Sunday, October 12, 2008

Mad Men: The Jet Set

As Roger Sterling would say, we don't want to get too deep before the cocktail hour, but there are only two episodes left of this rather brilliant season of Mad Men. And after tonight, some new shifts in the storyline make us wonder how things will play out over the next two weeks, especially since our main character is now obviously focused on reconnecting with his former identity to the point that he's officially searched out an old friend from his former life. (As always, spoilers follow for those who haven't seen "The Jet Set" yet.)

Which is all the more interesting when you consider how everyone in this series has always been about "moving forward", especially tonight. I always draw similarities between Mad Men and The Sopranos, and we had a big one tonight. "The Jet Set" is the equivalent of The Sopranos "Kennedy & Heidi" episode from that series' final season (an episode ironically enough, co-written by Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, who also wrote "The Jet Set"). In "Kennedy & Heidi" Tony couldn't handle staying home to deal with everyone's emotions regarding the death of Christopher, so he, like Don Draper, runs away. Tony goes to Vegas, finds an old stripper girl friend of Christopher's, has wild sex with her, does peyote, and ultimately finds his own revelatory moment in the desert, ending that episode screaming "I get it!". It was enough to satisfy Tony to come home and accept his killing of Chrissy and deal with the world he created.

Don Draper has always ran away whenever he found himself in a situation he couldn't "Draper" his way out of. In California, Don was to be all business, but "The Jet Set" shows us this was more of a vacation for him than anything else. Don meets a new, fascinating group of people, a group more well-off than Midge's beatnik friends from season 1. The nomads Don falls in with tonight are well-off enough to the point they can come and go as they please with no worries about money. This season has made many references to how "well-off" financially Don is, so the idea of running way with this care-free group appeals to him. He even meets an ideal companion in Joy (played by Laura Ramsey), who bears a striking resemblance to his wife Betty (and yes, that was January Jones playing the figure of Don's imagination early on to suggest the parallels). Joy may or may not be the answer Don's been looking for. He does wind up sending his suitcase back home, but Betty's house appears empty, and the delivery man can't find anyone there to take in Don's belongings. But Don's not completely ready to run-off with this new, attractive band of rich misfits, obvious in his final scene tonight. "Hello, it's Dick Whitman," he says to an unidentified person on the phone. "I'd love to see you. Soon."

While Don stays in California, Pete, who initially wanted to take in some relaxation time on the trip only to find himself having to be all business while Draper drifted away, comes back to Sterling Cooper to find everyone moving forward. Roger's going through with his divorce, has Jane convinced to marry him, and Peggy's got a brand new look, thanks to one of the young copy-writers Kurt. You know...the one who we thought from episode 1 of this series might be, as Tony Soprano would say, a "little light in the loafers." Kurt has moved forward more than anyone at Sterling Cooper, announcing to a stunned group of of co-workers, "I'm homosexual. I make love to the men, not the women." Of course this is heart-breaking for Salvatore, who like Don has been forced to lead a double life. He's more stunned when he hears Ken -- the object of Sal's hidden interest earlier this season -- announce to everyone that he doesn't want to work with a "queer."

And then there's Duck, who we've been suggesting all along is the biggest thorn in Don Draper's side. Now that Roger's moving forward full-tilt with the divorce, his lawyer warns him that his wife, "has the marriage license, and she wants to hurt you. I have a list of conditions, and an alimony that would support Rita Hayworth." Roger might really think that Jane will offer him the "life he's always deserved to have", but he's ignoring the fact that he'll be stunned financially. Duck sees this as his big chance. He meets with his old British colleagues, offering them the chance to buy Sterling Cooper on one major condition: Duck is named Don Draper's boss.

While everyone tries to move forward, we finally see with Duck that this isn't possible unless he resorts to his dark past, namely the bottle. This is the first time we get confirmation that Duck is back to the booze -- and really, it's suggested he's been clean all season, until that meeting with the British ad men where Duck realizes he's actually better at his job when he's drinking. Duck even has a case of Tanqueray shipped to the office (brought in to him by none other than Joan of all people, and don't think for a second that she's not paying careful attention to all of this). Still drinking, Duck finally empresses Cooper and Roger, as he's finally become the person they thought they were hiring last season. Duck can't have the impact at Sterling Cooper without help from his drinking, and you know this isn't going to end well. But with Don away, Duck's plan is firmly in place: Being named head of creative in his brokered deal means that he can literally become Don Draper. And on a show where everyone's trying to be someone else, it makes perfect sense for Duck Phillips, who slowly realized this season that it was Draper who had been running things at Sterling Cooper (or at least getting too much credit).

More highlights:

  • Roger encouraging Duck to go all Pac-Man Jones and go out and "make rain" if he really wants to show he's been worth bringing on to Sterling Cooper.
  • January Jones had a lot of heavy lifting to do over the past three episodes, and tonight we only got that brief shot of her at that bar in Don's vision in California.
  • Pete notices something different about Peggy when he returns home. Ken's response: "Kurt's a homo." Out of everything that hurt Sal, Ken's reaction to having a "queer" around has to hurt him the worst. It's not enough to have the young Smith come right out and announce his sexual preference in front of everyone, something Sal couldn't do. But then to learn Ken is repulsed by the whole thing, you have to worry about Sal.
  • Joan may have officially lost the interest of Roger, but the "straight" Smitty is clearly smitten by her. This might be the first time somebody younger than Joan has shown an interest in her, and it throws her for a loop.
  • Not sure why, but I don't buy the fact that Jane tells Roger that their souls are the same age. Perhaps it's her horrible attempt at poetry.
  • Poor Peggy: "I always pick the wrong boys," stating the obvious.
  • Don's fascination with Joy isn't at all surprising, considering that unlike Betty's father, Joy's dad treats her simply like a friend. He even walks in on them in bed together as if they were just sitting at the table having coffee. Joy even tells Don her father will take care of him because he's "beautiful and doesn't talk too much."
  • Don having that moment of clarity while watching the show on nuclear missiles. It serves as the moment that he goes from being Don Draper back to being Dick Whitman. It's never safe to make guesses on what happens next with "Dick Whitman" after that phone call, and my haven't we come a long way since the Jimmy and Bobby Barrett arc, but you have to think we'll get some resolution on who Don/Dick called at the end of "The Jet Set".
  • Even if Duck's boozing gets him what he wants (in particular, becoming Don Draper's boss), he'd still have to deal with the fact that he doesn't have Don's talents. Duck might be able to scheme with Don on leave, but he's still no match for a determined Don Draper in that office.


The Rush Blog said...

"Even if Duck's boozing gets him what he wants (in particular, becoming Don Draper's boss), he'd still have to deal with the fact that he doesn't have Don's talents. Duck might be able to scheme with Don on leave, but he's still no match for a determined Don Draper in that office."

Duck is talented. He proved it on a particular account earlier this season. Unfortunately, Don took credit for his work.

And he certainly proved it in this episode.

Dirtylaundry said...

I agree, Duck has talents and is valuable to the agency. His downfall though is that he's even more talented with booze in him, as we saw last night. Don won't forget about Duck turning on Freddy Rumsen, and once he learns Ducks back on the sauce, he'll use it against him.

Anonymous said...