Lots of interesting stuff in this week’s Mad Men, from Kurt revealing he’s gay to Duck’s booze-fueled corporate intrigue to the lives of the (possibly) rich and (definitely) dissolute in Palm Springs. But we have to start with the phone call.
You know what’s coming.
Don has come to the end of a lost week in Southern California with his latest enchantment, Joy, and her merry/creepy traveling band of freeloaders, waking up on the couch in Palm Springs where he rested after suffering heat stroke upon arriving in the desert. He wakes up, assesses his surroundings, pulls out his address book and dials a number. What comes next really kind of put me on the floor:
"Hello, it’s Dick Whitman."
We only hear his end of the brief conversation, in which he informs the other party that he’d love to see them, and soon. He then scribbles something (presumably an address) on the last page of Joy’s copy of The Sound and the Fury and tells the other person he’ll see them soon. This while his lost luggage is arriving back at his home in New York.
Here’s my thought, and feel free to take it apart and supply your own in the comments: The person on the other end of the line is the woman who approached him in the 1950s flashback in "The Gold Violin," who may also be the person Don sent Meditations in an Emergency to in the season premiere.
Unless there’s someone else we haven’t met yet, that woman is the only person I can think of who would know Don by his birth name (or at least the only one Don would call and say "Hello, it’s Dick Whitman"). The only family member he ever cared about, his brother, is dead, and it’s awfully hard to imagine him casually looking up some old Army buddy just because he happened to be on the Coast.
The phone call also comes at the end of a period of several days in which Don seemed to be at least drawn to, if not actively considering, the idea of throwing off his current identity, with all its responsibilities and obligations, and living the carefree life with a group of people who keep calling him "beautiful." (The scary presentation on MIRV warheads probably didn’t hurt either.) Not for nothing does he arrive in California without his luggage, and not for nothing does the suitcase get dropped at his doorstep in New York just as he’s making that call.
So why did he choose to acknowledge the man he used to be instead of ditching the man he is now to become someone else? Maybe he, like me (and I’m assuming some of you), was just kind of weirded out by Joy’s family situation. By herself, she’s just about everything Don would want in a woman: educated, assertive and interested in sex. But after finding out the Viscount etc., etc., Willie is her father and not just her benefactor, that "something about taxes" is partially the motivation behind their constant movement, and especially after seeing how the nomadic life has affected two children caught up in the swirl, he can’t go through with it.
Instead, he’s back to being Dick Whitman again and off to who knows where to meet someone a few thousand miles away from the life he’s built as Don Draper. And dear lord am I curious to find out where he’s headed.
More from "The Jet Set":
Don’s absence allows the episode’s other major storyline to kick into gear. After Roger informs Duck that he has little shot at becoming a partner at Sterling Cooper, Duck goes calling on his former boss from London (The Nanny‘s Charles Shaughnessy) to plant the seeds for a takeover of the agency — while falling off the wagon at the same time.
The liquor Duck hasn’t touched since returning from London certainly does seem to make him bolder, as he pitches Roger and Bert Cooper on the same idea later on, explaining that they can reap a sizable windfall (which will come in especially handy now that Roger’s about to get taken to the cleaners in his divorce with Mona) by becoming the American arm of the British agency. "There he is — there’s the man I heard so much about," Cooper marvels at Duck’s plan. Duck doesn’t exactly have the best track record in pulling off this sort of gambit, though, so I suspect more than a little bit that we’re seeing the beginning of the end for Mr. Phillips.
Even so, you have to give him points for thinking big. With the Brits, he’s angling to be named president of the agency, with everyone — including Don’s creative team — reporting to him. Part of me would almost like to see that arrangement come to pass, just to see how Don handles being in a position where he has to take orders from Duck.
Elsewhere at Sterling Cooper, Peggy thinks she may have found a new guy in Kurt, the European artist we’ve seen a few times this season. Until, that is, he matter-of-factly reveals to her, Ken, Joan, Harry and Salvatore that he’s gay, prompting stammers and averted eyes at first and then some pretty ugly comments by Ken and Harry after he leaves the room (the look on Salvatore’s face as Harry and especially Ken revealed their true thoughts about gays was pretty heartbreaking).
That Kurt was also responsible for Peggy’s new hairstyle almost took the story too far into cliche territory. It didn’t, though, thanks to Kurt’s utterly matter-of-fact discussion of both his sexuality and his opinion on why Peggy always chooses the wrong guys. "What’s wrong with me?" she asks him, and rather than saying, "Oh honey, you’re fabulous just the way you are," he bluntly replies that her style is off: "This is not modern office-working woman." (And the new haircut is pretty nice.)
Who do you think Don was talking to on the phone? Is there any way Duck’s plan works? And were you also a little creeped out by Joy’s people? Discuss this week’s Mad Men.