The first commercial break in this week’s episode of Mad Men did not come until 18 minutes in. For television, that is an impressive amount of time. For a series that does not rely on action and really had nothing more than characters conversing with one another, it is even more impressive. Seven seasons in, Mad Men is likely not trying to win any new fans (though I can understand a desire to sit in on this series, because it is well produced and acted), but it is happy to continue being itself in ways impressive enough to reflect what it can do very well: take the characters we know and throw them into new arenas.
Harry Crane makes his season debut this week and he is given something new to work on. We know Harry to be somewhat annoying, but not as annoying as Pete, while also pretty much right on about the steps needed in order to keep the company progressing forward with the times. By having Harry talk about computers with not only concerned clients, but with Jim Cutler (Harry Hamlin nails some very funny line readings this week), it now falls on Harry to explain more openly what needs to be done. While that may result in Harry’s continued acknowledgement that he has a good job, but not the respect he believes he deserves, it does put the show on track to have Harry and SC&P working towards a new step up in the corporate world, which could result in my presumed idea that Harry just might make it out of this series as the most successful man that didn’t already start this show with tons of money.
Along with Harry, Betty Francis (and the rest of House Francis) makes her season debut as well, with Betty fitting right into a story that allows her to diverge from the norm. Granted, Betty still ends up being herself and reminding us of how horrible she can be, but we do get a look at where she stands and where she believes she stands with her current life. It is unfortunate to look at how far Betty has come and realize she has had little chance be a better mother. This is partially due to Don. While calling Betty “troubled” is one way to address what I remember about her from season one, the fact that Don was such an incredulous and domineering figure in her life could not have helped in preparing her for motherhood. Being married to the boring, but more down to earth Henry Francis has allowed Betty to unfold into a more controlled person, but that still does not stop her from not being open in the right way.
While Don and Sally is the most important Draper relationship on this show, getting to see Betty and little Bobby Draper interact is a fun new arena to be thrown into and it is aggravating in the right kind of way to see how it ends. Throughout the majority of this plotline in “Field Trip” we watch Betty act as the kind of mother she wishes she could always be (even if it still involves her fashion and class senses clashing against the rural trip she signs up for). Bobby is happy to have his mom on the field trip, the class is impressed to see Betty drink the freshly squeezed milk, and the braless teacher (as Betty and the other parent bitchily joke about) is happy to see her participation. All is then ruined. It is not because Bobby traded the sandwich though; it is because Betty does not know how to handle the situation. Instead of turning an error in judgment into a teachable moment, Betty guilts her child and scolds him in a backhanded way later on.
I could honestly spend so much more time simply writing about why I think January Jones is great at playing Betty (and unfortunately not much else). There are some very specific qualities needed to approach this kind of character and while she has certainly become a character that serves as one of the most hated in this series, there has always been something to be said for understanding why she is this way, based on where early subplots involving her were taken. In her current form, Betty is at an unfortunate loss as to why she believes her children do not love her. She is certainly mistaken, as it comes down to her not welcoming love in the right kind of way, but I am not sure whether we will see a sudden resolve in her as a person, in an effort to really keep a door open for Betty to become a fully understanding human by the end of this series.
Moving on to Don, it is amazing to find the new arena for him is actually his former place of business. The centerpiece of this episode is the work room for the creative department, where Don sits for a majority of a work day and is given awkward greetings from a company he once stood high in. Now Don has almost no power and “Field Trip” gets a lot of mileage out of making Don sweat it out, as he waits to hear about what lies ahead for his future involvement in SC&P. It comes at the right time to an extent. With Megan no longer in the dark about Don’s employment situation, he needs to utilize what he is great at in full capacity again. It may be misguided of him to think that working full time in New York again, after having the opportunity be with his wife and find work in Los Angeles, only to choose not to, would be the way to have her forgive him, but it is at least something of a progression for the man who sat around watching TV and eating Ritz crackers in his pajamas just last week.
I loved that the opportunity to come back to work came up because of Roger. Following a rather large offer from the same company we saw Don meet with in the season opener, he goes to Roger’s home and wants to know what to do. The pairing of Roger and Don easily stands as one of the best on this show and hearing Roger tell Don to come back, because he misses him is a thought likely shared by everyone. The fact that Roger is nowhere to be seen on the Monday of Don’s return is also incredibly fitting, despite the newness of this scenario where Don is adrift in a company that he helped build. Plenty of questions are asked, Lou has plenty of reasons to act like even more of a dick than last week, and potential outcome of the scenario is all the more interesting due to the fact that Don returning to SC&P is inevitable, but the dynamics of bringing back an estranged member has so much to offer to how this show can set up its ultimate endgame.
As I mentioned, the opening of this episode lasted for 18 minutes before a commercial. Within that time, it is established that Lou is a very non-creative creative lead, Dawn is very busy with her new position, Harry is on to something, but is also still Harry, and Peggy is going nowhere but down in her current state. Don is going to affect all of this, okay, maybe not so much Harry directly, but Don coming back is a turn in the story that will take SC&P into uncharted territory. As it stands, the company is functional. With a genius creative back behind the desk, it could change drastically for the better or for the worse.
There was another thing that happened within that first 18 minutes though. With a call from the very “big” LA agent, Don decided to surprise Megan with a fatherly dressing-down concerning her audition crisis. Things quickly turned for the worse, once Don comes clean about his situation. This results in being kicked out of the house and quickly returning to New York. Not every good thing is supposed to last. It is an arguable point to call Don’s marriage ‘good’, but he is fairly honest in addressing that he has been ‘good’ in terms of not sleeping around or even drinking that much. Given the various stipulations involved in Don’s return to the office, only time will tell at how good he can be and how long that will last before the commercial comes and Don has to step away from his sponsors.
Any Other Business?
- Bobby Draper likes the Wolfman best, but is open to what Dracula has to offer.
- Emily Arnett is incredibly forward with Don, though none of us have any idea who she is.
- Eddie Cosgrove!
- Peggy’s anger at Don’s return is the kind of thing I’d love to speculate about, but I am hoping to see more next week, especially given the regime change, with Lou still at the wheel and Don reporting to him, while Peggy continues to not be credited for much and instead asked questions like, “why is there artwork.”
- “I wish it was yesterday.” – Poor Bobby Draper