Mad Men – 4×04: Pete is the Anti-Don

"Honestly, you should get over it!" (AMC)

I watched the episode twice. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done this, but last night’s double-feature wasn’t out of a desire to experience it all again, no, it was kind of out of confusion. At first I thought I was just unfocused from having ran home in the rain at 9:58 PM after watching True Blood at Professor Thom’s Bar down the street (and inhaling the complimentary (and clever) red jello-shot they provide post-viewing). But alas, I remained just as frustrated throughout round two… I just wasn’t as engaged as I have been in the past. I couldn’t pinpoint an immediate theme (though I eventually found it). I couldn’t understand what some of those silent moments meant anymore. And I couldn’t follow most of the character’s emotions.

This doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy some of the scenes — in fact I enjoyed the majority — but others I was almost indifferent to because I had no idea what the character’s motivations were anymore so I couldn’t find the conflict.

In layman’s terms: If I don’t know what you want, I can’t want you to get it.

I’ve always talked about how much I love the things that are said in the silences of the characters on Mad Men, and I stand by that 100% as it is what makes the show so unique yet engaging in its ironic yet artful manner, but this episode seemed far too silent for its silence, and too focused on social-commentary instead of the characters themselves. I can easily say it was one of my least favorite episodes of Mad Men. Perhaps you don’t agree. Or perhaps you felt the same but couldn’t quite put your finger on it. Regardless here are a few examples of the out-of-place-ness that I’m talking about:

  • Dr. Faye Miller and her focus group: Aside from Allison’s breakdown (more on that below) we kept coming back to this scene full of virtually unknown characters who did nothing but pine over their looks and their lack of male companionship and their mothers. Even if I thought it was interesting within its own context, (and again, aside from Allison) it wasn’t directly a part of any character conflicts of the series and simply took too long for something which wasn’t. I enjoy when the social commentary on Mad Men is read between the lines of the characters’ actions and words (or non-actions and non-words, for that matter) but this focus group was an extraneous storyline which engaged me very little as it had near nothing to do with Don, Pete, Joan, Roger, but perhaps a tad with Peggy (as she tried on Faye’s wedding ring while she listened to these women cry about their loneliness.)
  • Peggy and Pete mourn their child… again: Call me insensitive, or even forgetful, but hadn’t they closed that chapter already? Didn’t they talk it out and decide that they both knew it was for the best in their lives and while they weren’t totally okay about it they were moving on… and then they did… Successfully! Of course something like that never fully goes away but I haven’t seen Peggy or Pete seem saddened by the thought of the child they never knew even once in the past two years of their lives. Of course I’m sure they’ve presumably thought about it but they have not made a point on the series to focus on their continued inability to let it go, therefore all those looks and cryptic verbal exchanges seemed a bit out of left field. Pete’s new baby has caused old sorrows to resurface, understandably, but what were those feelings? Through nothing that Peggy or Pete said in Sunday’s episode was I able to really grasp what specifically they were feeling or thinking and if it was new. I still don’t understand why Peggy decided to bang her head on the desk the way she did. That’s something I might do if I made a mistake. Did she make a mistake by congratulating Pete? And if that’s not it then how am I suppose to know what it meant? I guess I’m just a little tired of the “feelings guessing game” when it goes to such extremes. Of course, if you think you know exactly what they were feeling in the episode and I’m just blind, then congratulations. Enlighten me, please.
  • “Did you buy the pears? Did you buy pears? Did you buy pears?” – The elderly couple living across the hallway from Don ‘argues’ (if you can call it that) about buying pears at the market in front of Don, but the wife tells her husband, “We’ll discuss it inside” as she doesn’t even discuss fruit in front of her neighbors. I’m assuming this has something to do with privacy as you get older… or perhaps the privacy of the older generations… or perhaps their ability to stay together by focusing on the little things such as fruit? All these possibilities sound just fine but the fact that I don’t know which is which makes me feel as if I don’t understand the show sometimes by not interpreting things the way they want me to, and clearly Mad Men is trying to say a lot of very specific things since its a series written in retrospect. That repetative feeling of not-knowing just annoyed me. I can only assume that it was trying to tell us something about Don and his privacy, or lack-there-of, in the episode, but I still found it a tad forced and hokey.
  • Allison’s Meltdown: Couldn’t she have freaked out right when Don gave her that Christmas bonus? Remember I thought she was typing up her letter of resignation and was surprised to see her still there in the following episode? I would have totally backed her up on that if she had left. When she didn’t, however, I called her “my hero” for not being awkward about the situation or running away. Yet, two episodes later she decides to finally get awkward and to cry and to assume Peggy slept with him, too!? I understand her situation, I really do, but I don’t think the way her character reacted to everything was very consistent. I know that not everything we do in life is consistent with our past actions (“You can’t tell how people are going to behave based on how they have behaved” says Dr. Faye Miller) but Allison is not so important so as to drag her internal conflicts on like that. Just my opinion though.
  • The Lucky Strike Phone Conversation: What was the point of this entire exchange? It went on for far too long, as well, and after two viewings I still can’t understand why I should care about what Don and Roger discussed with Lee, Jr. The only really interesting part of that scene was Don asking “Why is this bottle empty?” and Allison replying “Because you drank it all.

Don Draper

Don Draper - Rock Bottom (AMC)


This should actually be the last bullet point from the list above because what was just as out of place as all that was the lack of our main character in the episode. What did he do? He learned nothing and did nothing in this episode. Oh wait, he learned that he hurt Allison’s feelings…? Okay, Don might have his issues but stupidity is not one of them. As insensitive as he may be to a woman’s feelings, he knew what he had done to Allison was not right. Throwing pottery at his head just made everyone else in the office know it. As for what we, the audience, learned about Don: not until last night’s episode did I begin to understand on a very serious level how Don Draper is not just a mean and frequent drunk, but most likely an alcoholic… and that scared me. Soon enough I think others will begin to take notice, and perhaps Peggy has already, starting with Allison’s comment to her regarding Don:

“He’s a drunk and they get away with murder because they forget everything.”

After Allison storms out of SCDP at the end of the episode, Peggy gets another hint when she takes an adorable peek through the glass lining atop the wall between their offices and sees Don head straight and, near desperately, for the bottle. Or how about the scene mid-episode when Faye and Peggy come in to Don’s office with Peggy’s new idea for Ponds and he approves however dismissively of it without evening knowing what it is. At first I thought it was a symbol of his complete and utter trust in Peggy’s ideas, but then I realized it was actually a sign that he was just drunk and lazy and couldn’t be bothered.

Also, the only other slightly interesting character revelation that took place in the focus group (aside from Peggy and her ring which wasn’t anything new as it is) was Don’s assertion to Freddie Rumsen that his future is not decided by “a room of 22 year old girls“. Wrong! Peggy isn’t far from 22 and she could be taking over your job if you don’t wake up (see above), and Allison is going to make you look like a damn fool in front of all your colleagues by the end of the day.

Finally there was that letter Don began to write Allison which said:

“I wanted you to know I’ve very sorry. My life right now is very…”

Two things here worth noting: One, that Don is having difficulty charming and bullshitting himself out of a situation or putting a spin on it, and worse yet in writing, all of which he has always done so phenomenally and for a living, I might add. Two, bullshit aside, he really and honestly can’t even figure out what his life is or has become. He’s not a husband, barely a father, barely a respected partner at his firm, and now he can’t even sleep around successfully. He hasn’t been a son or brother for a very long time, and don’t forget that once Anna dies he’s also going to lose his title as “friend”. Which brings us back to the opening line of the season: if Don is none of these things then… “WHO IS DON DRAPER?

Pete Campbell

Pete Campbell - Man on Top (AMC)

Is he a douche bag? Is he a tool? Yeah probably a little bit of both, but he has a come quite a way. It’s doubtful he’ll ever stop kissing ass and shooting that cheesy and childish smile of his every chance he gets, but: he’s a man in love, he’s good at his job (no matter his other defects, this is true), he’s a soon-to-be-father, he cares for Peggy, he’s not a drunk, he’s not a cheater, he’s not a beggar, and he’s young! (In other words, the Anti-Don.) I missed Trudy so much, and hoped that they would finally be able to conceive from the first episode this season. She’s so amazing and helped make him a much better person by not giving up on him, on them, or on their family. In fact they are our one “normal” and happy couple on the series (Betty/Henry or Roger/Jane are divorcees and are therefore not “normal” relationships for the times; Joan/Greg are not happy).

The storyline regarding Tom, Pete’s father-in-law (aka Mr. Ferguson from Clarissa Explains It All), and the conflict of having to drop Clearasil, turned into one of Pete’s most triumphant moments to date. He was able to transform the issue into a win-win by asking for all the top products at Vicks Chemicals and maintaining the upper hand on Tom. However, I thought that line about respecting Tom less every time he interrupts him was overboard both as his son-in-law and his client. Rightfully so Tom calls Pete a “son of a bitch” to which Pete adorably half looks over his shoulder and shrugs as if he’s saying, “Yeah well so what?” except better. Those are the kind of moments when silent action functions better than verbal in-action.

Peggy Olson

Without a doubt Peggy’s trip down to the beatnik party was the best part of the episode, if not only for the simple fact that it took us to a world parallel but disconnected from the stuffiness that SCDP can often provide. Joyce, Peggy’s new elevator pal from TIME, was such an obvious lesbian from her first moment on-screen that it took me by surprise. I can’t tell if people back in 1965 were so unaware of homosexuality that they didn’t bother to notice such things, or if there was still no set aesthetic for the lesbian and so Joyce’s style and manner of being were simply the beginning of what would become the “lesbian look” and was as of yet unrecognized. Just look at Peggy’s surprised reaction when Joyce kisses her ear (and by far my favorite exchange of the episode):

Peggy: I have a boyfriend.
Joyce: He doesn’t own your vagina, you know.
Peggy: I know, but he’s renting it out.

Can anyone place the actor who Peggy makes out with in the closet during the police raid? I know I’ve seen him somewhere. Surely, they’ll see each other again as he appears to be far more interesting than her current little boyfriend. He also had a great line in reaction to Kelloggs’ (the artist) disgust and disapproval of Peggy’s advertising career:

“Sorry. For somebody to sell their soul they’ve gotta have one.”

I’ve said just about everything I care to say about Peggy in my discussions of Don and Pete and in the moments of the episode which disappointed me above, so I won’t be redundant here. I will say, however, that linking Peggy to that focus group and the scene where she tries on Faye’s wedding ring as she watches them, made me realize that I’m also getting a tad bit tired of the “all women just want to get married” theme. For the hundredth time they target women and their desire to marry in a campaign (“Ponds: A veiled promise”, they call it). It’s been five years of this, and I’m not necessarily blaming the series for dwelling on it, perhaps its just that this really was that HUGE of a deal, but I won’t mind it when the show starts to get a little more political and a little less social (and by “little” I really mean “little”; I don’t want everything to change completely).

Final thoughts

  • Dr. Faye Miller (“It’s a she“, as Don’s new secretary puts it) doesn’t even know who Megan is talking about when, after the focus group, she walks in and asks “Is she okay?“, obviously in reference to Allison. It’s Peggy who has to say, “She’s fine.” I don’t like this Dr. Miller woman. She’s beyond cold and such a calculated manipulator. She’s not just using the power of observation and creativity to sell people things like our copywriters, but using legit science, and I’m starting to find it kind of unethical. Does anyone else agree?
  • There was no Joanie-time at all in this episode, yet the “previously on Mad Men” intro shows us a clip from last week where Joan says to Greg: “Keep marking the days off the calendar and we’ll keep counting the days towards our future“. Thought that was odd. Perhaps they removed a scene with Joanie from the final cut last minute?
  • Anna sends Don an old picture of them together reminding him that’s she’s still alive and still clueless about her situation. I thought it was particularly interesting how even the note inside called him “Don” and not Dick, as Anna understands that Don’s privacy means everything to him in his Madison Avenue life, and she would never do anything to damage that. Made me even more sad about her pending death.
  • Allison calls Roger Sterling “Roger” when she calls him over into his office. I said it in the season premiere but I’ll say it again: these women have really lost that sense of respect both between employee/employer and woman/man. In Allison’s case it can further be seen when she pries into Don’s life by questioning Anna’s letter and where its from and who sent it (and of course by physically attacking him, eventually).

This Week’s Theme

The episode was called “The Rejected” which is a pretty good indicator of the theme from the get-go, and I’d have to say rejection was the common thread between most of these storylines. Like I said early on in this post, it wasn’t my favorite episode in that the theme wasn’t handled all that well or clearly, but that’s just me. When we think hard about it, there was rejection being dealt by several characters in the episode: Pete to Tom. Don to Allison. Peggy to Joyce. Kellogg to Peggy. Megan to Joyce. Men in general to the focus group women. Pete to Cosgrove (thought Pete pretended). And finally, Pete to Peggy. Only through this theme have I been able to understand what was probably going on between Pete and Peggy in this episode, though I still don’t like it: Pete has chosen his life with Trudy over Peggy and Peggy has moved on, but not without the sting of rejection which never seems to have left her.

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2 Comments

  1. Luisana
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink | Reply

    I finally caught up and watched this episode last night.. I couldn’t agree with you more! It was the first episode that disengaged me.. I even got up once or twice without pausing it. It just seemed messy, and I remember wondering if they had changed writers or the director for this episode–I’ve seen shows do that and it’s very obvious when they do. And you were right, everything is totally different in season four.

    I’m mad at Don… he’s such a mess. I figured sooner or later his lifestyle would catch up with him (I think he said it himself… “I had it coming” or something along the lines) but I would like to see him handle it with a la Don Draper, not stumbling into his apartment every night. Oh, and what was the point of the nurse? And the blonde girl he went on a date with? .. I guess to show that he can’t just sleep with whoever wants anymore, right? On a different note, Betty wasn’t in the episode and i’m kind of glad because she angers me. I mean, Don messed up plenty of times, took her for granted, and made her look like the foolish wife plenty of times. But she was always portrayed as “good”.. then when Don finally tells her about his past, in what’s probably his most vulnerable moment in the entire show, she’s had enough. I can understand her because he’d been lying to her for like ten years… but what confuses me is this: does she leave him because she can’t trust him? Or because she is disgusted by his upbringing? Or because Henry really floats her boat? All of the above? …. ever since they got divorced, it feels like a completely different show sometimes.

    There’s my rant… I’m glad I came across your post this morning. I’ll look for next week’s :)

    • Posted August 17, 2010 at 10:51 am | Permalink | Reply

      Oh my, you HAVE to read last week’s post! It’s basically a longer version of everything you just said right down to my realization that Betty left do for what you called being “disgusted by his upbringing”… or in other words, who he really is.

      It’s certainly a different era which is why it feels like “a different show” but that’s the 60s for you. It’s not really the shows fault. As Bob Dylan once said “the times, they are a changin'”. But I still don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, its just going to take some getting used to.

      By the way: LAST NIGHTS EPISODE WAS DIRECTED BY JOHN SLATTERY (aka ROGER STERLING) IN HIS DIRECTORIAL DEBUT… might have something to do with its lack of direction.

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