Mad Men: Meditations in an Emergency (S02E13)

Screen shot 2014-09-08 at 1.01.05 a.m.

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

There are three main events in this episode of Mad Men, which closes the show’s second season in truly magnificent fashion. The episode notoriously takes place during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. With the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. on the border of entering a nuclear war that could potentially annihilate the whole planet, the characters of Mad Men find time to consider their lives. The interesting thing is that despite this gloomy setting, Mad Men decides that it doesn’t want to have its characters meditate only on death, but treat this episode as a moment in which people not only look at the possible death that is coming, but at the beginning of a new time after the crisis. This is not as much about death as it is about rebirth.

This is most superficially obvious in what happens to the merger between Sterling Cooper and the purchasing British firm of Putnam Powell and Loewe. Duck Phillips, who really did underperform as the head of accounts at Sterling Cooper, sees the selling of the firm as a moment to regain the mojo that once made him one of the best executives in the business. He has basically set up a plan in motion that will give birth to a new life, in which he is allowed to drink again, and he is in charge. Duck’s future as president of Sterling Cooper doesn’t go off on a good start, though, as right after being announced as the new president, and giving a speech about how the new Sterling Cooper should give priority to sales and numbers over creativity and client relationships, he finds out that Don won’t sit through any of his shit. Watching Don tell Duck that he does not have a contract, and therefore, doesn’t have to stay working for Sterling Cooper when he’s in charge is a priceless “hell yeah!” moment. It is a tiny bit anti-climactic that Don “defeats” Duck so easily after the way the show set him up as the big villains of the season, but I like how the moment works to underline how pathetic Duck really is.

So, Duck lost his opportunity to reinvent himself, but Sterling Cooper keeps marching on into a new version of itself. In more personal stories, though, perhaps the most helpful story-line when trying to look at the themes of the episode is that of Don and Betty. In the very first scene of the episode, even before we hear about the Missile Crisis, Betty finds out that she is pregnant with Don’s baby (it is not entirely clear, but I’m assuming she got pregnant when they had sex at her parents’ house in “The Inheritance“). Betty doesn’t necessarily want to have Don back in her life. She goes out to a bar and has sex with a stranger. To be completely honest, I’m not quite sure what Betty’s motivations are in finally deciding to take Don back, but at the end of the episode, Don is back to being Don Draper, living in Don Draper’s house with Don Draper’s family, and with another baby on the way. Are we supposed to take this as a new beginning for Don after his existential trip to California?

My favorite part of the episode, however, is Peggy’s story, which consists mainly of two fantastic scenes. The first one takes place at Peggy’s church, as she is delivering goods to keep in a bomb shelter that is being supervised by Father Gill. The priest uses this encounter, and the fact that the world might be nearing the verge of destruction, to try and pressure Peggy to, once more, confess about what happened to her baby. Father Gill, who had been a pretty cool guy so far, goes a little too far, blatantly telling her that she must confess, because she will go to hell if she doesn’t. Peggy only says “I can’t believe that’s the way God is”.

But Peggy’s ultimate decision isn’t only not confessing to Father Gill. In the episode’s most memorable scene, she sits down with Pete Campbell, and finally tells him everything that happened. Pete, who has never been fully happy with his marriage, especially at this moment of intense pressure, comes looking for some sort of loving connection from Peggy, and in a fantastic piece of acting from Vincent Kartheiser, but especially Elisabeth Moss, he gets a crushing monologue about how Peggy decided to not “shame” Pete into being with her, instead finding a new dawn to move on with her life. In her own words: “Well, one day you’re there, and then all of a sudden, there’s less of you, and you wonder where that part went, if it’s living somewhere outside of you, and you keep thinking maybe you’ll get it back, and then you realize it’s just gone.”

Will this final confession finally be the rebirth that Peggy needs? It may or may not work, but there is no denying that at this point, it seems like Peggy’s world is at its most peaceful. Very interestingly, confessing to God is not what solves her troubles. She doesn’t need an abstract confession, what really brings her piece is confessing directly to the one person that she must be talking to. At the end of the episode, Pete sits alone in his office, holding on to the rifle he bought in order to assert his masculinity, and Peggy prays before calmly going to sleep. In the very last scene, though, Don comes back home, and learns about Betty’s baby. The season ends with the Drapers silently holding hands in their kitchen, in direct contrast to the end of season one, which had Don sitting alone. This is the second trial for the Draper marriage, will it be able to endure despite the broken pieces that live within it?

Random Thoughts:

  • Just a couple of lines this time:
  • “How are you?” “Like everyone else today, very distracted”. Even on the eve destruction, Joan can’t help but complain when people don’t do their job.
  • “Mommy doesn’t like to eat”. Sally is adorable, but with those comments, she will undoubtedly grow up to be as bitchy as her mother.
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