Pete’s Turn to Shine?
He was due. After humiliations at the hands of his father-in-law, a Metro North railway conductor, the late Lane Pryce, Detroit auto executives, irate husbands, and wounded wives, his own among them, Pete surprises the viewer by standing up for Trudy’s honor when their daughter is denied admission to the posh Greenwich Country Day School. For once Pete, who routinely takes it on the chin, literally or not, is the successful aggressor, landing a “sucker punch” on the jaw of the school’s admissions officer, and we applaud. Trudy is, well, impressed, as if to say there was a reason she married him.
It turns out that the decision to deny the Campbells’ daughter has to do with a centuries-old Scottish feud between the MacDonalds and the Campbells. It is one of the curious ethnic jokes to surface in recent episodes – like Ken Cosgrove’s statement, when he is fired by McCann Ericson, that he wouldn’t have fit in there because he is “not Catholic, not Irish, and [he] can read”
McCann makes everyone see red, now more than ever as our Sterling Cooper heroes and heroines learn that their lease has been canceled and they will be moved from the Time-Life Building on Sixth Avenue to McCann headquarters. Don has a plan, which he develops when Lew Avery phones from California to say he is joining the Tokyo firm that wants his adolescent cartoon strip. But when the partners convene with Jim Hobart of McCann and Don goes into his pitch for retaining his agency’s autonomy by moving its offices to Los Angeles, Hobart cuts him short. Don has failed to save the day. The line of the week is said by Don later that same day, over drinks with Roger at the generic bar the two gents favor. Don is acknowledging that he is in the wrong on the subject under discussion. “For the second time today I surrender,” he says.
Speaking of Lew Avery, the creep fires off one parting shot at Don: “Sayonara. Enjoy the rest of your miserable life.” A friend of mine who worked in a Mad Ave ad agency in the 1970s tells me that the most realistic character in the show – that is, the one most like the people he used to work with – is Lew Avery.
But I’d rather speak of Don. . . who is alone more often than not. . .whose latest girlfriend sneaks out and leaves town with no forwarding address. . .who may soon (as Meredith reminds him) be without either an office or an apartment. . . and who nevertheless remains the Don Juan de nos jours, though with unexpected twists that will make me want to bring him up the next time I get the chance to teach Byron’s “Don Juan.”
The last scene in this week’s episode has Don and Roger trying to rally the troops. It’s a scene we’ve seen before when the agency is under threat. A gambit is announced to the staff, and Don manages to make the event inspirational. Only here, in the mood of surrender, it doesn’t work. The speeches are not even listened to as staff members talk and scatter.
I am pretty certain that Acker Bilk’s “Stanger on the Shore” has been heard on a previous episode – probably one set in 1962, the year the song was a big radio hit with delicious clarinet solos and sweet sentimental strings. The song is reprised in the scene in which Peggy and Stan have at each other and Peggy ends up confessing about her child out of wedlock. It’s a great choice, and who can complain about Dean Martin singing the exit music over the credits? In the song, money burns a hole in “my” pocket, and I wish I had a million dollars to buy pretty presents for “you.” Nice to hear it; the mood is like that of the early 60s – very different from the prevailing mood of surrender in 1970.
Let me leave you with a question. There was a time when Ted and Don seemed to reflect each other, but that hasn’t been true since Ted left for California and began to sulk. Now we learn via the exposition-by-dialogue method that he and his wife are divorced. He left New York to save his marriage and leave behind temptation in the form of Peggy. Now that he is back in the city, he has a new girlfriend: a woman he dated in college. What happened to the torch he had carried for Peggy? Stacey has a feeling that Joan will clear out of the agency and join Richard as his spouse. What thinkest thou?
Right you are about its being Pete’s episode to shine! Well-known as a selfish, ruthless, sneaky, entitled little prick, Pete emerges from this episode wearing a halo, albeit a cockeyed one, earned by doing noble deeds, but not quite by the book. As you note, he gives the rude official at the fancy school he and his ex are trying to get their kid admitted to a well-deserved punch in the schnozzle. The guy got nasty about their child, Tammy (who I'd like to see appear on the show before its swan song.) Kudos to the Mad Men scriptwriters for poking fun at the ridiculous “Draw a Person Test” (called the “Draw a Man Test” in this episode) a highly questionable but still used psychological “test” of personality and intelligence. Initially, the admissions official cites Tammy's poor, rudimentary drawings for this test as a decisive factor in her being denied a place in the school. After dismissing Trudy’s polite pleas for reconsideration coldly, almost viciously, the official admits the little girl was actually denied admission based on her last name! (“No MacDonald will ever mix with a Campbell!”) Pete's reactive, righteous pugilism elicits a moment of starry-eyed admiration from ex wife Trudy. (Trudy’s a character I am always hungry to see, especially now that she appears so infrequently post divorce.) “No MacDonald will ever mix with a Campbell!” I laughed at the reference to an ancient MacDonald/ Campbell clan feud, which seemed archaic and absurd, as though the 1970s combatants in the day-school office should be clad in kilts and smeared with war paint, broadswords on hips, in the style of the movie Braveheart. And yet. One of the many strengths of Mad Men’s writers has been their consistent willingness to deal with racism, head on, and slantwise, and even via humor. Watching the episode made me remember a story my grandfather told me eons ago. He’d tried to check into a hotel in Florida with my grandmother when they were newlyweds, around 1930. His last name sounded Jewish, he was told at the front desk, and the hotel “didn't take Jews.” The couple was turned away, despite there being many available rooms. At that memory, I stopped laughing.
Pete’s second act of heroism in episode four is to leak to Peggy the major plot development of the day, though he has been threateningly sworn to secrecy. This news, as you note, rocked the worlds of all characters associated with Sterling Cooper. S.C. is being merged into voracious adoptive parent company McCann Erikson. Upstart S.C. will have to give up their building, autonomy, and name, and move in with that hated, larger, more heartless entity in an abhorrent forced marriage. There is general mourning, even panic, when the whole office hears the news, as you say.
I was fascinated by the euphemisms for Sterling Cooper's move into McCann Erickson:
We're being absorbed!
We're being swallowed!
They finally got you: they ate you up! Like a child's bad dream of being eaten by monsters.
I loved the scene in which Peggy and Stan are supervising market research on children playing with Play Doh. Or are they casting kids for a commercial? Peggy is awkward with the kindergarten-aged tykes. She seems near terrified, at an utter loss. “Just play!” she waves her arms and commands them as they sit at a child sized conference table. “Do what you'd do if we weren't here.” Of course the children freeze. Stan has to step in. “Real kids are shy, you have to talk to them like people,” he gently chides her. He breaks the ice by heaving some Play Doh at the wall, much to the children's surprise and delight. Later, in a private moment, Stan expresses surprise at Peggy’s fear reaction at the horde of youngsters. She as much as admits to him, obliquely, that she had a child out of wedlock when she was younger. He seems sympathetic, takes this in, looks as though he may revise his thinking about her a little.
Peggy, like the rest of her colleagues, is appalled by the prospect of becoming a cog in the McCann Erikson mega-machine and explores her options with a corporate headhunter. As a female, having tasted McCann Erickson's attitude towards women, she may also fear being harassed and demoted. “Who wants me?” she asks him, smiling nervously as they sit down to talk. (That chirpy quote is pure Peggy, a shaken AND over-stirred cocktail of anxiety, drive, sorrow and fierce hope.) He replies that her best bet is to go with McCann Erikson, the behemoth market dominator at the moment. Just what she did not want to hear. She looks sick with disappointment and dread.
Tiny bibulous footnote:
In the scene that opens the show, Pete obsequiously says to Ken “Look, we got some of your favorite wine.” The wine that Pete (with Don's help) unsuccessfully employs to woo Ken's business at the top of the hour, now that Ken is in charge of advertising for Dow chemical, is a vintage Ken declared he loved in a previous installment: Chateau Margaux ‘53. Pete looks completely dashed when Ken crushes his hopes for landing the account almost immediately. Don, always sensible in such circumstances, applies himself to drinking the primo vino. Chateau Margaux ‘53 is a real vintage, selling online today, described as “supple and fragrant,” and as possessing a “distinctly perfumed aroma, refined elegance and tremendous power.” Price (in 1970)? $600 to $2,000 a bottle. David, what would that be at today’s prices?
We get such nice little glimpses of old intimacies in this episode: Trudy and Pete’s aforementioned momentary rapprochement, after long bitterness. “You should ice that hand,” she tells him, almost tenderly, after he’s socked the admissions officer. She lets down her guard a little, complains about being a vulnerable divorcee, about getting older. Pete seems to tear up, a glimmer of his old love for her almost visible, sighing admiringly, “You're ageless!” Joan rests her head on Roger’s shoulder when she gets the bad news about Sterling Cooper being swallowed by McCann Erikson as Jonah by the whale, recalling to mind their old passion. Don learns that the waitress he fell for, Diana Bauer, who pushed him away and disappeared, has been calling his answering service, though instructing the operators not to tell him she’d phoned. Roger’s intermittent old flame, Marie Calvert, comes up in conversation, though she doesn't appear. Roger proposes a toast to the dear departed comrade and founder Bert Cooper as the gang sits in a bar, shell-shocked about the merger, trying to “absorb” the reality of what’s to come.
Wonderful question about Ted's lack of interest in Peggy now that he's actually divorced and theoretically free. What happened to their yen for each other? He's taken up with a woman he knew in college, professes to be happy now. Could this account for some of Peggy's brittleness around the office? The affair with Peggy may have been what Ted needed to propel him out of an ailing marriage, more than it was true love on his part. And I’m not sure the sharp- edged, intensely ambitious, uptight current version of Peggy would be a great long-term match for the laid-back Ted. I’m also not persuaded that Peggy, with her keen visual sense, would be able to tolerate that buffoonish mustache. I’m still hoping the ex-lawyer brother-in-law of the fired Mathis will return and sweep Peggy off her feet. But who knows what the Mad Men writers have in store for us? Till next week!