Mad Men 3.1, “Out of Town”

In this episode: Sterling Cooper layoffs continue; Don and Sal fly to Baltimore to comfort London Fog; Don learns Sal’s secret; Dick Whitman gets a birthday present; Ken and Pete earn promotions; Joan schools Moneypenny.

Critical opinion on this show has calcified: it’s an important show about Serious Things. People who try to disagree with this premise wind up looking silly. But Mad Men wouldn’t have just earned its best-ever ratings unless it was a show about characters you like and support. Out of Town was a brisk and lively start to the season, packed with laugh-out-loud moments (although there were some intimations of trouble to come).

Don begins the episode warming milk, not for a child as it turns out, but for the still-pregnant Betty. Right off the bat, we’re reminded that Betty, despite her attempts at personal growth, is still infantilized. Don has a fantasy about the circumstances of his birth which is, stylistically, unlike anything the show has ever done. We witness his birth mother sleeping with a man, giving birth, uttering curses at the man. We see a midwife bringing the baby to the Whitman household. The whole thing is done up as a 50s-style modern play. I love the suggestion that Don’s fantasies play out in the narratives of his time.

Back at the office, Lane Pryce takes charge by completing the latest in a series of firings. An angry Bert Peterson wreaks damage in the secretarial pool, claims “We’re the future,” (but who is that we?), calls his former coworkers “Comrades in mediocrity,” and says he’ll see them in the breadline. He has two replacements as head of accounts: Ken and Pete. Pete’s reactions to this news are the highlight of the episode–he fumbles through his promotional meeting, does an impish dance in the privacy of his office. There’s a great scene in the elevator in which Ken and Pete, each believing himself to be in sole possession of the new title, complement each other.

Meanwhile, Don and Sal fly down to Baltimore to assure London Fog that their account is still in good hands. Don seizes the chance to pounce on a stewardess, while Sal has what may be the first gay sexual encounter of his life. It’s interrupted by a fire alarm, and as Don climbs down the fire escape, he spies Sal with the bellhop. He knows, and Sal knows he knows. In a brilliant double stroke, Don tells Sal to “Limit Your Exposure” as he pitches a new London Fog ad.

Notes:

  • Bert Cooper has new weird art: Hokusai’s Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife. It’s a nasty little bit of hentai. To take it further, it depicts a woman getting it on with her husband’s, um, rival? Given the amount of infidelity on this show, the painting’s foreshadowing is overdetermined.
  • Peggy appears to be doing quite well. Pete complains that she’s the creative member assigned to nearly all of his accounts, and she’s got a secretary of her own now. She’s even got the Lever Brothers account.
  • Pryce’s anecdote about London Fog captures the insidious duplicity of advertising, just in case anyone hasn’t gotten the point from the first two seasons. Don also calms Betty down by placing her, mentally, in a coconut oil commercial.
  • Pete can’t trust anyone, but I would argue that his paranoia makes him a better employee.
  • John Hooker, Pryce’s “right arm” has been nicknamed Moneypenny. Bond books have been around since ’53; US premiere of Dr. No comes later in ’63.
  • Attitudes toward drinking and smoking appear to be making glacial shifts. The flight attendents aren’t allowed to smoke in uniform. When Don and Sal poke fun at a liquor ad, I get the feeling that they’re not just making fun of its conception, but its attitude toward drink as well.
  • Don is told he looks like Tyrone Power, swashbuckling star of stage and screen (and someone who seemingly had affairs with everyone in Hollywood).
  • Meanwhile, very quietly, Sterling Cooper is making the transition to TV. Harry is practically running the accounts meeting, complains about higher tax brackets, and claims that 40-odd% of the S-C money is spent on television.
  • It can’t be stressed enough: Don gives the London Fog people terrible advice when he tells them to stick to raincoats. On the other hand, his new ad is more risque than the company was willing to go a year ago with Maidenform.
  • ant farms are, of course, gynocracies too.
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