Mad Men "Field Trip" Review: Honey, I'm Home
Mad Men's "Field Trip" was an outing in both the literal sense—Bobby Draper went to a potato farm with his increasingly unstable mother and that went about as well as you'd expect—and the figurative sense: Don returned to SC&P a humbled man. No one seemed especially thrilled to see him; heck, no one was even expecting him. Some of the partners actively tried to block Don's return while some of their underlings just wandered around giving him the stink-eye, but everyone was clearly fearful of what Don Draper's presence might mean for the agency... and he wasn't even wearing what one could call a "power suit." Black and blue are the go-to hues for men who want to project a vibe of authority, influence, professionalism, and generally just having it together. Of course, whether Don's decision to wear brown was an intentional signal of deference to his cohorts or an unplanned manifestation of his inner listlessness is up for debate. On one hand, Don Draper has never done anything unintentionally. On the other hand, Don Draper has never done anything unintentionally until recently.
Don will be returning to the SC&P fold a handful of stipulations that seemed cherry-picked to make him want to quit. Roger was the only partner in the SC&P boardroom who was willing to vouch for Don's job-worthiness, and was actually passionate about something in a way we haven't seen in a long time. We'll get back to that in a sec. Roger was alone in his pro-Don arguments, and despite being woefully outnumbered, won on a technicality, rather than by successfully swaying his anti-Draper coworkers. If SC&P actually went forward with firing Don, instead of just exiling him by leaving him adrift in suspension-land, the agency would have to buy out his partner shares—a financial hit that, even under the best circumstances, would adversely affect the books until at least 1973. It isn't difficult to see that even with SC&P's expansions to California and Detroit, the new faces in the office, and the air of relief in Don's forced absence that the agency isn't really doing so hot. The infighting, the egos, the incompetence—the company is behind the curve when it comes to new media, and half the management has openly decried the agency's reliance on those dang creative types, which seems like a shockingly counterproductive outlook for an advertising agency. After all, SC&P received only one Clio nomination this year—and it wasn't for Peggy's work, which apparently wasn't even considered. And Lou Avery is the actual worst and most odious person ever.
So. Roger may be the only one who wants to admit it, but SC&P needs Don.
Roger is also the only one who actually wants Don to come back, both for professional and personal reasons. Thus, it was with guarded optimism that the partners read the conditions for Don's return to work, practically holding their breath in hopes that Don would just quit because then they'd be rid of him and they could avoid giving him truckloads of money just to make him go away.
But hey, reality is merely an inconvenience. It's 1969; man will walk on the moon in just a few months. Don isn't allowed to be alone with clients. He must stick to a pre-approved script for all pitches and meetings. He's not allowed to drink in the office. He'll sit at Lane Pryce's old desk, and wait, just one more thing—and you could practically see the partners waiting for Don's righteous outburst at this one—he has to report to Lou Avery. Violation of any of these points will result in immediate termination and the forfeit of his share in the company.
Will Don break one of the rules? I don't know, probably. Despite the image of a humbled man in the brown suit sitting prostrate before upper management, Don's simple response of "okay" was tinged with defiance. He knows they don't want him. He knows how unwelcome he is. His mere presence in the boardroom is an act of rebellion, and perhaps the best way to stick it to the cohorts who tossed him on his ass at his lowest point is actually to do everything they say. They want Don to play the game? Don's whole life is a game. They have no idea what they've gotten themselves into.
So let's talk about Roger for a sec. He's currently the lone member of Team Draper, and he's also a man who himself has been teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown for at least the last two seasons, if not longer. Don and Roger have long been a unified front in agency business—though Roger's interest in it appeared to wane in the wake of his acid-tripping and wife-divorcing and other out-of-office shenanigans. Roger even made a compelling addition to our Mad Men death-watch a while back. During debates about whether or not to bring Don back into the office, Joan pointed out that there's no place for Don in current set-up. That they don't need him. Roger has skirted the issue of being needed himself for some time now, and really, what does he actually do anymore? He wanders into the office whenever he feels like it. He leads some kind of polygamist commune in his penthouse with no real affection or apparent feelings for the crowd he shares his bed with. He's in a similar position to Don in that, despite how unproductive he is, getting rid of him would be more hassle than it's worth for everyone else.
Roger has been where Don is. Remember the disastrous, racist meeting with Honda back in the day? Roger unpacked his drunken emotional baggage in the middle of a meeting with a client and was punished accordingly. Admittedly, Roger's current existence isn't exactly a shining example of hitting rock bottom and crawling back to the top; he's still a hot mess. But he's has evolved to the point of being a functional hot mess. Roger's relationship with his live-in partners seems paternal at times (which makes the sex a little creepy but, eh, it's 1969). He's patient. He's usually the soberest person in the room. It's easy to look at his current living situation and dismiss it with an "LOL Roger," but this is the most stable we've seen Roger in a long time. It works for him. He's finally reaching the point of being happy again.
However, now that he's paying attention to the agency again, Roger also sees his own influence waning, especially since the merger with Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough. His personal rivalry with Cutler is increasingly heated, and their conflicting philosophies about the sort of people SC&P should hire is a sore spot for both men, particularly as Cutler's influence seems to be overshadowing Roger's, regardless of the fact that Roger's name is on the door. Cutler has allies in Ted, in Lou, maybe in Peggy. Roger has finally woken up and he sees his life's work going somewhere he never wanted it to. His passionate defense of Don was as much about their friendship as it was a practical effort to get some of his own people back into his own agency.
It took three episodes to get here, but the band is finally back together. "Field Trip" took us into new territory for Mad Man—we're looking at a new Don, an impassioned Roger, a Peggy who's no longer the office wunderkind. But the thing about field trips is that they're only temporary. At the end of the day, we pack up and we go home. Don may not have returned to a home identical to the one that he left, but he's most certainly back.
– I know, I know, "LOL BETTY IS SUCH A CHILD," but still, I thought that this week's interaction with Bobby, and Francis's subsequent response to her frustration—so knowing, kind of defeated, exhausted in a way that patient people who have to deal with the same bullshit every day get exhausted—really highlighted a more nuanced approach to Betty's probable mental illness. She's awful, but I really don't think she can help it, and that's sad. What do you think?
– So I guess Don and Megan are over now. Maybe. Probably. Thoughts?
– Peggy and the Clios: "You weren't rejected. You weren't even considered." Yeah, I don't think that's better, Ginberg, but thanks?
– Hey everybody, it's Francine from the old neighborhood! Hi, Francine! She's a working woman now and Betty judged her but also fretted about it. You also have to love how Francine made "old fashioned" sound like an insult.
What did you think of "Field Trip"?
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