Mad Men, Season Four, Episode Eight, "The Summer Man"
A self-reflective Don Draper--the writer. The show had a completely different feel using the device of the voice-over. "Mad Men" has always been quite literary, but with this chapter, Matthew Weiner said in the short interviews AMC puts on its website after an episode has been aired, they got as close to a short story as they've ever been able to get. As Don strives to become the narrator of his life, to reassert some control, to gain--as he writes--"a modicum of control over how I feel," he takes some important steps forward to pull himself out of the quicksand in which he's been sinking over the past year. Even though he sees this writing as making him like a "little girl" jotting things in her diary, the process gives him insight. He recognizes that his excessive drinking is making it impossible for him to think. Instead of trying to divorce himself from his past, he now knows that "when a man walks into a room, he brings his whole life with him." He's both Don and Dick and he needs to keep the two together. We've seen him do that more lately. Perhaps Anna's death will play a positive role, rather than forcing him to hit bottom. Or maybe hitting bottom is still to come. But, it was nice to see him trying tonight: limiting his drinking (the slow motion/silent sequence in which he watched the others and then himself drink in the meeting was fascinating, while sending the 'blind' Mrs. Blankenship back to the store with the four bottles of booze was funny); controlling himself sexually with Faye; taking charge and asserting himself as Gene's father. It was so sweet to see him with the baby at the end. I thought of that late last season episode in which he sat rocking the newborn Gene in his bedroom in the middle of the night. Perhaps Don is growing up.
And--surprise, surprise--perhaps Betty is starting to grow up as well. We had another scene in which Henry was shown to be the mature adult in that relationship. While I'm not sure what brings Don to Bethany, I'm also not sure why Betty cared. Is she jealous of him because she really believes, as she told Francince, that he's living "the life?" Is it, as she told Henry, because he was the only man she'd been with (except for the anonymous guy in the bar that one night)? Does she resent the "imposter" she now knows him to be getting access to another country club girl? She's used the line, "I hate him!" before, sounding like a petulant school girl. I like how Henry called her on it tonight. "Hate is a strong word. I hate Nazis." When he tells her that he gets bothered by his ex-wife sometimes too, but doesn't hate her, Betty says, "You're a saint." "I'm an adult," he retorts. Go, Henry!
But, it seems to be Francine who turns Betty around, if only for a bit. "You've got everything to lose. Don has nothing." Or, rather, Don already has lost everything: his kids, Anna, his self, even Betty? "We're flawed because we want so much more," he writes in his journal. "We're ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had." Perhaps a bit melodramatic, but insightful. He seems to be trying to figure out what he does want in women. Is his periodic going back to Bethany an attempt to figure out if a wife like Betty really is what he wants? He seems to recognize that it's not: "She's a sweet girl. She wants me to know her, but I already do." He next asks out Faye. This time when he's sober. And he seeks her psychological advice, letting her know he's feeling out of sorts because of Gene. While he's been feeling the victim here: I can't go to the party; I'm not welcomed there; he thinks that man's his father, she wisely counsels him that "all he learns of the world is what you show him." She then passes on the Aesop's Fable about the wind and the sun trying to get a man to take off his coat: kindness, gentleness, and persuasion win. We'll see...
On the office front, though, kindness, gentleness, and persuasion don't work with the cadre of male chauvanist pigs Peggy and Joan are stuck with. Tonight Joey showed himself to be as bad as Stanley did a few weeks ago, but while I cheered Joan on during her "I can't wait until next year when you're all in Vietnam" speech, I was with Peggy more when she fired the idiot; I can't agree with Joan's snarky speech to Peggy on the elevator. It's interesting that both Christina Hendricks and Elizabeth Moss--in the AMC mini interviews I mentioned above--saw Joan as right in rebuking Peggy. And I suppose it could just be my position from 40+ years later that can't allow me to accept that, but I think that even back in 1965, Peggy was right to do what she did. (And Don was right to urge her to do it herself or they'd just think she was a tattle tale.) Those men already saw Joan as just "a meaningless secretary" and Peggy as "a humorless bitch." Peggy firing Joey didn't cause that. Joan looking forward to seeing them die in Vietnam--as cool and collected as she was in delivering that speech--was still a reflection of powerlessness. Joan has always seen her power to lie in her sexuality. Now she's stuck with a bunch of young men who aren't moved by that; not only are they not moved by it, they scorn her for it. Joey compares her to his mother (ouch!) So, let them think of Peggy as a bitch--sometimes that's what women have to be in self-defense. Sexist men have used the "you've got no sense of humor" line for more than 40 years; some still use it. Racists use it when listeners don't like their anti-black jokes; homophobes use it when people don't laugh at their anti-gay jokes. They still need to be stood up to--not agreed with. And Peggy did that admirably. While Don left the Y early in the episode to Mick Jagger singing, "I can't get no satisfaction," recognizing something about his life, I say Peggy should take a lot of satisfaction in asserting some control with Joey. "The fun is over," Joey says to the other guys. Maybe for him, but I hope that for Peggy, it's just beginning.