Mad Men: The Hobo Code (S01E08)

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A small reminder: I’m making my way through all of Mad Men before the last episodes premiere next spring. The plan is to do two episodes a week, with reviews going up Mondays and Wednesdays, but the schedule might vary a little bit. 

“The Hobo Code” is, after the somewhat problematic “5G”, the continuation of the show’s exploration of Don Draper’s past. This episode is superior because it doesn’t introduce us to a character/device as problematic as puppy-eyed Adam Whitman, but instead focuses more on the spiritual and psychological ramifications of Don’s past more than in telling or showing us any particularly important plot point about how our main character stopped being Dick Whitman and became Don Draper. Sure, we get a literal glimpse into Don’s past in the form of a flashback that takes us back to the days of the depression, when Don was a shy boy, but what happens in the flashback isn’t really all that important. There are no big plot developments, instead, the show uses this episode to establish the relationship between Don and his father, Art Whitman. Once again, the show is setting up plot and character elements that will pay off later on, but for now, we have a pretty interesting episode of television to think about.

Truth be told, I’m still wrestling with what exactly is my ultimate interpretation of “The Hobo Code”, but judging from the metaphorical way in which many Mad Men episodes operate, I’m thinking the key element to understand here is the concept of marking something. The two moments in the episode that make think this are, of course, the Belle Jolie campaign designed by Peggy whose slogan reads “Mark you man”, and the last moments of the flashback, in which the wandering hobo teaches Dick Whitman the coded marks homeless people like him leave in every house they visit to communicate with each other. Although the more I think about it, the more I think that these two different kinds of marks may not have as much to do with each other as I initially thought. Let’s take a look…

In the case of the Belle Jolie slogan, it’s easy to see how it relates to not only Peggy’s, but most of the episode’s story-lines. In this instance, the idea of marking=ownership, more specifically the idea that someone can own another person. “Mark your man” is something that Peggy is desperately trying to do throughout the episode, which starts with her and Pete having sex in the office when they both happen to get there very early in the morning. Peggy is undoubtedly (and stupidly) in love with Pete, as shown by the little skip she takes after he agrees to come to her post-pitch celebration at P.J. Clarke’s. She also has reason to be somewhat optimistic, after all, Pete made it clear that he sees Trudy as a stranger that he doesn’t feel completely comfortable with, and he definitely feels desire for Peggy. Throughout the episode, Peggy is looking to have Pete do any kind of thing that would show that he is more interested in her than in preserving his image. However, when she asks him to dance at the celebration party, he rejects her wholeheartedly. “I don’t like you like this”, he says, and I’m still wondering what exactly did he mean. My best guess is that, just like “Mark you man”, Pete Campbell is trying to “mark his woman”, that he doesn’t like to see her dancing and being happy, because not only is she not his woman, she shouldn’t be happier than he is.

That’s a lot about Pete and Peggy, let’s circle back to Don, whose story-line also shows parallels to the Belle Jolie campaign, especially when he goes back to the Village, looking to have some fun with Midge and discovers her apartment is full of bohemians about to do drugs. Don gets high with them, and realizes that Midge is in love with one of her artsy friends. Don is a man of many mistresses, but like we learned last episode, there is no way he is going to share any of them with another man, and thus, he makes a final (and not too inspired) attempt at gaining Midge for himself when he asks her to go to Paris with him, and when Midge refuses he just leaves. It’s important that Don decided to leave at that moment, but it’s also important that he gave Midge the bonus check that was unexpectedly given to him that morning. This is a microcosm of the ways Don Draper deals with his problems: he either throws money at them, or he just runs away.

This brings us back to Don’s flashback, and the  Hobo that leaves a mark saying that Dick Whitman is a dishonest man.This is an important moment in Don’s childhood. He is definitely struck by the way Art’s behavior affects the hobo, and his relationship to his father will certainly suffer from it (not that it was a good relationship up to that point, considering how little Dick Whitman has it a little too clear that he is a “whore’s son”). The other important thing is that Don Draper is, obviously, a dishonest man. Not only does he cheat, he keeps his original identity a secret, and he is undoubtedly tormented by this. We already knew that because we saw that flashback to his brother’s birth a couple episodes ago, but the way he comes home and feels the need to wake up his son in the middle of the night to tell him that he will never lie to him is particularly telling. My thinking is that despite this episode featuring some pretty fantastic character moments (for Peggy and Don in particular), this is more of a pivotal transitional point into the latter part of the season, where all this stuff will hopefully pay off.

Also in this Episode:
I always really liked the way the show treated Sal’s arc in the first season. It is clear from the minute we meet the character that he is gay, so it would have been incredibly disappointing if this episode’s story-line would have gone where it seemed like it was going. It all starts in a Bells Are Ringing-like scenario, where a young operator falls in love with Sal after hearing him talk Italian to his mother. We think she will go after him and be disappointed when he turns out to be gay, but instead we discover that Sal isn’t willing to admit that he is a homosexual, not even to himself. It’s a clever way of playing with the audience’s expectations, but it also sets the tone for Sal’s arc throughout the series, which, without getting into spoilers, is a pretty sad one.

Random Thoughts:

  • I sometimes wonder if the show wants us to sympathize with Pete Campbell at all. Whenever he shows any kind of relatable emotions (as last episode’s monologue about hunting), the show strikes back with him doing a lot of horrible shit. Take, for example, this episode, in which he is a gigantic jerk to Peggy, Trudy, and even Hollis!
  • Speaking of which, Trudy is so fucking nice and cool it is incredibly irritating that she doesn’t realize that she deserves a man a thousand times better than fucking Pete Campbell.
  • That dance between Joan and Kinsey makes me think that, as I wondered when I watched the first episode, they probably did hook up at some point.
  • The way we are shown Peggy and Pete’s love-making in silhouette is a pretty nice way in which the show works around the fact that it can’t show naked people because it is not on premium cable.
  • “You don’t need money to dress better than you do, Duane”
  • “You’re a nonbeliever. Why should we lose time on Kabuki?” “I don’t know what that means”. The way that last line is read in such a serious tone always gets to me.
  • “Love is bourgeois” Midge’s friends are so unbelievably cartoony that I hope 1960s bohemians weren’t actually anything like that.
  • I didn’t mention it in the review, but the reason Don gets that bonus is because Bert Cooper read Atlas Shrugged. Also, he likes Don. Considering what happened in the first half of season seven, I’m curious to take a harder look at the relationship between these two.


  1. Thom Hickey · July 10, 2014

    Thanks. You’ve set yourself quite a task. Such a great show with do many possible interpretations. I’ll enjoy following your progress. Regards from Thom at the immortal jukebox (plugged in to play)

    • Conrado Falco · July 10, 2014

      Thanks! I’ll be sure to check out your blog

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