I’m reviewing all the episodes of Mad Men before the last seven episodes premiere in the Spring of 2015. If you want to see an overview of the episodes I’ve written about so far, click HERE.
This might be considered a spoiler, but this is not the last we’ll see of Freddie Rumsen. Freddie is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting secondary Mad Men characters. We first took notice of Freddie when he took notice of Peggy and her “basket of kisses” line, which won her her first assignment as copywriter. If you are the kind of person who pays attention to this kind of thing, you might have notices that we have gotten a lot of scenes which have featured Freddie drinking in the background. It might have not been all that noticeable, considering how most of the characters on this show are big drinkers, but “Six Month Leave” reveals that Freddie’s love for alcohol is more of a problem than we anticipated. One of the most memorable scenes in the episode has him pissing his pants, and passing out on his couch. I’d be lying if I said there isn’t comedy to the scene, but it’s al ultimately tragic one, especially looking back at it as the moment that lost Freddie his job. Technically he gets a “leave of absence”, but everybody knows he is not coming back.
I’m sure I’ll write about Freddie Rumsen as I get to later episodes, but “Six Month Leave” is the essential Freddie episode, probably his most memorable one, and definitely the one that will color all his future appearances on the show. There is nothing to be done, from this moment on, Freddie Rumsen is a tragic figure. His firing is one of the big plot points that influences the themes of the episode. Its most direct, and notable, influence comes in what happens to Peggy, who after being discovered by Freddie, ends up being the person that gets her job after he’s fired. Peggy is incredibly conflicted about her new position: he’s gotten the job she’s always wanted, but at the expense of the person most directly responsible for her being there (other than herself, of course).
These kind of dilemmas can be found all over “Six Month Leave”, and they connect through the episode’s other thematic plot point: the death of Marilyn Monroe. Roger goes into his office to find Joan crying over the actress’ death. “She was a movie star that had everything and everybody, and she threw it all away” he says, blindly ignoring what lies behind Marilyn’s story. We now know that she had a darker and more tormented life than she let off, a life that couldn’t be brightened no matter how famous and beloved an icon she had become. Similar things are happening to the people at Sterling Cooper, as they realize that getting what they wanted doesn’t come with a certain amount of pain. I’ve already talked about Peggy’s case, but there’s also Roger, who reveals at the end of the episode that he is leaving his wife Mona for Don’s secretary Jane, just as he discovers that the separation might be messier than he expected (both from Mona and Jane’s perspective).
And then you have the Drapers, and the seemingly perfect marriage that seems to be coming to an end. Don wanted to get a new life after suffering through his childhood, and Betty seems to have grown up wanted the perfect happy family, only to find out that the emptiness in their lives could not be so easily filled. Don went after Bobbie Barrett because she offered something that he felt he was missing, but that infidelity in turn opened Betty’s eye towards her suspicion that her husband was cheating on her. And now that the marriage is on a “leave of absence” of its own, comes the question of what is left. Once again, it’s Freddie that puts the themes of the episode into words: “What am I going to do? (…) If I don’t go into that office every day, who am I?” he tells Don, and it feels like it’s the same question that Don and Betty are asking themselves. If they are not the Drapers, then who are they? Similarly, Peggy is building her identity around her rising career at Sterling Cooper, and Roger is trying to reinvent himself by going after a younger woman. The question remains: is there a Norma Jean behind all the Marilyns these people are creating for themselves?
- The book Betty reads while she is spending her drunk lonely hours at home is Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools, a story about a group of people sailing from Mexico to Europe that is really an allegory for the rise of Nazism. More notably, one of the characters is a sad American woman who looks to start a new idyllic life in Paris. So… too on the nose, or just enough?
- “It’s conduct unbefitting” “Of Freddie Rumsen?”
- “We can’t even tell Cooper about this. You know his whole thing with germs…”
Spoiler-y Thoughts (but only kind of)
- Peggy has to step in and pitch for Samsonite after Freddie “gets sick”, but we do not actually see her pitch. Considering recent events in the show’s later season, I’m interested to see when and how we actually see Peggy pitching to clients.
- Peggy’s notable gain this episode is that she becomes the head of the Samsonite account, a fact that will play a role later, in one of the show’s best episodes.