Whoa! Sometimes watching Mad Men makes me feel like I’m losing my mind. In the best way possible. Last night’s episode was no exception!
The episode begins with flash-forward teaser scenes. It seems we have three different mysteries to solve: Don Draper waking up all bloody-faced in a motel, Betty Draper looking lovelorn (and quite frankly, aroused) on a chaise lounge, and Peggy Olson in bed with a mystery man. How did we come to these conclusions? Let’s find out!
It all starts with Betty redecorating the house and meeting with the local chapter of the Junior League. The ladies in the group want to do something about a proposed water tank in the neighborhood. Betty volunteers to get in touch with Henry Francis, the Governor’s office employee who felt her belly up at Roger Sterling’s Kentucky Derby party.
They end up meeting for coffee and it turns out Henry grew up in the neighborhood as well. Unfortunately, it seems the project is already underway, and he likely only met with her because of his attraction to her - which she’s into, being drawn in by the powerful feeling of attracting a powerful man.
On their way out, Henry encourages Betty to purchase this ugly-as-hell Victorian “fainting couch.” Apparently ladies in the Victorian age were so physically overwhelmed by their corsets that they often had to lie down on such couches. Betty goes ahead with the purchase, at the dismay of her home decorator. It’s clear that Betty is attracted to the idea of an escape from the unease of female constraints, both physical and social. This babe basically inspired The Feminine Mystique, if you ask me. Sheesh.
Back at Sterling Cooper, everyone is flipping out because Conrad Hilton is in the office to meet with Don. Don enters his office and is greeted by Connie sitting at his desk. Connie wants Don to work for him, with one catch: he only wants to work with someone under contract. Roger Sterling and Burt Cooper follow up by drafting a proposal that includes a big raise and three-year commitment in order to lock down both Don and the account. Don is clearly uneasy with the concept of committing to anything for three years and doesn’t sign right away.
Later on, Don attends an eclipse-viewing session with Sally’s class, and is engaged in conversation with teacher Miss Farrell. Miss Farrell basically accuses him of hitting on her out of the blue, telling him he’s like all the other bored, pervy men in the neighborhood. To me, it seemed more like one of those I’m-hitting-on-you-by-accusing-you-of-hitting-on-me situations (you know the kind!), and Don is definitely weirded out. “I’m not bored,” he tells her curtly.
Peggy, meanwhile, is still being courted by Duck Phillips, with an Hermès scarf arriving to tempt her over to Grey. Pete Campbell talks to her about it and basically shames her into returning the scarf, likely out of jealousy that she’s being pursued harder than he is. He also mentions the potential arrival of the new Hilton account, which more than piques her interest.
Peggy obviously goes straight to Don to inquire about the account and is met with a bit of animosity on his end. He’s clearly feeling the pressure of the proposed contract and, I think, the prospect of “selling out” indefinitely, and he really has her have it. “Every time I turn around you’ve got your hand in my pocket,” he tells her. “There’s not one thing that you’ve done here that I couldn’t live without. You’re good, get better, stop asking for things.”
OH SNAP! Peggy got told! She does, after all, represent everything Don despises: an opportunistic, entitled, corporate ladder-climber. Locking himself down to three years at Sterling Cooper (”the man”) might make him no different. Eek!
Back at home, Betty picks up a phone call from Roger Sterling, who tries to convince her to put the pressure on Don about signing the contract - which she still hasn’t heard a thing about. She basically gives Roger the over-the-phone middle finger, and angrily inquires about the contract when Don gets home. They get in a huge fight (we get it, you don’t want to be tied down, Don) and he runs out the door with his whiskey in hand.
Don starts driving and picks up a pair of young hitchikers, on their way to Niagara Falls to get married in order for the boy to avoid the draft. Don clearly loves their purity, free-spiritedness, and damn-the-man ‘tudes (especially now that he himself is being asked to sign away his freedom), and pops two of their Phenobarbital pills when offerred.
They all stop at a motel room where where they start partying down. Don dances with the girl but soon starts fading from his pill/booze combo and sits down. He has one of his trademark Dick Whitman visions, in which he pictures his father sitting in the chair in front of him. Daddy tells Don he’s worthless, that he can’t settle down, that he grows bullshit for a living. At this point, the two free-spirited kids notice Don still hasn’t passed out and whack him over the head and rob him. Oy. Party over.
Meanwhile, that night, Peggy decides to meet with Duck to return the Hermès scarf and talk. What happens is more than surprising: Duck hits on her and they end up sleeping together in a hotel room. One can’t help but make the connection between Peggy’s disastrous meeting with Don and her now sleeping with Duck, the anti-Don. Seems our Peggy is slowly realizing that sex means power, self-worth.
Don wakes up face down in his own filth the next morning, and returns to the office with a bandaged-up face. He’s met in his office by Burt Cooper, who wants to discuss the yet-unsigned contract. “Would you say I know something about you, Don?” Burt asks him. “When it comes down to it, who’s really signing this contract anyway?”
Oh maaaan, do you get it? Burt’s basically blackmailing the guy by implying he knows a thing or two about Don’s past. Don gets the message and reluctantly signs the contract, dating it 7/23/1963.
What is the significance of seven twenty three, our episode title? It’s the day Don signed his soul away, duh. His life, both professional and personal, is now bound to Burt Cooper & co. Oh noes!
Fantastic episode. You know there’s nothing I love more than subtle artistry, and S03E07 was chock-full of it. On top of that, many plot points we’d almost forgotten (finally, some more Dick Whitman!) were pushed forward, while new ones craftfully put into place. Bravo!