by KARA VANDERBIJL
creator Matthew Weiner
The devil has joined Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce in the form of Bob Benson (James Wolk). Last week he stood in an elevator with Don long enough to make the hairs rise on the back of my neck, and Sunday night he bought toilet paper for Pete Campbell. I'm not sure what it is about him, but anybody who seems squeaky clean and has no function in the narrative except to take notes in client meetings and make other characters raise quizzical brows in his direction is scary enough to make me run in the other direction.
Honestly, it would not take much to give us the jitters at this point; the discomfort introduced last week only grew in this episode, garnished with two well-placed allusions to North Korea. That Mad Men evokes our contemporary struggles has been apparent from the beginning, but the distance between then and now was obliterated with Dr. Rosen's wry, "No one took Fidel Castro seriously," right before he rushed off to another surgery. It's an old trick, confronting our fears in fiction. Is learning blind better than observing a lesson and ignoring it?
Similarly, we sense that it is Bob Benson who will watch and take notes as the agency goes up in flames. I half expect to see him slinking around corners with his legal pad and pen, sitting on left shoulders and whispering in ears. He'll be an enabler, opening windows for others to jump out of, pouring that extra glass of whiskey.
Sorry for all the doom and gloom, but how could I think otherwise? Two brief flashbacks to a young Don Draper unveil a lurid fragment of his piecemeal past. That he was raised for a time in a brothel seems too simple an explanation for his relationship with women. I would be more tempted to blame it on a desire to compensate for the many awkward years he spent in homespun with a bowl haircut. Just when it was getting so easy to hate him, they throw this curveball! I had a few teary moments remembering that he watched his father and mother die, that he saw his uncle demand sex from his stepmother for rent money. Childhood is one thing that should be kept absolutely sacred. (I also cried during a Purina commercial, so let's take all of this with the requisite grain of salt.)
Although Don told Dr. Rosen's wife, Sylvia (Linda Cardellini), that he didn't want to sleep with her anymore in the new year, their liaison only intensifies. No lost love between neighbors! If he felt any guilt before it was feigned; Sylvia's own intense shame stems from her Cathollc girlhood, and it is this part of her that Megan appeals to when she confides to Sylvia about her recent miscarriage. The irony behind Megan trying to convince Sylvia to watch her TV show isn't lost on us and certainly isn't lost on Sylvia, who's cooking up enough drama in the Draper marriage to fill an Italian opera. When both of the women in your life are at breaking point, Don, the choice is obvious: go for the one who doesn't want to have a baby.
It's a shame about Megan, because right before we find out about her miscarriage, she's firing the maid and is incandescently hilarious about it. Let's not forget that not so long ago, Betty also resorted to firing the help when she was at her wits' end. We get the feeling that Megan won't be around for long, but that she'll remain a face on the screen, present whenever Don is hungover in his second sad bachelor pad and turns on the daytime soaps.
Affairs and betrayals continue to be at the forefront of the episode as Pete and Trudy Campbell flirt their way around their suburban neighbors. Pete is the only one who goes through with it and invites one of the blonde neighbors for a tryst in his apartment in the city. Like all of Pete's women, she's much too innocent and trusting for her own good (e.g. "I'll park my car in front of the driveway instead of in the driveway so you'll know I'm thinking about you"). When she gets pummeled by her husband, she runs to the Campbells for help. Trudy, we find, had no delusions about her husband's fidelity, but she also won't be made into a fool in front of her neighbors and throws him out, but only so far. She is determined to ruin him, but refuses to divorce him. This may have been the first time I admired Trudy Campbell, but I'm sure it won't be the last.
At the agency, things have taken a turn for the comical; Jaguar's sleazy salesman Herb (Gary Basaraba) wants more local ads as opposed to the glittering national campaign, but Don won't give it to him; why is it that I foresee Joan paying for this obstinance? The Heinz Baked Beans client brings in his colleague, who's in charge of Ketchup, for a visit, but reveals that he doesn't want Don and the crew to do anything for Ketchup because he's got a chip in his shoulder. Stan foolishly reveals this new development to Peggy, who in turn reveals it to her boss, who in turn wants to seduce Ketchup over to Cutler, Gleason and Chaough.
I'm honestly surprised Peggy didn't see it coming, as beautifully cutthroat as she has become in this business. When her secretary reminds her that she should be kind to the writers who work under her, it's a bittersweet moment; we realize that, as much as she has come to resemble Don, she's still trying to please.
Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about Mad Men. She twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.
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