OK, hands up everyone who figured that Don Draper’s cryptic "It’s Dick Whitman" phone call at the end of last week’s Mad Men would lead to the most open, human side of him we’ve ever seen.
Yeah, that wasn’t what I was guessing either.
Break these spoilers in half and share them if you want — you know, for the ritual.
Sunday’s episode, "The Mountain King," was packed with great stuff, from Peggy really coming into her own at Sterling Cooper to a really frightening scene with Joan and her rat bastard of a fiance. All in good time, because Don Draper, nice guy, has to be topic A.
Let’s get the mystery aspect out of the way first: The woman Don called last week is Anna Draper, the real Don’s widow whom we first saw in a flashback scene in "The Gold Violin." And, it turns out, she was also the recipient of Meditations in an Emergency from back in the season premiere.
Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner and Robin Veith, who co-wrote "The Mountain King," floated back and forth between past and present as they explored the relationship between Anna and Don, which despite its strange and tense beginning has developed into what is, based on all evidence we’ve been given, the truest friendship Don has. Anna already knows who he really is, and freed of the burden of being "Don Draper," Don (or Dick, maybe) can be really honest with her and share a real connection — without, by the way, any hint of the sexual overtones that tend to dominate Don’s relationships with other women.
Jon Hamm also did some really fine work — you could almost feel the weight falling off him in the scenes with Anna. The flashback scene in which he tells her about meeting Betty was a particular standout for me, as he went all googly-eyed as he described her and the way she looked at him. ("Yes. You’re very hard to look at," she replies with gentle mockery.)
In fact, Don seems so comfortable in California that it’s worth wondering if he will, in fact, ever come back. On a practical level, sure, there’s not much a show with him permanently away from Sterling Cooper, but Weiner and Co. have done such a good job of selling Don’s West Coast transformation that it’s at least worth considering how he’ll react if and when he does have to go back home.
Brief thoughts on the other developments in "The Mountain King":
One of the central themes of Mad Men is that people aren’t who they appear to be. Joan learned that in the most harrowing way possible as her seemingly perfect fiance, Greg — the handsome doctor who helps out those less fortunate than him — forced himself on her and raped her in Don’s office. All because, it would appear, that he feels threatened by Joan’s career and the independence it has until now afforded her.
The following day, when Peggy notes how handsome Greg is and how nice he seemed, Joan rattles off his pluses — more for her own benefit than Peggy’s. Joan has had a bit of a rough go this season, from her residual feelings for Roger to losing out on a job with Harry and now this. Put me down as hoping her luck turns a little in next week’s finale.
Speaking of Peggy, our former secretary seems just about all grown up. She nails a pitch to the Popsicle folks ("Take it, break it, share it, love it") by playing to the client’s sentimental side in a way very similar to her mentor Don’s successful pitches, and then asks Roger for — and gets — Freddy Rumsen’s old office. The Sterling Cooper boys club isn’t pleased ("Why don’t you just put on Draper’s pants while you’re at it," the just-returned Kinsey huffs), but Pete — of all people — actually seems to recognize that she deserves it and treats her pretty much as an equal, even suggesting that he’d let her in on what he knows about Don.
I felt unreservedly happy for Peggy, until that final shot of her taking a drink from Freddy’s old stash in her new office. Something about the look on her face in that scene made me wonder whether she’d become a little too much like the men she works with.
While Peggy celebrates, Pete gets stuck at the intersection of his private and professional life — and handles it pretty badly. His attempt to be lord and master of his home by shouting down his wife about adopting a child comes back to bite him when his father-in-law calls to tell him that Clearasil might be having second thoughts about using Sterling Cooper as its ad agency. Given that he only landed the account because of his marriage to Trudy in the first place, he probably should have seen it coming a little better than he did.
The final bit of business at Sterling Cooper involved the agency partners voting to enter merger talks with Putnam, Powell. Roger and Bert Cooper’s sister (Alice Cooper, hee) enthusiastically embrace the idea, but Cooper, although he eventually votes yes, sees the end of the line coming and isn’t too thrilled about the idea of becoming a figurehead and eventually ceasing to matter altogether. The idea came across brilliantly in the shot of Cooper sitting in the boardroom alone after the vote.
Finally tonight, Mad Men showed us some more of the fallout from Don’s extended absence from the Draper household. Betty, maybe because she lacked an outlet for her feelings of moral superiority, utterly destroyed her supposed friend Sarah Beth after she confessed to a liaison with their riding partner Arthur. "No one made you sleep with him," Betty sneers through the phone, conveniently forgetting that she was essentially living vicariously through Sarah Beth.
On the other hand, after a rocky patch with Sally, whom she catches trying a cigarette in the bathroom and who accuses her of driving Don away, Betty at least has the decency to explain the situation to her daughter. There was more than a little emotional bribery going on in that scene — Sally is nothing if not a daddy’s girl, after all — but for Betty to admit to her daughter that things weren’t right feels like at least a small step forward for her.
What did you think of this week’s Mad Men? And where do you see next week’s finale taking us?