Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mad Men Season 2, Episode 11: The Jet Set

Well, that was weird.

Don Draper escapes the uncomfortable present in New York but is it to revisit his past in California (signaled by the invocation of the name "Dick Whitman") or to forge a new future?  Don is literally carrying no baggage from home as he lands in California.  He falls in with a vagabond group of free thinkers, just the perfect sort of faux intellectual nomads that seem exciting and vibrant but are nothing more than bright, shiny yet empty shells.  He realizes that their rootless ways are not the answer he was looking for and he makes plans to leave them too. Don is bringing the Hobo Code to new heights, not just running away from his problems, but even running away from the first solution presented.

But first, we see Jane waxing poetic about life with Roger.  Roger is IN LOVE.  Jane is the answer to all questions, she is what he's been searching for, she will help him defy death and aging and professional impotence.  She is the one true answer.  He has never been so happy - not riding that twin, not flirting with Betty, not even with Joan.

Don is the worst travel companion ever.  Here he and Pete are at the hotel, with sunshine and swimming and lounging theirs for the taking.  But Don reminds Pete why they are there and tells him to get to work unless he wants to make this a permanent vacation.  After stuffing Pete's dreams of fun in the sun, Don walks through the hotel and catches a glimpse of a beautiful, ice princess across the room.  Betty?  It's not her, of course, but an illusion of her - beautiful, regal, happy.  Back in New York is the real Betty - tired, angry, fed up - ready to move on without him.  Don is in LA in large part because she has rejected him, and yet she is what he sees there.

Back at Sterling Cooper, Roger meets with his divorce attorney and learns the simple math that half of what you have is far less than the whole.  But he doesn't care because, as I mentioned above, he's IN LOVE, like no one before him, making Romeo and Juliet look like amateurs.  He was miserable and could see himself on a slow march to the end wallowing in his misery until death takes him.  OR, he can find new life with Jane.  Half a fortune is a small price to pay for happiness.  

While Roger has found happiness with Jane, Duck wants validation and reward from Roger.  He's been with the firm for two years and he feels it's time for him to get a partnership.  Duck has confused length of service with quality of service, unfortunately, and Roger gives him a harsh dose of reality.  Put that meeting in context - Duck is trying to stay sober, is divorced from his wife and becoming further removed from his kids.  All he has is work and he finds out just how little he is valued there.  This kind of knowledge can cause a man to do some desperate things.

During a presentation on the missile race, and humanity's ability to wipe each other out with the push of a red button, Don has a YOLO epiphany.  Leaving New York wasn't enough, he needs to drop off the radar all together.  So he hitches a ride with the comely Joy and heads for a hedonistic adventure in Palm Springs.  He meets the gang around the pool, then passes out from the heat.  Willy toasts Don for "not being carried out in a pine box" and again we're bombarded with the specter of death.  But Joy will take all that away.

With the boss away, the kids do play and Peggy strikes up a conversation with Smitty 2 that leads to an invite to a Bob Dylan concert and some awkward moments.  The rest of the office is buzzing about their date, but Kurt doesn't understand their interest.  He is, he states matter-of-factly, homosexual.  Try to put this revelation in perspective.  This is 1962, not 2014, and while there were rumors about this celebrity or that celebrity being gay, virtually no one admitted to it because of the stigma then associated. Look at his co-worker's reaction, look at Sal reading the room.  Harry says, "so Kurt is a pervert," and Ken joins him in his bigoted revelry and Sal knows without a doubt that he was right to stay in the closet.

Meanwhile, Duck is plotting his revenge against Roger, Don and the rest of Sterling Cooper by meeting with his old bosses from England.  He crawls back to them, then falls way off the wagon as he prepares to sell them on his evil plan to take over the company.  Hell hath no fury like a mallard scorned. 

While Duck is planning on a hostile takeover of Sterling Cooper, two of its young employees are about to embark on their date to see Bob Dylan.  Peggy is crushed that she once again has struck out romantically and even suggests that Kurt might want to take a guy out tonight instead of her.  Kurt fulfills the gay stereotype by explaining to Peggy why she's not attracting men and performing a makeover to bring her into the modern era.  And we all bid a sad goodbye to Peggy's ponytail.

Pete Campbell returns form California and is surprised to find out that Don isn't there.  Duck makes his pitch to Roger and Burt, while across the country Don contacts someone using his real name Dick Whitman.  His suitcase makes it home, but Don is staying in California to meet with someone who knows him by his real name.

Don's experience with the European nomads is an interesting diversion from real life, but Don cannot run away from his problems.  He's lying in bed with someone's daughter.  He sees a divorced man dragging his sad children away from his ex.  Joy may seem to offer an escape, but she can't keep the real world at bay.  Don will have to deal with these issues, his marriage, his kids, his mortality.  So he makes plans to leave to go where someone knows him by his real name.  Don has chosen not to run off with the latest incarnation of Midge's bohemian friends, instead Dick Whitman is heading for a rendezvous.


Jane's poem:
Delicious and destroyed.
Inhaling the fragrance of the sheets.
Feeling the warmth of where you were just laying.
You make me new with laughter.
You make me old with wisdom.
You make wine taste sweeter.
Roger did not like hearing he made her old.  Her most attractive trait to him is her youth.  She's almost Margaret's age.  She's young, alive, vibrant, and new. Is it true that he and Mona have "been miserable for years," is it true that he doesn't want to die with her - or is it just that he doesn't want to die and he's convinced himself being with Jane will make him young again?

Don is also consumed by Joy's youth.  I'm not sure it's for the same reasons as Roger, so much as it serves as a great diversion from his real* life (*which, of course, is not so real). Don had carefully crafted his storyline - married, two kids, professional success - but with part of that crumbling, he seems lost.

Joy is reading William Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury" a novel about the death of a storied southern family.  The title is taken from Shakespeare soliloquy in MacBeth that also contains reference to "The way to dusty death."  Again, this reinforces the death/rebirth themes of this episode as both Don and Roger strive to stave off death by their dalliances with younger girls, taking solace in satisfying their sexual hungers.

The look Don gives the father who shows up with his two kids at Palm Springs is quite poignant.  Does he see himself in that man, forced to take extreme action against his ex-wife?  Or does he instead see himself as someone who runs away from his problems, rather than stepping up like this father?

We've been teased for over a year with Don's "Dick Whitman" back story and it is shocking to hear him make arrangements with someone who knows him by that name.  He ran away from that identity, even indirectly leading to his half-brother's suicide. And now he's willing to face someone who knows him by that name??

It was an interesting parallel, both of our male leads taking up with much younger women.  But while Roger seems to have found "true love" (or at least a great opportunity to defy aging and death), Don's sidetrip with the young Joy seems to be part of trying to find an answer to a question that is plaguing him in light of the dissolution of his marriage.

Time stamp - news report of James Meredith becoming the first African-American student enrolled at the University of Mississippi, which occurred on October 1, 1962. 


Roger: Who wrote that?
Jane: I write a lot of poetry when I'm inspired.
Roger: I guess I shouldn't be surprised by anything you do.
Jane: You shouldn't.  It's insulting.

Smitty:  Did you read what's going on down there?
Peggy: In this day and age.
Ken: The papers said it's going to be Little Rock all over again.
Harry.  I don't know why people keep stirring up trouble. It's bad for business.
Just another reason not to watch TV.

Don: You want to be on vacation Pete cause I can make that happen? 

Willy (to Don): My friends and I have been speculating about you, trying to decide who you are and what you do.
Don:  Why?
Willy:  Are you an actor?
Don: No.
Willy: Are you an astronaut?
Don: No.
Willy:  Someone over there would like to meet you - a young woman - only if you were none of these things.

Pete:  I just saw Tony Curtis in the men's room.
Don: Handing out towels?
Pete: Tony Curtis, Don. A thing like that.

Roger:  We've been miserable for years.  I don't want to die with that woman. ... This is the life I was always meant to have.

George Rothman:  Think of all the good things in life and cut them in half.

Duck: listen, we're coming up on two years together here. 
Roger: Did you get me something?

Duck: I'd be proud to present my accomplishments.
Roger:  Good.  Because I'm at a loss.

Joy (to Don):  Why would you deny yourself something you want?

Willy:  Everyone, to our guest. To not being carried out in a box.

Willy:   The humiliations have been spectacular.

Greta: So, Don, What's your story?
Don: I don't know how to answer that. 

Don:  Who are you?
Joy: I'm Joy. 

Harry:  So Kurt is a pervert.  How about that?
Ken:  I knew queers existed.  I just don't want to work with them. 

Willy: The humiliations have been spectacular.  

Peggy:  I don't know why I pick the wrong boys.
Kurt:  You're drinking sad.

Joy:  My father will take care of you.  He likes having you around.  You're beautiful, and you don't talk too much.

Harry: I don't know why people keep stirring up trouble, it's bad for business.

Duck:  On the table will be mounds of money, international prestige, a chance at going public. And we don't have to change our name.

Cooper:  Let them open the kimono.

SPOILER-Y OBSERVATIONS (Don't read until you're caught up):

This trip to California pays off in a potential client in Episode 4.10, "Hands and Knees," when Pete is about to reel in North American Aviation as a client. Unfortunately, their efforts to get security clearance for Don come back to bite them, and they lose this opportunity.

Pete says, of his first impression of California, "I don't know that I'd wan to live there."  He complains about the people and says he's glad to be home.  In Season 7, Pete thrived when he worked in the California office and enjoyed his time there although ultimately it did not work out. 

Foreshadowing - Pete brings oranges back from his trip.  Sunkist later becomes a client. 

Duck Phillips may ultimately fail in this attempt to take over Sterling Cooper, but it doesn't stop him from trying to damage the company at every turn, whether by poaching Peggy or by trying to leave a little "present" in one of the Sterling Cooper offices. Yet in the penultimate episode he actually does something good. 

We know now that Don was contacting Anna Draper (and his use of his full name was a little awkward considering their relationship).  We also learn shortly that it was to her that he sent the book at the beginning of the season.  When Don is troubled and confused by the current state of his life, he runs back to the only person who really knows him. 

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