EPISODE 5: 'The New Girl'

  • by August 25, 2008
Mad Men Car CrashOr, misconceptions, and rebirth. Warning: Huge spoiler alert ahead! We'll start again with our "Soprano" moment, the car crash (how many crashes was Tony in?) Nonetheless, this week Don, who seems increasingly numb and fogged-out, and Bobbie, ever tilting at sexual windmills, get into a late-night highway wreck, complete with a visit to a police station and an arrest for drunken driving. The subsequent cover-up ushers in a few fabulous revelations, and this week we got some pips. For starters, there's that seemingly throwaway, but rather shocking flashback that shows Peggy postpartum and drugged-up in the hospital sanitarium, getting visited by her mother and her VERY PREGNANT older sister Anita.

Wait! Let's back up! Does this mean that Peggy gave the baby away, and that the blonde tot whom Anita keeps pushing on her is not her son, but her nephew? How sadistic of her sister. When it seemed that her sister was raising Peggy's child, we could understand her holier-than-thou fury about Peggy getting away with, well, if not murder, then total lack of responsibility for her actions. But what if she didn't?



A second possibility is that Anita's baby died (hence the visit to the cemetery before meeting the new priest) and that the boy is indeed Peggy's and Pete Campbell's.

Which puts Pete and his very proper wife's visit to the fertility doctor in a more ironic context, although I found that opening scene sort of slow and plodding. We already know the guy is mean, repressed, and an internal basketcase ready to blow. (And that his motility is fine. Still, it did provide a way for the writers to insert the always-lively question, ''Did your testicles descend normally?")

Indeed, this female-driven episode was all about having healthy testicles, whether metaphorical or not. (Also the cut from Pete going into the bathroom to leave his semen sample, juxtaposed with Roger Sterling wacking away at a rubber handball, was heavy-handed comedy gold. Plus, with all his open ambivalence about being a daddy, Pete is secretly hoping to be the end of the line for his dynasty, thus no descendants, testicular or otherwise.) But back to our show, and another shockeroo: when in need of help with the sergeant at the police station (and there was a wonderful establishing shot that made Don look like a little boy sitting in the principal's office), Don phoned the up-till-now, seemingly scared and inexperienced Peggy. In taking care of the situation, she was as alert, hyper-organized, mature, savvy, and discreet as any Kennedy scandal-handler. "This can be fixed!'' she announced.

This in turn led to amazing revelations: First, that Don called Peggy because they were kindred spirits of self-reinvention, and that she owed him. The second flashback in the postpartum mental ward showed that Don not only searched out Peggy's whereabouts after her disappearance from the office, but urged her to rebirth and reconceive herself just as he had after Don Draper died on that battlefield: "Peggy, listen to me,'' he tells her. "Get out of here and move forward. This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened."

Mad Men Peggy and BobbieAs part of her fixer job, Peggy takes the now black-eyed Bobbie home to her tattered, very modest Brooklyn apartment (as opposed to Pete's perfectly polished modern Manhattan co-op) to help her hide out until she recovers. (Bobbie tells her husband Jimmy she's at a "fat farm" as if that's the only reasonable excuse to "disappear,'' which was another theme of the show. Also, earlier, the boys in the office surmised that Peggy's disappearance was to go to a fat farm.)

Mad Men Bobbie on CouchAnd, while hiding out on Peggy's couch, and in a bravura transformation (and piece of acting) Bobbie literally becomes undone before our eyes. Routinely done up and perfectly accessorized, the ball-breaker manager is now stripped down into a small, aging, vulnerable woman. (It reminded me of the scene in ''The Graduate'' when Anne Bancroft is no longer in charge, and is shot as a tiny, suffering figure, wailing against a white wall, stripped of her power and fashion armor.)

Like us, Bobbie can't figure out why Peggy would be so selfless. She keeps asking Peggy if she and Don are having an affair. ('I'm not your competition,'' Peggy the younger snipes.)

As payback for her care, she gives Peggy some advice. Again, the whole idea of negotiation and self-reinvention is beautifully suggested. (Earlier, before the accident, as a co-conspirator in the car, Bobbie tells Don ''This is America. Pick a job and become the person who does it,'' just as he did. Not only did she reinvent herself as a negotiator/manager, but she also reinvented Jimmy Barrett, nee Brownstein. More Jewish subtext later.) Bobbie reinforces what Don said in the hospital when she tells Peggy, "You have to start living the life of the person you want to be."

More importantly (and possibly impossibly) on the gender front, she tells her that to get ahead in the business world, she should act like a woman, not a man, and to treat Don like an equal. Peggy immediately internalizes the advice, when after asking for a return of the bail money that she laid out, ("It's a lot of money for me,'' she says) she stops calling him ''Mr. Draper,'' and coolly refers to him as ''Don."

There's a whole riff her on her forgetting, but because this is already too long, and some commenters have complained about the plot-driven, play-by-play analysis, I'll just mention two more points of portent:

Mad Men Dinnera) At Sardi's, when the now-transformed and super-cold Rachel runs into Don and Bobbie, she is with her new husband, as upstanding and proper an uber-WASPy Jew as can be. His name? The perfectly conflicted ''Tilden Levy."

b) Once Don is in the accident, and starts wearing a sling, his wife becomes kind and nurturing, treating him like a broken bird. In the final scene, he comes home for dinner and walks into the back door, right into the kitchen. They have a 1960's wall oven, much like the one the Petries had in New Rochelle. Symbolically, Rob and Laura were also supposed to be a version of Jack and Jackie. But unlike Dick van Dyke, as Don, Jon Hamm stumbles over far more than an ottoman. He and his wife are too ghost-like to be funny. But in the end, when Betty tells their daughter that Daddy can't have salt ''because we love him,'' Don seems absolutely grateful and moved. We are too, or at least as moved as we are uneasy, knowing that Don has a self-destructive streak as deep and dark as the water off Bobbie's beach house.

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