Sunday, September 19, 2010

Review: Mad Men "The Summer Man"

Non Spoiler Review:
We open up with a narrative by Don as he writes in a journal, and it seems the events of the past few episodes have brought him to a crossroads where he's made some significant decisions. The episode charts his progress as he deals with Eugene's birthday and the directive from the Francis family that he is not to attend. Office politics come to a head, as Joan and Peggy are both pitted against the men in creative. We get some further insight into Betty and Henry which shows that that honeymoon is definitely over.

Coming off a couple of crazy episodes, this one was more subdued, but still captivating, allowing Don and other characters to refocus after all the craziness of the last few weeks. Getting this introspective Don episode made for a nice catharsis after the emotionally draining events of The Suitcase.

Spoilers Now!
Don has realized he has a drinking problem. And it seems, as summer hits, he is in the midst of restructuring his life, which seems to include journal writing and swimming. The episode charts him as he is confronted daily with alcohol by his coworkers.

We get to see the Francises as they head off to a political meeting, only to run into Don on a date with Bethany. Bethany is wanting to take things to a new level, considering it looks as though they have one date a month. So she gives Don a special treat in the cab ride home. But Don doesn't regard her as anything serious as is clearly evident in how he muses about her in his journal. In fact, she could easily be a young Betty, and though Bethany seems pleased that she's very similar to Don's ex, little does she know that's exactly what he does not want.

Betty has a meltdown in the bathroom when she sees Don at the restaurant, infuriating Henry who wants her to appear the perfect political wife and not someone who "needs a drink" as she comments. The car ride home is quite bitter. Henry's vindictive side is starting to come out. Living in the Draper household, he reviles Don and his ties to the family. He knows how to punish Betty, and their conversation in the car shows just how much he regards her as a child. By the end, it seems Betty has matured enough to let Don enjoy his son's birthday and not feel threatened, and the look she gives him at the end shows the feelings are still there.

Joan and Lane bear the brunt of the day-to-day operations of SCDP and get little respect for it. Joan is going to be alone soon, and she has no friends at the office anymore. Joey is being a particular ass to her, trying to humiliate her at every opportunity. Though Joey is just on contract, Joan's attempt to have him removed are ignored by Lane and Don and the others. Only Peggy steps up to take her side, as she also suffers daily from the sexism and jokes of Stan, Joey and Danny.

When Peggy confronts Don about Joey's behaviour, Don is very abrupt with her. He doesn't want to deal with it, because Peggy can. Fire him. It's that simple. But it's Joan who doesn't appreciate the effort and curtly tells off Peggy in the elevator "Thanks for nothing". So much for her friends at work.

Don gets to go on a real date with Faye, and he handles it nobly, even refusing to allow her to come home with him. This is definitely a better Don than we've seen in a long time, and as he shows up at Eugene's party unannounced, his nonconfrontational demeanour wins the day even with Betty, and it looks like everyone is happy for at least a moment.

What Worked:
Though Joan got the brunt of the abuse this week, her invective against all the men in creative about them dying in Viet Nam in a years time was chilling and certainly memorable. It will be interesting to see who is left next season once the war gets going—ironic if Joey finds himself in the army now that Peggy has gotten rid of him.

And it was Joey's well-deserved firing that proved one of the highlights of the episode. He started out so likable, even a potential love interest for Peggy, only to throw in with Stan and the boys.  Especially enjoyable was Don's cavalier attitude about it—no excuses, just fire him if that's what she thought best. I'm relieved to see their relationship has continued on a level of respect, when it would be so easy for Don to tell her to just suck it up. He offers her the power and the choice to make the decision she sees fit.

Don and Faye's date provided a great contrast with Bethany. Don has zero respect for the younger one, but it's Faye who is his intellectual equal...with Betty's beauty (an intelliBetty!). She is the perfect woman for Don, and he treats her (and himself) with respect through the course of the evening. While it seems a relationship with Don was inevitable, I do like how it's unfolded, so I hope it doesn't end badly too quickly (this is Don Draper we're talking about).

Most important this week, Don recognized his alcohol problem, and it was a surprise to see it happening so soon. Though he did imbibe a little bit through the episode, several scenes had him watching the other characters as they drank freely around him and muse over how pervasive alcohol is in his life and everyone around him. 

What Didn't Work:
Joan may be upset about Greg leaving, but she seemed excessively bitchy. Perhaps this episode emphasized that she and Peggy can never be friends, but it seemed there was a complete lack of solidarity on her part, despite Peggy working for the team.

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