Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Mad Men Season 1, Episode 8: The Hobo Code
"The Hobo Code" is one of the first memorable, epic Mad Men episodes, one that will be referred to repeatedly by fans and reviewers as it informs the character of Don Draper better than almost any other episode in the series. It shows us both the outwardly confident business man and the insecure, ready-to-run boy hiding inside.
But before we get to Don, we get more insight into the baffling relationship between Pete and Peggy. Pete and Peggy both come into the office early and end up having sex on Pete's couch, as far as we know the second time they slept together since his visit to her room on the eve of his marriage. Well, at least Pete returned that chip 'n' dip wedding gift before cheating on his bride! Afterwards Peggy, always speaking softly almost timidly, asks Pete if he thinks about her and he admits that he does. Pete shares that he does not feel what he's supposed to feel for Trudy, he feels like she's a stranger. But Peggy tries to comfort him that he is not alone in this. The juxtaposition of Peggy's modest Peter Pan collar, pony tail and whispered tones with the girl willing to have sex in the office with a married man is another sign that there is much more to Peggy Olson than meets the eye.
Don starts the episode with an unexpected invitation to Bert Cooper's office where he is surprised with a nice token of Bert's appreciation in the form of a $2,500 bonus check. Don is the star of Sterling Cooper and Bert wants him to know he is valued. Bert asks Don if he's ever read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, the epic novel of, according to your philosophical and political perspective, either soulless greed and selfishness or talent and individuality. Bert thinks Don would appreciate the book and its reverence of hard work, ingenuity and single-mindedness. He recognizes in Don a self-made man, in contrast to Pete and Roger who were born with the proverbial silver spoons in their upper crust mouths.
We see Don at his best, at work with the Belle Jolie execs and he practically hypnotizes them into buying the copy that Peggy helped create. His "I'm not here to tell you about Jesus" pitch was inspired. He shocked them, grabbed them by the nape of the neck and dragged them over to his thinking. He was powerful and arrogant and in complete control and he came out on top. This is in stark contrast to the scared Don of the pilot who was sure his well of ideas had run dry and he'd be revealed as a fake.
When Don and the team head back to his office to celebrate, you think that they had all conveniently forgotten about Peggy and her contribution. She comes up with the idea and they take all the credit. But, no, they invite her in to join in the celebration (but quickly, better have that drink before Joan sees) and congratulate her for her copy. She's still being "ballerina'ed" by Freddy, but she has - like the women in the copy - made her mark. But make no mistake, Peggy is no demure little girl, she's a fighter. Even while basking in their congratulations, she comments that they had slightly changed her original copy. Still, she is intoxicated with her first taste of success. But her success is Don's success (he's the head of creative after all) and he is riding high.
So where does Don go after receiving an unexpected bonus from Bert Cooper and after nailing down the Belle Jolie account? Out with his co-workers? Home to wife? Nope, he makes a beeline for Midge. He walks into her apartment, past her beatnik friends, and shows her the bonus check and invites her to leave for Paris. Right now. We don't know how or if Don plans to explain any of this to Betty or his two children, we don't know what he's thought beyond heading to Idyllwild airport and catching the next jet to Paris. Midge may be the beatnik, but she's not about to drop everything and fly across the Atlantic. She has big plans for the night. She and her friends are going to get high and listen to jazz. She talks Don into staying with them and joining in.
Don seems to enjoy his drug-induced experience, saying he feels like Dorothy and everything turned to color. He takes another hit then goes into the bathroom and looks into the mirror. Whether it's the drugs, the scratching of the album needle on the turntable or something else, he is propelled back in time, to when he was a young boy on a farm. He's there with his father and stepmother and a hobo who is asking for work. His father tries to send the hobo away saying, "we're not Christians here no more," but his stepmother won't hear of it and allows the bum to stay. He joins the family for dinner and is promised money in exchange for work the next day.
Later that night, young Dick Whitman brings the hobo some blankets and the two chat for a bit. The hobo makes Dick an honorary and tells him the ways of the hobo. He explains how he has no home and just moves from place to place. But where Dick thinks that sounds sad (which in itself is a surprising revelation), the man explains how freeing his new life is. How before he was saddled with a wife and a job and responsibilities, but ever since he walked away he's lived an unfettered, stress-free life. He explains how hobos communicate with one another, by the markings they leave on the houses they visit.
Back at the office, plans were made for a party to celebrate Peggy's accomplishment and with Sterling, Cooper and Draper all out of the office, the only stumbling block was getting Pete to agree. He was reluctant, wanting to take the role as the one in command, but eventually he agreed - with Peggy shooting him some sensuous looks and him pretending not to notice. They go out dancing, pretty much the whole department is there. Most are having fun, but not Pete. He watches Peggy dance with Freddy and seethes. She Twists on over to him and asks him to dance, but he refuses. He's angry and snarls that he doesn't like to see her like that. But what is the "like that?" Happy, free, flirtatious, sexual? What does he want from her? He runs out and leaves her behind, sad and confused on what should be her best day yet.
After work, Salvatore Romano, head of the Art Department, goes to the Roosevelt Hotel where he meets up with one of the Belle Jolie execs. Elliott, the exec, is happy to see Sal there as he was hoping Sal picked up on his mention of the hotel when they were back at the office after the meeting. They move from drinks to dinner and Sal and Elliott have a nice time, until Elliott tries to move to the next level. Elliott recognizes that Sal is gay but doesn't see that Sal is reluctant to admit it or act upon it. Elliott is not forceful or demanding, but he thinks they want the same thing. Only, Sal is not ready. The exchange is so brutally honest for the time period, as Elliott asks "What are you afraid of?" and Sal responds, stupefied, "Are you joking?" before beating a hasty exit.
Back at Casa de Greenwich, the youngsters are doing the bunny hop (could they make the generational gap between them and Don any greater?) when they hear sirens. The police storm the building and they are stuck. Don had staggered out of the bathroom from his foggy flashback and is out of sorts. Suddenly, as he looks over at them, he has an epiphany - Midge and Roy are in love. But despite this, he still wants Midge to run off with him to Paris. Now. It's sad, and telling, that she's the more rational one. She says no and Don is on his way.
Back we go to flashback farm. It's the next day. The hobo has done his work and it's time for him to depart. Dick is watching and sees his father pocket the money that the man had been promised the night before and the hobo leaves without his pay. Dick has learned something new about his father, that he can add on top of philandering, mean and a drunk. When the hobo leaves, Dick sees the mark that the man had missed on the front gate that would have warned him not to waste his time there. This was the home of a dishonest man.
That night, after his failed attempt to run away with Midge, Don heads home. There is no marking in front of his house to tells strangers what kind of a man lives there. But the man he is walks upstairs to his son's room and wakes him. The boy he was about to abandon for a fling in Paris is now groggily awakening, oblivious to the significance of his father's late night visit. Ask me anything, Don tells him. The shield is down, the barrier removed, this is the chance to get real answers, the truth. But Bobby doesn't know what a significant moment this is for his father, he's just a tired little boy. So he comes up with a question about lightning bugs and that's one Don can't answer. The window of opportunity shuts, but not before Don promises that he will never lie to his son. But isn't keeping him in the dark, not telling him the truth, the same as lying?
After Peggy tears her blouse following sex at the office with Pete, she suggests she should bring a spare. This mirrors Don having a drawer-full of shirts at the office so that his dalliances won't get in the way of dressing well.
So many crossed wires, so many people not reading the situation, not being what the other person wants them to be. Pete wants Peggy to be demure and needy, Elliott wants Sal to be open and accepting of who he is, regardless of what others may think. Lois, the switchboard operator who has fallen in love with Sal just from hearing him on the phone, wants Sal to be her Italian lover. Don wants Midge to be his escape hatch, to run away with him on a whim, to pull up stakes and start fresh somewhere else. But the free spirit is more rooted than Don is. Even Bobby isn't who Don wants him to be in that final scene. Don wants him to be Dick Whitman's surrogate, the little boy who had no one to look up to and no one to trust. But Bobby is just himself, not his father's stand in. And, really, can Bobby really idolize and trust his father? He doesn't even know who he really is.
At the end of the episode, Peggy comes in to the office early again, but this time there is no Pete. He finally comes in later, once the place is busy and he heads straight to his office. Peggy is dejected. She is at his mercy. When will he look at her, when will he ask her into his office. She has no power there.
I love how Don comes to his realization that Midge and Roy are in love. Not from their interactions, but on his interpretation of a photograph he took of the two of them. Don is telling us he doesn't feel love, but he knows what it looks like. That is so in tune with his "fake it" approach to life. That is why Don is able to pass for an upstanding member of society, able to walk out of Midge's and right past the police. He is passing for a respected upper middle class businessman - he looks the part and acts the part (even if he occasionally drops the "g's" from words like the country bumpkin he once was according to Roger).
Speaking of faking it and passing, the story involving Sal and Elliott was sad but not surprising given the times. Especially being an Italian and Catholic, it is understandable that Sal would have being so reluctant to give in to his sexual orientation that openly and would instead choose to keep the duality going.
**SPOILERY**In "The Suitcase" episode, when Don yells at Peggy "That's what the money is for," we see how this harkens back to money, in the form of the bonus check from Bert in this episode, being to Don the currency of appreciation.**END SPOILER**
This won't be the last time Don gets it into his mind to up and leave on a moment's notice. But here there didn't seem to be any triggering event or emergency that set him on a path to escape. Work is going well, the shock of Adam's reappearance has worn off, he and Betty are getting along just fine. So why does the bonus check make him want to just take off?
Bert: When you hit 40, you realize you've met or seen every kind of person there is, and I know what kind you are. Because I believe we are alike.
Don: I assume that's flattering.
Bert: By that I mean you are a productive and reasonable man and in the end completely self-interested.
Bert (to Don): We are different - unsentimental about all the people who depend on our hard work.
Don (to the Belle Jolie execs): Listen, I'm not here to tell you about Jesus.
Don: Ken, you will realize in your private life that at a certain point seduction is over and force is actually being requested.
Joan (to Peggy): I'm glad your other work was suffering for a reason.
Elliott: What are you afraid of?
Sal: Are you joking?
Hobo: What's at home? I had a family once: a wife, a job, a mortgage. I couldn't sleep at night tied to all those things. ... Now I sleep like a stone: sometimes under the stars, the rain, the roof of a barn.
But I sleep like a stone.
Hobo: If death was coming anyplace, it's here, kid, creeping around every corner.
Don: Every day I make pictures where people appear to be in love. I know what it looks like.
Don: Well, I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie. There is no system. The universe is indifferent.
Roy: The cops. You can't go out there.
Don: You can't.
Don (to Bobby): I will never lie to you.
Don gives his bonus check over to his mistress, which could be seen as paying for sex.