"Any agency that doesn't change the name [of your product] is stealing your money," the suddenly ethical Don tells Annabelle What's-Her-Name, the elegant, Chanel-suit-wearing potentate of a now-scandalized dog food empire.
Called "The Gypsy and the Hobo," this episode was the most explosive yet. Again, it was all about the search for identity, love and acceptance. It opens with Don telling Sally that Halloween masks are "plastic" and "crap" that "you wear once." In terms of being able to put together a costume for the long term, Don certainly speaks from experience.
All of our basic assumptions come in for questioning: Can you really change what's in a can (or a person) by slapping on a new label (or dog tags?) In the end, regardless of how it happens, does the transformation end up as the same old horsemeat?
In some of the most spellbinding minutes in "Mad Men" history, Betty confronts Don, and he breaks down and spills all of his terrible secrets to her, while his mistress sits outside in his car. The interrogation took place in three parts. First, Don was wedged into the corner of his office, still talking about his "things" and his "privacy." Next, the scene moved to the kitchen, and Betty calmly turns into Perry Mason, interrogating Don/Dick under the good cop/bad cop light of the kitchen table. And then the unburdening continues in exquisite shadow (like something out of a Dutch Masters painting) upstairs in the bedroom.
Normally, when confronted, Don runs away. In this case, he even had a mistress hiding with his hat and her suitcase in a getaway car. And yet, he stayed -- even after baby Gene cried and Betty had to leave the scene.
Dejected, Suzanne Farrell drags her bag down the dark road home. The whole time I was expecting her to respond like a kook, and knock on a window or break into the house.
What a relief she didn't, thus allowing the full drama to play out between Don and Betty. As a result, I'm promoting Suzanne to the new honorific Ms., as in Ms. Maypole. Turns out that, as with Roger, Joan, Betty, and Don, in this episode Ms. Farrell shows a new (and newly encouraging) side of herself.
Perhaps she's not totally bats or evil, just a nice, very nurturing person. Maybe spending time with her in her dark, makeshift, womblike rooms allowed Don to come to terms with his past, and, as granola-crunchers would start saying in just a couple of years, "get in touch with his feelings."
Or, knowing Matthew Weiner, perhaps we're once again being played.
Certainly, in moving from anger, fear, and denial into tears, Jon Hamm showed his (massive) acting chops. I'm sorry I ever doubted January Jones -- she was also pitch-perfect. Altogether, if there were ever a better-written, better-acted, -lit, and -directed scene in television, I haven't seen it.
Having his cards out on the table (in this case, literally the bedroom dresser, in front of the mirror) allows Don to sleep peacefully in his own bed. He wakes up to a new life -- Betty has the three kids dressed and ready for the day, eating breakfast in the kitchen. (Did those plastic baby seats exist in the early '60s?) She surprised us all with her strength, and Don fed off it.
Perhaps she got strong by dint of sitting at her Daddy's desk, in his big executive chair, in Pennsylvania, while her brother dithered on the edge of the desk, near the door.
Certainly, the scene with Milton the lawyer was dead-on for the times. "Are you afraid of him?" "No." "Is he a good provider?" "Yes." "Then go back and try again."
We also see Roger in a new light. Turns out that like our former president George W. Bush (who also went into the family business), he's always felt "misunderestimated." He's tired of feeling judged as a lightweight, hence his new marriage.
Now I see that Roger and Don are more alike than they know. Roger also wanted to escape past judgment, and in essence change identities, by changing wives.
And Annabelle, queen of the horse farm, brings back bad memories of his callow youth. (Anyone know what "eating in cemeteries" refers to?) And maybe he unfairly links his heart attack, after riding a young date through the office like a pony, to Annabelle.
But she gives it to him straight: "You were adrift. You didn't do anything but spend money. You walked around like a character in someone else's novel."
She wants to imagine a romanticized version of herself -- Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca." He comes back with Peter Lorre. Annabelle says she knows that Roger still wants her. His reply: "So what? I'm married." Ouch. And then his bravura acting comes into play, with the way he enunciates "married/newlywed/honeymooning."
"It's different with this girl," he says, although I'm not sure we know exactly which girl he's referring to.
That's because Joan, with her now-defeated hair, is coming back into the picture. She's coaching Greg for the role of, as he put it, "head-shrinker" -- but obviously sensitivity is not his strong suit. Obtuseness is. "You don't know what it's like to want something your whole life, plan for it, and not get it," he wails with typical self-pity. I'm not sure I buy the vase-breaking scene, but was happy to see Joan trying to knock some sense into Greg's head. It results in his lightbulb moment: the Army will take care of them. Yes, indeedy. Especially in the Vietnam era, it was a benevolent institution second only to a rich daddy.
Another great line that came out of the focus group (showing the innate wisdom of dogs): "Dogs don't like uniforms."
While we're on the army question, though, I realize that while Don was amazingly honest about what happened to Adam, he fudged a bit in telling Betty why he changed identities in Korea. He was injured as Dick, so he probably would have gotten out anyway. But he wanted a new life as a former officer instead of an abused farm kid, was my understanding.
(The whole questions of names, and what they mean, was brilliantly interwoven into the script. Perhaps Betty is given so many different monikers to show how mercurial she is.)
Whatever happens to "Dr. Cut-Up," as he calls Greg, Roger wants to do the right thing for his redhead. "She's expensive," he tells a friend in pitching Joan's services "But you're always complaining about needing someone to whip your place into shape. So think about it. I want to help her out. She's important to me. "
And the reference to "The Misfits" suggests more than a dog food problem. As in past shows, it alludes to Marilyn Monroe, who made the movie at the lowest part of her career, while she was in and out of rehab and divorcing the film's screenwriter, Arthur Miller. Just like Don, she was an orphan of sorts who changed her name.
"Who are you supposed to be?" Francine's husband jokes, in the last minute of the show, as he stares at Don standing behind his children, who represent two references to his secret past, the gypsy and hobo. Meanwhile, "Where Is Love?," the plaintive song from "Oliver," the musical about the ultimate orphan, starts playing.
Don is still yearning for the love of his mother. If it's "really happening," as Peggy says, can he switch it off? And will his secrets stay secret? Two more episodes, kids. See you in Dallas.