Welcome to the beginning of the end, Mad Men fans! Come back every Tuesday for a breakdown of the latest episode comprising the first half of this seminal show’s seventh and final season. Want more Mad Men discussion? Be sure to subscribe to the Not Great, Pod! podcast featuring me and Messrs. Corey Atad and Kevin Ketchum. Feel free to give us a rating, like us or follow us, and please shoot us an email with your questions, comments and crackpot theories at [email protected]
This week’s special guest: Pajiba’s lovely Features Editor Courtney Enlow.
Rejection was plentiful in “Field Trip,” the third episode of Mad Men’s seventh season, most notably with the two characters who began this series at the height of “cool” — Don and Betty. Their coolness and composure always set them apart from their peers in the earlier part of the 1960s, but now, in 1969, their age and general out-of-touchness is showing. Betty says it herself when talking to her friend Francine who — gasp — is working part time in an office: “Maybe I’m old-fashioned.” It’s more than not having adopted a new hairstyle in years. It’s that she still views family dynamics and, more importantly, the kind of relationship a parent should have with a child through the warped lens of her own childhood. The years haven’t brought much change in her behavior, and the same goes for Don to a degree. But now, they are surrounded by those who refuse to accept their out-of-date status quo. The way they do things — the way Don does things especially — will no longer be tolerated.
“Field Trip” also is a helpful reminder of just who is mad at Don and why. The list is lengthy, starting with Megan, who is quickly displeased to learn his surprise visit to see her was spurred by a warning call to him from her agent. She may not be behaving in the best manner for furthering her career — stalking directors is never a good idea — but Don sweeping in to patronizingly offer her advice is disrespectful on several levels. Coupling that with her finding out he has been on leave from SC&P for months only drives the point home to her that she’s not much more than a pretty plaything he can boss around and keep at a literal distance. “There is no one else,” he tells her. “I’ve been good. I haven’t even been drinking that much.” “So with a clear head, you got up every day and decided you didn’t want to be with me?,” she asks. “I’m not walking out of my own house, so that means you have to leave. … It’s OK, Don. This is how it ends. It’s going to be so much easier for the both of us.” He thinks his returning to New York to try to repair his career — first by meeting with Dave Wooster of Wells Rich Greene and receiving an offer (and a strange encounter with a woman named Emily Arnett) and then by confronting Roger and being told to return to the SC&P office that Monday — is a way to “fix” things with Megan, to be honest and try to return to how things used to be. But he’s kidding himself, just as he has been for years now. “‘Fixed it’ is if you got a job out here,” she tells him on the phone. “That’s what you promised me; that’s why I’m here. I can’t believe after all this time you don’t know me. I know how I want you to see me. Don’t lie to me. Don’t do that. You can’t do that. I’m your wife. Stop pushing me away with both hands.”
Bobby, bless him, could say something similar to Betty. He is thrilled when she volunteers to chaperone his field trip, discussing comic book characters with her on the bus ride, looking impressed as she drinks fresh cow’s milk out of a bucket, and happily saving her a spot on their picnic blanket when it’s lunchtime. His desire to be loved by her radiates off him, but Betty can’t see it. When he gives her sandwich away to a classmate who didn’t have a lunch, Betty sees it as an attack, as if Bobby doesn’t love her. Bobby was being kind to his classmate, but his comment to Betty that he didn’t think she’d be eating shouldn’t be overlooked. He may be used to her not eating as a way to remain thin, and the sandwich trade really represents how much he pays attention to her. She immediately shuts down on him, though, and claims he ruined the day. His love for her is there for the taking, as Henry points out to her that night, but she’s too busy imagining the worst. She’s too busy trying to parent based on old-fashioned rules, still relying on a maid to care for her children. “I wish it was yesterday,” Bobby tells Henry. If only he could just start over.
Don’s return to SC&P parallels perfectly with Betty joining Bobby on his field trip to a farm. Don’s a tourist at the office now — he’s been there before, but he’s no longer a part of it. He’s no longer necessary. It plays almost like a dream sequence as one by one, employees spot him and express surprise at his return, some fine with seeing him and others closer to furious. All the while, as he realizes Roger didn’t share the news of Don’s return with anyone, he does his best to maintain his happy-to-be-back smile and swallow his pride, a move that perhaps signifies he is finally learning how to change. Lou, of course, feels threatened at Don’s return and isn’t about to lose his two-year contract, and Peggy is still smarting from Don’s treatment of Ted over the St. Joseph’s Rosemary’s Baby ad and Ted’s obvious feelings for Peggy impairing his judgment. Ted pushed the St. Joseph’s representatives on the ad because Peggy had her heart set on it — “She can smell the Clio,” he told Don then. How fitting that Don returns when the Clio Award nominees have been announced and Peggy’s ad is nowhere to be seen — it wasn’t even submitted. Don may have behaved poorly to Ted over that pitch, but surely he was always more in Peggy’s corner than the glib Lou and the sassy Ginsberg. At least Don pushed her to be better instead of simply trying to push her out the door.
Cutler, too, is still upset over Don’s treatment of Ted and is inclined to cut anyone involved in “creative hijinks” (read: Harry and his lies to clients about computers). Only Roger is of the opinion that Don’s “indefinite leave” was just that — leave — and his ultimate loyalty to Don isn’t surprising. Firing him means they lose the non-compete agreement and have to buy out his partner shares. Joan, likely still upset with Don over his dropping the Jaguar account and making her actions in “The Other Woman” practically a moot point, is right: “How does he fit into everything now?” The agency is moving forward, and Don represents too much of the past. The list of stipulations the partners present to Don when offering him a position surely was meant to make him turn and run. The Don Draper they know wouldn’t take a demotion — reporting to Lou, working out of the office where Lane worked and killed himself, not being able to be alone with clients — and several years ago, he probably would have walked. But Don’s acceptance of the terms with a simple “OK” speaks to not only the progress he has been making since being put on leave but also his refusal to slink out of there with his tail between his legs, as he said to Roger. No, you can’t get rid of Don Draper, not even when you make him report to an “adequate” creative head like Lou. If Don could find a way to get his pitches heard while on leave by ghost writing for Freddy, he can find a way to make the new arrangement work. And he has to, because what we know about Don is that he has to work, and he’s good at it. But for now, there’s no such thing as being so good at his work that he is above all reprimand.
Sarah Carlson is Television Editor for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.
Embellished photo of Betty courtesy of the hilarious blog Mad Men Screenshots with Things Drawn On Them.