Monday, April 7, 2014

Mad Men Season 1, Episode 12: Nixon v Kennedy

It's election day, Tuesday, November 8, 1960.  There's nothing left to do but wait (unless you're Chicago Mayor Daley, in which case it's time to manufacture some votes). We've been given the Nixon/Kennedy contrast all season with the narrative of the hard-scrabble self-made man versus the silver spoon fed millionaire's son.  There's been a similar battle brewing at Sterling Cooper all season as Don, who, while we don't know his whole story, was not from a well-to-do family versus Pete who was born into a family of some money and prestige.  Don doesn't like Pete nor respect him and Pete desperately wants both from him.  Who will prevail?

Don is taking his next offensive move in their fight, bringing in Herman "Duck" Phillips for the Head of Account Services position that Pete has been wrangling for.  He had been at one of the big firms, but in London, and Bert Cooper questions whether a smaller firm like Sterling Cooper is a step down, but Duck says he is eager to get back to New York.  Which means, yes, it is, but he'll take it.

Pete sees that Don has taken Duck in to see Bert and he knows that this means that he is a serious candidate and he feels threatened. Pete wants that position - he feels he deserves it - and is seething at the thought of someone from the outside coming in to take it out from under him.

It certainly doesn't help when Pete hears that Duck crashed and burned at his old job and that bringing him in here means they are "bottom feeding" for some cheap talent.  What this means to Pete - and I'm not sure he's wrong about this - is that Don would rather hire a potential burnout than let Pete get what he wants.

Pete marches straight to Don's office to give him a piece of his mind, but is stopped by Peggy who requires he follow protocol - which only makes him more irate.  Don is not a total jerk here - he admits that Pete is good at his job, but he is of the opinion that Pete is too young, he's only been there for two-and-half years, and that right now there should be someone senior to him. Pete points out that there are people with that title his age at other firms, but Don does not appear to be budging on this.  Don doesn't know that Pete feels emasculated at home and devalued by his father and wants, no needs, this title to prove that he has accomplished something on his own.  And Pete doesn't know that Don resents him for the opportunities his pedigree has given him and for his sense of entitlement.  Silly men, they think they're bickering over who's best for the job.

After making Pete miserable, Don is done for the day.  As soon as he leaves, the election night partying can begin.  Even the usually grim Hildy breaks out a smile (probably has something to do with Pete being gone for the night as well)!  With Don and the rest of cats away, the mice are at play and much of it is hard to watch.  Ken chasing secretary Allison around the office, taking her down and then pulling up her skirt to see what color her panties are is all sorts of not cool and the only thing that makes it worse is that Allison doesn't seem at all troubled by it, it's just the mode de vie circa 1960.

But soon Ken has a new victim as he and Allison come across a play that Paul has been working on as they were searching his office for more booze.  Ken starts reading the one act play aloud as Paul tries to wrench it out of his hands.  In no time, however, Paul is directing the play and Joan and Sal are taking the leads.  It's a thinly veiled vanity project where Paul gets to counter his feelings of unfulfilled potential through his fictitious alter ego.  The scene culminates with a kiss between Joan and Sal that gets big cheers from the audience, though whether Joan's gaydar was working is still not clear.

The dancing and revelry continue and then Harry, who to this point had been a boy scout among lecherous old men, kisses Hildy in a friendly manner and Hildy kisses him back in an "I want you" manner.  She blames alcohol and he looks guilty (while in the background the singer goes on about a kiss, kiss, kiss).  He goes off to his office and Hildy follows him to apologize.  He takes off his glasses and says it was his fault, he was drunk.  But, it's too late, they're not getting out of that office that easy tonight. 

The next morning it looks like clean up at Caligula's house as women are sneaking out of offices, men are hung over, and there is trash and other sundry signs of the debauchery that went on last night strewn around.  Peggy has an unwelcome surprise in her trash can.  She finds out that the offices were ransacked, her cubby and others were broken into, and she goes to report it to building security. 

Don and Bert talk politics with the election still too close to call.  The consensus, at least among Republicans, is that Kennedy's father bought him the election.  Nixon could try and fight, demand a recount and an investigation into voter fraud, but to what end?  The election was very close, much closer than it should have been.  If he concedes, he lives to fight another day (and - spoiler alert - win in 1968 and again in 1972). Don is angry and talks about it not being fair, while Bert, the pragmatist, is convinced that Kennedy will be just fine for corporate America. 

And finally the other shoe drops and it's time for Nixon v. Kennedy part two, as Pete comes into Don's office with the box that holds the lies that are Don's life.  Pete fully expects that he has a bomb and that he will be given whatever he wants on the threat of detonation.  For the third time this series, Donald Draper is told by someone that they know his real identity.  One he brushed away, one he paid off, what can he do to keep Pete from revealing what he knows?

"I know your name is not Donald Draper.  It's Dick Whitman."  With those words, Pete becomes Don's biggest nightmare.  He's always had the fear of discovery hanging over his head as anyone who is pretending to be someone else must have.  But for Pete Campbell of all people to know the truth?  Don briefly tries to pretend he doesn't know what Pete is talking about or that Pete is mistaken and you almost wonder if he really believes that by disputing it he can make the truth go away.

Pete doesn't come right out and blackmail Don, but there's no question that he recognizes that their power dynamic has changed drastically in his favor.  While he doesn't know the whole story, what he has is plenty.  Dick Whitman died in Korea in 1950 and Donald Draper is a 43 year old man.  But even with his heavy stubble and the damage that cigarettes and booze have worked on his face, this Don Draper does not look anywhere near 43.  All Don has to do is "reconsider" Pete for the Head of Accounts position and Bert Cooper never has to hear a word of this.  This can all be forgotten.  But he's not blackmailing.

Don tells Pete to get out of his office and you can practically see the wheels spinning as he starts to come up with a plan.  An exit strategy.

But first a flashback.  Young Private Dick Whitman shows up for duty at a future field hospital at the start of the Korean War and Lieutenant Donald Draper, an engineer, is the only one there.  He tells Dick what he'll be doing there - digging mostly and trying to avoid being shot.  He says that he's almost done with his tour and asks Dick whatever made him thinking volunteering for the army was a good idea.  Dick says, in a line that could be Don Draper's mantra, "I just wanted to leave."  And there we have it, Don/Dick summed up in five words.

Don just wants to leave.  He goes to Rachel and tells her to pack her bags.  He's ready to leave his wife, his kids, his job, the city, the planet if possible.  He wants her to run away with him.  Now.  At first, she's excited at the prospect of going off with Don until it becomes clear to her that this is not about him leaving his wife for her, this is about him leaving period.  The way he says to her "I want to go" is so packed with meaning.  He says it like a four-year-old having a tantrum, not like a grown man.  

Don tells Rachel, "I just don't want to be without you, and I don't want to be here."  But she realizes very quickly that only the last part of the sentence is the full truth.  Don wants to run away, not run away to be with her, but just to get away.  She doesn't even have to know why he wants to leave to know that it is not a rational decision being made by a stable mind.  When he says that there is nothing for him there in New York, she's shocked to find out he's the kind of man who could run out on his children.  Who can leave them without a father.  She realizes he wasn't the man she thought he was; he's a coward.

Returning to his office after his failed escape, Don finds Peggy on his couch crying because by her reporting to security two innocent men were fired.  This is a great scene as all Don can think is that he needs privacy and for everyone and everything to disappear and instead he's right in the thick of it. He effortlessly switches gears and handles Peggy's tears as well as he can considering he tried so hard not to be there.  If Rachel had been another kind of woman, he'd be free now.  Of course, if a month or two ago Midge had been a different woman, they could be off somewhere now as well.  But instead he's here in his office and everyone's life is going on even as he faces the fact that the life he knows is under attack.

Before Peggy leaves, she says something to Don that must have an impact.  She points out how unfair it is that she follows the rules and others don't and they get away with it.  Rather than seeing himself as the person who doesn't follow rules and gets away with it, Peggy's speech has him focus his anger back on Pete.  He decides that he will not be cowed by him; he will go ahead and hire the person he wants for the job and will not let Pete win.

So Don proceeds to tell Pete that he is going ahead with his plan to hire Duck Phillips. Pete is stupefied.  He can't imagine that Don would risk his job, and possibly more, just to deny Pete the promotion that he feels he deserves.  Pete says, frustrated and shocked, "why can't you give me what I want" and that is such a perfect encapsulation of this and so many other moments in Pete's life.  No one gives him what he wants, what he thinks he deserves.  Not even someone against whose head he is currently holding a loaded gun.  But Don is put off by Pete.  He resents his pampered and privileged upbringing and thinks Pete is not entitled to this promotion - even if denying him costs Don his job (or more).

Don heads down the hall to Bert Cooper's office, with Pete trailing behind, and it would be comical were it not for the will-he-or-won't-he tell tension brewing.  The two of them stopping to remove their shoes before entering the office where one is planning on metaphorically detonating a bomb and the other is hoping to smother or defuse it is so weird and ridiculous.  Don gets the first word and he tells Bert that he's hired Duck and then we wait and I think the reasonable expectation is that Pete will not reveal the secret.

But when was Pete ever reasonable?  He tells Bert what he knows and he, and the audience, waits.  But, as is the custom in Bert's office, there is no shoe there to drop.  Instead of the reaction he's hoping for, or that the viewer is expecting (unless we focus on Bert's admiration for Ayn Rand), Bert utters the perfect retort.  "Mr. Campbell, who cares?"

Bert is a believer in the romantic story of America - as a place where you can come from nothing and rise to the top, where who you are now is more important that who you once were, where you can reinvent yourself, where all that matters is how good you are at your job and what you are contributing.  He values Don Draper, the man with the ideas who has breathed life into his agency.  And he believes in Don Draper and no one can tell him that person is a figment of his imagination or a fictitious construct.

The only one more shocked than Pete by Bert's lack of concern is Don.  He was ready for the worst and practically did a double take when Bert uttered those magic words.  The subtle but significant growing realization spreading across Don's face that life as he knows it may not be about to end is something to behold.  On the other end of the emotional spectrum, Pete is apoplectic at the thought of Don getting away with...whatever he was getting away with.  But Bert sweeps it all under the rug and suggests that nothing good will come of trying to dig it out again, but some good can come of going along with maintaining the status quo.

When Pete leaves, Bert gives Don some good advice.  He's free to fire Pete, but it may be the wiser course to keep him around as "one never knows how loyalty is born."  One can pretty clearly say that from this moment on, Don should feel some intense loyalty to Bert Cooper who single-handedly pulled him out of the fire.

Which is a great segue to a return to Korea where we see beginnings of the transformation of Dick Whitman to Donald Draper.  Born of fire, the survivor of a freak accident (of his own doing), Dick survives as Don perishes and then in a split second Dick sees a way out and he takes it.  He came to Korea to get away from his former life.  Now he has the chance to leave it all behind forever.  Switching dog tags, he becomes Donald Draper.  He accepts the purple heart and the early discharge.  He takes the responsibility of transporting the dead body back to the states.  Dick Whitman is dead, long live Don Draper.

The girl on the train tells him something that sticks with him like the hobo code.  "Forget that boy in the box."  He sees young Adam, and Adam recognizes him through the train car windows, but Adam is mistaken.  That's not his brother on the train, he's in the box.  That man on the train is someone else.  And he has his whole life ahead of him.


Paul: I have a bottle of absinthe in my office.
Hildy: Isn't that illegal?
Paul: It's marvelous.  I become incantatory.
Marge: And what does that mean?
Joan: It means he starts making up words.

Sally: What's the Electoral College?
Don: I don't think that's a conversation appropriate for children.

Marge: I used to think I'd find a husband here.

Trudy: It's not yours.  What are you doing with it?
Pete: I got it by mistake.
Trudy: So give back. It's peculiar. It's not yours.

Hildy: I've never really seen your eyes before.
Harry: There they are. Just the two of them.

Paul: The meaner you are, the more I like you.
Joan: I know.

Bert: I just spent the night literally in a smoke-filled room at the Waldorf with every republican luminary save MacArthur and Jesus.  There's been widespread fraud. Daley gave Joe Kennedy every corpse in Cook County.

Don: It shouldn't have been that close.

Pete (to Peggy):  If I were you, I would be very, very careful from now on about the way you speak to me.

Pete: You're not who you say you are, and there's obviously a reason.

Don: When you threaten someone in this manner, you should be aware of the fact that, if your information is powerful enough to make them do what you want, what else can it make them do?

Don (to Rachel):  Something happened, and I want to go, and I want you to come with me, and I don't want to come back.

Don:  I just don't want to be without you, and I don't want to be here.

Don:  We'll start over like Adam and Eve.

Rachel: What kind of man are you? Go away, drop everything, leave your life?
Don: People do it every day.

Rachel: You don't want to run away with me.  You just want to run away.

Peggy:  I try to do my job. I follow the rules, and people hate me. Innocent people get hurt, and-- And other people-- People who are not good-- Get to walk around doing whatever they want. It's not fair.

Don (to Pete): And then I thought about you and what a deep lack of character you have.

Pete: Is this like in the movies where I have a gun and you don't think I'm going to shoot you? I will shoot you.
Don: I won't let you hold this over my head.
Pete: So you'd rather blow yourself up than make me head of accounts.

Bert: Who cares?

Bert: This country was built and run by men with worse stories than whatever you've imagined here.
Pete: I'm not imaging anything.
Bert: The Japanese have a saying: a man is whatever room he is in, and right now Donald Draper is in this room.  I assure you, there's more profit in forgetting this.

Bert:  One never knows how loyalty is born.

Lady on the train: You have your whole life ahead of you.  Forget that boy in the box.


That scene!  From the moment they enter Bert Cooper's office until they leave it, every frame is perfect.  Don's deep breaths and attempts at remaining calm.  Pete's fidgety-ness as he weighs his options before speaking. The beat Bert takes as he moves from behind his desk to in front of it.  How Don slowly, ritualistically, lights his cigarette.  Is he acting like he hasn't a care in the world or is that the last cigarette before the firing squad? Pete's eyes growing wider, waiting for a reaction.  It's all so beautifully choreographed.  And then the pay off, so simple.  "Mr. Campbell, who cares?"  Of all the possible responses, that is the most eloquent.  It says, I know you care, Pete, but you're wrong to care.  I don't.  It's not important.  Reality is so inconvenient at times.

This episode is so rich.  The way Don says "I want to go," Bert's line about a man being whatever room he's in (boy does Don take that to heart, being so different depending on who he is with), Pete's petulant demand that Don should give him what he wants, all the references to explosions and shooting, Rachel's realization that her fantasy of having Don to herself could be true but would be a disaster, Harry the loyal husband who completely falls off the wagon and onto Hildy, the parallels of Don saying the election was not fair and Peggy saying those men getting fired was not fair, the parallel between Bert's "who cares" about Don's real identity and the country's "who cares" about how JFK may have won the race.  And the constant drumbeat of the theme that Don needs to leave whether it's home, Korea, himself, the truth, the desire to run is always there.

Sally asks Don what the Electoral College is and he skirts the issue.  With her Bryn Mawr education I'm surprised Betty can't answer, but it seems as if Don doesn't know either.

Remember in episode one, where Joan calls Paul one of her mistakes?  They touch on their past relationship after the party has died down and when Paul asks what went wrong Joan tells him that he has a big mouth. Note to everyone, no one wants their sex life talked about with others.

Spoilery Observations (Don't Read Unless You're Caught Up):

Trudy mentions that she once found a similar box in her father's closet when she was younger and opened it and it was a mistake.  Years later, Pete find his father-in-law with a prostitute so maybe there was something hinting towards his sexual proclivities in the box.

The dates give us a time frame to work with.  Dick and Adam are in a picture together dated 1944 and we know that Dick/Don was in Korea in 1950.  Don is now in his early 30s, so he was probably 16 in '44 (thereby too young for the draft by the time the war ended) and 22 when he was in Korea.  We know in 1968 that Don is 40, which confirms this date.

Betty becomes much more interested in politics once she meets Henry Francis, who works for Rockefeller, in Season 3.

Poor Allison.  Not only is she the recipient of unwanted attention from Ken, but she becomes infatuated with Don and receives unexpected (but drunken) attention from him only for him to forget about it all the next day.

Don sees Rachel again, later, married and we know she's in his mind as the one that got away.

Don fights to have Duck Phillips on board and that becomes one of his worst decisions.  Duck fails to bring any business to SC and is eventually cut loose, while Pete does move up to become a very capable head of accounts.

Not only does Don earn Pete's loyalty this episode, but Bert cagily earns Don's.  When, years later, he needs Don to sign a contract, he cashes in on the deposit of loyalty made with his "Who cares" comment this episode.

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