Episode 701: Howl -- Or, How Don Draper Has Become The Consummate Second Banana

madblog-s7e1In one of the least expected openings in “Mad Men” history,  “Time Zones” begins with Freddy Rumsen addressing us directly.

Of all the gin joints in all the towns! Yes, that Freddie Rumsen, the former copywriter/ drunk who peed his pants before a client meeting and was put on “leave” from Sterling Cooper; the guy who gave Peggy her first break.

 “Are you ready?” Freddy asks. “This is the beginning of everything.”

And then, we watch transfixed as Freddy talks about an Accutron watch, using words that seem to be (and are, as we discover later) pure Draperian poetry. Freddy mentions ambitious, long-haired young men, still in their “youthful colic,” wearing the watch and attracting the attention of white-haired elders.  He talks about the “fluid sweep” of the second hand, and the “electronic hum” of time being kept.

And then the monologue ends with the graceful tag line: “It’s not a timepiece. It’s a conversation piece.”

Pull back to reveal that Freddie is not speaking to a camera, nor us, but rather, pitching Peggy on some work.

 “I wasn’t expecting that,” she says, as the stand-in for the blown-away audience.

And then, creative director Peggy proceeds to change the final line to “It’s time for a conversation,” to somehow make it hers. And she ruins it.

Although this was the least-watched “Mad Men” opener since 2008 (in live numbers at least) and got a mixed critical reception, probably due to not a lot of forward action, I loved it. 

Filled with creator Matthew Weiner’s usual obsessions, it’s about what Mad Men is always about: reality, duality, identity, pain, and mortality. Plus lots of doors, doors that sometimes open and sometimes close, and also tend to get stuck.

Mad Blog 701Like waiting for the proverbial Chekhovian gun to go off once it’s introduced in the first act, the fear of death has hung over the story since the opening “falling man” graphic appeared as the start of the first episode in 2007. In fact, Slate has come up with the “Don Draper Doomsday Clock,” where it’s currently 14 minutes till midnight.

And, as the title suggests, this episode was mostly focused on the “electronic hum” and “sweeping second hand” of time, and full of foreboding.

It’s January of 1969, only two months since we last saw the “gang.” But much has happened in that short period. Roles have changed, or reversed.

Ken, for example, a formerly balanced, fiction-writing account guy, has, by dint of taking on more responsibility, turned into a cartoon of a screaming, stressed-out account director. He’s still wearing the eye patch, the result of that hunting accident with the Chevy client. And, as he strains to get through the day, it seems as  though his other eyeball is about to pop.

As with many of the characters in this episode, he mentions chronologies, that “Bob in Detroit calls at noon” and “Pete in L.A. calls at 2.”  As he gets yet another phone call, he tells Joan, “ You see? I don’t even have time to take a shit!”

JMad Men  701oan’s accustomed to men acting less than gallantly. For her, it’s more of the same.  She holds everything together, saving a shoe account, “although it’s just a matter of time before we lose it.” And although she’s an account person, she still operates under the radar, as she did way back when, when she was reviewing TV scripts without getting the credit, using her weekends to get a leg up.

And as they have before, Peggy and Don seem to be two sides of the same dark coin.  Lost without the work she loves, a significant other, or a grounding home life, Peggy is turning into her mother.

And former alpha man Don is toying with becoming a wife. Or perhaps a son.

In the episode’s most visually stimulating scene, Don is emerging from his plane, on a people mover,  getting picked up on the other end by Megan.   Although he tells both Megan and a woman he meets later that he has to “get back to work,” it’s only true in the existential sense, since he is in job limbo -- and also in limbo about pretty much everything in his life, including whether he will drink, smoke and/or have affairs, all of his regular go-to behaviors.

Megan shows up looking glorious, in a baby-doll micro-mini dress, driving an Austin-Healy convertible, like an impossibly glamorous Bond character. She walks toward him in slow-mo as a phenomenal musical choice plays: the Spencer Davis Group, with a teenage Stevie Winwood, singing

“I'm a Man.”  Except Megan’s the Man.

Mad
Men 701 In contrast to her fabulosity, Don wears a hat with a feather and an airplane bathroom shave. He says, “I like your car,” the same line the blonde teenager Vicki uses, with her Bronx accent, on Jake LaMotta when she meets him in “Raging Bull.” And then Don gets in the passenger seat (which is stuck) as Megan handles the stick and, like a time-strapped soccer mom, tells him “Your flight was late and we’ll have a quick dinner.”

And he is emasculated throughout the visit, starting with the idea of being “bicoastal” (a word that wasn’t used in 1969.) He has no coast, and no sex. There’s the awkward dinner with Megan’s obnoxious agent, where she finds out she got a callback.  She’s drunk (a reversal of their usual couple behavior) when they get back to her house in the hills. He seems overly afraid about the coyotes howling in the canyons, and she dismisses his fears. She falls asleep in her clothes (like Don) but not without another Mommy directive, cautioning him not to throw cigarettes off the balcony, because somehow “they know” where the fires start.

But there’s no fire starting here, in this little paneled frontier house.  Throughout the show, much is made of the East Coast/West Coast divide. At the time, California did symbolize sunshine, freedom, and the possibility of a new life, while the East Coast was cold, grey, shutting down and dying.

The clip of Nixon’s inaugural speech was to me as unexpected as what came out of Freddy’s mouth. His words soared, brilliant and  poetic. What’s more, Nixon himself was a Californian, but an especially dark and dour one. The fact that his paranoia and self-sabotage caused his removal from office seems to suggest a parallel with Don.

But Don has a long history with escaping to, and being in love with, California, starting with his visits to the very first Mrs. Draper, a faux-wife/mother and the only person with whom he ever felt “himself.”

Mad Men 701But his time at Megan’s house in the hills is horribly confining and claustrophobic. He can’t get comfortable -- on the couch or in the bed -- because it’s obviously not set up for him. When the doorbell rings (seeming to fake us out with an ominous Sharon Tate portent -- strangers at the door in a remote Hollywood Hills house), it’s only the delivery of a surprise gift from Don: a giant TV/radio/hi-fi combo. “It’s huge!” Megan complains. It’s an obvious violation of her space, as is Don and his manparts.

When she leaves for work, she wakes him up on the couch. “I wanted to catch you before you went to the office,” she says. Don had fallen asleep with an open Playboy on his chest. “Don’t tear the ads out of my magazines,” she clucks. (He’s even jealous of the coq in the dinner she prepares, asking her “any wine left, or did the chicken get it all?”)

The flight home presents Don with his dark haired Ur-mistress type, played by Neve Campbell, who talks about the death of her husband, who "was too thirsty and died of thirst" before his 50th birthday. His ashes are spread on Tom Sawyer Island in Disneyland. (Tom had to watch his own funeral, if you recall.) And this alluring female stranger and Don seem to have an easier time talking, and are more comfortable sleeping together in the confined space of a plane, than Don and Megan are in her bed. But in the end, he turns Ms. Neve  down. Why? Maybe because she’s too available, maybe because talk of the thirsty guy put the fear of death in him.

Mad Men 701The final chronology is laid out by Freddy, who reappears, thrillingly, at the end, to close the loop on the identity of the copywriter.  Freddy tells Don that he’s got to stop the “Cyrano” act, and get them both jobs. Freddy, himself a cautionary tale, although now a successful member of AA, doesn’t want Don to end up as “damaged goods.” And he lists all that Don has missed at Sterling Cooper: “Christmas, the Super Bowl, pretty soon it will be Easter" (the resurrection).

This time, however, Don seems to be resisting rebirth. A ticking time bomb of an episode, it ends bleakly, but with the inspired use of Vanilla Fudge’s haunting, psychedelic cover of “You Keep Me Hanging On”: Don, out in the cold, on his own balcony, where the East Coast coyotes, in the form of ambulance sirens, howl ominously. He’s sitting hunched, almost in a duck and cover position. He knows that he “ruins everything,” as he told his seatmate. He’s not sure whether he has “broken the vessel.” 

The camera pulls back, to show his fake apartment where he has been a fake husband, to end the first episode in this first part of a false extension of a season. Meanwhile, Roger is in carnal hell, Pete loves bagels and California, and Ted is suffering and beige. 

Now, more than ever, it’s time for a conversation! 

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40 comments about "Episode 701: Howl -- Or, How Don Draper Has Become The Consummate Second Banana".
  1. Nancy Arter from Nielsen , April 15, 2014 at 3:41 p.m.
    Nice synopsis of a great first episode! I, too, loved it. As usual, the writing and camera-work was brilliant. I love this show, whether a false extension of a season or not. Look forward to "both" final season episodes.
  2. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , April 15, 2014 at 4 p.m.
    Joel Murray. Brilliant one-take performance. Wish they had award-recognition for such things. Seemed like a journeyman actor until this. Also--the difficult thing--actually doing a great ad/commercial/tagline to show someone's real talent at an arcane trade. Best ad of the series, great tagline. Roark-Cyrano-Love Letters/Joseph Cotton notion, but done very well. Was expecting boring episode and got a great one. Usually your write-ups are better than the show; this time you're even.
  3. Adrian Lichter from Adrian Lichter, Inc. , April 15, 2014 at 4:36 p.m.
    Yes, your write-up was as good as the show. Two things about the dinner with Alan Silver, the crazed agent. First, his accent was invented in some other planet or galaxy yet to be discovered (can't wait for him to pop up again). Then, Megan got a CALLBACK, not a part. However, in LA that's a big deal, even today. Grasping at the straw that could mean stardom. If I had a buck for every actor who was "up for a part" (meaning one of 20 to be called back), or for every great tag line that was ruined by a creative director who was jealous (like Peggy was of Freddy/Don), I could afford take you out for a great lunch.
  4. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , April 15, 2014 at 4:39 p.m.
    Awesome write-up. Mad Men episodes are usually slowly paced, so this one, covering as much as it did, almost felt frantic (although only Ken was). I wanted to put it on pause so I could think, before the next round of imagery came at me. Interesting how so much commentary has complained about how the show has moved away from advertising and the office. But, every angst-laden element in this episode has some type of work tie-in. I hope they have some fun soon but I doubt it. Maybe the Mets will cheer them up. The 1969 season will start in a few months.
  5. Bonnie Schwartz from Academy for the Love of Learning , April 15, 2014 at 4:43 p.m.
    I always love your synopses of these episodes, Barbara, and this one is no different. I would add one thing, however, and that is that in the airplane scene with Neve Campbell, I do not think he refused her entreaty primarily because she was too available (though that might have played a part). This episode was all about Don's obsession with his work, given that he is locked out of it. This is his pattern: he takes for granted what is in his grasp, and longs only for what is not. As far as I can remember, he has never before uttered the words that he "has to get back to work" as many times as he did in this episode, nor has he ever (in my memory) refused a tempting assignation because of a work-related obligation. His world, now, is upside down. Poor Don.
  6. mike sugimoto from pepperdine , April 15, 2014 at 4:44 p.m.
    I definitely enjoy your writing together with the series. It's hard to understand the starkness of the LA/NY divide that's evoked in an Annie Hall kind of manner, but not sure if it's because LA has become more like NY, or vice-versa or the relative cheapness of air travel and communication so the divide seems not as great anymore? Random notes: cole slaw in the pastrami ARE fabulous. Vanilla Fudge's tune seems a bit old, if I were to get nit-picky here? Loved Pete's transformation. He must know how to drive a stick by now! Why all the religious posturing with Peggy's prostrate, quick look up to God, then balling scene?
  7. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , April 15, 2014 at 4:47 p.m.
    Adrian-- thank you, a Call back. the agent's accent was nearly as bad as that horrible comedian who did the Utz ad. I guess Weiner doesn't know a true New York accent. Pete's sudden affinity for the Jews and bagels is pretty funny, no? Didn't get a chance to talk about the new CD-- who processes the work and puts it out there like it's canned hams.
  8. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , April 15, 2014 at 4:53 p.m.
    was that really canter's on fairfax they were in?? seemed updated.......
  9. Martin Kleinman from Communications Strategies , April 15, 2014 at 5:01 p.m.
    Loved the episode and the music selections were a great touch, as you noted. Pete's attire was perfect in its forced, dopey-ness. Hope Neve Campbell is a recurring character. joni mitchell's song "coyote" is from '76, but it would have fit as we see don shivering on the terrace. can't wait for the next episode...
  10. Yale Hollander from Freelance Writer , April 15, 2014 at 5:09 p.m.
    Alan Silver mentioned the need for Megan to get her teeth fixed for her upcoming gig. Having seen some recent photos of Jessica Pare and her still-prominent ivories, I am led to believe that Megan is either going to fail to get the part in "Bracken's World" or she will meet another fate, quite possibly as a result of her decision to reside within the Manson Family Playground.
  11. Tom Scharre from The Hunch Fund , April 15, 2014 at 5:14 p.m.
    Like most literary analysis (and that's how I regard your episodic deconstructions), you infer things that may or may not have been deliberate on the part of writer. But, your take is always well-reasoned. Funny how different things bug different people. You have a thin skin for ahistorical idioms; I, on the other hand, was bothered by the delivery of that honking big 'entertainment center'. Since when does something of that ilk get delivered sans box? Also, I thought Don declining his seatmate's come-on was related to her late husband dying of 'thirst'. If Don is not an alcoholic, he most certainly has a 'drinking problem' & the detail about the late husband seemed cautionary to me. But who knows? I just wish the final season were 14 consecutive episodes, not a two-year torture test.
  12. Claudia Reilly from none , April 15, 2014 at 5:17 p.m.
    What a fabulous article. After I read your pieces about "Mad Men," I feel as if I have been listening to a brilliant art historian speaking of a painting I have seen, but not seen with depth of vision. You give such great insight into the show and the characters. Your discussion of Nixon and Don was brilliant. Your discussion of the use of time in the episode was amazing. Now I want to watch the episode all over again, the way as a college student I loved looking at a painting after a professor made it come alive for me.
  13. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , April 15, 2014 at 5:28 p.m.
    I love reading the comments. I agree with Yale Hollander, the teeth stay as they are and Megan's not getting the part. What despair will she fall into? As I recall (am I that old?) a console TV did not come in a box. Yeah, we had one.
  14. Dorothea Marcus from Weichert Realtors , April 15, 2014 at 5:30 p.m.
    Great recap, Barbara. I, too, loved the episode. Would have also loved to hear more of your take on Peggy's poignant state (heartbreaking collapse at end like Don), Roger's continuing dissolution, and Joan's masterful handling of all the jerks, including the patronizing biz professor. Yes, and who is the new CD? Did we even know him last season?
  15. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , April 15, 2014 at 5:34 p.m.
    We had that giant console TV, too. We kids were thrilled when we got it. I believe it was delivered like a big piece of furniture-- just carried in by the trucker guys. I think I will write a separate column about the new CD. And Peggy's mournful prayer-- her crisis of spirt, was really dispiriting!
  16. Lisa Wright from KFWB News Talk Radio , April 15, 2014 at 5:41 p.m.
    Loved the recap, loved the episode and love the comments! I'm just sad that that this is the beginning of the end!!!!!
  17. Lisa Wright from KFWB News Talk Radio , April 15, 2014 at 5:42 p.m.
    I spent 20 years in agencies and had countless meltdowns similar to Peggy's except I actually had them in the office!! Lol.....
  18. Adrian Lichter from Adrian Lichter, Inc. , April 15, 2014 at 6:12 p.m.
    Barbara, Silver's "accent" was too terrible to be an accident by Weiner. More like Bronson Pinchot in Beverly Hills Cop 1--a creation unto itself, based I guess on Brooklyn, Gay, Sunset Strip...? And the glasses? Wow. Not only did Don not know what kind of animal this was, I had trouble myself...sort of.
  19. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , April 15, 2014 at 6:24 p.m.
    A little Long Island on top of Brooklyn. Somebody who moved from Flatbush to Patchogue. I was trying to find out who wrote Nixon's speech. Pretty underrated: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=1941..........maybe raymond price, gavin, buchanan, ben stein.................safire was doing agnew....pretty good writers..........
  20. AC Winters from ACWintersEsq , April 15, 2014 at 7:16 p.m.
    Nicely done, Barbara. I've obsessively read a lot of recaps already, and no one else pointed out the parallels between Don and Dick Nixon. Err, I mean Dick Whitman. Interesting. Amazing to think of Don being so uncool.
  21. Maria Elgar from HARDTRIBE , April 15, 2014 at 7:51 p.m.
    love this recap as usual you answered some questions i had outstanding however i still want to know - what was neve campbell referring to when she said about her husband and the "others" that "they will all be dead in a year"? i think megan's house was supposed to be Laurel Canyon hippie-ish - loved it and have been homes exactly like that and yes i think that was supposed to be cantors. didnt look like nate n' als. the slo-mo of megan at the airport was almost overly gorgeous just wow! i found the season premiere VERY satisfying!
  22. Deg Farrelly from Arizona State University , April 15, 2014 at 8:45 p.m.
    A small detail that JUMPED out at me... the deli with Don and Pete, over Don's shoulder you can spot a piece of a glass room divider screen. It happens to be higgins glass, an art glass from Chicago that I collect. Their "rondelay screens" and hanging lamps were used in restaurants. There is a well known vintage screen in a diner-type restaurant in the San Diego area. A small detail that made my heart sing... while everything else was painful
  23. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , April 16, 2014 at 9:35 a.m.
    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/375841/mad-men-fans-are-unappeasable-destroyers-joy-tim-cavanaugh
  24. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost , April 16, 2014 at 3:31 p.m.
    Always love your write ups. Though, as a woman, I think you judge Don harshly. I think he's going through some stuff. I also think he's always been ahead of his time and more decent than you ever give him credit for. I did notice something you didn't mention, Peggy is not Don's replacement, Lou is. And he's no Don Draper. He doesn't care about anything, let alone the idea of a woman copywriter. He was horrible to Peggy. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm just immune to your charms..." Also, the theme I picked up on was Don as the OUTSIDER. He didn't belong in Megan's home, he didn't belong with the dark haired woman (and he wants to, so no nookie there, Megan is freezing him out). He chose to sit outside in the cold because he couldn't figure out how to close the door. Which seems to be where he is. Frozen out of his marriage, his company and unable to close the door. He's just sitting out there not sure of what to do next... No?
  25. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , April 16, 2014 at 3:45 p.m.
    Lou resembles no one I ever met in advertising, but I led a sheltered life. He seems like someone with a great contract and a fine severance. It is interesting that Don broke bialys with the guy who tried to blackmail him and get him fired over his real name and his brother. Nice plotline would be Freddie sweeping the awards shows and getting the CD spot at Sullivan Stauffer Colwell and Bayles, to drop a name.
  26. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , April 16, 2014 at 4:29 p.m.
    Lou reminds me of some creative directors I knew at larger agencies who were interested in creative that the client would buy. It is discouraging to only deliver work that is "acceptable."
  27. Bob Shiffrar from Lehman Millet , April 16, 2014 at 5:12 p.m.
    Tom, that deli scene reminded me more of the old Junior's in Westwood. I think it closed last year, but maybe the interior guts are still there for the filming? And although the food there wasn't very good, they did indeed put the slaw on top of the pastrami. As for the whole "Sharon Tate" scenario, since Mad Men pulls real headlines from the year they're currently in, I suspect the Manson murders will come up, but doubt Megan will somehow become a victim. Because she wasn't. They don't change historic storylines as far as I remember. I suppose she could be a Benedict Canyon neighbor though. And when the coyotes howled and Megan said "They're far away, the canyon just makes them sound close," it reminded me of Vincent Bugliosi's line in Helter Skelter: "It was so quiet, one of the killers would later say, you could almost hear the sound of ice rattling in cocktail shakers in the homes way down the canyon." Perhaps "the coyotes" are far away in New York, but they feel close to Don. Who I'm sure would love to hear his own cocktail shaker about now. And wasn't that very last shot a doozy? Did you notice the cross-shaped shadow in the far background, creating the crucifixion scene? Don as Jesus, dying for Peggy and the rest of his disciples. Will he rise again?
  28. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , April 16, 2014 at 5:46 p.m.
    Wow, Bob, yes, very death and resurrectionish. I think he'll get himself together (we can't struggle again the way we did last season. THere would be a viewer insurrection! ) and find work and another love. For the moment.
  29. Meagan Phillips from Goodby Silverstein & Partners , April 16, 2014 at 6:56 p.m.
    So good! I forgot about Tom Sayer watching his own funeral. Great observation. I also love when Peggy breaks down and cries by herself.
  30. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , April 16, 2014 at 7:02 p.m.
    was it juniors? in westwood? i went to ucla summer of 67 and the enduring place on wilshire in westwood was a name that escapes me......somebody wrote something about ontario airport being location for shoot.....i remember ontario as a town east of LA, west of Riverside where i lived when i got my first ad job in LA.....they shoot this show on figueroa in a nice studio....maybe they can do the pantry cafe...myfavorite place when i lived in the stillwell hotel which still endures after all those years......
  31. Maddy Mud from McMarketing , April 16, 2014 at 7:37 p.m.
    Imagine the cosmic weight Joel Murray has struggled under his whole life. So good to get to see him shine. I have wanted this character back on the show for ever. I also love that I have been predicting a Summer of Love type sexual revolution opener the last two years for this show, and I got one (although it was Roger, not Don as I had hoped). Roger needing to move that dude over in bed (Roll over, roll over!) was great.
  32. Annie Gladue from Jedemi Communications , April 16, 2014 at 9:02 p.m.
    Showing the opening of Capra's "Lost Horizon" on the new television was an interesting touch. Is Don seeking Shangri-La?
  33. mike sugimoto from pepperdine , April 16, 2014 at 9:12 p.m.
    Agree with "Lost Horizon" comment. I saw the word, Utopia, as well, harkening back to that incredible scene with Rachel in Season One. 6 Day War came in-between these seasons.
  34. Bob Shiffrar from Lehman Millet , April 16, 2014 at 9:52 p.m.
    Tom, you know, it could also have been shot at Du-pars in the Farmer's Market. Assuming that's still open.
  35. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , April 17, 2014 at 8:41 a.m.
    i think they shot at canter's or created a place and put the canter's sign up by the kitchen....i watched the show again...joey bishop does a cameo...didn't catch who the woman was, thought it mighta been the old music-comedy star who did the "take good care of yourself commercial" that buried foote cone for a decade..........
  36. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost , April 17, 2014 at 11:58 a.m.
    OMG. Reading the comments about Tom Sawyer brought me two more thoughts. The center of that story is a journey, watching the funeral reinforces the outsider looking in and... Mark Twain famously said "The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated." Resurrection to come, no doubt.
  37. Larry steven Londre from Londre Marketing Consultants, LLC and USC , April 17, 2014 at 3:45 p.m.
    Barbara, excellent. Wasn't my favorite episode but they have to add to some of the story lines. Ken and the eye patch. It reminded me of the famous David Ogilvy's "The Man in the Hathaway Shirt" ad. Copy starts "American men are beginning to realize that it is ridiculous to buy good suits and then spoil the effect by wearing an ordinary, mass-produced shirt. Hence the growing popularity of HATHAWAY shirts, which are in a class by themselves." I liked Ken better when he was the hot account guy, solving client problems and running circles around Pete.
  38. Marcellina Kampa from mcgarrah/jessee , April 18, 2014 at 10:03 a.m.
    Holy cow. Reading Barbara's synopsis makes me realize I only catch about 1/8th of the symbolism that I love so much in Mad Men. It's fitting to ponder on the whole death and resurrection motif on Good Friday. Well done, Barbara. You make me excited for the whole season!
  39. Ruth Thomas from Second helping , April 18, 2014 at 10:48 a.m.
    i got so much more out of the episode by reading this- it was better than i even thought- layered, sad, so well written and acted - i know these people-these are the people who raised and shaped me directly and indirectly-thanks for your insights!
  40. Pamela Witzig from Witzig Group Ltd , April 21, 2014 at 1:04 a.m.
    So well said, Barbara - "reality, duality. . ." indeed. Spot on with "impossibly glamorous Bond character." I knew that's what I saw. Just didn't know how to say it.