As Mad Men's impeccable third season moves toward its memorable finale, we see the ugliest sides of some of the characters we've grown to love most. We also lose a favorite, and a foot. It's time again for the Great Mad Men Re-Watch!
This is the “John Deere Episode,” and if you’ve seen it already, you know why. But the main event—in which poor Lois loses control of a riding mower, destroying the foot of the British hotshot who’s been newly installed as the head of Sterling Cooper (and producing countless animated .gifs in the process)—is really just the crowning moment of a deviously brilliant episode. The trouble begins when John Hooker, who has fully blossomed in his role as Lane’s snide and snooty sidekick, calls the company together for an announcement. Lane takes over, informing everyone that the long July 4th weekend has been cut short in order to host visiting London executives, whom he claims were “unaware” of the holiday. (Yeah...right.)
Bert predicts they are there to anoint Don to a new position that will require regular pond-hopping, and with Betty experiencing a debilitating bout of post-partum bitchiness—“Go bang you head against the wall,” she tells Bobby when he tells her he’s bored—the prospect of banging a whole new population of soon-to-be-swingin’ Mod hotties adds a little twinkle to his eye. Of course, Bert is way off: It’s debonair wunderkind Guy MacKendrick, who sets secretarial hearts aflame as he makes his way through the offices, who’s getting the promotion—that is, until the little mishap.
Lane, too, gets the royal shaft from his crumpet-nibbling overlords, who gift him with a stuffed cobra—“for our snake-charmer”—and inform him that he will be summarily dispatched to Bombay to work his belt-tightening magic over there. The cobra might as well be alive, because all the color instantly drains from poor Lane’s face as he shrivels up and dies at the prospect of leaving New York. He says as much to Don outside Guy’s hospital room later, telling him, “I feel like I just went to my own funeral, and I didn’t like the eulogy.”
As we know, something exciting is cooking for the top brass, but right now, the anglophilic upheaval at Sterling Cooper makes for exciting, and darkly amusing, tension.
I absolutely adore this episode.
Poor Don has a rough go of it in the last act of "Seven Twenty Three." Storming out of the house with highball in hand after an argument over his resistance to signing a contract, he picks up a young, hitchhiking couple on their way to Niagara Falls to elope. They aren’t in love, they say, it’s just their way to avoid a draft to Vietnam, where war is increasingly looking like an inevitability. It’s a strange confluence of characters, and grows stranger still, when they offer Don “reds”—a.k.a. phenobarbital, which Don takes two of, promptly washing them down with the rest of his cocktail. The party continues at a hotel room, with Don creepily slow-dancing with the girl; then, as the boy cuts in, Don has a hallucinatory vision of his father, and then gets clocked hard in the head.
The next morning, he wanders into the office with his injury of the week (remember the sling after his drunken wreck with Bobbie Barrett?), only to find Bert sitting in his chair—the second superior to do so in the episode, after Connie Hilton’s surprise visit earlier. One tale about Sacagawea later, and Don has been lightly blackmailed into signing his contract.
The note left behind by the couple who drugged, assaulted and robbed Don: “Mister: Thanks for the help. We left you your car. Your Welcome.”
"Souvenir" puts the focus back on our favorite characters’ fraught personal lives. It’s an August weekend, and Pete is relishing the thought of spending some time away from Trudy in the sweltering city. (The prospect doesn’t appeal to Ken: “It's like a great, big, melting wax museum. Nothing but those fat girls with the hairy armpits putting their feet in a fountain.” Love that line.) Fate intervenes, as he runs into a tearful Gudrun, his neighbor’s au pair, in the hallway. She’s distraught over a dress she borrowed from her boss that she accidentally stained. Apparently never having heard of the expression “don’t s**t, or cheat on your barren wife, where you eat,” Pete sets upon a scheme to woo her clothes off, returning the gown at a department store – where he’s shocked to find Joan working. Poor Joan. Forced to work because her husband has “no brains in his fingers.”
There’s a question of what, exactly, occurred between Pete and Gudrun after he drunkenly knocks on her door in the middle of the night. He insists she model the dress for her, then corners her in the bedroom, shuts the doors, and tells her he wants to kiss her. She doesn’t resist or speak, and he pulls her into his arms for a kiss. The scene thencuts away. After a friendly-but-humiliating confrontation with his neighbor (who just wants to hold on to a nanny who gets along with his wife), Pete backs off. From the “box of Kleenex” the neighbor mentions, we can only assume Gudrun is completely distraught over the encounter. Does it constitute a rape? I’d say that absolutely yes, it does. From Pete’s status seniority to Gudrun’s fears of being fired to the way he lied about his intentions and shut the door on her before forcing himself on her, everything about this was a rape, even if Gudrun did not beat her hands against him and scream. As you might recall, she was mostly concerned that the children not be awoken by his visit, and it’s devastating to think that might have been foremost on her mind when she relented. Looking like a five-year-old who stole candy, he can barely conceal his guilt upon Trudy’s return. Trudy, who is enormously adept at denying the obvious, storms out of the room in outrage. But, amazingly, the marriage will remain intact.
Faring much better in the intimacy department, however, are Don and Betty, who jet off to Rome at the behest of Conrad Hilton, who is in the midst of wooing Don after meeting him at Roger’s country club party. (Don had thought at the time that the man behind the bar who called himself “Connie” was just a bartender.) There is a lot of fun in this scenario, which finally breaks Betty out of that frigid home environment and lets our lead couple indulge in a little dress-up and role play. In one memorable sequence, Betty, who speaks Italian, endures the come-ons of two sleazy Italians before she’s joined outside by Don, and the two pretend to be complete strangers. The game continues upstairs, where we get the definitive Don and Betty love scene, with the camera lingering on the couple for a moment before it cuts away to the Rome skyline, in a nod to a bygone era of Hollywood filmmaking.
The lobby of the Rome Hilton is played by the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in L.A.
A much more somber and sexy mood, at times difficult to take.
We lose Sal Romano in this episode, and that hurts me greatly. It’s all Lee Garner Jr.’s fault: He's an entitled snake, and scion of the Lucky Strike family, whose $25 million keep Sterling Cooper afloat. A very drunk Lee corners Sal in the editing room late one night, and gropes Sal. Sal jumps away, saying, “I’m married,” to which Lee replies, “So am I.” You’d think Lee wouldn’t want to draw attention to the encounter, but spoiled brat that he is, he calls the ever-hapless Harry Sloane to insist poor Sal be fired from the account. He also makes him promise it will be done without Roger or Don’s knowledge, as if that would ever happen. Harry, at Paul’s encouragement, chooses to remain mum and hope it all goes away once Lee sobers up—but when Lee sees Sal at the boardroom presentation, he storms out, and all hell proceeds to break loose.
As hard as it was to see Sal fired, and over the encounter with Lee of all reasons, I loved the dramatic precision with which all of this played out. From Roger’s tantrums (which are always a treat) to Harry and Sal’s march down to Don’s office, to Sal’s admission to Don’s cruelly skeptical reaction to Sal’s version of events (“You people,” he tells him, in his first open acknowledgement of Sal’s homosexuality), to the final handshake that falls on Sal like an axe, it’s all just so masterfully done that it almost makes up for the fact that we just lost one of the show's strongest supporting characters—and seen the ugliest side to Don’s personality yet. But still, god, that scene just gets me every time.
Season 3 was firing on all cylinders.
1. What's your take on Peter and the au pair? Was it rape?
2. Don's strange and self-destructive behavior offers a hint of what's to come in Season 4. And Betty is soon to find out his secret. Meanwhile, he's getting increasingly abusive at the office (the Hilton meeting!). What's your read on him at this point in the series?
3. Any parting thoughts for dear old Sal?
– The Great Mad Men Re-Watch: Peggy Gets High
– The Great Mad Men Re-Watch Examines the Season 5 Poster and Delves Into Season 3!
– The Great Mad Men Re-Watch, Part 9: California Dreamin'
– The Great Mad Men Re-Watch, Part 8: Men Behaving Badly
– The Great Mad Men Re-Watch, Part 7: God, Sex, and Irish Setters
– The Great Mad Men Re-Watch, Part 6: Season 2 Begins!
– The Great Mad Men Re-Watch, Part 5: Carousel of Broken Dreams
– The Great Mad Men Re-Watch, Part 4: Hearts, Diseased
– The Great Mad Men Re-Watch, Part 3: The Miseducation of Peggy Olson
– The Great Mad Men Re-Watch, Part 2: A Basket of Kisses
– The Great Mad Men Re-Watch: Here We Go!