Episode 12: The Mountain King -- Or, Measuring The (Two Mrs.) Drapers

by , Oct 20, 2008, 6:30 PM
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This episode is about the dark side of partnerships, and the post-marriage or merger need to control. But we have a lot to get to, so let's just throw a chicken off the terrace and be on our way.

Stripped of his corporate armor, Don/Dick is still in his western idyll, an Everyman right out of a fairy tale. After stepping off a big green bus, he finds an inviting Kalifornia Kandy-Kolored Kottage right in his path and knocks on the front door. Could there be more ominous music to accompany his trip up the walkway than "In the Hall of the Mountain King?"

DD enters the house, and our worst suspicions are confirmed -- he's got another wife and kid!

Sorry, that's just the writers setting us up: it turns out that the dark-haired boy pounding out the scary music in the front room is not the fruit of Don's loins, but merely a local piano student, taking a lesson in the home of the original Mrs. Draper (the widow of the guy whose identity Don stole on the battlefield.) We'd seen her before in a brief flashback, when she came with her bum leg (shades of "The Sopranos"'s one-legged Russian caretaker!) and her uptight blonde 1950s hairdo to his used car lot to confront him about what happened to her husband. A decade or so later, she seems relaxed, happy, comfortable in her own skin, and, most of all, unlike the second Mrs. Draper, thrilled to see old Dick/Don Another mystery solved: Anna is the woman to whom Don sent the book of poetry, "Meditations in an Emergency."

Mad Men Season 2/Episode 12 It seems that their relationship is purely platonic -- anyone disagree? And although Betty's father raged that Don has no "people," Anna is great people for Don -- the only person on Earth who understands the weight that he carries around with his forged identity. "Stop lying. You've been caught," Anna said to Dick in their first encounter, and he in fact came clean (mostly). Betty used those very same words after discovering Don's affair with Bobbie, but he was stuck in his lie. Indeed, for the first time in his life, with Anna, Don can feel nurtured by a Good Mother. In turn, he gratefully provides the finances that allow her, his only peeps, to live a quiet life.

So they play house, in a version of what Betty did so contentedly with Glenn. The first thing Don asks to do is take a shower in Anna's fairy-tale arts and crafts cottage, a request that Betty had so coldly dismissed. Then he naps on the couch (a big pastime of his lately) and dons another man's pants to sit on the porch. (He seems so relaxed that I almost thought he'd start whittlin' -- that's Dick Whittler, ma'am.)

It seems Don does have a conscience -- and it all comes pouring out to Anna. "I've been watching my life, scratching at it, trying to get into it," he says (and that seems to explain the scene that a commenter picked up on -- looking through the bubbled glass in the pool in Palm Springs.) "I can't," he says.

But back to those genius writers -- why choose that particular music, "In the Hall of the Mountain King"? I knew it from cartoons, but its heritage is far tonier than that: It's from "Peer Gynt," a play by Henrik Ibsen that, according to a little Googling, unlike Ibsen's earlier work, is "a fantasy rather than a realistic tragedy." A Wikipedia entry explains that "the play focuses on the problems of choice, and of identity." "What is it to be one self?" Peer asks in the end, and gets the answer: "to overcome one's self."

Can Dick/Don ever overcome himself? He seems in no hurry to choose -- easily settling into a life of living in a small beachside bungalow, picking up groceries, and working with his hands. A bunch of neighborhood guys are building hot rods and he even asks them for a job. (Like Don, the cars are a mishmash of identities, forged together from "two Fords and a Buick.")

Meanwhile, back east, the second Mrs. Draper is also scratching at her new post-split identity, unfortunately while doing damage to her children. She's busy (calmly) endorsing Don's checks, when she smells something: she discovers that 8-year-old Sally is experimenting with cigarettes in the bathroom (after all, with those parents, the poor kid has already inhaled a lifetime of secondhand smoke. And she's already tried booze.) Mom freaks, pulls the girl by the hair into a closet and slams the door, which could be the source of a lifetime of trauma (especially since she shares the closet with her missing dad's suitcase.) This would seem to be a cruel and inhuman punishment even by early 1960s standards. (Anyone else punished by being locked in a closet?) Sally is not easily beaten down, though, and yells through the door, "He left you because you're stupid and mean!"

With Don MIA at the office, Peggy commandeers the popsicle account, and presents the client with a simple but elegant campaign that resonates with a deeper human meaning, exactly Don-style, only slightly more Catholic. (She admits that the "Church knows how to sell things.") Like the veritable "selling ice to Eskimos," she figures out a way to make eating Popsicles a year-round treat, turning the splitting of the 'sicle in half, and then the eating part, into a "ritual, like communion."

The client loves it, but protests that the mom in the mock-up, standing in her kitchen, handing out the ices to a kid on each side of her, "reminds me of something."

Take your pick: it's either Peggy with her new 'do, or Mary, Christ's mother, with the red logo behind her head like a halo.(Come to think of it, the woman on the raisin box looks like this too.)

The work came out of a night of staying in the office, in which Peggy poached cigarettes from a secretary's desk,Mad Men Season 2/Episode 12 and started to own her domain. After landing the account, and getting lectured by an attitudinal Xerox salesman about how to treat the machine with respect, Peggy decides she can no longer share her office with that loud whale of a secretarial aid. She approaches Roger Sterling and works up the nerve to ask for Freddy's office. "You young women are very aggressive," he says -- referring, no doubt, to his new fiancée -- and adds, "It's cute." The other guys don't find it so cute, and one asks her why she doesn't start wearing Don's pants.

Speaking of threatened, Joan brings her doctor fiancé, Greg, to the office, and introduces him to Roger. (We were privy to an earlier scene in Joan and the doc's bedroom, when "The Day the Earth Stood Still" was playing on the Million Dollar Movie, a sly promo for Jon Hamm's upcoming remake.) When Joan tries to introduce sex with a non-missionary position to Dr. Greg, however, the joke stops. He can't take it. "Where'd you pick that up?" he asks cruelly. But the cruelty is just starting: the doc is so bugged by Roger's familiarity with his "Ginger" in the office that he demands a drink in Don's office. She's clearly uncomfortable about servicing his sudden amatory urges in an office not her own, but he won't take no for an answer. Claiming a sort of "droit de seigneur" that he thinks comes naturally to admen in their territory, he forces Joan down to the floor, in a scene that can only be considered rape.

And the juxtaposition becomes painfully clear: Peggy, determined to work, now can savor the freedom of having her own office with her name on the door, while Joan, who focused on getting the ultimate "catch," sits outside Don's door and is engaged to marry a sociopath.

In much the same way, Pete goes ballistic after his wife, Trudy, secures an appointment with a tony, uptown Manhattan adoption agency. Acting like his mother's son, he sadistically throws Trudy's carefully roasted chicken over the apartment's balcony; as it turns out, with that act, he also threw away the Clearasil account. His wife complained to her daddy, and the father-in-law pulls the account in retribution.

The big story at the agency, however, is the forthcoming merger, which the partners agree on.(Minus Don, whom Bert calls "mathematically inconsequential.") Bert's very patrician sister, the hilariously named "Alice Cooper, " plays a verbal ping-pong game with Roger Sterling, her former babysitting charge. She paddles him with the best line of the night, after the merger is agreed on. She tells him he can use the money, since "you have the children to think of." He responds that he has "just the one." "Really?" she answers in her rapier way, without ever having to mention Jane, his 20-year-old fiancée. Meanwhile, poor old Bert will surely lose the silver tea service and his serving man, Cleveland, along with his sense of accomplishment: Roger talks about having diamonds on the doorknobs, but obviously the merger can have terrible consequences for the business.

By the way, Betty seems to be worried about the consequences her craziness will have on her daughter; in a moment of kindness (and/or manipulation to get in her good graces while they go through the divorce), she presents the girl with the riding boots she so wanted. That's when Sally says, "Mommy, you're bleeding." Uh, oh -- perhaps the sex with Don was real, and she's pregnant and spotting. Or it's some religious metaphor, for the sins she committed in setting up her innocent friend Sara Beth, to commit adultery with her stable boy crush. "No one made you sleep with him!" Betty tells Sara Beth, mistaking her for Don.

Mad Men Season 2/Episode 12 But as it turns out, Don's made about a half million dollars while loafing on Anna's porch. A Californian, through and through, she decides to read his Tarot cards. "You are part of the world, air, water, everything is connected to you.... the only thing keeping you from being happy is thinking you are alone," she tells him.

The episode ends with a shot of Don, stripped down to his (new) pants, surrendering himself to the sea. Is it a baptism, a ritual cleansing, or a suicide attempt? Who knows? (And we only have one episode left to go in this season!) What we do know -- with the fabulous George Jones' crooning at the end -- is that Don is a "Christian pilgrim, called out of darkness, with a new life to begin."

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