Had this episode of “Mad Men” only featured the first extended screen time for Joan — and her cracking her self-absorbed husband over the head with a flower vase — it would have been good. Add to that Roger’s wistful interaction with Joan and his utter decency with his client/old flame, and you have a really good episode.
But if you pile on top of all that the episode’s centerpiece — Betty confronting her husband about his secret life and the total breakdown of Don’s defenses — and you have one of the great episodes of the series.
This has got to be Jon Hamm‘s Emmy episode for next year — he got to play a huge range of emotion, and the moment when he broke down talking about his brother cut pretty deep. For me, though, the standout moment for Hamm was watching Don almost visibly deflate as Betty opened his desk drawer. I don’t quite know what Hamm did there, but he somehow made himself look smaller and more frail in the space of a few seconds.
January Jones was every bit as good during that sequence, showing a spine and a grown-up approach to the issue that Betty rarely has in the life of the series. Her anger at Don is completely understandable; this is a woman who’s realizing that the last decade-plus of her life has, in part at least, been built on a lie. The Betty of a season or two ago would probably have just left, but she has grown enough that when Don tells her the real story of his life (with no embellishments or omissions that I could discern), she is genuinely affected by it. She has not by any means let her husband off the hook, but by episode’s end she does seem to have moved on from her bucking-for-a-fight posture and is taking time to fully process everything she’s just learned.
(And yeah, Carlton’s “And who are you supposed to be?” line that closed the hour may have been a little on the nose. But Sally and Bobby dressing up as a gypsy and a hobo was kind of awesome. Are they just costumes, or are the Draper kids subconsciously absorbing their dad’s ethos? Discuss.)
I could probably go on for days about how incredible those two were, but there was a lot of other great stuff in the episode too, all of it revolving around the idea of not really getting what you want.
Sterling Cooper. The firm is trying to win back the business of dog-food manufacturer Caldecott Farms, which is owned by one of Roger’s old loves, Annabelle Mathis (played by Mary Page Keller). The company is under a cloud of scandal since it was revealed that it uses horse meat in its food (just like a lot of other dog-food makers; they just hadn’t been outed), but Annabelle is adamant that neither the product nor its name be changed.
“The name has been poisoned,” Don tells her. “I’m not saying a new name is easy to find … but it’s a label on a can. And it will be true because it will promise the quality of the product inside.”
Still, Annabelle refuses to let go, both of her product’s name and of Roger, who we learn had a relationship with her some 20 years ago. Annabelle, after a little too much Bordeaux, is ready to relight the flame, but Roger — yes, Roger — does the stand-up thing and refuses the advance. What in some ways seems like a coldhearted refusal — “You weren’t,” he says flatly when Annabelle says he could have been the one for her — to me seemed almost compassionate. Annabelle needed to move on, and this was probably the best, if not the only, way to get her to do so.
Whether he was being totally sincere, though, is probably up for debate, because “The Gypsy and the Hobo” also featured …
Joan. We got our first glimpse of Mrs. Harris since we saw her in the ladies department at Bonwit Teller, and as ever she’s trying to make the best of her situation with Greg by helping him prepare for an interview with a psychiatry program. Which, of course, Greg blows, coming home with a dark cloud over his head.
When Joan tries to comfort him, he lashes out. “You don’t know what it’s like to want something your whole life, plan for it, count on it, and not get it!” To which Joan replies by picking up a flower vase and clocking him on clocking him on the head. Joan FTW!
Ever the realist, though, Joan is also looking for work beyond the department store and gives Roger a call in hopes of getting the word out. She may still be a little too proud to return to Sterling Cooper, but she knows that if someone’s going to provide for her and Greg, it’s going to be her, and if that means asking Roger for a favor, then so be it.
To his credit, Roger follows through, doing what he must know she would do for him in the same situation. His interaction with Joan also colors his actions toward Annabelle — he knows what it means to settle, and he doesn’t want to put that on anyone else.
Other notes from “The Gypsy and the Hobo”:
- Do we figure this the last we’ll see of Miss Farrell? The prevailing theory seems to be that she’s more invested in Don than she should be, and that it would cause problems for him down the road. And while she sat in the car outside his house for an awfully long time, on the phone the next day it looked like she was starting to accept that this was the end of it. What do you all think?
- Funniest line of the episode goes to Peggy, misunderstanding that she’s supposed to cut the sound from the Caldecott focus group: “I can’t turn it off — this is actually happening.”
- Second funniest moment: The raised eyebrows from Roger and Bert Cooper when Don reveals that he, like Annabelle, has tasted horse meat before.
- Sign of the times: When Betty asks the lawyer handling her dad’s will about whether Don’s lies are grounds for divorce, he tells her she’d have to prove adultery in court and then asks, “Is he a good provider?” Ouch.
What did you think of this week’s “Mad Men” and the performances from Jon Hamm and January Jones? Where do you think the show will take them between now and the end of the season?