I haven’t blogged about Mad Men recently simply because I’ve had no time. Last weekend we were in New York, the weekend before time just got away from me. I’ve been a little disappointed with the season so far. It’s good, but it didn’t seem to have the juice of seasons 1 and 2. The story arc was missing and each episode seemed like a one shot, or preludes setting up situations to explore later in the season. But five episodes into the season seemed a lot for a prelude. I kept waiting for the season to get going.
Well, season 3 just got better. “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency” was brilliant, not least because of the story line involving Joan Holloway (now Joan Harris after her marriage.) Christina Hendricks get to show off her acting chops in this episode, to marvelous effect. At the close of the scene with her husband, when he informs Joan that someone else has been made chief resident and that he may have to leave New York to practice somewhere else, like Alabama, she turns away from him to turn off the light. The slight hesitancy in her movement and the look on her face as she clicks off the lamp tells us everything we need to know. In a show where subtext is all, Joan’s disappointment in her husband, and her misgivings about her own choices, are clear. Later, sitting in the hospital waiting room with Don, I couldn’t help thinking, “they belong together.” Their parting scene, wordless for the most part, when she kisses him on the cheek and then wipes off her lipstick, tells us they think the same thing. Under different circumstances, Don and Joan could have been a couple. Knowing Joan’s disappointment in her own choice of a husband, the scene is that much more effective.
Roger Sterling also gets a big part in this episode. He realizes before and certainly after the reorganization meeting that, in the view of Sterling-Cooper’s new owners, he is obsolete. When Bert Cooper says, “Mr. Sterling isn’t even on that chart,” and Guy replies “Well, that was an oversight,” everyone in the room knows what Sterling is - he’s an afterthought. Later, after Guy’s foot has been severed by a runaway lawnmower, Roger can barely conceal his glee when he’s in the office with the associates. “He may lose his foot,” Sterling is told, to which he replies, “Just when he got it in the door.” Roger, of course, knows what it means. The organizational changes that were to be put in place, with Guy on top and Roger an afterthought, were out the window. The status quo, with Lane Pryce (who was about to be exiled to India) on top would remain in place.
Poor Guy. He had it all, and then an idiot secretary cuts off his foot. In 1963 this meant the end of your career. As Joan says to Don in the hospital, “That’s life: One minute, you’re on top of the world; next minute, some secretary’s running you over with a lawn mower.” Again, because of Joan’s earlier scene with her husband, the words resonate even more clearly. Joan hasn’t had her foot severed but her life has changed in a way she never expected, or wanted. When the British owners arrive they confirm what we already suspect, that Guy’s career is over. “The doctors say he’ll never play golf again,” Saint-John says, in perhaps the funniest line of the episode.
Conrad Hilton reappears, this time to ask Don or some free advice. In a perfect Don Draper reaction he tells Hilton, "I think you wouldn't be in the presidential suite right now if you worked for free." Don Draper is subservient to nobody. Later, when Hilton tells Don that the next time someone like Hilton offers him an opportunity like this he needs to ask for more, Don replies, “One opportunity at a time.”
The final scene, with Don holding his baby boy Gene, and with Sally is sitting in his lap, is wonderful. Sally is scared to death of the baby, thinking he’s the ghost of her recently deceased grandfather. “He’s only a baby," Don tells her. "We don't know who he is yet or who he's going to be. And that is a wonderful thing." Of course, we can’t help but think of Don himself, the farm boy with the abusive father and resentful stepmother who has made himself into a sophisticated and successful ad man on Madison Avenue. He’s changed his name and left his past behind. No one is more aware than Don of the American opportunity to make (or remake) yourself into whoever you want to be. In mid-1963, pre-assassination and pre-Vietnam, when America was young and optimism was in the air, Don sees those possibilities for his son and it was indeed a wonderful thing. Again, as I often do when watching Mad Men, I thought of The Great Gatsby. Don Draper is Jay Gatsby, the self-made man. Dick Whitman was James Gatz, the man he left behind.