I submit to you that even subpar Mad Men is still better than just about anything on TV. Which is good, because Sunday we got a slightly subpar Mad Men.
Peggy’s story was well-done, and the revelations about Duck hit home pretty hard. But Don’s behavior had me rolling my eyes a little — until a brilliantly written and shot final scene that very nearly made up for what came before it. Not quite, but nearly.
These spoilers lift and separate.
The work portion of Sunday’s episode dealt with Sterling Cooper’s work on a new campaign for Playtex, which says it wants to get away from its rather dry ads about how their bras fit and closer to something like the fantasy-driven Maidenform ads. They come up with a "two sides of the same woman" concept, based on Paul Kinsey’s after-hours brainstorm that all women are either Jackie Kennedy or Marilyn Monroe. It’s a good ad, but the Playtex guys change their mind before the pitch meeting and decide to stick with the tried and true.
Given that everyone else was dealing with their own two sides, the Playtex narrative felt a little too on the nose. But it did offer the way into Peggy’s story, which was for me easily the best of the night’s plot threads.
Peggy, the only woman at Sterling Cooper who’s not in the typing pool, is (justifiably) feeling left out of all the boy’s-club activity where a sizable portion of agency business gets done. She already bears the brunt of animosity from her former secretarial peers and condescension from the men she now works with, and between Kinsey coming up with his idea at a bar and being shut out of casting for the ad, she only feels further marginalized. She’s so frustrated, in fact, that she turns to Joan for advice on how to be taken seriously. "Stop dressing like a little girl," is her advice.
So what do we next see? A dolled-up Peggy meeting the boys (all of whom, save for a jealous Pete, do actually seem pleasantly surprised to see her) at the burlesque joint where they’re toasting the Playtex execs. It’s probably a step forward for her at the office, but it’s still not easy to watch.
Don, meanwhile, can’t seem to tear himself away from Bobbie Barrett, skipping out on work for afternoon trysts at her hotel. Until, that is, she asks for the "full Don Draper treatment" that she’s heard about from another woman. Don’s offended that Bobbie’s been telling (or at least listening to) tales about him, sure, but what he’s really recoiling from is the fact that Bobbie sees him as something of a male version of herself. "Does it make you feel better to think I’m like you?" he spits out, and while we don’t know the answer to that specific question, it’s clear to everyone but Don that he’s scarcely different from Bobbie.
All of that sets up that fantastic final scene, which begins innocently enough with Don shaving the next day. Sally, who’s been established as the very definition of a daddy’s girl the past few weeks, looks up worshipfully at her father and says "I’m not going to talk" (so he doesn’t get distracted and cut himself) — which is just what he was trying to get Bobbie to do the night before. We’ve already seen him be uncomfortable under the adoring gaze of Sally (and Betty too) at the Memorial Day lunch at the country club, but the echo of his time with Bobbie is too much.
The camera then pulls away from Don sitting down in the bathroom, until his reflection (his other side) is framed in a full-length mirror. It’s an amazing shot, capturing his defeated mood just about perfectly.
Finally, we see the other side of Duck. Mark Moses turned in some fine work this week as we saw confronted with his ex-wife’s impending remarriage, the indifference of his teenage kids and the re-acquisition of his (seemingly) beloved dog Chauncey. Oh, and we learn that he’s an alcoholic — and he falls off the wagon, hard, even going so far as to put Chauncey out in the street so he can go back up and take a pull. It’s a brutal scene, but the self-loathing on Moses’ face as Duck walks back into the building is going to stay with me for a while.
A few more notes from "Maidenform":
- Bad Pete is back in a big way this episode, preying on a model (that was Sarah Wright with the big blonde hair) who was rejected at the Playtex casting, playing through the revelation that said model lives with her mom and looking totally pleased with himself after he gets home. Ick. Throw in the daggers he was shooting Peggy when she showed up at the Tom Tom, and you have one sorry excuse for a man this time out.
- Neither Betty’s smitten riding buddy Arthur nor Don was especially pleased to learn about their respective objects of desire having kids. Arthur practically turned himself inside out after Bobby and Sally came up to Betty at the club, and Don registered a pretty similar look upon hearing about Bobbie’s 18-year-old son and college-age daughter.
- Roger Sterling moment of the week: His "Has your wife seen that?" reaction to the sunburned Jane leaving Don’s office, and, even funnier, his head-shake as he departs and gets a look at Don’s new secretary from the back. The man’s a dog, but man is he an entertaining one.
- I can absolutely see the Peggy/Irene Dunne comparison that Don makes when she puts the boys on the spot by asking them if she’s a Jackie or a Marilyn. Sal’s "You’re more classical — Hellenic" was a nice dodge too.
Were you left a little cold by this week’s Mad Men, or did the resolutions work out well enough that you’re willing to forgive? And do you think Chauncey will be OK?