Mad Men Musings: Field Trip

If you’re a Mad Men fan, join us regularly for Mad Men Musings – a space to discuss selected highlights, low points, or just plain water-cooler worthy moments of each episode.

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Field trip are excursions into the unknown, a way to observe a specific milieu up close. The objective is to gain new knowledge – a window into a world different than your own. Both Don and Betty take such trips this week; Don tours the land of marriage and work, territory that was once familiar but is now foreign. Betty observes braless teachers and farm life, but she’s really confronting her role as a woman, wife and mother. (She also seems to be field-tripping her way right into an eating disorder, but we’ll get into that later). Everyone get their permission slip signed?

Don is still keeping his finger on the pulse of SC&P long-distance, and he’s getting increasingly demanding with Dawn – she has her hands full trying to run the office, after all. His agitation is not helped when he receives a call from Megan’s agent, Alan. Alan tells Don that Megan had “performed adequately” during an audition, but then basically stalked the director around town, including crashing a lunch the director was having with Rod Serling (holla, Twilight Zone).

MM-Megan

Because Megan clearly cannot think for herself and requires parental – oops, I mean spousal – intervention, Don flies out to Cali to surprise her, and to remind her that gender equality isn’t quite a thing yet.

Megan is thrilled at first, but their reunion sex is soured when Don tells her about Alan’s call. Don cautions her to “not act like a lunatic” and Megan reacts about as well as you would expect. The conversation quickly snowballs into their bicoastal separation, and the more she thinks about Don’s general absence, the angrier she gets. She snarls, “I should fly in then and surprise you…that’s a scary thought, isn’t it?” She even asks him who his “new girl” is, but Don insists there is no one else.

Finally, he reveals the truth of his SC&P suspension situation. (If nothing else, I was cheered to see Don take Sally’s advice – she realizes that her sober husband has chosen to stay in New York, jobless, rather than come to California to be with her. At her breaking point, she tells him, “This is the way it ends. It’s going to be much easier for both of us.”

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Back in New York, Don takes a dinner meeting with a rival agency and gets propositioned by a random blonde – she oh so casually (not really, it was embarrassingly overt) mentions she’s staying in a room upstairs. So Don heads upstairs knocks at the hotel room door, and it’s opened by a total fox…only it’s Roger, not the random blonde woman.

The two engage in some verbal sparring, but Don is essentially there to force an ultimatum, and Roger finally admits he’s missed Don and tells him to come in for a meeting tomorrow.

In the office, it’s soon time for the Clio Awards again; Peggy doesn’t have a horse in this race, but Ginsberg does, as he so gleefully points out. Meanwhile, Harry Crane lies about the computing capabilities of the media department—it’s not lying, really, just “semantics.”

Plus, Jim Cutler is reading Jessica Mitford’s “The American Way of Death” – which, incidentally, is a strangely delightful treatise on the big business of funerals, if you need some light-goth reading.

Meanwhile, Betty’s back, out having lunch with a travel agent friend (Francine, from the old days). In the same way that Don can sometimes seem anachronistic, Betty seems a bit behind the times here – she can’t imagine going into an office three days a week and working, like Francine does. She reassures herself that the children are her most important job, but that effort seems to fall a bit short.

“I guess I’m just old fashioned,” she says. Her friend arches her eyebrows and says, “Betty Draper, that is indeed how I’d describe you.” Yes, she said Draper, and yes, Betty served up some major side eye. Speaking of old fashioned, Betty’s method of controlling her weight appears to be starvation + endless ciggies = insta-thin.

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Even though she didn’t get much sustenance out of that lunch, it did seem to inspire Betty in one way – to be a better mom, starting with volunteering to go on Bobby’s field trip to a local farm. You can tell this doesn’t happen very often, but Betty is trying really hard, you guys. She refrains from telling Bobby’s teacher to put a bra on (although she does indulge in a little mean-girling with a fellow mom) and DRINKS MILK WARM FROM THE UDDER.

It’s all kind of sweet, really, until Bobby trades the sandwich Betty had packed for herself for a bag of gumdrops. A furious Betty (gonna guess that sandwich was the only food she was allowing herself all day) turns ice-cold on Bobby, holding the grudge all the way home and well into dinner. Which she didn’t eat, because she “wasn’t hungry.”

When Henry (that poor, poor man) tries to figure out what’s wrong, Betty asks him, “Do you think I’m a good mom?” When Henry says “of course” Betty follows with “Then why don’t they love me?” Um, Betty, the fact that you run hot and cold as a faulty tap may help answer that question.

In the field trip of motherhood, Betty makes forays into being kind and caring, but there’s some internal damage and selfishness that always interferes. She’s such a fascinating example of how the old and new mores clash: she gave up her modeling career to be a wife and mother, but that’s never been quite enough for her, leaving her unsatisfied on all accounts. I don’t know if it’s possible to Betty to change, but at this point she’s down to little Gene if she wants to do better.

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At SC&P, Don continues on his own field trip. He spends an excruciatingly awkward day in the office – Roger is late, Lou is all what-the-hell-are-you-doing-here and Peggy is beyond rude. It’s clear that he’s been replaced, in more than one way – these aren’t his old stomping grounds, but a new environment, one that functions just fine without him. No one has any clue why he’s back, and it becomes increasingly obvious as he sits in the break room, smoking and paging through ad material, that Roger hasn’t cleared Don’s return with anyone.

The partners meet and have a tense discussion as to Don’s future; no one goes up to bat for Don except for Roger. Jim Cutler thinks they need to focus on the media department, not creative; Joan doesn’t know where Don fits into the new agency model; Lou has a two year contract, dammit, and he’s not about to give that up. As Roger points out, though, it will cost them a fortune to formally fire Don and buy him out, so they conclude they’ll take him back on.

And so finally, finally, the partners bring Don in for a meeting. They offer him his position back, BUT there are some major stipulations: he can’t be alone with any clients, all scripts have to be approved, no drinking in the office, and he will be reporting to Lou.

If you were expecting Don to end his SC&P tour via flipping chairs and storming out, you were probably a little disappointed by his response: a mild, even-tempered “Okay.”

Really, Don? Are these true glimmerings of change we’re seeing in Mr. Draper – hubris tempered by a bit of humility? Between this and coming clean to Megan (although that relationship definitely hangs in the balance) this leopard might be changing a spot or two. I’m reserving judgment, but eager to see if this field trip has any lasting results.

Readers: What do you think of Betty’s disorder eating/Mommy Dearest routine? Is it wrong that I cracked up at Bobby’s expression when he was forced to gnaw at that gumdrop? And weigh in on Don – is he actually learning something, after all this time?

all photos: via AMC

Amity writes and teaches in Central PA. Her obsessions include: Rodarte (she can’t afford any Rodarte, mind you, but a girl can dream), espresso, books, vintage/thrift fashion and fountain pens. She thinks you should dress like a weirdo once in a while, just to shake things up.

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11 Comments

  1. Profile photo of turboterp
    turboterp

    I love your field trip intro, @amity !

    That “Okay” from Don at the end freaked me out. I mean, what?! Not what I expected at all!

    Glad to see Betty was back (loved her Field Trip to the Farm outfit). Poor Bobby. I keep wondering what kind of woman he’ll be attracted to when he gets older.

    1. Profile photo of amity
      amity

      Thanks! I was shocked at Don’s reaction too–was totally prepared for some major fireworks. I suspect those wheels of his are spinning,though…

  2. Profile photo of Stef Andrews
    Stef Andrews

    I found myself cringing through this whole episode. Cringing that Don was going to show up to either a dead Megan or Megan and some stinky hippie doing it on her latch hook rug. Cringing that Don sat in the office for 8 hours before the partners came to a decision. Cringing that Peggy was such an absolute bitch to him. And cringing at every single thing that came out of (or went in) Betty’s mouth! But that doesn’t mean I didn’t love every single second of it all.

    Some random thoughts:
    “Thanks for the visit, Daddy” – OUCH, Megan. That was mean.

    Speaking of mean, Peggy! What a bitter little pill she’s been this season. But I’m fully getting ready for her and Don to join forces against Lou (who I can’t wait to watch him fall.) There just HAS TO be a Don and Peggy superduo by the end of this series. I am living for it.

    I loved that while everyone in the office obviously had their feathers in a ruffle to different degrees at Don’s return, that it was Ginsberg who embraced him being there. And the ditzy secretary who when Peggy was all panties in a bunch “What’s HE doing here?” She said “Who cares?!” to show what a dreamboat she thinks he is.

    And I loved, loved, LOVED the Jimi Hendrix closing song “If 6 was 9″. Not only is it one of my favorite Hendrix songs, but it was just so stinking perfect. “if 6 turned out to be 9, I don’t mind, I don’t mind …” Don’s changing. And he’s embracing the change – FINALLY. Remember him scratching The Beatles “Tomorrow Never Knows” off the turntable at the end of the episode in Season 5? He was def. not ready for change. But he is now. The 6 could turn out to be a 9….
    Stef Andrews recently posted..How To: Pack For A Glamping Trip

    1. Profile photo of amity
      amity

      Oooooh, killer insight regarding the Beatles vs. Hendrix songs! I was totally thinking Don was gonna catch Megan with some dude too, and who could blame her, really?

    1. Profile photo of amity
      amity

      I agree, Joan was snippy–I think she’s just really worried about her place. She finally has accounts now, and doesn’t want Don sweeping in and upending all her hard work.

  3. Profile photo of sherrishera
    sherrishera

    Can I just say that the first two episodes totally had me losing faith in Mad Men? I know I expressed it before, but it seemed to be getting too obviously arty. I actually had defended the first episode against that very arty-obnoxious thing. Then two hit and a dark cloud of annoyance rained on my MM idealism. Fortunately, bad Betty heralded the true begining of the season in my eyes. THIS is my Mad Men–the subtlties and the stories, the twisty, bendy characters and the shockingly real-life turns. Yes! it’s back!!
    I do lament a boozy Sunday night theme, however. Since Don has passed on the Seagrams, so have I. It just doesn’t seem right anymore.

  4. Profile photo of amity
    amity

    I think the show might feel different tonally because of the drive to show Don’s “change,” as well as the more pronounced shift into a new era, since we’re at 1969–the mood/energy seems to change. But regardless, in his heart of hearts, I’m confident Don would never begrudge you of a boozy watching experience–pour in good health!

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