Despite the bummer of a title, what's not to like about "The Rejected," an episode that begins with a warning about "brief nudity" and then goes on to show a directing credit for Roger Sterling -- uh, John Slattery?
As it turns out, Slattery is as wry and agile a director as he is an actor. As an episode, "The Rejected" is about contrasts: running hot and cold, (everybody's looking for ice! Don says he's gotta go -- there's a fire!) giving and yanking away, painful replacements, extractions, pimple cream vs. cold cream, and mostly, young vs. old.
It was also about privacy, paranoia, and people spying through glass walls, gossiping behind each other's backs, knowing stuff about the other guy before he learns it himself. And what goes on behind closed doors, especially when what happens behind closed doors comes back to bite you in public. (Or almost hit you in the face, as with Allison hurling the golden apple.) It was about resolving unfinished business in a tight space -- with everyone wrangling for offices and power, how what's nobody's business somehow rapidly becomes everybody's business. Indeed, as the no-longer-rumsoaked Freddie Rumsen aptly points out at the focus group session, "How the hell did this get so sad so fast?"
Then there are the rejections: Joan and the older secretary from the focus group, the young photographer's nudes from Life magazine, Allison quitting on Don, Pete having to resign the Clearasil account, Joyce going in for a kiss with Peggy and getting negged.
But back to our show: Open on Don puffing away. Puff-puff, but there's no magic left, although perhaps some Vicks chemicals might help. Even though he tells Lee Garner, Jr., the pain-in-the-ass Lucky Strike client, that they'll be fine with the new federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act, it's about as true as the fire he announced. (Within a few years there will be no cigarette advertising on TV at all, killing the new agency's cash cow.)
For now, Don's all about compliance: there will be no more low camera angles, he explains, because they allow the models to look like superheroes. And although Slattery is slyly shooting Don from below as he says this, he's quite a deflated superhero, having lost his family, his home, his bearings, his mastery over drink, and even his creative spark. He's also rapidly losing ground to the new culture all around him (particularly in terms of women) but perhaps some nascent awareness is stirring in him.
It was pretty much a Peggy and Pete episode, showing the ways each has grown. And in that climactic, almost final scene, they gaze at each other through the looking glass, with Pete staying inside with all the gray-haired old boys, and the formerly repressed secretarial school graduate about to fall down the rabbit hole of countercultural grooviness. Peggy is the new Don, experimenting with the young and bohemian downtown life, while Pete, a bit less weasely as an expectant father, has grown more corporate. I wanted to congratulate him with, "Today you are a suit."
I thought that Joyce, the new lesbian, is a fabulous character, wonderfully played by Zosia Mamet (the daughter of David Mamet and Lindsay Crouse.) But I'm wondering if any kooky beatnik types ever worked at Time Inc. (Although there must have been some in the art departments.) It was always a buttoned-up, highly WASP-y place. Joyce, as a friend said, looks more like she should work at The Nation. I must say she wears her manly blazer well, and when she hangs out with Peggy in a loft in the meat-packing district (Washington Market) when it was still packing meat, she seems much more tuned-in to the copywriter than Mr. Swedish Sex. (Although the vagina dialogues seem a little too modern.) Peggy looks pretty at the party in her Jean Seberg stripes (what? no beret?) and she's back to her "I'm Peggy Olson and I want to smoke some marijuana" fighting form.
Arty Abe looks interesting. Although just as with the California shots, these bohemian things always seem a little too phony/dreamy to me. Peggy and Abe part hurriedly after their sweet kiss in a closet, but it's not as if Nazis are hunting them. When she and Joyce run on the street afterwards, they are setting the scene for Samantha in "Sex and the City" 40 years later.
I've got to say that I don't like Dr. Faye, with or without the E. I had high hopes for her. But her way with the secretaries was patronizing and condescending. Plus, what's with the engagement ring she gave Peggy to hold? I thought she had set her sights on Don. More important, how does a focus group with the agency secretaries -- who know they are being seen from the other side of the glass -- count as serious research? And Faye seemed to be leading them by starting out saying, "Let's make believe we're at a bridal shower with tea."
The endnote, with an old man in Don's hallway standing outside his doorway, repeatedly asking his shopping-cart-pushing wife, "Did you get the pears?" provided perhaps the weirdest coda of the season. In its opacity, it's the "What's the frequency, Kenneth?" of the moment, begging for interpretation.
So I'll take a few stabs: that this old woman is concerned about propriety and her privacy, and not discussing her bidness in public?
Or that for once, Don is not shuffling home drunk, but clear-headed, and in his nascent self-awareness, thinking about relationships, and, um, pairs? Does Don want to be alone in his slightly depressing sublet -- or for that matter, to be that doddering man?
That a pear evokes a womanly shape, which suggests the nude, arty photos, and that what is considered risqué or "dirty" -- and rejected by Life -- will soon be accepted in the rapidly changing culture?
Or merely, that in addition to his obsession with withering limbs, Matthew Weiner also has a thing for old people and fruit? (If you remember back to when Gene, Betty's dad, moved in, he smelled oranges while eating chocolate before he died, and the last thing he did was go to the supermarket to buy peaches for Sally.) So does the scene remind Don that he himself had a father, and a father-in-law -- and for that matter, a baby boy named after the peaches purchaser, with whom he's spent precious little time?
Hope it gets less sad, real fast.