Thursday, May 1, 2014

Mad Men Episode 7-3: Field Trip

This week’s episode begins with Don sitting alone in a sparsely populated movie theater, smoking a cigarette and watching a film of a mysterious woman in a white convertible being followed by a man in a black convertible, driving about on a sunny day. The musical score we hear is the famous violin and harp theme from the great Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic suite, Sheherazade. This scene has a dream-like quality to it.

 Next we see Don at home in his New York City apartment, calling Dawn Chambers at Sterling Cooper and asking her to bring over some office supplies as well as picking her brain for what’s happening at the office. Dawn proposes to have a messenger deliver the supplies since she’s too busy, but Don insists that she bring them herself. Dawn also tells him that Alan Silver (Megan’s agent) has called and wants to talk to him. Don commands Dawn to get him on the line, but with the phones ringing wildly, she puts him on hold and he hangs up. Next he calls Alan directly, and Alan tells Don that Megan’s been behaving desperately in regard to a recent audition and he asks Don to talk some sense into her. Alan’s parting advice is, “Best to nip this in the bud,” and, “She really is doing well as the new girl in town.”

 With his typical man-of-action response, Don flies to Los Angeles to surprise Megan with flowers and a short visit. On the flight, he chats with a flight attendant he knows by name, and she flirts, saying that she’s jealous of Megan. Don orders tomato juice, signaling an avoidance of alcohol. Upon arrival at Megan’s house, Don at first claims he came to visit because he “has a hankering” and Megan at first believes him. However, once Don begins trying to discuss the issue that Alan had told him about – that Megan’s was behaving inappropriately as an actress – she realizes that Don didn’t come out to fill her romantic needs, but rather to play a fatherly role and help her regain her confidence as an actress. Angry at having her romantic feelings dashed, she unleashes her fears in the form of accusations that Don doesn’t really miss her and that he’s having love affairs back in New York. Don protests that he’s been good and isn’t even drinking much, but Megan doesn’t believe him. She says that every time she calls him at the office, he’s not there, and she demands to know what’s going on. Don then admits he’s been on leave since the beginning of the year. Megan responds indignantly, “So with a clear head, you got up every day and decided you didn’t want to be with me.” She then tells him to take a cab and go back to New York immediately. “This is the way it ends. It’s going to be so much easier this way for both of us.”

 We next see Don in his NYC apartment on the phone with someone, saying, “Enough dancing around; let’s have dinner.” The dinner is at an elegant restaurant, and Don is seated with two men, one of whom hands him an envelope to make him an offer to work with them. Soon a beautiful young blond woman walks over to Don, claims to know him (although Don doesn’t know her), and tells him which room she’s staying in, in case he wants to visit her. He is polite to her, but after she walks away he confronts his two dinner companions with: “Fellows, there’s no need for the hard sell.” They reply unconvincingly, “We didn’t do it. I wish I’d thought of it.”

In the next scene, Don stands at someone’s door and knocks. Instead of the young woman, Roger Sterling answers the door and asks what Don is doing there. Don asks, “Are you alone?” and then “How do you sleep at night?” Don shows Roger the envelope with the employment offer he just received, and Roger says Don should accept it. They begin to argue, with Roger asserting, “You were a disaster” and Don responding, “I started that agency.” Roger comes back with, “I found you at the bottom of a fur box.” Finally Roger tells Don (in a combative tone), “If you want to come back, come back. I miss you.” Just then, Roger’s young hippie girlfriend comes to the door claiming to be “room service,” and Roger introduces Don to Sherri. Don says, “I was just leaving,” and Roger tells him, “Come in on Monday.” They end with a handshake.

 We next see Don at home, where he makes an apology phone call to a crying, hurt, and still angry Megan at her LA home. His apology includes the lines: “I shouldn’t have lied to you; I’m sorry; I want everything to be okay.” He tells her he hasn’t been thinking clearly, although there was some logic to what he did, but that now he’s returning to the agency and he thinks he can fix things. Megan’s enraged response is, “‘I fixed it’ is you got a job out here! I can’t believe after all this time you don’t know me. Don’t lie to me.” He offers to fly back out to LA but she says it’s not a good time. He ends the call with “I love you” to her “Goodbye.” Hanging up the phone, Don pauses to think and listens to emergency vehicle sirens at a distance.

 When Don returns to the office on Monday morning, we hear a beautiful but slow, haunting passage of Mad Men background music that expresses Don’s mood as he walks in and sees several employees he doesn’t recognize. Eventually Don sees the familiar face of Roger’s secretary, who says she has no idea when Roger will be in. Don tells her he has a meeting with Roger, but that he’ll keep himself occupied until Roger arrives. Soon Don is observed by several employees who know him and are surprised to see him, including Mike, Stan, Lou, Peggy, and Dawn. Many of them ask what he’s doing there, and it becomes obvious that Roger has told no one that he invited Don back. Meanwhile, Mike invites Don to work with him on a creative project for client Chevalier Noir, and Don goes along. Don also asks the creative team to catch him up with what’s been happening in their department. When Lou realizes this is happening, he suddenly calls a meeting of the creative team in his office, thus leaving Don to sit by himself. The usually tactless Mike says, “Sorry Don.”

 When Joan and Ken enter the office and see Don, Joan is coldly cordial and then heads straight to Bert Cooper’s office to report Don’s intrusion. When Joan tells Bert about Don’s presence, she adds, “He says he’s waiting for Roger.” Ken, on the other hand, is personally friendly, telling Don about his new baby boy, Eddie. Ken shows Don a picture of when he took Eddie to the carousel in Central Park, and he tells Don, “The carousel always reminds me of you.”

 Finally, Roger arrives at work, drunk. Don complains that nobody expected him, and Roger goes off: “I don’t have to tell anyone. My name is on the door. I’m the president of this agency.” Don demands, “Now call a damn meeting.” Meanwhile, Lou talks to Jim Cutler and worries that he’s going to be fired now that Don’s back. However, Jim Cutler says he’ll find out what’s going on and assures him they’re going to ask Don to leave.

 Up in Bert Cooper’s office, the partners argue about Don’s status. Jim Cutler believes Don has already been fired, but Roger insists that Don was merely put on temporary leave. Joan claims that leave was only a way of ushering Don out to give him a chance to retain his dignity and land another job, but Bert Cooper says he didn’t necessarily think Don was fired. Jim argues to keep Lou (instead of Don), describing Lou as “adequate,” but wants to talk about firing Harry Crane after an earlier encounter that day. In that encounter, Jim asked Harry to help him deal with a client impressed with an ad agency competitor that had an in-house computer, and Harry supplied enough smooth talk/BS to save Jim from embarrassment and keep the client mildly interested in Sterling Cooper; however, after the client left,  Jim confronted Harry for being dishonest. Hearing Jim’s demand to ax Harry, Roger says, “He’s gone” without realizing that Jim is off-base or understanding the value of Harry’s talents. The partners next argue about whether keeping or firing Don is a financial issue, and ultimately Roger explains that Don is a partner and would need to be bought out, and that if they fire Don they will lose their non-compete agreement, a scary notion for them because of Don’s prodigious talent. Roger bemoans their current lack of creative output, whereas Jim complains that they’re too dependent on creative personalities.

 While Don waits to be brought in to this meeting, Peggy enters the room where Don is waiting. Peggy is already upset that her St. Joseph’s/Rosemary’s Baby ad did not snag a Clio nomination, whereas one of Mike’s ads has been nominated. Seeing Don, Peggy asks coldly how his day has been and whether he’s coming back. Then she says, “Well, I can’t say that we miss you” and walks away, with Don replying, “Thank you, Peggy.”

 Dawn comes to get Don and brings him to Bert’s office where the partners, sans Pete and Ted, await. Bert announces: “We’ve come to the conclusion that we want you to come back to work.” Don replies: “I’m pleased to hear that.” Then they spell out the stipulations for continuing his employment and avoiding the loss of his partner status along with termination. The stipulations include not being alone with clients, sticking to a board-approved script with clients, using Lane’s old office, not drinking alcohol at the office for the most part, and reporting to Lou Avery. Don consents.

Betty’s story begins at a restaurant where she’s having lunch with her old friend and neighbor, Francine, who now works three days a week at a travel agency. Francine tries in vain to explain to Betty why she wants to work there. Betty wonders, “Doesn’t Carlton complain?” and Francine replies that he likes the extra money. Betty has trouble understanding Francine’s viewpoint and, when Francine’s not looking, Betty gives her a disapproving and skeptical look.

Next, Betty is at home in the kitchen while her housekeeper is interacting with and caring for Bobby and Gene. The housekeeper tells Betty that Bobby has a field trip to a farm coming up and that Betty needs to sign a permission form for it. Betty decides to step in and go along with Bobby as a chaperon, instead of allowing the housekeeper to play that role. Bobby is surprised and excited.

Later we see Betty and Bobby riding the school bus among Bobby’s classmates. The teacher seems to like Betty a lot, and Betty is polite but not impressed with the teacher, commenting on the woman’s blouse as if that indicated she slept around, and as if Bobby understood what that meant. Bobby tells Betty about his favorite superheroes, including the Wolf Man, the Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Betty seems to listen with interest.

 At the farm, the children are ushered into the barn to milk the cows, but Betty and the other mother chaperoning decide to stay back and smoke cigarettes. The other mother criticizes the teacher for going braless, a major trend in the late 1960s and beyond, which for many women represented women’s power of self-determination, not to have to wear uncomfortable bras just to please men.

 Later, the ladies join the class in the barn, and Betty volunteers to drink some fresh milk from the pail, making Bobby feel proud. After that, we see Betty spreading a blanket on the grass for their picnic lunch. Betty excuses herself to go and wash her hands, and Bobby protectively tells another classmate not to sit on his blanket because that space is for his mom. However, while Betty is away, Bobby trades some or all of his lunch with a girl who tells him she doesn’t have a sandwich and who offers him candy in exchange. On returning to the picnic blanket to eat her sandwich, Betty becomes very angry with Bobby for trading her sandwich away – although she shows no concern for whether Bobby ate his sandwich. Bobby says, “I’m sorry, I swear. I didn’t know you were going to eat.” Bobby feels crestfallen at her unrelenting disapproval and Betty resentfully insists that Bobby eat the candy while she smokes another cigarette.

 Back at home, Betty and Bobby are in the kitchen when Henry asks, “How was the farm?” Neither Betty nor Bobby give him a direct answer. Then Betty says in a self-pitying tone, “I’m not hungry. I was hungry, but now I’m not.” When Henry asks what happened, Betty leaves the room, saying she’s going to give Gene a bath. Bobby stays and says, “I wish it was yesterday.”

 Upstairs, Henry finds Betty cuddling with a sleeping baby Gene by her side, and asks again, “What happened?” Betty replies that it was a beautiful day but Bobby ruined it. Henry challenges her: “How is that possible, Betty?” But Betty changes the subject to ask, “Do you think I’m a good mother? …then why don’t they love me?” When Henry points to Gene and says they do, she replies, “It’s just a matter of time.”

A major theme in this episode is introduced through music. In Sheherazade, the music played in the film Don first watches, the story behind the music sets the tone for this episode. Composer Rimsky-Korsakov outlined the Sheherazade story thus: a Sultan considered women false and faithless, and so resolved to have each of his wives put to death, one by one, after each of his many “wedding” nights. One wife, Sultana Sheherazade, figured out how to escape this fate by telling the Sultan a fascinating story and then promising more, one night at a time, for 1001 nights. The Sultan was so enthralled by these stories that he eventually changed his mind and decided not to have Sheherazade killed.

 In this episode, Don plays the flip side of Sultana Sheherazade’s character – a man who himself has been false and faithless, but who works hard to “survive” and escape his apparent fate of being rejected by wife Megan and permanently cut off by his company, not so much by using his talent for talking and spinning tales (although he tries), but mostly by learning how to stop arguing at some point and keep quiet, listen to others, and say the right things very concisely at the right times.

A second theme is the distressing worry: “Why don’t they love me?

·         Betty with her kids

·         Peggy with the Clios

·         Megan with her auditions


A third theme is missing people when they’re gone and facing disappointments when they’re there.

·         Don misses working at the office, and so he works hard to get a job offer that he can then leverage with Roger to try to get reinstated at work; once reinstated, however, the terms are no doubt disappointing.

·         Roger tells Don he misses him at the office, although the way he says it may disappoint Don.

·         Megan misses Don and wants Don to miss her, but when he’s in California with her, he disappoints her tremendously.

·         Don tells Megan he misses her when they’re apart, but she doesn’t believe him and uses that as a jumping off point to accuse him of cheating on her, a reaction that must disappoint Don after taking the trouble to fly out there and surprise her with flowers.

·         Bobby misses having his mom in his life, but when she’s there, she’s not the loving mother he imagines her to be.

·         Betty misses being the beloved mother in a relationship with Bobby, but when she spends time with Bobby he disappoints her and makes her feel less beloved.

·         Peggy lets Don know that when he was gone from the office, he wasn’t missed.


Finally, Bobby’s line, “I wish it was yesterday,” following his bad day at the farm, resonates for others as well, including:

·         Betty, who the day before thought the field trip would be fun.

·         Don, who one day earlier thought his trip to Los Angeles to visit Megan would be fun.

·         Peggy, who a day earlier was content with Don’s absence at the office.

·         Harry, who a day earlier was employed, and will soon find out he’s been axed.

·         Lou, who the day before didn’t have to fear being displaced by Don.

·         Megan, who probably wishes her relationship were still intact as it was the day before Don visited.


 Want more analysis? Look for my new Mad Men essays on / Mad Men


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