Right around 11 p.m. ET Sunday night, “Mad Men” was winning its second straight Emmy for best drama series. It was also wrapping up what should be part of its Emmy submission for next year — and one of the best episodes of the series so far.
So much went on in “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency” that it’s going to be tough to summarize in a thousand words or so. So I won’t delay any more.
The higher-ups at PP&L are headed to New York for an inspection of the troops and, Bert Cooper surmises, to offer Don a promotion, maybe something that has him supervising creative in both New York and London. They’re arriving, though, just before the Fourth of July (“Subtle,” Don deadpans) and keeping everyone — including Joan, who’s leaving Sterling Cooper the day after Greg presumably gets his chief resident job — in the office on July 3.
That probably should have been a tipoff that things were not going to go well. Execs St. John Powell and Harold Ford arrive flanking accounts wunderkind Guy Mackendrick, who comes off as, frankly, a bit of a hack — glad-handing his way through the office and repeating the same puffery to both Pete and Peggy. In short order, we learn that Lane Pryce’s reward for running a tight ship to New York is being sent to India to do the same thing, that Guy is to be the new chief operating officer — and be above Don, based on the slightly down-angled line on the organizational chart — and that Roger doesn’t even have his name on the chart (an oversight, the Brits insist).
The manner in which Lane is dispatched is cold and a little bit heart-breaking — Ford dismisses his protests about just having gotten settled in New York with the line, “Don’t pout — one of your greatest qualities is you always do as you’re told.” It’s clear that PP&L wants Sterling Cooper to be more closely tethered to London, presumably in the pursuit of higher profits but also probably at the expense of creative.
But fate, in the form of a John Deere lawn tractor and a liquored-up staff, intervenes. Ken had brought the tractor into the office at the start of the episode after landing the account, and it becomes the proverbial Chekhov’s gun — introduced in the first act and fired before the end of the episode. And does it ever go off, in one of the most shocking, twisted and hilarious sequences in the show’s history.
While the staff is celebrating the new regime (most of them not knowing what just went down in the conference room), Smitty decides to take the tractor out for a spin. That goes just fine, until the ever-hapless secretary Lois takes the wheel and careens through the office — right over Guy Mackendrick’s foot. Blood spray coats Harry and Paul, Peggy faints and Joan — who a few minutes earlier was crying at the thought of her departure — probably saves Guy’s life by applying a tourniquet to quell the bleeding before an ambulance arrives.
So there’s the shocking part. The twisted and hilarious comes a few minutes later, when Harry is (justifiably) going off on Smitty (“We had the world handed to us on a plate, then you swing in on a chandelier, drop your pants and crap on it!”) when Roger walks in. “Jesus, it’s like Iwo Jima out there,” he says. “We should put a rubber mat down so Cooper can get around.” Informed Guy might lose his foot, Roger cracks, “Just as he got it in the door.” The dialogue alone is brilliant — Roger is so angered at being left off the org chart that he’s not-too-secretly happy to see the Brits get theirs — but what makes the scene one I’ll remember for perhaps the rest of my life is the maintenance man outside the office, wiping the blood off the frosted glass. It was “Sopranos”-level black humor, and it worked to perfection.
While all this carnage is going on, Don is being summoned to a meeting with hotel magnate Conrad Hilton — who, as a number of folks guessed following “My Old Kentucky Home,” is “Connie,” the man Don shared a drink with at the country club bar in that episode. So impressed was Hilton with Don that he calls him for advice on a new ad campaign featuring a cartoon mouse. “I don’t think anyone wants to think about a mouse at a hotel,” Don tells him, before finding out that the character was Hilton’s idea. No matter — it looks like Don is at least about to land a heavy-hitting new client for SC, while Lane gets to stay on at least for the time being.
The episode’s secondary plots were nearly as compelling. The writing has been on the wall for a few weeks now that Greg maybe isn’t the brilliant surgeon Joan thought he was, and that was borne out tonight. He doesn’t get the chief resident job, which means he’s basically washed out of surgery and Joan needs to keep her job. Never mind that she just quit (“Well, get another one,” Greg says.) That last comment aside, writers Matthew Weiner and Robin Veith managed to humanize Greg to degree he hasn’t been so far — I almost felt sorry for the guy for having lost the job.
Not as much as for Joan, of course, who even in her last hour at Sterling Cooper proved how valuable she is to the office. I have to believe that she’ll find her way back to the office, but watching her confront both leaving her job and the end of the marital dream she thought she was supposed to buy into pretty well crushed me. It was also maybe Christina Hendricks’ best work on the show to date.
At home, meanwhile, Sally is still acting strangely around the new baby, refusing to come into Gene’s room and refusing to sleep without a light on. Betty chalks it up to her being jealous of her new brother, but as we learn at the end of the episode, the poor kid thinks that baby Gene is somehow the reincarnation of her dead grandpa.
When Don tries to tell her that, she snaps at him about not being able to hide the fact that he doesn’t like the baby’s name, but that’s what people do; “it’s how people keep the memory alive.” “I hated him and he hated me,” Don replies. “That’s the memory.” Betty’s done listening, but Don tries to make the best of it by telling Sally that Gene is just a baby, and “we don’t know who he is yet or who he’s going to be. And that’s a wonderful thing.”
So was this episode. A few more thoughts:
- The show makes its first real mention of Vietnam, at a time when U.S. involvement in the war was still relatively light. Smitty’s flip response is the latest piece of evidence that the inhabitants of the show aren’t really aware of the changes afoot in the larger world.
- Roger and Don make up, more or less, over a Cooper-ordered shave at a barber shop. It emerges, sort of, that Don hasn’t been happy with Roger and Bert’s decision to sell the company, despite the money it made all three men, and more clearly that Roger feels like Don is judging him. As buttoned-up guys do, they sort of just agree to put it behind them. For now.
- How did you read the final moment between Don and Joan at the hospital? I think it was mostly about the respect the two share for one another, but I also think they were both wondering “what if” a little bit.
- Loved Don’s explanation of why he wasn’t taking a bigger leap with Hilton: “There are snakes who go months without eating. Then they finally catch something, but they’re so hungry that they suffocate while they’re eating. One opportunity at a time.”
- PP&L’s method of running a business is in a weird way ahead of i
ts time, installing ever more layers of management at the top while squeezing everyone below. Pete has it about right when he cracks, “One more promotion and we’ll be answering the phones.”
What did you think of “Mad Men” this week? Does it rank up near the top of the series with you too?