First of all, congratulations are in order to “Mad Men” for winning a well-deserved Emmy for Best Drama for the second year in a row. The show itself did not take a break from its schedule tonight to enjoy its success, however. Throughout this season, it has teased The British Invasion since the end of its second season. And tonight, the morbidly funny and incredibly bloody episode got a fitting title in “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency.” Because Lord knows Guy sure didn’t walk OUT of one.
[Full recap of Sunday (Sept. 20) night's "Mad Men' after the break...]
The Guy in question? Guy MacKendrick, an up-and-comer inside of Sterling Cooper’s parent company Putnam, Powell and Lowe. He visits alongside a few other power players from across the pond to deliver a reorganization structure that deflates the high expectations expressed beforehand. Don’s dreams of living in London are dashed, Pete foresees a day in which he’s little more than a secretary, and Roger Sterling reacts in horror at seeing he’s been left off the new chart entirely. “I’m being punished for making my job look easy,” he complains to Cooper.
Cooper, for his part, eats chocolate pudding, counts his money, and counts down the days until he’s either too infirm to work or drops dead. A part of Cooper died during the merger, and he’s made his peace for his pieces of gold. Sterling, on the other hand, is only starting to understand the flip side of the deal that yielded him greater riches but less pull. Still smarting from Don’s reaction at the garden party back in “My Old Kentucky Home,” it’s clear that Roger loves to make jokes but is extremely sensitive at being the butt of one.
So, one can understand his heartless and cruel jokes in lieu of the single-most horrific thing ever shown on “Mad Men”: the serrating of Guy’s leg due to a secretary’s inability to drive a John Deere riding lawnmower around the office. The build-up was part “Animal House” and part “The Shining,” with the payoff aping the best shock violence of Tarantino and the Coen Brothers. Seeing the young staff covered in British blood on the eve of their celebration of American independence was apparently too good to pass up for the writers of the show. As for Sterling? He just sees the incident as karmic payback for being left off the chart.
That accident not only cuts Guy’s foot off, but also eliminates any chance of a successful business career for the rising star. (“The doctors say he may never golf again!” cried Saint-John Powell.) In addition, the planned re-org itself is off, keeping everything status quo for now, including CFO Lane Pryce’s position in NYC. He was due to move to Bombay in what we gather is a never-ending string of temporary assignments forming a life of constant reorganization itself. His wistful quoting of Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer” near the episode’s end shows a growing affinity for not only the United States, but perhaps Sterling Cooper as well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lane as an X-factor as the tensions across the Atlantic increase over the rest of this season.
While Don’s London-based fantasies might have been dashed, he found new and surprising opportunities in the form of Conrad Hilton, the man with whom Don shared a drink at Sterling’s garden party. “I called around, told people I had a long chat with a handsome fellow from Sterling Cooper, and your name never came up. Apparently you don’t have long chats with people,” Conrad tells Don, looking for a free consult on two ad campaigns for his hotel chain. Don dismisses them both (ill-advisedly, seeing how both were Conrad’s brain child), and offers to pitch something better. Conrad thinks Don should have aimed higher in his counter, but Don’s slow-and-steady approach eventually wins Conrad over.
There, in a nutshell, is what Guy MacKendrick could never truly learn about Don Draper through the reams of research the London office gathered in the hopes of Building a Better Don. The London office offers Lane an embalmed snake for their “snake charmer,” unaware of how deflated they make their loyal (to a fault) employee. Don uses the metaphor of a hungry snake in order to demonstrate that his work ethic is slow, methodical, and anti-impulsive. As a fellow man that made his money from the ground up, Conrad would have undoubtedly appreciated that approach. And as a master of understanding what a particular person needs in the business world, Don’s well-equipped to be the one person able to speak his mind to the Innkeeper of the World.
That insight is also finally arriving when it comes to his daughter, Sally. In what was a well-done albeit obvious plotline, Sally spends the majority of the episode spooked by the presence of her new-brother Eugene. Jealous? Not at all. Like Don, she realizes that it’s pretty spooky to have a child with the same name and apparently appearance as her grandfather living in the same room as Grandpa Gene once did. Both Betty and Sally seem to be fighting over the best way to grieve over his death, with Don stuck in the middle trying to make both women happy. For now, he sides with his daughter. Maybe it’s because he agrees with her point of view, or maybe it’s just because he realizes that Betty’s attention is so focused on the baby that their other two children would be parentless without his involvement. In any case, find me a more compelling shot of familial love that Don holding both baby Gene and Sally in the moonlight at episode’s end. Just gorgeous.
That shot paid off another cool set of shots mid-episode, in which Joan, Don, and Sally each fixate on an electrical light fixture. Transposing the natural light at the end with the man-made light halfway through gave a subtle sense of progression, although for Joan herself there’s no so much progression as a slow, sinking trip into the abyss of the unknown. Having handed in her resignation in anticipation of her husband’s promotion to Chief of Surgery, she’s devastated when Greg 1) doesn’t come home for her specially-cooked celebratory dinner, and 2) learns that her husband doesn’t have “brains in [his] fingers.” In short? He has no future in surgery in NYC, making her the perpetual breadwinner in the family. When kissing Don’s cheek as she says goodbye to him in the hospital, the look was half “Why couldn’t I have married someone like you instead?” and “What the hell am I going to do now?”
With tonight’s episode, the Emmy-award winning show finally started to reveal its central themes in dramatic context. On the professional front, the tension between Sterling Cooper and Putnam, Powell and Lowe is finally coming to the surface. On the personal front, Eugene’s early presence in the season is making his absence loom that much larger. Both storylines are echoed in Bob Dylan’s “Song to Woody,” played over the closing credits. Written as an ode to the man who inspired him, Dylan sang:
Hey, hey Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song
'Bout a funny ol' world that's a-comin' along.
Seems sick an' it's hungry, it's tired an' it's torn,
It looks like it's a-dyin' an' it's hardly been born.
The cyclical nature of life and death, of people struggling to come from nothing to make something only to watch it slip away at life’s end, pervades the show’s everyday activities. Sterling can’t stay on top anymore than Grandpa Eugene could stick around. But leave it to Don Draper, the master of self-invention, to leave Sally with words of wisdom that he had to teach himself in the wake of the Korean War: “He’s only a baby. We don’t know who he is yet, or who he’s going to be. And that is a wonderful thing.” Even if everything begins and ends the same, there’s still a chance to make the middle something special.
What did you think of this bloody good episode of “Mad Men”?