses like a madam in a Shanghai whorehouse, wears a pendant to attract attention to her "tits," and walks around like she's "trying to get raped"—did make me realize that her look has not changed very much during the six years we've seen it. While Peggy's and Betty's wardrobes advance with the times, Joan's remains static.

Perhaps this is because Joan also remains attached to old-fashioned ideas about wielding feminine power in the office. After Peggy fires the boorish Joey for his disrespect, Joan is less than grateful. (And no wonder, given that Peggy herself has been wasting Joan's time with picayune complaints about lost nickels and Lifesavers.) "I defended you!" Peggy protests. "You defended yourself," Joan retorts. She insists that she had "already handled" the situation—by promising to be glad when the creatives at Sterling Cooper die in Vietnam, I guess—and that her backup plan was in place: "One dinner with Mr. Kreutzer [or however it's spelled] from Sugarberry Ham, and Joey would have been off it, and out of my hair." Joan's still pulling sexual strings, rather than exerting her authority explicitly. It'll be interesting to see how Peggy absorbs this advice. She may be more skeptical about Joan's counsel now than she was here.

Meanwhile, Don has dates with both Bethany (who "wants to show him off at the country club") and Faye (who reveals she doesn't come from country club stock). I think Don realizes here that Bethany is Betty 2.0, and that dating a woman with an unsavory past might allow him to reveal his own origins and to open up a little. But what I'm dying to know is why Bethany was so surprised by Betty when they meet: "Her?" she asks incredulously. Was she startled by Betty's beauty? Or her jittery, chain-smoking vibe?

You guys smell nice,
Julia  

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