Monday, August 4, 2014

Mad Men Season 2, Episode 9: Six Months Leave

It's easy to identify the date, the episode starts with Don waking up with his smoker's cough and lazily going to pick up the newspaper in front of what we realize is a hotel room, not his home.  We see the lead story - Marilyn Monroe was found dead the day before.  It's April 6, 1962 and Peggy is feeling pretty good about not having sold the Marilyn v. Jackie ad to Playtex.  But at the office, the rest of the women are shown sobbing over the fallen starlet.

What does Marilyn's death tell us about the Mad Men world?  Beautiful, successful, married to a baseball hero, yet so depressed that she let pills take her life?  Is the takeaway that not everything is as it appears?  That beneath the stylish veneer, things are ugly?  Sterling Cooper is a hot, young(ish) Madison Avenue firm, yet behind closed doors there are men literally pissing themselves.  "Don's perfect" says Betty's friend and for everyone on the outside the Drapers have the ideal marriage.  But we know of his lies and infidelity and even her toying with an affair.  Roger, married for 25 years, is secretly pining for the beautiful new secretary in the office?  Joan, engaged to a doctor, has a deep sadness as well, what is her unfulfilled dream?  Was it for Roger to leave his wife for her?  Was it to be married and a mom by now?  Or was it to have a bigger role at the office, be something more than just an office manager?  There is how it looks and there is how it really is, and those two things are far apart in this episode.

Pete, Sal, Peggy and Freddy get ready for the Samsonite pitch and Freddy does a great job with his part, until he manages to wet himself and then passes out drunk at his desk.  We'd been foretold about Freddy's drinking, and thought him a funny guy (with his musical zipper) but this was shocking and sad.  It's all fun and games until you pee your pants.

The three cover for him and the pitch actually goes well in his absence (they love Peggy), but Pete is not about to let this go.  Pete is the kid who reminded the teacher when they forgot to assign homework, so you know he's going to go blab about this, violating the bro code.  Even though Sterling Cooper is run like fraternity row at Dartmouth, Freddy has violated their unspoken commandment - thou shalt not be an embarrassing, sloppy drunk. Pete runs with the info to Duck and Duck, either because he's dealing with his own alcoholic demons or because he wants to gut Don's department, uses the information to demand Freddy's head. 

Up in Ossining, Betty's riding partner Sarah Beth comes over to borrow a dress and finds Betty still in her nightie, hair a bit disheveled, and Betty still pretty out of it.  But like any good housewife in the 60s, her friend is oblivious and only concerned with her own problems.  And what are they?  Boredom.  She fantasizes over Arthur, the young stud at the stables, and is surprised Betty doesn't.  But then she doesn't have to.  "Don's perfect."  Betty didn't even roll her eyes at that, it would take too much energy.

Betty has kicked Don out of the house, but communication was never their strong suit so he takes her words to mean he should stay away entirely and that only confuses the kids.  Sally even called his office to find out when he'd be home and Jane, in a confused panic, said "Wednesday" before realizing she should have said nothing.  So Don picks the kids up and spends time with them so they're none the wiser, though hearing him promise "Salamander" he'll be back before she knows it is heartbreaking.  Betty gets a good look at the real Don when he comes up with a perfect lie on the spot that they can tell the kids - she still has no idea just how good Don is at lying. 

The locked, private drawer in Don's office comes into play as Betty is seen trying to jimmy it before noisily dropping the screwdriver and drawing Carla's attention.  Poor Carla.  She tries to be helpful and supportive but is just shut down.  Betty shows such fondness for her mother's housekeeper, yet seems pretty hostile (jealous??) towards her own.  Carla tries to give her sage advice as a married woman, but Betty doesn't want to hear it.  The only help she wants is in getting to the bottom of all of her husband's lies.

Don is told about Freddy's unfortunate accident but does not react the way Pete, Duck or Roger expected.  They realize Freddy broke an unspoken code.  They can all drink themselves into an early grave, but they can't do anything that makes them or the firm look bad.  And Freddy crossed that line. But Don likes Freddy and doesn't want to see him thrown away like that.  Still, when Roger praises Don for his loyalty to Freddy it's hard not to wonder why he can't be as loyal to his wife and kids.

Betty proves to be fairly manipulative and diabolical, setting her "friend" Sarah Beth up for an affair with Arthur.  Betty is taking misery loves company to a whole new height.  She manipulates those two for her own pleasure and it's a really ugly side of her.  If she can't have the perfect marriage with no infidelity, then no one can. 

There's more misery at the dinner when Roger and Don have to tell Freddy that he's taking a "six month leave" which everyone knows means he's getting fired.  Freddy puts up a weak fight, but there's nothing much for him to do.  At least Roger and Don seem troubled by having to fire him, but Freddy is such a sad, lost puppy (maybe he can meet up with Chauncey?).  It is a sobering (pardon the pun) side of alcoholism, that you can be the funny, life of the party, that everyone jokes about, and then you become the pathetic loser that everyone makes fun of.

So Don is separated from his wife and kids, he just had to fire a guy he really likes (because of another guy he regrets hiring) and he's been drinking. A lot.  Roger tries to talk to him, man-to-man, but Don doesn't engage.  He doesn't want to talk about his private life (huge surprise).  He's fully cocked to the pissed off position and he needs only to hear Jimmy Barrett's voice to send him over the edge. He punches the "comic" in the face and then leaves to go drown his sorrows with Roger.

Roger finally gets Don to open up a bit.  He admits there's trouble in paradise and Ken and Barbie are having marital trouble.  But instead of the discussion being about Don's infidelity and Betty's knowledge, Roger is actually having a completely different conversation in his mind.  He's apparently fallen in love with Don's secretary but feels that she's the unattainable prize that his marriage to Mona is denying him.  But the combination of alcohol, desire and magical thinking leaves him taking away from his "it's your life" conversation with Don that it is his god-given right to leave his wife to pursue Jane.

Freddy's ouster makes room for Peggy to move up and while she doesn't want her ascension to be at her mentor's expense, Pete is right that she should be proud of herself. She achieved this promotion because of her talent, not because Freddy pissed himself. Regardless, she feels a connection with Freddy and this is bittersweet.  It's also, sadly, a realistic portrayal of office politics.


The main event occurring at the office is the annual blood drive and it brings out the competitive streak in the men.  While Don talks about its humanitarian benefit - doing something good for mankind - he also tries to figure out ways his department can win and get the press that comes with it. 

I love Sal's subtle reaction to Freddy handing him a very full glass of alcohol.  If that's the norm for Freddy, no wonder he's about to lose his job.

Joan had told Roger in Ep. 1.06 Babylon that he would one day leave her for a younger woman and she was right.  Only, he didn't leave her (she did get engaged in Ep. 2.05), he just never tried to move their relationship to the next level.

Repeated iterations of "There's no reason to talk about it" - the recurrent theme that some things are best put in the past and forgotten.

The bag where Jane picked up some extra shirts for Don is from Menken's.  Karmic?

The pseudonym Don gives to the bouncer - Tilden Katz - is the name of Rachel Menken's new husband.  Don has Rachel on the brain.

When Roger sends Freddy to the cab he tells Don to send him to McCann.  This firm is constantly used as a foil to Sterling Cooper.

Don doesn't realize how he is giving Roger permission to leave his wife for Jane.  He thinks he's the subject of the drunk conversation at the bar, but it's really Roger who's wondering why he can't pursue what he really wants and why being married means you can't chase happiness.  When Mona comes and chews him out it's too late.  Roger has made his decision and Don is angry, he never intended to be part of that. 

The Draper advice for all situations - don't look back, move forward - is in direct contrast to the wonderful carousel he spoke about in Ep. 1.13 that went forward and backward, around and around, to a place where we feel loved.  This new advice encourages not taking responsibility and not being accountable.  If you never look back, you never have to face those you hurt in the past.


Don (to Ken): There'll be women fainting. I'd think you'd like that.

Roger (to the reclining Joan):  Many's the time I've dreamed of finding you like this.

Joan: This world destroyed her.
Roger:  Really? She was a movie star who had everything and everybody, and she threw it away.  But, hey, if you want to be sad.
Joan:  One day you'll lose someone who's important to you.  You'll see.  It's very painful.

Don:  Bets, what do you want? Listen, if your mind's made up, I'm not going to talk you into it.
Betty:  I thought you can talk anyone into anything.

Carla:  Splash cold water on your face and go outside.  You'll notice things are right where you left them.

Don: I don't think it's in my contract that Duck can fire someone in my department.
Roger: You don't have a contract, and I can fire anyone I want to.

Roger:  Your loyalty is starting to become a liability.

Don:  Freddie had a bad day. Can't you find something else to do besides dining on the drama of other people's lives like a bunch of teenage girls?
Paul:  Sorry, Don.  It's funny.
Don:  Sure. It's just a man's name, right?

Roger: There's a line, Freddie, and you wet it.
Freddy: You see? We're laughing about it.

Roger:  All I'm going to say is do you want to be right, or do you want to be married? I know marriage isn't a natural state, but you do it.

Roger (to Don):  You're so secretive.

Freddy: What am I going to do?
Don: It's not an ending. It's a fresh start.
Freddy:  If I don't go into that office every day, who am I?

Don: That was a real Archibald Whitman maneuver.
Roger: Who's that?
Don: This hothead drunk I used to know.

Don: I don't feel bad at all.  I mean, sometimes.  Mostly, I'm just relieved.
Roger:  Really? Do you fall in love?
Don:  That would be easier.  Then I'd know what to do.

Don:  It's your life.  You don't know how long it's going to be, but you know it's got a bad ending.
You have to move forward.  As soon as you figure out what that is.

Don (to Peggy):  Don't feel bad about being good at your job.

Lack of subtlety: 
Hollis saying, "Some people just hide in plain sight."

Suicide count:
Don saying, of Marilyn Monroe, "Suicide is disturbing."

Oh how quaint things were back then:
Yes, that is how we used to defrost freezers.  You people have no idea how we suffered in the old days.

Literary references:
Betty is reading Ship of Fools which came out in 1962 and dealt with a disparate cast of characters on a trip seeking happiness and fulfillment but ultimately finding it all an illusion.  It was named after a Platonic allegory about oblivious passengers on a voyage to nowhere and mirrored the world's (oblivious journey) turning a blind eye toward the Holocaust.


This is one of the most called-back episodes.  At the end of Season 6, Don, like Freddy here, is a drunk liability to Sterling Cooper and is given a "leave of absence" that the man is supposed to recognize as the boot.  Unlike Freddy, however, Don ignores what the partners really meant and continues to think that he'll be coming back to work as Season 7 starts.  We discover then that Don is still working, in a fashion, by using none other than Freddy Rumsen to act as his Cyrano.  The support and kindness that Don showed Freddy here will come back around as Freddy tells him to "do the work" and gets Don back on path.

The line Freddy says just before he leaves - "If I don't go into that office every day, who am I?"- sums up Don at the beginning of Season 7.  Without Sterling Cooper to go to, who is he?  Don may be courted by other firms, but for some reason he is no one if he's not at that office.  He needs it so badly he agrees to ridiculous terms of rehiring, working under Lou, taking orders from Peggy, no longer being the cock of the walk.

Freddy does "go for the cure" as Roger suggests, joins AA and gets his drinking, and life, mostly back together, though he stays a freelancer, possibly forever tainted by his reputation at SC. Peggy remains loyal to Freddy who she believes was instrumental in giving her a start in the business.  In Ep. 4.02 he comes back with a new clients, Ponds Cold Cream, and he and Peggy butt heads about creative approaches.

Betty does not yet act upon her desire for another man, instead using her friend as a stand in with the young stud at the stables.  But soon she will take that next step.

Roger mentions that one of the top ad agencies, BBDO, just hired "a colored kid."  That is the first time racial integration of the big firms has come up and it will be a bigger issue in seasons to come ("backfiring" for SC when their pro-equality ad is taken literally, leading them to hiring their first black employee Dawn in Season 5).

Don's smokers cough is a misdirection as someone will develop lung cancer by the end of the series but it won't be him.

Don mentions his father, without letting Roger know that's who he's talking about. 


  1. Thanks for doing these recaps.
    Enjoying your different perspective of the show.
    When are u planning on posting the next episodes

  2. They each take a few days and I just started 2.10 yesterday! Thanks for the kind words!