“You’re as handsome as Cary Grant!” “And you’re as beautiful as my hugely pregnant wife!”
So first of all, hi folks! Welcome to the third season of Mad Men, and the first season of me trying to write about Mad Men for tvgasm. I’m coming from Prison Break, a show I genuinely enjoyed but pretty much made its own jokes for me, so this will be an adjustment. Bear with me while I find my footing, won’t you? (Please note that I am at a Starbucks on vacation at the moment so you can expect these a day or two sooner when I’m not traveling and/or foiled by faulty beach condo wifi.)
It’s still 1963, which means we’ll all spend the entire season waiting for a great big book-depository-shaped shoe to drop. Last season’s British Invasion has affected the structure of Sterling-Cooper, but the players are all pretty much how we left them: Roger is still the very definition of a cad, Pete is alternately jubilant and petulant, Ken is Kool as a Kucumber, Joan is still a smoking hot firecracker, and Don is still, you know. Don. So what’s the back half of 1963 got in store for these folks? Let’s find out!3.01 Out Of Town. Don’s half-asleep, warming milk in the kitchen in an actual pot on an honest to goodness stove. A little scene plays out in front of him, a woman giving birth to a stillborn baby. Don makes a little face like, “huh, weird that I never noticed that community theater troupe in our dining room.” This isn’t a flashback, they aren’t memories – I assume we’re seeing what Don has pieced together over the years about his birth. Poor Mrs. Whitman keeps losing babies, and her jerk husband keeps hiring inexpensive adorable little prostitutes and impregnating them. And then they die in childbirth, because that was really trendy back then. So in a sad, depression-era version of surrogacy, The midwife’s all “so hey Mrs. Whitman, you can’t have your asshole husband’s babies, but this adorable little dead whore totally could, so here you go!” and hands over baby Dick, who is allegedly named for “a wish his mother should have lived to see,” i.e. that if Mr. Whitman knocked her up she’d cut his dick off and boil it in hog fat. Again, I imagine little tiny Dick Whitman hearing bits of this story in various arguments and drunken rants over the years and filling in humorous blanks when necessary. Otherwise that’s just silly.
“This is the weirdest most disturbing play I’ve ever seen in my kitchen in the middle of the night.”
He snaps out of his reverie when the milk starts boiling over. He carefully skims the skin off the top and discards it, and you know, there’s probably something about how the surface seems solid but underneath it’s all wobbly and sloshy, or how easily Don can just set aside anything that comes to the surface from the depths, etc. You know. Something people smarter than me could write English papers about.
Turns out the milk is for big ole round pregnant Betty, who can’t sleep. She seems pretty jubilant for a pregnant insomniac who just a few months ago was having super hot angry bar sex with Captain Awesome and came thisclose to kicking this very husband out on his charming dapper ass for being an unrepentant bastard. But everything’s all copacetic at the moment (apart from Sally taking to her father’s tools “like a little lesbian” and breaking the clasp on his valise). Betty wants the baby to come into their home at its best, she says, and aww, Don totally learned his lesson! Look at him there, all spooning and whispering happy things to help her sleep and whatnot. New leaf officially turned over, right?
And yay, welcome back, completely awesome Sterling Cooper set! I think I’ve missed you most of all. Bert is showing off that fantastic Hokusai tentacle porn painting in his office for Mr Pryce, i.e. the limey bastard who runs the joint now. “Who is the man who imagined her ecstasy?” he wonders aloud to Pryce as Don walks in. “We were just talking about you!” Cooper tells Don without skipping a beat. Heh. Pryce tells Don he’s sorry to have to send him off to Baltimore, but someone has to meet with the London Fog guys, and Don is still the face of the company. Because it’s the face of a cartoon pilot. Pryce scoffs that London has no fog – it was all coal dust in those Dickens stories. I’ve been to London, and it seems like the sort of climate that would in fact create many opportunities for actual fog, but hey, I’m not the fictional Brit here. Roger’s late, so they have to start their “this isn’t easy” meeting with Head of Accounts Bert Peterson without him. They were kind enough to wait until his wife was done with radiation therapy to fire him, which was totally classy of them. But hey, nothing to be done, no hard feelings, etc. Peterson does in fact have some hard feelings, which he’s beginning to share when Roger finally walks in. “Oh, it’s that meeting,” he mutters hilariously when he sees the sad awkward tableau.
Ladies and gentlemen, Peter Paul and Harry! (Look how beautiful this still is! It’s hard to pick screencaps from a show looks like one big gorgeous painting from start to finish.)
Oh, Paul and Harry! Yay! Sounds like there have been quite a few of those awkward meetings, so I’m glad these guys are still around. “What’s the point of making $40k if you’re going to be taxed 69%?” Harry’s wondering out loud, and ha, see, there’s a bit of perspective for us in the form of a history lesson; i.e., holy crap, 69%? Maybe we should all shut up about our income tax before someone notices they’re less than half what they were during the Camelot years, sheesh. They watch the end of Peterson’s exit tantrum and wonder if that’s the last of the firings. On cue, Pete’s secretary tells him Mr. Pryce wants to see him. I love Pete, in all his whiny petulant glory. I feel like I need to go on record with that early on. And Angel nostalgia only accounts for maybe a quarter of that.
Outside of Peterson’s office, Joan, in her awesome awesome Joanness, politely admonishes Moneypenny (Pryce’s secretary-but-not-that-kind-of-secretary) for not giving her advance notice that might have minimized the drama. He admonishes her right back for how he’s being addressed: He’s not “John,” he’s “Mr. Hooker.” Do I detect some flirty undertones here? Could we please be witnessing the beginning of something that will ultimately release Joan from her total asshat fiancÃ©? Fingers crossed! (There wasn’t much Joan this week, but don’t you worry, for the rest of the season I will include as many images of Christina Hendricks glorious hotness as possible.)
Pete goes into his meeting with Pryce looking EXACTLY like he’s been called to the Principal’s office. I cannot say enough about how spot on Vincent Kartheiser is – I mean, obviously the entire cast is phenomenal, and Jon Hamm deserves every bit of fawning praise he receives and then some, but I feel like this performance gets lost in the shuffle. Anyway, he’s terrified, but Pryce assures him that it’s not that kind of meeting; in fact, as of Peterson’s departure, Pete is now Head of Accounts. He’s so excited he forgets to ask any followup questions and just runs to his office to do a little happy dance. He calls Trudy to share the good news, and they’re all cute and happy – they also seem to be in better shape than they were when we left off. Of course, last time we saw Pete he was professing his love for Peggy and getting a big fat “No Thank You And While We’re On The Subject I Gave Your Baby Away” in return, so I guess he decided to cut his losses and make friends with his actual wife. So yay, another rocky marriage that repaired itself while we weren’t looking! Everything’s swell.
Speaking of swell, Ken! He’s in Pryce’s office now, having the exact same meeting as Pete did. Only, you know, Ken is the exact opposite of Pete so it plays out a little differently. Pryce tells Ken that he is now head of accounts, and Ken’s like “that’s cool, man.” Ken does not forget to ask what it pays (21k!), and gives us a little smirk in lieu of the happy dance. So hey, what are you playing at, you limey bastard?
“Head of Accounts? Sure, that’s cool, man. I’m not going to do a little happy dance or anything though.”
Don and Sal are en route to Baltimore for their London Fog meeting. My friend Joey brought it to my attention that not enough people have been calling him Big Gay Sal, which is a real shame. Anyway, Shelly, the chipper annoying stewardess (they didn’t invent Flight Attendants till the 80s) is, of course, flirting heavily with Don. Or rather, with Bill Hofstadt, which is what his luggage says (his usual valise is out of commission due to poor little Sally’s already-festering abandonment issues, so he’s using one with his brother-in-law’s name on it). Sal introduces himself as “Sallll…Sam!” and well how about that, they’re all staying in the same hotel, and they make plans to meet up for what I’m sure will be a totally chaste and harmless dinner among professionals, after which everyone will return, alone, to their own rooms. “I’ve flown a few times,” Sal says, “but I’ve never seen a stewardess THAT game.” Don responds with a perfect, hilarious “Really?”
Back at Sterling Cooper, Pete and Ken share an equally hilarious elevator conversation. They both think they got promoted and the other got shafted, of course, so there’s a lot of “Poor Peterson!” “Well, it’s a tough job, head of accounts!” and a few vaguely patronizing but also adorably sincere “you know, no matter what happens I want you to know I’ve always appreciated your work.” By the time the elevator doors open they’re both really flattered and confused.
Big Bad Don and Big Gay Sal – by which of course I mean Bill Hofstadt and Sam Fleichmann – are laughing it up with their new stewardess pals at dinner, knocking back martinis and enjoying just pulling anecdotes out of their asses. Don is an expert at this, so he knows when he’s reached his bullshit limit. So when the questions start getting too specific, he looks shiftily around the room and quietly answers with “ever hear of James Hoffa?” So now he’s covered his ass, avoided future specific questions, AND he’s a gangster, which makes him even hotter in the eyes of mere mortals! Damn he’s good. Sal is having a ball playing along, it’s really cute how much fun they’re having. When Shelly talks about how she loves New York but it’s her job to be out of town, Don throws out one of those Dontastic lines: “I keep going to a lot of places and ending up somewhere I’ve already been.” Which, if Pete said it, would be a really stupid thing to say. When Don says it, it’s awesome, and also true, and also foreshadowing. Because here they all are, and of course they’re flirting, and of course they’re drunk, and they’re all staying at the same hotel, and come on, this is Don’s Thing. Somewhere he’s already been, a zillion times. Shelly suggests a nightcap and Don almost looks annoyed, like he’s trying to avoid cheating on his hugely pregnant wife, again, but damn, Shelly, if you’re going to make it that easy, he’s powerless to stop it. Lorelei, the other, even ditzier stewardess, is flirting with Sal, poor thing. Apparently GayDar wasn’t invented till sometime in the early 70s.
*Please note that this is a perfectly nice dinner among married professionals, after which everyone will retire to their own rooms to read their Gideon’s Bibles.
Or at least, not made available to the heterosexual public. Once they pile into the elevator, it’s somehow clear from approximately 1.2 seconds of eye contact with drunk Sal that this twinkie little bellhop’s GayDar is going BING! Sal heads off to his room (“Night, Bill! Shelly? It’s been swelly!”) and dives onto the bed like you’re supposed to when you first enter a hotel room. He’s all drunk and sweaty and screws up the thermostat trying to turn on the AC. “My air conditioner does not work,” he tells the front desk. “It is STAGNANT in here.” Even the most primitive, wood-carved, wind-up GayDar would register those two sentences.
Shelly and Don are alone in the elevator now and when they get to his floor, he just goes “this is me…” and really looks like he’s about to just go to bed, until Shelly hangs on him and says “let me see if it’s different than my floor!” Ah yes, Shelly, that’s a classic among drunk girls trying to look like they’re not trying to get laid. Uh, or so I’ve heard. Don very nearly rolls his eyes at her. He’s trying, dammit, but she’s just making fidelity completely impossible! She says she’s engaged and he might be her last chance. “I’ve been married a long time,” he says. “You get plenty of chances.” Oh, Don. What a terrible, terrible thing to say. He eventually admits defeat and kisses her. “It’s my birthday,” he whispers, and now those flashbacks make sense. It’s Dick Whitman’s birthday, and the only way he can celebrate or even acknowledge it is for Don Draper to drunkenly confess it to a stewardess who thinks he’s Bill Hofstadt. A very nice little moment from Mr. Hamm there. So yeah, she follows him into his room and starts taking her clothes off and he’s basically just lying there like it’s more trouble to kick her out than just have sex with her and be done with it.
MEANWHILE! So hey, look who showed up to fix Sal’s AC? It’s that same little bellhop, who discovers that it’s not really broken, just fiddles with a few knobs (huh huh) and that’s that. There’s this fantastic POV shot of Sal looking down and counting out bills to tip the kid, and we just see his shiny bellhop loafers walk right up to Sal, and bam! He’s right there in his face. And then: the coolest, hottest gay makeout scene ever aired on American television. Which, you know, there’s not much competition, but still, very gutsy and very awesome. Poor Sal is obviously completely overwhelmed, and his reactions seem to confirm that this is the first time he’s ever done anything with another man (at least to me – feel free to dispute!). I love Bryan Batt in this scene; he conveys all the ecstasy and horror and reluctance and desire all smashed up together, and it’s just perfect. He gets automatic cool points for being from New Orleans, but he earned extra with this scene, which is not only great but also incredibly um. Ballsy. I’m sorry. Also, “getting the air conditioner fixed” is the new “hiking the Appalachian trail” of homosexual affairs.
“Sweet mystery of life at last I’ve fouuund youuuu!”
So anyway, Big Gay Sal barely has time to react to the new sensation of a bellhop’s hand down his boxers before the fire alarm goes off. You can go ahead and make your own “flaming” joke here. I actually laughed the first time I saw this, because Don, who doesn’t look like he’s really gotten started either, hops up immediately and scoots Shelly down the fire escape. Did people take fire alarms more seriously back then? Would you even get out of bed if there was a fire alarm in your hotel, or would you roll your eyes and cover your head with a pillow and only leave when you started to hear screaming and/or smell smoke? Anyway, Don seems a little relieved actually, like he needed some act of God to get that girl out of his bed. Like being a bastard lothario is this huge burden he has no choice but to bear unless outside forces intervene. Get over yourself, Don.
On their way down they pass Sal’s window, and Don tells him to hurry up, before noticing that he’s in his boxers and there’s a half-dressed bellhop in the room with him. D’oh! Awkward. But Don knows he can’t really judge anybody for their secret lives. He looks a little confused, which, really? You’re Mr. I Know What You’re Thinking Before You Think It, And Can Pander To/Take Advantage Of It Effortlessly, and it never occurred to you that Sal was about as straight as an Erasure cover band at a Cher fan club meeting? As heterosexual as a decorative wicker basket full of ball gags? As macho as pair of fuzzy pink assless chaps? To quote Don himself, “Really?”
More evidence that Joan is crushing on Mr. Hooker: She and Peggy are chatting about work while waiting for the elevator. When Peggy starts gossiping she says “I’m not at work yet!” which is how I feel about anyone talking about work when I’m not at work, but when Peggy gets around to how her secretary Lola flirts with “Moneypenny” Joan snaps “Don’t call him that! He hates that.” Hm, not at work yet, and we’re still all defensive about nicknames? She is still wearing her giant engagement ring, and she does mention that she’s glad she’ll be out of there soon (presumably because a doctor’s wife has to stop working in the filthy city to go live out in the burbs and pop out babies and eventually lose her shit like Betty did) but dear lord, she can’t leave! There were hints last season about her having higher ambitions, which were promptly shot down by, if I’m not mistaken, Harry of all people. At the very least I hope she gets a chance to rock Moneypenny’s world. She could teach him a thing or two, I have no doubt. Later on, she even finds an office for him (Peterson’s, before the desk chair seat is even cold!), and says he can have “his own girl” to do his typing so he’s not mooching off everybody else’s.
So remember how I love Pete? Exhibit A: the way he pauses, stares, and carefully, bitchily enunciates “What. Are you. Talking about?” when his secretary tells him that Mr. Pryce has called a meeting with Pete and Mr. Cosgrove, the Heads of Accounts. Ha.
In Baltimore, Bill and Sam are now Don and Sal again, meeting with the London Fog guy and his son. Dad’s worried because the business isn’t getting any bigger. Don points out that first of all, 2 of every 3 raincoats sold last year had London Fog written on them, and furthermore, “there will be fat years and there will be lean years, but it is always going to rain.” And that right there is what pays Don’s salary, because nobody can argue with that, and if Don just reacts like the matter is settled, well, it usually ends up settled.
“Why won’t anybody do anything about all this sand in my vagina???”
In the Heads of Accounts meeting, we see a big hilarious pouty closeup of Pete’s face as Joan reads off a list of which accounts will be Ken’s and which will be Pete’s. Ken of course is totally freaking peachy with the whole deal. Pete of course is acting like a 12 year old girl. They’re each taking half the company, Mr. Pryce says, “but of course, it’s possible someone could distinguish themselves.” Not much for subtlety, those Brits. And it’s already working – right after the meeting, Pete is visibly annoyed that Ken isn’t as annoyed as he is. Ken’s excited. It’s a great opportunity. “They want us to hate each other. I refuse to participate in that,” Ken says, like a grownup. “I know you are but what am I???” Pete responds, essentially. Ken doesn’t take the bait, just walks off, leaving Pete alone to fume comically at nothing. Poor stupid Pete. Can’t you see Ken has this thing in the bag unless you stop trying so hard?
Trudy comes in to visit Pete, and she’s wearing, well, it’s not even a pillbox hat, it’s a fez without a tassel. Pretty awesomely ridiculous, wardrobe department. Some trends just didn’t catch on, thank god, but that doesn’t mean a fancy Manhattan housewife like Trudy wouldn’t have worn whatever a magazine told her to. He mopes and finally tells her he’s sharing the head of accounts job with Ken, and she says it’s okay, he’s an ambitious man, and ambitious men are never happy with what they have. Which is a really good point about someone else, but not about Pete. “Why can’t I get anything good all at once?” He whines. Ha, that’s my favorite Pete line ever. Trudy should cross-stitch that onto a hideous throw pillow for his office. She’s actually incredibly good at talking him down. They might actually be a real couple after all, if he would listen to things like “they don’t want your outrage” instead of stomping his little foot and saying “I can’t live with this!” like a guy with, I don’t know, 3 kids and a dying wife who just got fired. Perspective, Pete. Find some. Listen to your wife, even though it’s hard to take anyone seriously when they’re wearing a fez.
And by “Limit Your Exposure” I mean “We both know you’re gayer than a Grey Goose Cosmo in a rainbow martini glass with a novelty dick straw, and that’s cool with me as long as I never see your boxers again.”
Don and Sal are on their very quiet plane ride home. “I’m going to ask you something,” Don says, “and I want you to be completely honest with me.” Sal sort of gulps and nods. Don goes on to describe absolutely nothing at all about any shirtless bellhops. Instead, he lays out his idea for the new London Fog campaign, and pointedly looks at Sal to deliver the tagline: “Limit Your Exposure.” “Yes!” Sal says, relieved. “Good,” says Don, and just like that both subjects are officially closed. Move over, Pete’s Secret Baby Momma Peggy! Make room for Sal, the newest member of Don Draper’s Deep Dark Secret Club.
Don, back in the office like no one’s been getting any bellhop handjobs, is also wondering what the hell the deal is. “Cosgrove vs. Campbell. Is he playing God or Darwin?” Roger: “It came from the home office. I told him it was a stupid idea, but they don’t always get our inflection.” Ha! On cue, Pete walks in asking to speak with Don. When he sees Roger is there too, he decides he just wanted to tell them both how honored he is by this promotion. Roger tells Pete to help himself to a drink, but “not the Stoli.” Yes, kids, there was a time when Stoli was precious and expensive and you had to ship it back from your European honeymoon. Cooper decides to join the party, and tells Pete he’ll be helping a friend at the Mayor’s office who’s looking to do a small campaign for Penn Station. “I told him that despite life under British Rule, we still have a real Yankee.” Is this playing favorites, or keeping peace, or just general fucking-around-with? Time will tell!
Speaking of British Rule, Moneypenny shows Pryce the office Joan managed to grab for them. He thought they’d need a place for when superiors are in town, and it made sense for someone to occupy it in the meantime. Pryce, however, says that Hooker will be occupying the space outside the office. As in, presumably, the place where his alleged “girl” would have sat. Ah well, worth a shot. “This place is a gynocracy,” he says, looking at the ant farm (which of course is a gynocracy). If that were true about Sterling Cooper, however, he’d still have the office and the “girl” Joan promised him, now wouldn’t he?
“…And then the nice lady took her shirt off, but the fire alarm went off before Daddy could get his!”
At the Draper house, Daddy’s home! And he didn’t even have actual sex with anybody, we don’t think, but only because the hotel’s infidelity alarm went off, but hey, that’s something! Poor little Sally, who is going to have so many Daddy Issues coming to the surface just in time for the sexual revolution (too young for Woodstock but not for Haight-Ashbury!), apologizes to Don for breaking his suitcase. “Find out how much it costs and it’ll come out of your allowance.” Don says, all fatherly. “I don’t have an allowance.” “Well then don’t break things.” Ha. Don is a perfect early 60s dad, distant but genuinely affectionate and dedicated, because it’s just the right thing for a man to do. Sally: “I just didn’t want you to go!” Aww. “I’ll always come home” Don assures her. “You’ll always be my girl.” Sally digs around in his luggage and finds Shelly’s wings. “Is this for me?” Well, of course it’s for you, why else would Daddy have part of a stewardess’s uniform in his totally faithful luggage, silly? She wants Don to tell her about the day she was born. He tells her it was raining very hard, and he’d just gotten off of work, and then he sort of trails off, staring into space, and Betty takes over. So was that Don just kind of losing track of which stories are real and which stories are stories? Or was he just genuinely choked up – overwhelmed, finally, after all the weirdness of his birthday and Sal and his halfass battle against his demons? I’m thinking B, but the fact that it’s beautifully ambiguous is one of the zillion things I love about this show.
I liked this episode better the second time I saw it, so if it felt weird to you I recommend watching it again, especially when you know why he’s imagining little community theater productions of his birth. I’m totally excited about this season! The recaps will get better, and less poorly edited, and will be up sooner, and I think we’ll have fun. Please discuss below – this show is way more fun when we all talk about it!