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.
Why did Don Draper go to California? In my last Mad Men review, I suggested that it was a way to remove himself from his problems. In this case, that would be the particularly difficult moment his marriage is experiencing. Betty seems determined to not let go back into her house, and considering what we know about Don’s past at this relatively early point in the series run, we might expect to try to “reinvent” himself once more. Of course that wouldn’t be as easy it was back in Korea, when the perfect (and deadly) circumstances presented themselves, and allowed Dick Whitman to become Don Draper. It is unlikely that another accident quite as convenient would present itself. Also, Don has a family now. A family that, despite all the flaws in Don’s behavior, he seems to genuinely love. If there is something I took form that last scene in “Maidenform” where Sally sees Don shave, is that Don wants to give his family the very best of himself.
And yet, despite the logistical issues, the opportunity to elope and become a yet another person does present itself when Don meets a group of eccentrics that are probably what give this episode its name. The most important member of this group is Joy (Laura Ramsey), a twenty-one year old woman that sets her mind on Don (The age difference between Don and Joy must be intended to draw parallels with Roger and twenty-two year old Jane, whom we see together in the first scene of the episode). Joy describes herself and the other Jet Setters as nomads. They don’t work (although one of them, Klaus, is technically a physician), they just have money that they spend lounging by pools all around the world. All these weird people, and Joy especially, are impressed by Don, and so, he gets the offer to come along with them. Of dedicating his existence to the relaxing occupation of doing nothing.
But Don is not the kind of man who could be an eccentric aristocrat type. Like Freddie Rumsen when he asked what he was outside the office, Don too has dedicated too much time to his job, and to making a name out of himself. Don Draper is, essentially, a brand, and as our current economy must have thought us, brands are invaluable. Although that is not the only thing factoring into Don’s decision. Turns out that two of the Jet Setters Joy hangs out with are her parents. Joy’s dad, Willie, even comes into the room and sits on the bed where Don and Joy are lying naked after having had sex the night before. Joy swims topless in the pool with Don, while her parents are about six feet away making out. This is all bizarre, and very unsettling. It’s the kind of weird-as-shit thing that Don seems to run into way too often when he goes to California. Still, these characters aren’t there just for the icky factor, what Joy and her parents are offering thirtysomething-year-old Don is the chance to have the childhood he never had. A fairly twisted one, but hey, Hakuna Matata, he wouldn’t have to work, or worry for the rest of his days.
So, the fact that Don refuses to go with them tells us that, despite everything, he isn’t really one to go back. He doesn’t want the past that he didn’t get, he wants the future that he is crafting for himself. And that is very important. Don Draper is all about being the master of his own fate, he wouldn’t stand aside and let his life in the hands of a couple of weirdos. Even more importantly, though, is the final moment of the episode, after Don has made his decision not to go with them, he calls a mysterious person, and says “Hello. It’s Dick Whitman”. And there isn’t a single bit of discomfort or difficulty in his voice. Of the things that we weren’t expecting, Don saying the words “Dick Whitman” in a such a matter-of-fact way was definitely towards the top of the list. Who is Don calling? What role does that person play in his not wanting to joing the Jet Set? Is he planning another escape route out of his problems? Or is he planning to come back at full force?
It would be a good idea to get some ammo before he comes back, though. I mean, it’s obvious that he will be back in New York sooner rather than later, considering he is the main character of a television show set in 1960s Madison Avenue, but at this exact moment, it doesn’t seem like he would be able to just strut his way into Sterling Cooper as if nothing had happened in his absence, for while Don was chilling in California, Duck Phillips started putting the pieces of his ultimate power play in motion. Ever since the American Airlines fiasco, Duck was established as Don’s big antagonist at the agency, and now more than ever. He has gone back to drinking, and the teeth of the relentless businessman that Sterling Cooper thought it was getting when they hired him have finally come out. He sets up a meeting with his British friends of Putnam, Powell, and Loewe, and convinces them not only of buying Sterling Cooper, but of putting him in charge. Don might be going through an inner journey, but things are happening in the real world, and he better come back soon, lest he ends up not being a part of it anymore.
Also in this episode:
Poor Peggy thinks she is going on a date with Kurt when he offers to take her see Bob Dylan, but turns out Kurt is gay. Not only that, but he is very casual about it. “I’m a homosexual. “I don’t think that means what you think it means” responds Ken Cosgrove. “Yes. I make love to the man, not the woman” responds Kurt. Again, poor Peggy just seems to pick the wrong guys, but at least she got an awesome new haircut out of the whole situation. Is this the beginning of the sassy-gay-best-friend trope?
- Someone says Don smells like Jasmine. Considering the Kurt subplot, I thought this was used as an euphemism, as in The Maltese Falcon, but then I remembered that the smell in that movie was Gardenia, not Jasmine.
- Those crazy sixties: Don has never had Mexican food.
- Joy is reading The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner’s novel about the decline of an aristocratic family in the American South. I haven’t read the novel, but if you have, do you see any parallels to this episode’s themes?
- One of the British guys is played by Charles Shaughnessy, who you might remember as that guy from The Nanny.
- “You are drinking sad?” Where the hell is Kurt from? That accent is either too generic foreign, or way too specific for me to pin down what his nationality is supposed to be.
- One of the funniest parts of the episode are seeing Pete being left alone to deal with the clients while Don escapes with the weird Jet Setters. When he comes back to New York, Pete brings oranges and says he didn’t like California. Don’t worry, Pete, California will grow on you.
- “Let them open the kimono” is both a cool phrase, and appropriate given Bert Cooper’s seeming fascination with Japanese culture.