MAD MEN: “Field Trip”

Don Draper is BACK! Sort of…

 I wish it was yesterday.

–Bobby Draper

Don calls Dawn for his weekly meet-up, but her new position as Head of Personnel keeps her too occupied to stop by. After a quick trip to see Megan that goes south fast – more on that in a moment – Don takes a dinner meeting with Dave Wooster, who presents him with an attractive offer to join the firm. Instead of celebrating with the blonde hooker who propositions him at the meeting, Don heads to Roger’s place, waving the offer in his face. Roger – who admits to missing his partner in crime – tells Don to come back to work on Monday. One problem…Roger forgets to warn the partners of the invitation. When Don shows up, in a brilliantly edited scene where he is a stranger in a strange land, walking the halls of the changed SCP, no one is more confused than Lou. He tells Jim Cutler that he will sell newspapers downstairs to collect on his paycheck, but he has a contract! Cutler takes his case to the partners, and no one is willing to argue Don’s case – except for Roger. Even Joan does not want Don back, insisting that things are working now. Excuse me, Mrs. Harris, but isn’t Don the only one who stuck up for you when the other partners sold you basically for a car?! Roger puts in all in perspective, however, when he warns the rest of SCP that if they fire Don, he will be their competition. And no one wants that. The partners call him in for terms: Don can come back but he cannot drink or be alone with clients, must stick to an approved script for pitches, and the kicker: he must report to Lou. The camera pushes in dramatically as Don…accepts. Without hesitation. This is the man who clawed his way up from nothing. This is Draper at his best. Watch yo’ back, Lou!

Early in the episode, Alan Silver – Megan’s agent – calls Don with a delicate issue involving Mrs. Draper. It seems the ingénue did not take rejection well after a recent audition and acted a bit impulsively and inappropriately, even going as far as to ambush the director at a private lunch. Don jumps on a plane to make sure she isn’t cutting her wrists, but ends up confessing to his own dishonesty after she confronts him about never being in the office when he calls. Megan kicks him out immediately, but takes his call later in the episode. Her problem mostly stems from the fact that Don has been lying this whole year, when he could have been searching for employment in LA. Would she suffer as much in climbing her way up the ladder if Don was there to soften the blow when she falls? It’s a harsh reality of the business, and moreover, it’s the truth that Megan has long hid just below the superficial. Always wanting to hide her vulnerability from Don, to be seen as his equal, the breakdown inched ever close. But if this relationship is going to last, the walls had to come down, each exposing the depths of their respective depression. Megan seemingly called quits on the marriage twice in this episode, but I doubt it’s the end for real. If there were ever two people in the world meant for each other, it’s these two damaged goods.

After lunching with her pal Francine who has recently taken a job at a travel agency, Betty realizes time is short with her children. Experiencing early pangs of the looming empty nest, the Ice Queen offers to chaperone Bobby’s field trip to a local farm. The young man is elated through much of the episode, doting on his mother and beaming for all the other kids to see. And Betty, wanting to shine for her boy, even tries unpasteurized milk, straight from a bucket. However, all goes south when Bobby trades a sandwich, meant for Mama, for some candy. It’s a simple mistake, something most kids do: forgetting that they are not the only people in the world. And come on, after all the weight she lost, I’d believe she routinely skips lunch. But it is a crime Betty is unwilling to forget, even going so far as to say to Henry later, “It was a perfect day, and he ruined it.” She wonders aloud why her kids do not love her, but the simple fact is, they do. They worship her, even Sally, but Betty refuses to accept this. In many ways, Betty’s course echoes that of Don’s. Often she wants what she cannot have: a good relationship with her children, literally having her cake and eating it, too, and living as a doll, wanted but never fully given over. Most of all, Betty is her own worst enemy. The truth of the matter remains: she can be loved, she is wanted, but she has to be the adult, not the petulant child whining when things do not go her way. Betty has always lived on the surface, and when she lets her emotions invade that façade, her uneasiness becomes her downfall.

Elsewhere in the episode: Peggy is again creatively stifled by Lou. When she misses out on a Cleo nomination, even though Michael and Stan were nominated for their Playtex ad — because Lou did not submit her work — the audience can literally see steam escape her ears. Harry Crane once again pouts about the lack of love for the media department, but may have argued himself out of a job with Cutler in lieu of a computer.

At its core, Mad Men is a show about deceit and atonement. Don must come back from the brink of complete destruction without luck or a handout; his resurrection is attainable at a price. For a man who lives by his image alone, when all the cracks have been exposed, Don must stand in front of the world as himself — er, close enough as Dick Whitman is not entirely exposed. Clever again without hitting us over the head with an expository baseball bat, seeing Don in the creative hub, where everyone in the office could look at the monkey in the cage, we see his commitment to make up for his past deeds. I loved the parade of coworkers coming to weigh in on his possible return: Michael runs around like a kid at Christmas, Ken corners the adman with photos of his boy, and Peggy cuts him down, not ready to forgive Don — still blaming him for her failures with Ted (it’s kind of his fault…but I’m on Team Draper).

Mad Men is consistently churning out creatively fresh and strong work week after week. Give it all the awards. Like Breaking Bad, Men has seen a resurgence of artistic genesis in the final stretch. I know I will miss it after next year’s last hurrah, if it continues on this path. Even though I loathe what Weiner has done to Peggy, it is an authentic and robust path to explore, and it is a place we find most of the characters on the show. I even care what happens to the little Drapers (including Megan!).

Grade: A. I have nothing to grade down. Mad Men has set the bar with which all other shows should be compared.

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