We get the subtle, and not so subtle, reminder that this is the early Sixties and sexism in the work place is much more obvious and pervasive. While Peggy is the right "man" for the job of keeping Playtex happy (withe her unique insights) she is also the one who has to ignore the lewd innuendos of Ken Cosgrove and the general frat boy mentality pervading the office. She bristles at being left out of many decisions impacting the client and we watch as she maneuvers from the sidelines to getting in on the action thanks in large part to some good advice from Joan.
The title for this episode comes from one of the competitors to Playtex, a Sterling Cooper client who has seen great results and ever increasing sales. Duck Phillips, who so far has been less than sterling in his position at the firm, brings to Don and the creative staff the client's complaints that they'd like their ads to be more like Maidenform. The tension between him and Don is always there, but no more so than when Duck (who is to creativity what Freddy is to sobriety) tries to tell Don his side of the business. Don doesn't understand why their approach isn't satisfactory considering sales are through the roof, but he agrees to brainstorm a new approach.
Duck gets an unexpected visit from his ex-wife, who brings up his drinking problems first chance she gets (while the reformed Duck counters that it's no longer a problem). She drops off the kids and the dog, Chauncey, for a weekend visit and it could not be more awkward ("How'd you like to see A Funny Thing Happened," he asks and his son replies that they've already seen it. Trying to save face, Duck offers, "not from these seats."). It's pretty standard divorced dad stuff and hard to watch, even when it happens to someone like Duck who we're not too fond of. He has a tenuous, at best, relationship with his kids and the tension between him and Don is so evident that Roger asks Don to take him out to lunch to make peace. Duck could use the break, he finds out that his ex is getting remarried and that she gets the new husband and the children, while he gets the dog.
The Drapers are at the country club and Don is managing to be sociable as Betty spots a familiar sight - Arthur from the stables. He comes over and they flirt a bit, which is not unnoticed by Don, until Sally and Bobby blow the moment by racing in "Mommy, Mommy" while Artie's eyes go wide. And thus the phrase Buzz Kill was invented that very day.
It's Memorial Day and at the country club they salute the veterans there, asking them to stand and be appreciated. Don stands - but he's taking credit for service he did not complete. He's no hero but a deserter whose namesake died because of him - yet he receives the love and admiration of all, especially his daughter Sally. He looks at her, beaming with pride as she claps for her hero father, and we know that he's a fraud who does not deserve her adulation. Worse, we know that he knows.
So how does he deal with his guilt feelings? Well, he is Dick Whitman after all and he learned from the Hobo Code you can just up and move on. So he leaves and goes off to call his girlfriend under the guise of needing to go into work. He's a pip. He wants to get together with Bobbie but finds out that she's going to be spending the day with her 18-year-old son (speaking of Buzz Kills). She brings up the accident and Don is unhappy - he's put it out of his mind and doesn't want anyone reminding him of it.
Paul has a great idea (it was bound to happen eventually) - the new approach for Playtex would be the two sides of a woman - Marilyn and Jackie. The idea was thought up when the guys were out for drinks after work one night. Peggy is seeing how the old boy network works and she doesn't like it. When guys can get together after hours, pal around and do business, that freezes out the women in the office.. She tells Freddy she wants in from now on.
Don comes by Duck's office for the talk Roger asked him to have, but Don isn't in a particularly conciliatory mood. He puts Duck on the spot to claim one good thing he's done for the company in the eighteen months since he's been there. Duck admits that maybe the American Airline move didn't go as well as he'd hoped (a contender for the understatement of the year award) but he wants to put that behind them and move forward. Don says okay and they shake hands, but Duck does not like spreading himself prostrate in from of Don and Don doesn't like Duck screwing with his business. This is not much of a peace.
Rather than have lunch with Duck, Don heads off for an afternoon rendezvous with Bobbie, who drops the other shoe that she also has a daughter. They have some banter and she offers that Don can stay in her room while she goes. Things will take a nasty turn shortly, but first...
Peggy gets the proverbial door shut in her face as she again deals with being treated like a second class citizen. She is not told about casting for the Playtex commercial, again being shut out of her own client's work.
Pete makes friends with Duck's dog and then makes friends with a girl who had come into the office to audition for the Playtex account. They end up back at the apartment she shares with her mother (Buzz Kill #3? Nah, Pete is undeterred). Earlier, Pete had tried to impress his brother with how important he was at Sterling Cooper, but his brother only sneered at the free booze and mocked their mother's interest in Pete. Pete had also tried to get a rise out of Peggy back at the office, ostensibly there to talk to her about his ideas for the Clearasil account, he was as charming as he could be, but Peggy was distant at best. So after these attacks on his manhood, Pete looked elsewhere for reaffirmation and the young model was only too happy to oblige.
Don comes downstairs for breakfast to find his beautiful wife decked out in a sexy bathing suit ensemble. She's rightly proud of her new purchase and how great she looks (after two kids!). So, of course, he does what any husband would do. He lectures her on dressing inappropriately - desperately, he calls it - humiliating her and treating her like a child. Betty only makes the whole scene more painful by just absorbing and accepting what Don says and not realizing that they are his issues, not hers, that are what set him off.
Peggy is having a pity party and goes to Joan for some "this place is so sexist" support, but Joan (who is fed up to here with people treating her like a pair of boobs) isn't feeling the sisterhood. If Peggy wants to be treated like an equal to the men, she better start acting like it. And stop dressing like a little school girl. It's some tough love, but Peggy needs it.
Don gives a typically great presentation to the Playtex clients and they love it in theory. Only...sales are great, so why change anything? Don hides his smug "I told you so" (seeing as he specifically told Duck there was no reason to change things) and the clients leave (after first getting an offer for some after hours fun). Duck mopes around the office. He feels impotent at home and now at work - replaced in his kids' lives by his ex-wife's fiance, and overshadowed at work by Don. He's tired of feeling pissed on and he is going to find a way to regain the upper hand. His first move is to get some liquid strength and inspiration and as fast as you can say "Bye, Chauncey" he is back on the bottle.
You know what you should never say to Don Draper? Anything, after he tells you to "stop talking." But Bobbie Barrett doesn't heed the warning and she goes on to tell him that his reputation with all the ladies is quite excellent. Don does not like the idea of his past conquests blabbing about him (since he conveniently puts the past out of his mind, these reminders are no bueno). Bobbie has now committed two sins, continuing to talk and talking about him with other exes. Bobbie, you've been a bad girl. So Don ties her up and walks out of her life.
Peggy has taken Joan's advice. She's styled like a woman on the town, not a girl raising money for a church outing. She meets up with the boys from the office and the clients at a strip club. It's hard to say how successful she is in her attempts to be treated like one of the boys. None of her co-workers are sitting on a client's lap, yet it still seems better to be there, included, than excluded. The look she exchanges with Pete (who has never accepted her sexuality unless it was his alone to see) had many meanings. She's not thrilled she has to do this, but she's not going to be a victim. He doesn't like seeing her like this, but he's not exactly a school boy either. As the saying goes, it's complicated.
It's a new day in the Draper household. Don is in his bathroom getting ready for the day. He lathers up and starts shaving, his face staring back at him. He doesn't see anything, at least not until his daughter Sally comes in. She sits down to watch him shave, looking up to him with the same love and admiration she showed at the country club. She's a good girl, she's not going to say anything. She doesn't want to disturb him so he'd cut himself. Her words, her presence, is too much for Don to take. He's not the good dad this little girl should be looking up to. And would he want some man saying to her what he said to Bobbie? It's all catching up to Don. He can't look away from the man in the mirror, he can't live with the knowledge of the man he really is any longer. Can he?
Pete is the Rodney Dangerfield of both the office and his home - Peggy doesn't respect his creative suggestions and his brother doesn't respect his career. Pete tries hard, but it seems he will never get the recognition and appreciation he so craves. His fling with the model is so obviously not about the sex, but about her reaction upon seeing his business card, "Oh, my. Account Executive." It's that reaction he desires more than anything.
When Pete's dalliance is about to start, the girl turns on the TV set. What we see and hear is "High Flight," a 1941 poem by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. that was set to music and footage of flights and used as a TV signoff (yes, kids, in the old days, TV stations signed off overnight). The poem was later made indellible when Ronald Reagan quoted from it after the Challenger disaster.
Poor Chauncey. Duck could not bear to have his dog see him fall off the wagon, and so out into the cold for his four-legged former best friend. Don was in a similar position at the end, unable to look at his daughter knowing what a terrible father he is. But Sally doesn't get kicked out of the house, so how does Don deal with having a daily reminder of what a horrible human being he is?
Betty is totally wrapped up in her looks and what they say about her and as long as some man flirts with her, she knows she's still okay. She was flattered by Arthur's attention and was likely looking for more with her new bikini, but Don shut her down.
Don is at his worst this episode in his relationship with all the women in his life. He doesn't stand up for Peggy and shut down the sexist chatter in the office, he allows his daughter to see him as a hero when he's far from that in reality, he humiliates both his wife, who he treats like a child, and his mistress, who he treats like a whore.
Betty mentions that she and Don lived in Manhattan when the Rosenbergs were executed. That was in June, 1953, so we know the two of them were living together at least that far back.
Don balks at the idea that he and Bobbie are alike. She says early in the episode, "I know what you like" and "I'm the same way." But Don doesn't want to see himself that way and counters later, "Does it make you feel better to think that I'm like you?" His self-loathing is strong enough not to want to see himself in Bobbie, let alone in himself.
When Peggy asks during the Playtex brainstorming meeting "what am I" (trying to point out the erroneous nature of the statement that all women are either a Jackie or a Marilyn), Ken responds with "Gertrude Stein" (the lesbian writer of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas). Don and Freddy try and help things by calling her more of an Irene Dunne, but the damage is done. This is what we now lovingly refer to as a hostile work environment.
Don: I like a happy client, although you'd think someone would be able to talk them out of jumping onto a bandwagon as solid as this.
Duck: Maybe they want us to raise the bar.
Don: Why, because their share of the market keeps increasing?
Pete: Her skin cleared up, but she still looks unhappy.
Peggy: She's a cheerleader.
Pete: For who, the University of Dour?
Betty: As we used to say in college, let's be friends.
Emcee: Please, heroes, on your feet.
Bud: I was on the phone with her the other day, and you were all she talked about.
Bud: No. I'm kidding.
Pete: I don't think I know what's funny about that.
Pete: I'm very important to the agency. My absence is felt.
Roger: Has your wife seen that yet? [pointing to Jane] Do me a favor. Let me be there when it happens.
Roger: You are going to have lunch with Duck. Perhaps on a train car because I want you to sign an armistice on American Airlines. ... Errol Flynn is gone, and so is my taste for swordplay. You two need to put them away.
Roger: I've been married for over 20 years. I know the difference between a spat and spending a month on the couch.
Paul: Marilyn's really a Joan, not the other way around.
Paul: Women want to see themselves the way men see them.
Don: You've been pitching more to me than you have the clients.
Duck: If you hadn't brought me in, where would I be? Some fifth wheel at McCann?
Bobbie: Where did you come from?
Don: You don't want to know.
Duck: Dogs are better than wives. Never a problem communicating.
Don: It's desperate.
Betty: I didn't know that.
Joan: For a moment there, I thought you were just another person coming to ask me about my brassiere.
Peggy: I'm a good drinker.
Joan: You're in their country. Learn to speak the language.
Don: It's a very flattering mirror.
Bobbie: This is nobody's maiden voyage here, handsome.
Don: Does it make you feel better to think that I'm like you?
SPOILER-Y OBSERVATIONS (DON'T READ UNLESS YOU'RE CAUGHT UP ON THE SERIES)
Don's relationship with Bobbie is our first obvious clue that he has a damaged understanding of the relationship between men and women. It is not surprising for us to learn that the man who doesn't want his wife dressing provocatively, yet is more than willing to have rough sex with his mistress, was raised in a brothel. We hadn't seen the side of Don - the guy who would tie up a woman, demand that she be quiet, or otherwise control their relationship. We see more of that side later but previously we've only seen Don in more equal affairs (with Midge and Rachel).
We know that Duck makes his big move shortly and then comes back years later to put his stamp on the company, yet he never does succeed. The bottom line is that Duck is not a creative person and has no real vision - he wants to be the big shot and tries to be that guy, but always falls short.
Betty is chatting with some friends at the club and the husband says (of where Betty and Don live, Osining, NY) "We get them to close Sing Sing, we'll be in Shangri-la." There are many references to Shangri-la throughout the show, including the Season 7 premiere "Time Zones" where we see Don and Megan in bed watching the movie Lost Horizon. It's similar to the theme of "utopia" which Rachel Menken explains to Don as the perfect place and the place that can never be.
Pete's brother says, of their mother, "I see her crossing the widow's walk with an eye to the sea." While he's actually talking about the rooftop with a ocean vista, it's interesting to note that in Season Six, their mother finds her final resting place somewhere in the sea during a cruise with Manolo Colon.
Freddy says, after Paul makes the Playtex pitch, "Apparently, I've already signed off on it." That's another red flag about Freddy's excessive drinking, that he would have been too drunk the night before to remember agreeing to the idea, let alone signing his name to a napkin.
Shockingly, despite all the efforts of Mad Men fans, we never see poor Chauncey again.
One of the men Betty talks to at the country club mentions that their town would be Shangri-La if they only closed Sing Sing (the prison). The idea of Shangri-La comes up repeatedly in Mad Men, up to Season 7's Lost Horizon episode. Like the Utopia Rachel Menken described to Don (when talking about Israel), this notion of a perfect, idealized place of happiness is always just out of reach. Not because it's unattainable, but because when people get there, they are still unsatisfied and want more.