Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mad Men Season 1, Episode 13: The Wheel

Missed opportunities, words left unspoken, moments that pass too soon, futures that may never be had - all these themes circle in the air around the characters in the Season 1 finale.  Harry has been kicked out of his house by his wife Jennifer for cheating on her with Hildy.  Rachel has left the country for a long vacation to get over her misguided affair with Don.  Francine discovers that her husband has been cheating on her.  Betty learns that both Don and her therapist have been talking about her treatment behind her back.  Peggy discovers a pregnancy and a baby she had hidden from herself, so singleminded was she in her otherwise successful efforts to get ahead.  And Don come to too many realizations about the importance and fragility of family  All these people feel so very alone.

But we start with Pete.  When last we saw him, he was still reeling from the one-two punch at work.  One, that Duck Phillips and not Pete would be the new Head of Account Services at Sterling Cooper.  Two, that what he thought was his ace-in-the-hole to improve his hand at the company (Don Draper is not who he says he is!) turned out to be so much nothing as Bert Cooper flicked it away with a discussion-ending "Who cares?"  Home with his wife and her parents, Pete has to deal with a new double-fisted attack on his manhood: his failing to get the promotion and his failure to perform his familial duty to give Trudy's parents a grandchild.  Perhaps Pete should remove the giant Kick Me sign on his back.

Also having his own in-law problems is Don.  Betty wants him to join her and the kids at her father's house for Thanksgiving dinner with her family, but Don is not interested.  He would be fine if she wanted to throw the dinner at their house, but he's not keen on making a big trek to hang out with her father, who hates him, her brother and his wife and their unruly children.  But this is Betty's first Thanksgiving since her mother died and it's important to her that the family be together.

Harry's familial problems are closer to home - the home he currently is exiled from.  He's been kicked out by Jennifer for his indiscretion - one wonders how she found out.  Was Harry so guilt-ridden he admitted it or does she, as a phone company employee, have her ear to the ground?  Harry lies to her about where he's staying; he's not at Ken but at the office.  He's sad and pathetic and misses her and you can just tell that he is not a great philanderer and it wouldn't be surprising if Harry is completely faithful from here out.

You know who it would surprise me if he were faithful?  Don Draper.  But right now he's all out of paramours because after his crazed plea to her to run away with him, Rachel Menken has in fact run away.  From him, from New York, from terra firma.  She's on the high seas to clear her mind and forget all about him.  Her father suspects it has to do with Don, Bert Cooper suspects it has to do with Don, and he's not happy that the man he recently pulled out of the fire is alienating clients.  He makes it clear to Don to keep his personal affairs from negatively impacting the business. 

There is a housewife in Ossining who's discovered that her businessman husband has been having an affair.  But surprisingly, it's not Betty but Francine.  She's distraught as you might imagine but instead of anger outward towards Carlton  for what he's done, at first she blames herself both for discovering the truth and for not discovering it sooner.  But then her anger redirects and she talks about poisoning Carlton and if this were Desperate Housewives you know that would absolutely happen next week.   

Betty is supportive until Francine says, too convincingly, that she came to Betty with this because she assumed Betty would know what to do.  And then it hits Betty that she can no longer ignore reality anymore than Francine can. She shares the story with Don and it is so awkward and uncomfortable watching him console her about her friend's marital problems knowing the truth about Don own indiscretions.

Duck may have crashed and burned in London, but he's coming on strong in New York and so far looking good.  He already has a lead on a new client, Kodak, and inspires the team to start being more aggressive in getting new business.  Peggy is similarly trying to get her footing in her new position as she tries to cast the radio spot for the Relaxicizor.  But her instincts are not great and she'll need to work on that part.  She's got the strong, forceful and confident side down - the male side.  But she has to work on the more traditional feminine "feeling" side.  For now, Ken will take that role.

Don is surrounded by pictures that tell one story about the past.  A story that's at odds with the present.  He smiles at the old snapshots he took from home as he prepares the Kodak pitch.  That gets him to revisit some of the memories in the box Adam sent him.  Perhaps realizing that he is not in imminent risk of exposure thanks to Bert's "Who cares?" and maybe sentimentally touched by the photos, he reaches out to Adam.  Only we know it's too late.  We don't get much right away of how finding out what happened to Adam affects Don.  And that's probably for the best.  It wouldn't be sincere for him to cry or otherwise show much visible reaction; he probably can't process it at the moment. 

Betty is in for her own shock as, home alone as is so often the case, she decides to do what Francine did and call one of those mystery numbers on their home phone bill and find out what Don is up to.  But what she discovers is possibly a worse violation than if Midge had answered.  She discovers that Don has been talking to her therapist and that the one person who swore in a wedding ceremony to honor her was breaking that vow as another person who swore to uphold patient confidentiality is breaking another vow.  She has no one that she can trust and, as Betty has already been acting like a child, this must make her feel like a scared little girl.

I love the conversation between Don and Harry, not just because of the awkward nature of Harry being in his underwear as they otherwise carry on a very normal conversation.  It's a refreshingly relaxed picture of who Harry is, the dorky guy taking pictures in order to meet girls in college.  But he's also the deep guy who marvels at the cave drawings and thinks about the artists' leaving their mark for future generations to see.  Don is drunk and tired and he curls up on his couch.  And somewhere the reality that he turned away his little brother who just wanted to know him and that his brother went and killed himself is buried deep in Don's psyche.  Adam is dead and all that's left of him are a few weathered photos.

I know that at this point "Mad Men" and I should get a room, but please let me tell you how much I love love love the next scene.  That someone even thought up Betty seeing Glen and going over and having that conversation with him is amazing.  It is so wrong and uncomfortable and yet it shows us the depth of Betty's loneliness, despondency and childlike quality.  She literally has no one, so she reaches out to a boy and bares her soul not knowing where else to turn.  Glen's concern about his mother showing up and seeing him talk to Betty leads to one of the best lines ever on this show, "I don't know how long 20 minutes is."  The same boy that Betty is pouring her heart out to, who appears to be the only lifeline she can grab onto before sinking, is really just a little boy and in no position to rescue her.  What does that say about Betty? 

Oh Pete.  He comes into Don's office, still hoping for that pat on the back.  He starts by namedropping his pedigree (Deerfield Academy) then brags how he landed a new account.  He doesn't even register that Don's response, "How'd that happen?" is a slap in the face.  Nor does he seem to realize that nepotism will not be something Don will be able to respect.  Sure, he's happy to have the business and he'll gladly take their money, but Pete is still that entitled spoiled rich kid that Don will never respect.

It's time for the pitch to the Kodak clients.  It is so beautifully timed, so well designed and so hypnotically wistful that you are transported along with everyone else in the darkened room.  Don has just sold not just Sterling Cooper, not just Don Draper, but the very essence of family.  Harry, currently apart from his wife, leaves the room in tears as this hits too close to home.  The clients sit in stunned silence and they, and we, all feel part of witnesseing the luckiest man in the world sharing a slice of his heartwarming and happy home life. 

After the success at the Kodak meeting, we find out that Pete has some good news too.  He's brought in his father-in-law's Clearasil account.  There is much celebrating by all and Pete is feeling pretty good, all things (i.e., getting passed over for promotion by a guy named Duck) considered.  Until he finds out that Don's plan is for Peggy to be the new junior copywriter on this new client.  Pete is incensed and insulted and that must make this all even sweeter for Don.

Peggy is pleased and flattered by her promotion and is happy with her new digs (even if the recently replaced copywriters chair is still warm, the office isn't big enough to change your mind in, and her office mate barely seems to have a pulse).  But Joan seems a little envious, so that's good.  Peggy can't enjoy her success for very long, however, as she gets a very bad stomach ache.  She heads over to the doctor only to find out, it's not her stomach that's the problem.  She's in labor.  She's in denial!  Surprise!  The baby's coming whether you think it's real or not.  She declines to hold the baby and we're left to wonder if she'll be welcoming him into her family.

And speaking of family, Don goes home and calls out to Betty and catches her and the kids before they head off to her father's place.  Everyone is so excited that Don was able to make it and that they'd all be spending Thanksgiving together, just one big hap...

And speaking of family, Don goes home and calls out to Betty and there is no reply.  The house is empty.  They've gone off without him.  And Don is alone.


Betty: What about Sally and Bobby's childhood memories?

Don (to Pete):  Bringing in business is the key to your salary, your status, and your self-worth.

Harry: But I thought it was like someone reaching through the stone and right to us.
"I was here."

Betty: Please Please tell me I'll be okay.
Glen: I don't know. I wish I was older.
Betty: Adults don't know anything, Glen.

Pete (to Don):  Self-worth and status.  You said it.

Betty: I can't help but think that I would be happy if my husband was faithful to me.

Betty:  He's kind inside.  But outside, it it's all there in my face every day.  The hotel rooms.  Sometimes perfume.  Or worse.  He doesn't know what family is.  He doesn't even have one.
It makes me sorry for him when in fact I should be angry ... very angry.  You know?  But I put up with it like some ostrich.  It's interesting, isn't it?  The way he makes love?  Sometimes it's what I want.  But sometimes it's obviously what someone else wants.

Don: Technology is a glittering lure, but there's the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on the level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product.

Don:  The most important idea in advertising is "New". Creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion. But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product. Nostalgia.
...  in Greek, nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound. It's a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn't a space ship. It's a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It's not called the Wheel. It's called the Carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around and back home again to a place where we know we are loved.

Duck:  Good luck at your next meeting.

Don: Miss Olsen, you are now a junior copywriter.  Your first account will be delivering Clearasil to the spotted masses.

Joan:  Although sometimes when people get what they want, they realize how limited their goals were.


As series creator and show runner Matthew Weiner has been hinting that Season 7 of Mad Men may resolve or in some way deal with some things that happened in Season 1, it's hard to say if one should be hopeful or not.  The debut season began with us learning the secret that Don has a secret life - a mistress - and from there it grew to another mistress, a secret past, a false identity, broken promises, hurt feelings, recriminations, mistakes, some fatal, some that maybe can still be resolved. Don may be handsome and slick, but that's all for show.  Inside he's barely keeping it together.

The unknown pregnancy seems like a silly old TV trope, but this being Mad Men, I'm willing to give them a pass.  Peggy is Catholic, driven and able to compartmentalize.  Perhaps she could ignore all the signs.  The pregnancy, of course, provides an obvious contrast between Trudy (and, more to the point, her parents) who want Pete to plant his seed and Peggy who we can assume must be devastated by her dalliance(s) with Pete and what they brought forward.  The irony of all the baby talk between husband and wife, when the husband and another woman now have that bond forever, is pretty in-your-face.

They cheated (time wise) a bit with the end song, Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice," which came out in 1962.  But if you check out the lyrics, there are many reasons that the song works perfectly for the man we've come to know over these 13 episodes.  Alone, distant, tempted to flee - Don shares all those traits with the singer.  But this line in particular makes you think of Don and Betty.  Whatever there are now, those pictures of them as a young couple showed us a different reality:  "I once loved a woman, a child I’m told I give her my heart but she wanted my soul."


  1. That's the scene between Betty and Glen, so fabulously touching!

    And the relationship between Betty and Glen has a very big change after this season: Betty doesn't allow Glen to visit her house or contact her daughter Sally.

    Another scene is that Betty finally begins to talk her status in the family and her husband discretion. And it's sad and awful to hear that a woman notice the difference of ways of her husband makes love.

    This scene almost takes about 4 minutes, with so much scenes on Betty face. And this took place after she met Glen. So this is might be a hint that Matthew Weiner was going to let Betty has a change in Season 2.

    Thanks for your review. And I think you may has some thoughts on the performance of these actors/actress. Please share your opinion and comments.

    1. I agree, it was a genius move bringing those two characters together and (as the show goes on) showing us how Glenn matures over time while in some way Betty stays the same. Thank you for all your comments!