Episode 11: The Jet Set, Or Bombshells Away

How perfect that Don arrives in Los Angeles without his luggage -- literally floating without baggage, he's free to reinvent himself (again!) The West is all about the future: Pete mentions that some scientists are trying to engineer a superstrong "Octo-man'' and even artificially build special organs for space travel. (Although all Pete really wants to do is lounge near any kidney-shaped pool.)

Don gets all uptight and East-Coast-disapproving about Pete even considering using the trip as a vacation or travel opportunity. Yup, Don's all business until he's the first to disappear into another dimension: he slips away to Palm Springs, and we get Don through the Looking Glass, dimly.

But I must confess that I found the first half of the show irritating. I wasn't a fan of the whole Tony-in-a-coma/Kevin Finnerty narrative period of "The Sopranos," and this felt similarly dream-sequence-like, which I find coy and off-putting.

The structure was very clever, though: we had bookends, parallel experiences in the East and the West. And though the East side of the divide might represent everything that's old, cold and formal, perhaps the West offers too much newness, heat and fluidity.

Standing in the sun at the hotel pool in his tailored suit, tie and dark fedora, Don looks like an homme out of a René Magritte painting. (Is it the Beverly Hills Hotel?) Don sees a woman at the bar from the back who reminds him of Betty, and he seems to be moved. Then he's approached by some foreign guy, a caricature of a rich European, with his pencil-thin moustache and weird accent. I couldn't buy the accent, but his name was funny: Viscount Monteforte d'Alsace, with 57 syllables in between -- or for short you can call him "Willy."

Willy definitely gave me the Willies, as did his whole sketchy entourage, including Rocky and Joy. And Don still seems solid enough to decline their invitations.

Mad Men Season 2/Episode 11 Meanwhile, back in New York, in the parallel-universe version of Don and Joy, we have silver-haired Roger and Don's 20-year-old former secretary, Jane, lounging in their hotel room. Naked in bed, Miss Jane seems to be the only poet around who reads her poetry aloud as she writes it, which is painful for us because Emily Dickinson she's not. "You make me old with wisdom" is one of her lines aimed at Roger, which nearly achieves Hallmark card level. (I was surprised that she didn't have a purple feather on the end of her pen.) But the performance sure worked on Roger, who professes to be very impressed by her brain. "Our souls are the same age," she tells him, playing his midlife crisis like a Stradivarius, and earning herself an on-the-spot marriage proposal, while her hubby-to-be assures himself, "I'm not being impulsive!" (Although we later learn that his wife wants to take him to the cleaners in a divorce settlement.)

Jane also talks about eating a "mushroom," but it was the action on the West Coast that took on the hallucinatory tone -- combining Kennedyesque skinny-dipping, free love, awesome mid-century modern design, and a Dr. Feelgood doing some injecting in a very Rat Pack-like desert setting with the aforementioned Euro-hobos.

But first, speaking of another kind of mushroom (nuclear), Don and Pete attend a lecture about MIRV warheads,Mad Men Season 2/Episode 11 featuring a map of the Soviet Union, and talk of "total annihilation." It was a very "duck and cover" time, and the lecture seems to set something off in Don. He's either having flashbacks of war, or some sort of Manchurian Candidate moment. Could it be that he is the spy who came in out of the cold?

While waiting for Pete back at the hotel bar, Don is again approached by the aptly named Joy, who invites him to Palm Springs. He demurs, but then, with visions of apocalyptic sugarplum fairies dancing in his head, he decides to hop into her white Mercedes convertible and just go.

She and the man with no baggage arrive at a classic mid-century modern desert masterpiece of a house (is it the famous Kaufmann house, by Neutra?) where the idle rich (the phrase Eurotrash had not yet been invented) are lounging at the pool. It's all open-plan, futuristic and floaty (as opposed to Don's darker, closed-in, East Coast historic clapboard house.) Props to the MM production team: Design geeks can have a field day with all the drool-worthy mid-century modern furnishings in this showplace.

But the freedom, the desert air, the hot sun, all seems to be too much for Don, still wearing his suit. He faints at the pool, and I was worried that he'd conk out and forget his identity and go into some Kevin Finnerty soap opera arc. Thankfully, he wakes up as the "doctor" of the group, who looks like Commander Whitehead of Schweppes tonic fame, is about to inject him with something.

The group creeped me out, and that goes double for finding out that "Willy'' is in fact Joy's dad, especially since he seems to have pimped her out to Don, and sits himself down on their bed while they are naked. (Earlier, in the West Coast parallel to the poetry scene between Roger and Jane, Joy was reading Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury" in bed, and Don finds out Joy did briefly attend Pembroke -- the women's school of Brown at the time -- but that college didn't fit into her family's nomadic travel schedule. She did say that her father had a house nearby -- and that would square with Pete's earlier attempt to ask Willy if he'd seen him in Newport, R.I.)

These nomads, of course, are the rich, European, post-war equivalents of Don's depression-era hobos. He seems to fit right in at dinner -- although asking if they are "well-to-do" was a gaffe. They play a rousing game of geography, using only exotic locales. Again, it's the West Coast-looking glass version of Betty's prim, perfect (if very drunken) East Coast dinner party, with the Heineken beer and her attempt at a sophisticated international menu.

Joy tells Don that her father likes having him around because "you're beautiful and you don't talk much." (That's exactly what a woman would hear at the time.) She invites him to Lyford Key, in the Bahamas, and tells him he'll need a tuxedo. James Bond hung out at the same location in "Thunderball," while Bill and Babe Paley, the ultimate jet-setters of the era (who used to fly their own private plane, and often invited Truman Capote along, until he turned on them and published all their secrets) also had a home there. There's a famous picture of Babe standing near her pool, and the set-up looks strikingly similar.

But within the enclosed spaces of the East, the group watches TV and sees reporting of southern racial violence. It upsets Harry, who shows an amazing new crudeness, because it will mean fewer TV watchers. Kurt, the European Smith guy, who's taking Peggy to a Bob Dylan concert, gets smirks from the rest of the group when they find out, because they think the two are dating. "I'm homosexual,'' says Kurt, just like that. Cosgrove protests that Kurt doesn't know what he's saying. Kurt comes out, saying even more plainly, "I make love vid de men, not de vomen." Harry and Cosgrove are both appalled, and make bigoted remarks about "queers" and "homos'' as the ever-closeted Sal just stands by.

Mad Men Season 2/Episode 11 Meanwhile, Kurt still shows up at Peggy's, and she, also aware of her outsider status, opens up to him, saying, "I don't know why I pick the wrong boys." He tells her she needs to be a "modern voman" and offers to cut her girlish hair. In a reverse Samson, her talented gay friend snips off her entire ponytail (she had asked for just a "trim) which, from the comfort of her own kitchen, gives her new freedom and new identity. (And a cute, stylish, That Girl-ish do.)

While Don's away, Duck's Machiavellian streak comes out. He does some engineering of his own. Stymied in his role as new business guy, he plays both sides -- meeting with his former partners in the English agency, telling them to buy Sterling Cooper, then playing Roger and Bert by promising a cash infusion and more clients. Most importantly, he goes back to drinking. In one toast, he cheers "to old friends'' -- but I can pretty well predict that the bottle will not turn out to be his friend.

But the real bombshell comes from Don, who is shown stripped naked, sleeping on a modern couch in the middle of a desert. (Literally a new man.) He picks up a phone and calls someone. "This is Dick Whitman," he says to the person at the end of the line, as if he'd just spoken to him or her the previous day. Ripping out the last page of his new girlfriend's book, (did they have Penguin Paperbacks in those days, btw?) he writes down an address for a rendezvous.

The final scene shows Don's brown leather suitcase being delivered to his red door in Ossining. In the previous episode, Betty had mentioned that she had a dream about a suitcase. Here it shows up, and no one is home. It sits there, orphaned, at the doorstep, the heavy baggage of a now-migratory man.

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