Season 4, Episode 8: Make Room For Daddy

by , Sep 15, 2010, 3:30 PM
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Backed by the use of Don as narrator and the loud, modern sound of the Rolling Stones, "The Summer Man" represents a sea change, in style and tone, from the usual "Mad Men" episode. At first, each seems like an alien affectation.  

The combination of showing Don doing laps in the pool while we hear his voiceover reminded me of "Sunset Boulevard" -- would someone end up floating dead at the end?

Telling us, rather than showing us, is an easier trick for the writers. And while the voiceover seemed more detective-novel-noir than Carrie Bradshaw, the shock is that still, 20 years pre-Oprah, Don is indeed journaling, and earnestly. He's on his way to becoming a recovered alcoholic -- and a bit of a competitive swimmer, too. (Jon Hamm actually swam on his high school team.) I'm not sure what it means that Don reveals that he never finished high school, and that he's a lazy writer.

Certainly, when he steps outside the Athletic Club in his clean white shirt to have a smoke in the sun, the word for word match-up of the lyrics is pretty glaring but also clever ("when I'm watching my TV, and the man comes on to tell me, how white my shirt can be, but he can't be a man cuz he doesn't smoke the same cigarette as me..."). Still, "Satisfaction" as first heard coming out of a transistor radio in the locker room, and then blasting as the main score, establishes the cultural moment raucously, with its built-in critique of advertising, and messy reverberations about (male) sexual freedom. (And huge usage costs? Is that why there was no musical capper at the end?)

Never mind: All in all, it was a brilliant episode, very layered, as usual, and all about cleansing,28/MM02

rebirth, seeing clearly, and growing up. And the shocker was that it was delivered, at times, in the form of a tone poem. Indeed, there was a dreamlike quality to all the proceedings: Is that really our Don, swimming, writing about self-improvement, turning down multiple offers of smooth whiskey and hot sex?

In the all-a-dream department, Don's actions also alluded to the John Cheever short story "The Swimmer." Published in 1964, it's about a burnt-out alcoholic who tries to find his way to his suburban home via swimming from one end to the other of all the local backyard pools. Cheever's fiction has a big pull on Matthew Weiner -- the Drapers live on Bullet Park Road in Ossining as an homage. And wasn't there a violent vending machine scene at the hospital in the Ossining-based episode showing Gene's gruesome birth? (What a poetic line Don comes up with to explain Gene's arrival: "Conceived in a moment of desperation and born into a mess." He's also obviously describing himself.)

More allusions to water and birth: Mountain Dew, the brand for which the agency creative kids can't come up with the proper work, ended up in real life switching from cartoon hillbillies ("Yahoo!") to a modern-day scene with young actors frolicking in a swimming hole, complete with a rope swing.

Certainly it felt good to be relieved of the unrelenting darkness that has characterized so much of the show lately; enough already with the shame spirals and blackouts! Plus, along with her improved eyesight, Don's punishment of secretary, the former hellcat known as Miss Ida Blankenship, provides unexpected comic high points in every episode. I particularly liked when Don refers to the now-cataract-less one as "Ray Charles."

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The writers seemed to be suggesting a division between people who are blind and those who can see, and also adults who behave like children vs. the grown-ups.

And it was a tough episode for the women: Betty is still a petulant child who, sadly for her own children, won't be able to resolve her issues merely by replacing husbands. And the strain between motherly Joan and now grown-up Peggy is ultimately tragic and probably unsolvable.

Let's start with Joan. Stripped of her husband, who, despite the rapey tendencies (an undercurrent that made Joey's remark even more painful) seems to have worked out OK, and stripped of the television department job she was so good at (even though she's at board meetings, she is considered a "glorified secretary" with an office that most employees use to cut through), she is beginning to get lost in the cultural turmoil. In the first episode of the show, she teaches dowdy, unsophisticated Peggy how to dress. Now she's looking like the dated, dowdy one around the office.

She has always used her va-va-voom body, and her innate political smarts, to get along in a "man's world." These days, Roger is a child who has lost his professional potency. The power that she had in protecting and shepherding the secretaries ("the girls") is drying up, as women try to leave the secretarial pool to become the executives they used to assist. The Twiggy body will soon come into fashion; and some of the younger, more arrogant and misogynist guys, like Joey, are beginning to despise those whole-lotta-woman curves that remind them of their mothers, with their manipulation and /or girdled sexuality. When the body is considered a commodity, Joan's figure becomes as flashy and outdated as cars with tailfins.

For his part, Don goes along with the "boys will be boys" line, but at the same time he has mentored Peggy, and tells her, "You want some respect? Go out there and get it for yourself."

After trying to get him to apologize and getting nowhere, Peggy suddenly goes all Trump on Joey's28/MM04

tiny ass, and fires him. In so doing, Peggy thinks she's shown that sisterhood is powerful, that she stood up for herself and Joan and all women. So she's even more perplexed when Joan turns on her in the elevator. "You solved my problem and you must be really important -- you want to be a big shot."

Joan, the now-"traffic manager" explains that she could have done it her way, with a better result, through behind-thepscenes political maneuvering. Joan says she's now seen as a secretary, Peggy shows she has no sense of humor, and "no matter how powerful we get, they can just draw another cartoon."

It's an intractable problem to this day, and they were both right.

Meanwhile, Dr. Faye is becoming an estimable character. The contrast of her date with Don as opposed to Don's date with Bethany is revealing: Bethany asked the prepared question for bachelors, "Oscar or Felix?" She's a younger Betty, strategizing about what she wants in a husband. (And that's what made Betty so crazy.) Even her final act of, uh, interrupted service for Don was capped with "to be continued," which made Don wonder whether she was rehearsing that line all night.

Whereas Don can really open up to Faye, and ask for, and get, good advice. Earlier, she told him that his kids will know he loves them if he shows up. This time, when he tells her about Gene, and says, "I'm not welcome there," she responds with the very wise, "All he knows of the world is what you show him."

With all the hair changes, Dr. Faye looks different in every episode, and her accent is also hard to place (although a little ethnic on the t-sounds.)

Yup, Dr. Faye hardly comes from a fancy, blue-blood background. The telling off of her boyfriend, "Go shit in the ocean," is a direct translation of a Yiddishism. So it turns out that her father is a "candy-store owner" with Mob connections. Don asks what he's like, and she says, "He's a handsome, two-bit gangster, like you."

So she really gets Don, and knows there's a lot that's messy in his past. (Now he has both Peggy and Faye who understand him.)

Just as Francine's advice to Betty -- "You have everything"-- helped her deal with Don when he showed up for Gene's party, so too did Faye's advice help Don to show the kid who his father is.

(Then there's the Henry stuff, and his literally kicking Don and his boxes to the curb. Cutting the lawn showed that, despite his being the adult in the car with Betty, now he was acting like the child. But his career with Lindsay will no doubt be interesting. Discuss!)

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Finally, Don, the elephant in the room, shows up carrying a cute stuffed elephant for Gene. And Betty treats him civilly for the moment. (From the very weak little wave of a greeting that Sally gives him, I wondered whether cruel crazy mama Betty had her manacled to the floor.)

The reality is that baby Gene probably would have cried after being suddenly removed from playing a game with his sister to be put in the arms of a strange man. But Don was using the fabled "kindness, gentleness, and persuasion."

As for Betty's final "we have everything," watch out. To whom much is given, much is required.

0 comments on "Season 4, Episode 8: Make Room For Daddy ".

  1. Jim Palmer from Nonbox
    commented on: September 15, 2010 at 3:53 p.m.

    Another wonderfully insightful analysis, Dorothy, for which we thank you. One additional story line that intrigued me, in the midst of the virtual bevy of them in this episode, was Betty's obvious jealously over Don being with another woman. Her act in the restaurant followed by her performance in the car with Henry on the way home, alcohol influenced or not, showed some very strong feelings. Does Betty regret leaving Don? Or is she simply looking so strongly for happiness herself, and not finding it, that she's wanting Don to be in the same boat?

  2. Thomas Siebert from WOLFGANG SOLO: Strategic Communications & Benevolent Propaganda
    commented on: September 15, 2010 at 4:20 p.m.

    Thank you for catching "The Swimmer" allusion. I immediately thought of the film adaptation with Burt Lancaster, having never read the Cheever story. The movie is haunting enough, and its ghosts definitely hung over this most recent episode.

    Another good analysis!

  3. Sylvia Trevino from Anderson Marketing Group
    commented on: September 15, 2010 at 4:55 p.m.

    Thanks for a thorough and insightful analysis. I look forward to these weekly!

  4. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER
    commented on: September 15, 2010 at 5:59 p.m.

    Great column again.
    Great episode too. So great I hesitate to bring out these whines:
    BUT---the Lindsay thing is ridiculous.
    At that point, Lindsay was trying to run for Mayor against a Democrat (turned out to be Beame) and a Conservative (turned out to be William F. Buckley Jr. who everyone thought would split the vote and give it to Beame). As a pol, Lindsay had two great races in him and both were for Mayor ("He is fresh and everyone else is tired" courtesy of Murray Kempton in '65 and his great apology commercial in 1969 courtesy of David Garth with possible help from a couple of guys from Y&R. Not to mention the outdoor from 1965: "Lindsay is supercalifragilisitcexpialidocious"). He ended up trying to run for President in 1972, but as a Democrat. Rockefeller was the New York Republican Party and would make a strong run for the nomination in 1968 with the last political campaign done in print that I know of-- by Gene Case. For Henry to be flattered or even to listen to the pitch from this Lindsay guy is what is ridiculous. It would have made more sense for the Lindsay guy to "clear the run for Mayor" with the Rockefeller organization rather than boldly announcing Lindsay as a new national GOP figure for Rocky to compete with.
    The shirtless Henry mowing what was formerly Don's lawn in front of Don is more sexually charged and assertive than childish, I thought. Mowing a lawn being the metaphor that it is.
    The stylists working on the show might try to get the art directors to look more like art directors of the period or any period. These guys look like they work in the mail room or the media planning group.

  5. Mary Marcantonio
    commented on: September 15, 2010 at 6:13 p.m.

    Dorothy - spot on, as usual! Regarding the comments of Betty's jealousy when seeing Don on a date - her reaction was nothing more than her usual narcissism. While Joan has backed up her looks with her corporate smarts/wiles, Betty has always been on the Hitchcock blond/Barbie pedestal. Seeing a younger version of herself probably brought home the fact that her "best" days are behind her. On the other hand, little ol' Bethenny's interest in Don certainly perked up after seeing Betty! Rather than regarding Wife #1 as a rival - it seemed to me that it validated Don as "a catch" (as my mother used to say) in her eyes and she was incredibly calculating in the back of that cab! That move probably shocked and snared many an Ivy League undergrad in its day - poor thing doesn't know who she's dealing with in Don Draper, tho!

  6. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY
    commented on: September 15, 2010 at 7:36 p.m.

    Don has a beautiful voice and we don't often know what he's thinking, so I really enjoyed this week's first-person narrative, especially in lines like "I like sleeping alone, stretched out like a skydiver," and "She wants me to know her, but I already do."

    I hope that knowing Bethany will keep Don away from her. Would anyone welcome a demand for "intense, prolonged contact" on the third date? (And why does she pronounce "contact" with three syllables?). I wasn't sure if she was impressed by Betty's appearance, disappointed, or threatened by how much she resembles her, but it was hard to miss how animated Bethany became after meeting Betty or how determined she seemed to one-up her (the incident in the cab blew it for her, I hope).

    By contrast, the cab scene with Dr. Faye led to an incredibly sexy moment for Don -- rejecting her made him much more exciting and interesting than if he'd just taken her to his apartment. There's still something squirrelly about Faye, though -- I can't forget how fake and condescending she was in the Pond's focus group or how she said "Who?" when Peggy asked "Is she alright?" (referring to Alison, who'd fled the group in tears). There's a deeply self-serving sensibility behind all that surface compassion.

    No woman seems right for Don. Like the Mountain Dew boards, Miss Maypole is poisoned forever and out of the question. Betty is twisted with anger and resentment, but this week I could truly believe that she once loved Don. Good thing she has a friend who puts things in perspective, from the futility of fretting over a two-year-old's birthday party to the wisdom of protecting her new marriage. "We have everything," Betty says after putting Gene in "Daddy's" arms, reminding us of Don's earlier words that we get the things we wanted and wish for what we had. In Betty's case, I don't think it's Don she wishes she still had, but the belief that a perfect life is possible.

    I fear for Joan, for all the dated, dowdy, car-with-tailfins reasons Dorothy lists. She's losing her power and risks becoming a joke if she doesn't grow and change. I also pity her friendlessness and distrust of other women, particularly the disregard she shows Peggy. I found it interesting, though, that her speech to the idiot boys about dying in Vietnam seemed like a displaced expression of anger at her husband, just as Henry's driving into Don's boxes seemed like a displaced expression of anger at Betty for her emotional tie to Don.

    So the women are getting sketchier, but Don is making an effort to clean up and become a better man. Yay, Don.

  7. Rob Frydlewicz from RAF Consulting
    commented on: September 15, 2010 at 9:13 p.m.

    At the end of their little chat in the elevator I was kinda hoping Peggy would have said to Joan, "You know, I don't know which is bigger, your boobs or the chip on your shoulder".

  8. Maddy Mud from McMarketing
    commented on: September 21, 2010 at 4:07 p.m.

    nice catch on "The Swimmer." That was an instant-download on Netflix, and next thing I knew it was 3AM in the morning. the end of that movie feels like a Night Gallery ...

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