Face it: showrunner Matt Weiner has been taking it on the chin this season for creating an increasingly dull and lifeless show (to use the “before” words for a 1960s Clairol hair color ad.) But he does tend to liven things up with unexpected dismemberments.
We’ve seen many odd body parts whacked along the way in “Mad Men” (which is close to Made Men.) But you know that a mutilation is beyond outrageous when it makes you long for the comfort of a nice, emulsified foot.
And it’s not like anyone ever said, “Oh, no. I can’t believe they dragged out that old mutilated nipple in a gift box thing again! If I had a nickel for every disembodied nipple given as a love token…”
But speaking of our mammalian “valves,” as poor Ginsberg, our long-undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic put it, there’s been a connection to mother’s milk (or lack of it) for the last three episodes. And Betty is certainly shutting her valve off -- she’s in control of the silver, not the homework.
Questioning authority, and who’s in charge, was not only at the center of the episode, but also dividing American culture in 1969, with disorder and breakdowns everywhere. For Lou Avery, the establishment vs. counterculture divide was between “patriots” and “flag-burning snots.” (More on this later.)
It's even happening in Westchester, as Betty (who seems to have read “The Feminine Mystique”) observes, "First they protest and then all authority comes down." “It has to be done on the right terms, but we should get out while the getting is good,” Henry says. He's talking about the Vietnam war, but those words apply to just about every relationship in the drama.
And that’s why this episode was all about rapidly morphing duos and triads. (That’s a fancy word for threesomes, people!) Sally described her mom and Henry as a “dynamic duo” despite the fighting. And Megan pulled a Don Draper by inserting her toe-painting minion, Amy, into the sexytime scenario. So let’s go there.
When we last left Megan, she was telling Don, rationally and definitively, “This is where it ends.” But he has wormed his way back into her life, and it seems each of them is holding on to the conceit of marriage, despite the fact that what they have on their hands, to quote Woody Allen, is a dead shark.
Last week, Don mentioned that he wasn’t a janitor. But he’s still treating Megan like one. Just as she frequently had to clean up the mess with his kids, so he offhandedly sends his pregnant “niece” Stephanie to stay with her overnight. The truth is that Anna, Stephanie’s aunt, is the only woman Don will ever fully love, and he lights up in his phone conversations with Anna's runaway relative, who contacts him only when she’s out of “bread.”
Megan seems game to help, except that Lady Madonna arrives all ripe and glowing. (The notion of purity and fertility seems to get Megan when Stephanie dons her white robe.). And Stephanie, who called Don “Dick” during the phone call, also tells Megan that she knows "all of Don’s secrets.” (She meant the Whitman parts.)
With everyone on high-Sharon Tate/Manson Family alert, love child Stephanie’s darkening the threshold of Megan’s now bright and homey casita in the canyons seems awfully ominous. We don’t know what her story is, but she leaves Megan unhinged, so Megan washes her hands of the situation just as her hubby would: she writes Stephanie a hefty check to go away. (Just as Don paid off his half-brother, who later committed suicide.)
Megan’s Don-like behavior continues, when, as part of a conscious effort to get him in a “good mood,” Megan forces her hubby into a threesome with herself and Amy. Having heard the unsettling news about the agency's pursuit of the Commander account, Don is dreaming only of hopping into bed with his two enemies, Lou and Jim.
Still, Megan knows how to manipulate him, so the awkward deed was done. At this point, they seem as unlikely a pair as only a young woman in a fabulous Pucci minidress and an old guy in a bad Madras sports jacket can be.
The idea of strange bedfellows also results in a beautiful scene between Sally (bloodied by Betty but unbowed, no nose job needed) and Bobby. It’s too bad that this is the fourth Bobby and we don’t know him, because the siblings' dialogue and acting was wonderful.
And now my favorite part to analyze: “Scout’s Honor," the deliciously uninspired cartoon created by Lou. He's the personification of everything the protestors of the ‘60s are determined to change. The biggest laugh I had this season was when, in the meeting with the tittering "flag-burning snots," Lou compares himself to Bob Dylan.
Lou’s cartoon, apparently featuring a Military Monkey (MM) with a plunger, is an attempt to one-up the cartoon “Underdog,” which was created by his former colleagues at agency Dancer Fitzgerald Sample to sell cereal. But Underdog brilliantly mined all of the countercultural anti-hero energy of the time -- a sort of "Easy Rider" for the Cap’n Crunch set, and their parents -- while Lou’s cartoon was square and flawed.
It also brought up another war in sensibilities, between the two Morts (MM again.) Mort Walker created "Beetle Bailey," a strip about an enlistee in the Korean War, and Mort Drucker was one of the defining caricaturists for MAD magazine, arguably the inspiration for all underground humor ever since. So we’re left wondering who the Underdog is here.
What are ya, Don, a man or a monkey with a plunger? So in the last three minutes, Don counter-strategizes, crashing a secret lunch between Lou and Cutler and the Phillip Morris tobacco men.
It’s either the ultimate power move, or a recipe for his own personal disaster. But he eloquently hits on the Phillip Morris guys’ fears head-on, and they seem to be into the whole punishment/penitence opportunity of his offer.
Then, on the way out of the Algonquin (a façade more like a palace than the actual hotel) the three amigos leave. They all wear fedoras. But Don doesn’t need an actual cowboy hat to be the Marlboro Man. He lassoes them into a cab, and exerts his dominance with his whistle. He is a stallion, not to be controlled by Megan, and much more into his office threesome.
He is primed for reinvention. Now that Michael is out, there’s room for a writer at the agency. And Don has two nipples, no waiting.