Episode 6: (John) Deere In The Headlights -- A Bloody Good Show! Plus, Don Puts The Don Back In Madonna!
We got to see both Don and Joan, consummate actors in their roles at Sterling Cooper, at last display some genuine emotion at the office. (They're both disappointed.) In the end, they seem to understand each other. The Brits show up, as does Conrad Hilton. But on the eve of Independence Day, having a tipsy Lois tear up the strip on an errant tractor-bender established a shocking, brand-new, viscerally thrilling tone: half Lucy Ricardo, half Quentin Tarantino.
The point is, everything changes. As Joan put it, "One minute you're on top of the world. The next minute, some secretary's running over you with a lawnmower."
There were equal thrills and chills both at Sterling Cooper and at the Draper home. Open on Sally and her sleeping problem. While cradling baby Gene nonstop, Betty has gone back to being the unavailable zombie mom to Sally and Bobby that she was during the separation. The life-saver for Sally is that the less Betty's there for her daughter, the more Don has stepped in, becoming the loving, tuned-in parent. (Poor Bobby seems to be on his own. "Go hit your head against a wall," Betty tells him when he says he's bored, as she cuddles the newborn in the seclusion of her bedroom. "Only boring people are bored." He asks to "pet" the baby, as if Gene's an exotic find who's kept away from him behind bars. And the translation of "I'm bored" is more like, "I'm your child, too. Won't you love me?"
Sally is so used to that treatment that when Don enters her room at 10 p.m. (do you know where your children are?) and asks why she's up, she becomes defensive, and says, "I know you don't own the electric company." He seems to know exactly why she's worried (he shares the same fear of the ghost of Gene coming back) and comes up with the idea of the night-light.
In between, I loved the cutting to the quintessential American dinner scene -- Ritz crackers, chicken salad, and a Budweiser beer -- while the Drapers discuss a move to London. The idea that Bert Cooper had planted in Don's head, to reverse the British pattern and spread his creative seed to the London office, had indeed gone to his head. And Betty seemed heady with delight at the prospect of a proper British nanny and a pram.
Back on earth, Betty picks up the night-light, as instructed, along with a surprise present. And indeed the way she sits ramrod straight on Sally's bed and motions her to come over signaled to me that she was ready to show her the Modess box, complete with a "sanitary belt," to prepare her for her monthly "friend."
Sally sits with trepidation, with good reason. Betty delivers a different kind of female mind-bomb entirely. This set-up, with the coffin-shaped box, buried under the pillow, elaborately wrapped in paper from the comic pages, ostensibly from the baby, comes from some parallel dimension. When Sally reads the card from Gene, who wants to be her friend, and says "Babies can't write," her Wellesley-educated mom responds, "You know babies get fairies to do things!" Sally opens the box, and it's a Barbie doll. But instead of kissing or hugging her, or telling the desperate kid "I love you," Betty turns into the mother from "Ordinary People." "You are very important to me, too" she says robotically, and leaves the room.
Now can we take a bit of a detour on the Barbie issue? According to "Forever Barbie" by M.G. Lord, Barbie was a version of a sex toy sold in Germany, rebooted for the American market in 1962, and sold to Moms as a "fashion model" grooming-aid for girls. So Betty naturally would have gravitated to Barbie. As a long-legged, blonde model, she is Barbie, after all. Sally is blonde-ish, too. So if you're going to go down the Barbie road, why give the girl the doll with the black-haired bubble cut? It looks goth, and hacked-off. The doll is an evil talisman from a baby, or worse, a fairy!
But there's a foot issue going on here, too. According to Lord, Barbie is also a space-age version of a Neolithic fertility doll. Her tiny pointed feet, made to fit into high heels, are more like spades to scoop up the earth. So the fact that Sally threw the doll into the bushes -- back to the earth -- was entirely appropriate. When Barbie reappeared, sitting upright on her dresser and scaring the living daylights out of Sally, it was something straight out of a Grimm Brothers-style fairy tale.
But speaking of pedal extremities, let's get back to the high-octane action at the office. The muckety-mucks at PPL are visiting on the eve of July 4th, and I love the way the ever-officious Hooker announces it as if preparing for a royal visit. Or setting up a Potemkin Village -- a false front for visiting dignitaries -- straight out of Dostoevsky.
He actually asks Joan if she can find more attractive secretaries to sit up front (and she, ever smart and sassy, suggests bringing in prostitutes, and alludes to the 1963 Profumo scandal.) He jokes with Paul Kinsey that he should shave his (beatnik-ish) beard. "Who are you people?" the very self-important, pipe-smoking copywriter responds. (Just to show his independent American spirit, Paul is in his office strumming his guitar when the Brits arrive. What a rebel! But the moment nicely foreshadows the use of the Bob Dylan song "Song to Woody" at the end.)
And what's with Roger being pushed out? In his increasing powerlessness (he was left off the reorganized corporate flow chart) he tells Don that he doesn't want to be judged. It is curious that Roger is one of the only people around whom Don has judged. While recommending a manicure to Don, Roger tells a ghoulish story about his father, the "tallest, handsomest, and vainest man in New York," who lost a hand in a car accident. "They never reattached the hand," Roger says, but "in the casket on that one hand, the nails were perfect."
And that's a set-up for what comes next at the office -- where the Brits arrive and are as polished and oily as could be. The guy who has a "real spark" according to Roger, (although he was the one who left him off the organizational chart) is accounts man Guy MacKendrick, who, through his over-the-top verbal effluvia, is a British version of a real back-slapper. His grandiose prose sounds like something out of "The Bachelor" and/ or "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous." To "Mrs. Harris," he wishes "caviar and children." To the gathered office clan, he says, "Enjoy your champagne and delicatessen!"
The whole thing with shipping Pryce off to Bombay to thank him for his sterling service in New York is also odd -- as strange as the creepy gift of a stuffed snake. Are the writers setting up some snake vs. mouse game? When Don meets with Hilton, and takes a look at his rather lame advertising, which seems to copy Disney's Mickey Mouse as a brand trademark, he tells him that no one wants to see a mouse in a hotel. After forcing Don to give him free advice, it was odd that Connie would then chasten him for not thinking bigger, and Don tells a story about an overfed snake. Is the corporate world made up entirely of mice and snakes?
Meanwhile, Joan finds out that her would-be surgeon hubby did not get the promotion. "I ran into Ettinger and he said I had no brains in my fingers," he tells her, with surprising candor, even if he's drunk. Which means another year of residency, and that she needs to keep her job.
I was hoping that when she returned to the office the next day, she would pull a George Constanza. In one "Seinfeld" episode, he quits on Friday, leaves, and then reconsiders, and just comes back into the office on Monday and tries to resume working as if nothing had happened.
But Hooker wheels out the goodbye cake (It says, "Bon Voyage" -- as foreshadowing the Titanic or ship of fools?) and the party begins. Peggy is in nowheres-ville-the secretaries don't include her in their plans, nor is she one of the boys.
She and Joan seem to be on the brink of an intimate moment when Lois comes through, extruding fresh MacKendrick ankle meat. (The spatter of blood recalled Jackson Pollack, whose work would seem spot-on within the walls of the mid-century Sterling Cooper office.)
Obviously, switchboard operator Lois has no brains in her fingers, head, or toes. But Joan is all brain, and springs into action, probably saving Guy's life with a tourniquet. (Let's see if she can apply the same palliative to her own life, which is hemorrhaging in front of her like her husband's almost-dead career.)
There's more death talk in the hospital. Pryce and Don also seem to have a genuine moment, when he tells Don that he's been reading "Tom Sawyer," and he feels like he's been to his own funeral, and "didn't like the eulogy." The rest of the Brits show up. They say Guy's career is over because he lost his foot. Now, an empty foot in an empty suit would not seem to be so tragic. But the Brits feel differently. St. John reveals why, while delivering the hilarious line "Doctors said he'll never golf again."
In the end, Don is shown at home, not only whole, but as a Madonna figure, rocking both his daughter and new baby son. "We don't know who he is yet, or who he's going to be, and that's a wonderful thing," he says, and that's no fairy tale -- he's a man with a masterly grasp of the subject.
Lois, however, has some 'splainin' to do.