Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Mad Men Season 2, Episode 2: Flight 1

This is one of those episodes that is easy to time stamp as American Airlines Flight 1 did in fact crash, on March 1, 1962.  In the fictional Mad Men world, Pete Campbell's father was on-board and found his final resting place somewhere in Jamaica Bay.  This tragedy was the impetus for some posturing and power moves at Sterling Cooper and for some harsh realities back at the Campbell residence.

The episode begins in Montclair, NJ where pseudo-Bohemian Paul Kinsey is throwing a soirée for friends and co-workers.  The Manhattan and 'burbs crowd is a little off-put by the gritty surroundings, but Paul is thrilled to be out here blazing a trail, in touch with real America.  He's playing rock music, wearing a jaunty scarf, and conveying his coolness as we have seen him do since last season when he was trying to woo Peggy with how hip he was.  Elsewhere, Ken Cosgrove is making the moves on an intoxicated girl, Harry has brought the previously unseen Jennifer, Sal is squiring his main squeeze Kitty, and Peggy gets friendly with an old friend of Paul's from college.

Paul introduces Joan (whom he once dated) to his new girlfriend Sheila.  Their encounter is brief but terribly uncomfortable.  Joan, who bristles at being called a "senior secretary" and corrects Paul that she's an "office manager," is no happier when she's told that Sheila, who is black, is an office manager too.  Joan is condescending and shows a really unpleasant side of herself.  Paul must have known the conversation could take this turn as he pointedly told Sheila NOT to talk to Joan without him present! Besides learning that Joan is catty and insecure, we also learn that Paul stole a typewriter from the office which he believes is his right because he's "a writer."

Don and Roger come into work the next day to find all the desks and offices abandoned and everyone crowded around the radio.  They think the office is listening to reports of John Glenn's homecoming parade, but instead they're listening to the news that American Airlines Flight 1 to Los Angeles has crashed.  The admen, good with words, start quipping about the accident, while Don and Roger make sure to protect their airplane client Mohawk Airlines from any collateral damage.  Two phone calls are highlighted.  One, from Duck Phillips' friend Shel Kennealy at American, mentioning that in light of the crash they might be looking for a new agency.  Two, from Pete Campbell's brother telling Pete that their father was on the doomed jet.

Pete reacts to the news of his father's sudden death not with sadness but with confusion - about what he should do and how he should feel about it.  He goes to Don for answers, despite their contentious relationship.  Last year Don tried to fire Pete and Pete tried to unmask and destroy Don.  Ultimately, their mutually assured destruction resulted in them maintaining a wary détente.  But when he's lost and unsure what to do, it is Don to whom Pete turns for answers.  He so wants to emulate Don Draper that he looks to him for instructions on how one handles news like this.  Even when Don tells him to go home and be with his family, Pete pesters him to make sure that is what Don would do in the same circumstances. 

Don does not take the news well that Sterling Cooper will be using this opportunity to land American Airlines.  Not only is the timing unseemly (he notes only three hours have passed since their plane went down), but to go after American they would have to break up with Mohawk Air - a loyal and reliable client.  Don seems to be arguing in favor of a guaranteed good thing and showing loyalty to a client over pie-in-the-sky for a big score.  But Duck thinks that Don is not jumping at the chance to pitch American because the offer wasn't directed at him (they didn't come to Sterling Cooper for the Don Draper treatment) but that it was Duck who made the inroad.  I happen to believe that Don was feeling a sense of fidelity - which I know sounds farfetched for a man who went AWOL, stole another's identity and cheats on his wife.  But that's life; in business I've never seen Don be disloyal.

Pete finds out that his father spent their inheritance (more likely, his brother's inheritance as Pete was not his father's favorite) and that his family, with their storied pedigree and history, is basically broke.  I don't know if that helps Pete at all to realize that his father couldn't have helped him financially with the new house, even if he had wanted to, since Pete is well aware that in the "Salt and Pepper" duo with his brother, he was the less favored spice.

In a great slice of life scene, the Drapers host Francine and her husband Carlton for a night of drinking, chatting, and cards.  Carlton starts talking lustily about a high school-aged babysitter that his wife hired and Don is uncomfortable with the direction the conversation is taking.  Don is obviously not a prude nor is he the poster boy for faithfulness, so it is interesting that the same man who once cheated on both his wife and mistress is so distasteful of Carlton's leering.  This seems to be another time for Don to take what he perceives to be the moral high ground, like he did with Duck, Roger, and Bert courting American.

The show has been coy about Peggy's storyline from last season, but it offered up some info with this exchange at her mom's house: "Peggy: And I'm capable of making my own decisions. Her mother:
Really? State of New York didn't think so.The doctors didn't think so." Peggy's family is upset at her avoiding church which, being practicing Catholics, is a big part of their life.  When Peggy leaves for the evening, she's stopped by her sister who reminds her to say goodnight to her nephew.  But the baby is a clear reminder to Peggy of the one she no longer has and you can see her discomfort.

Back at the Draper home, we see more inklings into Betty's parenting style, which is right out of the 1950's "show them who's in charge" handbook.  She is frustrated and angry with Bobby for not going to sleep when he's told and for getting away with it.  Carlton tries to help her see it from the kids perspective and says how he fought going to sleep when he was a kid, and Don takes a gentle approach, scooping Bobby up in his arms and carrying him back to bed.  But that's not what Betty wants.  She wants the parents - the father in particular - to be a scary figure to be obeyed or crossed at your own peril.  

Betty is also upset with Bobby beyond his ruining card night.  She calls him a "little liar" and tells how he was praised for a drawing he did in school which turned out to be a tracing of a photo from a book.  Rather than applaud his ingenuity or skills, she was furious that he took undeserved praise. It becomes clear, at least to Don, that this may not be about Bobby at all. Betty's comment "I know what little boys do" is a loaded one and if she doesn't like fibbing, she really picked the wrong guy to marry.  Once the Hansons leave, Don mentions that Carlton seems to have put on a few pounds. Betty chalks that up to his being happy (which she thinks he should be for cheating on - and then being forgiven by - Francine), but Don knows the truth, that Carlton still has a wandering eye. 

The scene between Joan and Paul gives us another way at looking at her boorish behavior at his party.  It was easy to assume she was jealous or racist, but perhaps she was just pointing out Paul's pretentiousness.  Her comment about his girlfriend, "Describe her to me," hits on what may be her most interesting characteristic to Paul. That Sheila is another hipster accoutrement like his scarves and pipes.

Duck tells Pete that Sterling Cooper is like a family and that's true down to its dysfunction.  He preys on Pete's naked ambition and vulnerability to engage him in pursuing the American Airline account.  Pete walks out of the meeting unsure but when his other surrogate father, Don, snaps at him and sends him away (Don is upset having to stab his client in the back and unknowingly takes it out on Pete), Pete knows where his loyalties lie.  So he goes to join Duck in the pitch to American Airlines, using his personal connection to the tragedy to give his company a leg up.

At the end, Don sits alone in the restaurant where he had to give the bad news to Henry Lamont of Mohawk Airlines.  He was clearly rattled by the client's words, about feeling stupid for trusting and believing in Don and the company.  Does that hit home for Don?  Does he realize that others are trusting in him who shouldn't?  Is that why he made the big morality pitch for Mohawk, when he has no trouble lying to Betty about where he is?  And why does he turn down the offer for sex with the beautiful girl at the restaurant?  Is it his conscience getting the better of him - when he sees himself in others (be it Carlton or Duck) does he not like what he sees?

Throughout the episode, Peggy vacillates between Manhattan working girl and Brooklyn Catholic girl who should find a man and settle down.  At Paul's party she is confident and sexy, at home with her mother and sister, or finally at the Mass they guilt trip her into attending, she's the good little girl. Which path is the right one for her, most emotionally and personally fulfilling, and does she have to choose just one?


Bert warned Don in Season One that he might not have the stomach to handle the business side of  the company and Don's reaction to them jumping at a chance to pitch American Airlines proves that.  While it's easy to laud Don's apparent nobility and loyalty, it is important to remember that they are in a business and one does have to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves.

It's pretty obvious  it was Paul getting his retaliation against Joan by posting her ID showing her age.  Peggy has always seemed intimidated by Joan, but her response after learning Joan's secret shows that she may feel she has more of an upper hand.  Youth is starting to become more important than anything else in the culture. 

It's crazy to think about two big news stories on one day - with the parade honoring the first man to orbit the earth occurring at the same time as the then-worst single airplane disaster in the history of U.S. commercial aviation.  Truth sometimes is stranger than fiction.

It's easy to make fun of Pete - just ask Roger - but he really is a tragic character.  Seeing how lost he was after learning of his father's death, and how much he needs a father figure in his life, is really sad. The quote that brought this home for me was when he said the only thing he really knew about his father was that he didn't like advertising - in other words, he knew only that he had disappointed his father.

Don may cheat on Betty, but he does not engage in the lascivious fantasies of Carlton who wants to bro down talking about the hot young babysitter.  He quickly cuts off the conversation.  Remember back in Season One "Marriage of Figaro" how Don watched as Carlton made the moves on Helen Bishop?  Don seems to have some disdain for Carlton and the way he lusts after women.  Maybe it's not that he's a cheating scumbag, but that he's so vulgar and uncouth about it.  Don may cheat, but he does it with panache!

Betty's irritation with Bobby - and calling him a little liar for tracing the George Washington portrait and passing it off as his own work - is misdirected anger at Don.  It's Don who she knows is lying to her, but she can't prove it.  

Roger was not correct, John Glenn would not be on earth for the rest of his life.  In 1998, he returned to space as part of the Space Shuttle program.

The American Airlines plane crashed because of a rudder control system malfunction.


Eugene:  So you work for these stuffed shirts?
Peggy:  I work with them.

Paul:  I'm here because this isn't Greenwich Village.  This is America.

Joan:  I have to say, when Paul and I were together, the last thing I would have taken him for was open-minded.

Peggy:  I'm in the persuasion business, and frankly I'm disappointed by your presentation.

Roger:  It's incredible what passes for heroism these days. I'd like ticker tape for pulling out of my driveway and going around the block three times. It's not like people were shooting at him.

Don: There's life, and there's work.

Don:  What's it been, four, three hours since the plane went down? You'll have to forgive me for not looking at a bunch of bodies in Jamaica Bay and seeing the opportunity.

Don: We have the one whose planes didn't just fall out of the sky.

Duck:  I know how you had it in your head.  The president of American Airlines sees a Mohawk ad, falls in love, and says "Get me that guy." Well, I'm sorry it didn't play out that way.

Don (to Carlton): I'm enjoying this story so far, but I have a feeling it's not going to end well.

Peggy (about church):  Doesn't mean the same thing to me that it means to you.

Peggy: And I'm capable of making my own decisions.
Anita:  Really? State of New York didn't think so.  The doctors didn't think so.

Betty:  What about all that praise he accepted for something he didn't do?

Betty: I don't need a book to know what little boys do.

Don (to Betty):  I'll say whatever you think I should say, but I'm not going to fight with you.

Pete:  "Fighting about facts," my mother calls it. We do it all the time. Argue over something that's actually one thing or another.

Joan:  You, out there in your poor-little-rich-boy apartment in Newark or wherever. Walking around with your pipe and your beard, falling in love with that girl just to show how interesting you are.

Pete:  Of course, it turns out I really didn't know anything about him except that he did not like advertising.

Don:  What kind of company are we going to be?
Roger: The kind where everyone has a summer house?
Don: I can't believe I look like an idiot for wanting to be loyal to these people.
Roger: Take off your dress. You get a chance at American Airlines, you take it. End of discussion.

Peggy: I never would have guessed you were in your 30s.
Joan:  People should not bring their personal problems into the office.  ...  Is it so hard to just leave everything at the door and just do your job?

Henry Lamont: I'm glad you picked this place.  It reminds me of Pearl Harbor.  For many reasons.

Lack of subtlety award: 
Little Sally making the cocktails for all the grownups.

Cultural name dropping:
George Innes was a 19th Century American Landscape painter


Don's loyalty to Mohawk Airlines is showcased here, but it's not embraced by Roger or the rest of Sterling Cooper who believe landing an even bigger client is more important that allegiance to an existing client.  Later this season, in Episode 9, Roger will tell Don (viz. Freddy Rumsen) "your loyalty is starting to become a liability."

Duck tells Don that he knows what Don's fantasy was.  The president of American Airlines would see Don's work, fall in love, and have to hire him.  But that's not how it is going to play out.  Duck has the connection, he's made the first overture, and he'll be the one to land the airline.  This is echoed in Season 7 when Bert Cooper tells Don that his plan for getting back his old position wasn't going to work.  Don may have thought he'd swoop in and save the day and he'd be welcomed back with open arms, but that's not how it's going to go.

After Bobby and Sally both think they've seen a ghost (maybe Pete's father paid them a visit?), Don goes up to check on them and finds them sleeping together.  This is revisited in Season 7 when Bobby, having stomach aches from his parent's constant fighting, finds solace by crawling into bed next to his big sister. 

Sterling Cooper is thick with cynicism.  Whether it's Roger's barbs at what he claims to be the undeserved attention national hero John Glenn is receiving or the fact that the first thing Duck thinks of when he hears of the plane crash is that it's an opportunity for the agency.  Outside there are idealists like Pete's sister-in-law with her bouquet of thoughts, but in that office it's distrust and disdain of everything.  A plane crash is an opportunity to come up with the best one-liner.  If you are trusting, you're just asking to get your heart broken (just ask Mohawk Airlines).  Much later in the series, after an epiphany or two, Don tells teenaged Sally not to be cynical and tells her that such cynicism is not a good influence on her younger brothers.

This episode mentions one of the first firsts in space - John Glenn's orbit of the earth.  In Season 7, Episode 7 the focus is on another first - man landing on the moon.

One of the best relationships on the screen this episode is one of its most tragic - Sal the closeted gay man and his unsuspecting wife Kitty.  They are so sweet together, it's sad that the relationship is built on lies and it's sad to see how the marriage progresses based on unrequited love and unfulfilled needs.

The answer to the question what kind of an agency will we be continues at least through the end of Season 7a where the partners decide to sell out to McCann Erickson for a big payday - to be, as Roger jokingly said in this episode, the kind of agency where everyone has a summer house.

Henry Lamont, of Mohawk Airlines, tells Don that the restaurant where he's about to get the bad news reminds him of Pearl Harbor.  In Season 4, Episode 5, Roger raises the specter of Pearl Harbor and the battle of the Pacific when bristling at the firm's attempts to land the Honda Corporation.  Then Roger wasn't about lining the firm's pockets regardless the cost.  Then he let his personal feelings, his deep-seated resentment and sense of loss, blind him to the opportunity that Honda presented.  So Roger may not hold loyalty above money, but he does hold resentment higher.

Here, Peggy is shocked to learn that Joan is in her thirties.  In Season 7, Peggy bemoans hitting her 30th birthday (Don doesn't help, but replying "shit").

If you think Don's latest secretary Lois is inept, just wait until Ep. 3.06 A Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency.

The show was trying to be mysterious, dangling clues for us about certain unknown facts such as the slow roll out of info on Pete and Peggy's baby.  Here, they hint that her sister may have adopted the child and throughout this season they hint at the whereabouts of the child.  Later, we learn definitively that the baby was put up for adoption.


  1. ["The scene between Joan and Paul gives us another way at looking at her boorish behavior at his party. It was easy to assume she was jealous or racist, but perhaps she was just pointing out Paul's pretentiousness. Her comment about his girlfriend, "Describe her to me," hits on what may be her most interesting characteristic to Paul. That Sheila is another hipster accoutrement like his scarves and pipes."]

    Oh please! Who are you kidding? Were you really trying to use Paul Kinsey's pretentiousness to hide Joan Holloway's racism? Yes, Paul was a poseur. Perhaps he was using Sheila to paint himself as a liberal. But actor Michael Gladis also pointed out that he was told by none other than Matthew Weiner that Paul genuinely liked Sheila.

    And by the way, I find it amazing that Joan managed to mistake Sheila for a check-out "girl" at a New Jersey supermarket, when the former had informed her that she was an assistant manager of the store. Gee . . . how could Joan have make such a mistake? Unless she presumed that all black women who worked at supermarkets were naturally check out "girls".

  2. You're correct, Joan was motivated by her own racism. But mixed with it was her jealousy and still-unresolved feelings about having dated Paul. Paul obviously liked Sheila, but it's not a stretch to think he also likes how having her as his girlfriend makes him look.