The second season draws to a close with a literal bookend from the debut episode, as the book "Meditations in an Emergency" comes back into play as the title for this episode. That book, which the young diner patron thought would mean nothing to Don Draper, was his muse all season long. The theme of the book's eponymous poem reflects Don's personal crisis. He struggled with his identity not just as Don Draper ad man, but Don Draper father and husband. Lost and unmoored, he traveled cross country to find himself as he sought comfort in the only person who knows the real person behind the facade.
Emergencies of one form or another proliferate in this episode. Throughout the U.S., a crisis of another sort is brewing as the discovery of Soviet missiles sitting right off our border, in Cuba, has the Cold War era country on red alert. On a far smaller scale, Betty struggles with the discovery that she is pregnant with her estranged husband's baby. Her own ticking time bomb is growing inside of her as she contemplates the future, her future with a man she doesn't trust and doesn't really know.
While crises abound, the middle level employees at Sterling Cooper are abuzz with rumors and gossip. The higher ups are asking for revenue figures (we know they're doing that because of a planned merger, but they don't know that) and Harry, Ted, Paul and Peggy wonder if it's at all related to Don's unexplained extension of his West Coast trip. While others wait to hear what the President will say about the missiles in Cuba, our favorite pragmatist Harry worries that it will upset tonight's TV schedule. You gotta love Harry. Peggy tells Pete he better fess up about losing the Clearasil account - sooner rather than later - and you hope he appreciates her candor and her tact.
Betty deals with the news of her pregnancy passive-aggressively by going horseback riding against her doctor's wishes. She is surprised to find Don there, at the stables, watching her ride. He comes literally and figuratively hat in hand, contrite, desperate to have his old life back. He apologizes without revealing too much, enough to let Betty know that "she's not crazy" and he has been a cad, not enough to really let her know the true extent of his deceitfulness. But Betty is emboldened and not willing to let a little thing like the child growing inside her make her run back into Don's arms.
Back at the office, Pete has his own crisis to deal with - telling Duck Phillips (who's his de facto boss while Don is MIA) that he lost the Clearasil account. There is no good way to spin losing a client who is also your father-in-law, but Pete needn't have worried because Duck's mind is elsewhere. He is planning on a coup and if things go as he plans, Sterling Cooper will be taken over by the London-based Putnam Powell and Lowe. That agency had a client in conflict with Clearasil, so they would have had to cut Pete's client loose anyway.
Duck offers Pete his position as Head of Accounts and tells Pete that he will be President of the new PPL-owned Sterling Cooper after the merger. Pete is pleased, yet wary. He asks if Don is on board with his promotion and Duck lets it be known that Don wasn't consulted and isn't part of any of this. But, Duck tells him, Don will have to go along as he doesn't have a choice. "That's why they put noncompete clauses in employment contracts." To Pete's credit, he walks out looking dubious, as if he sensed that something didn't feel right about what he'd just heard. Trust those instincts, Pete.
Don comes back to work and things have changed. He notes Peggy's new office, right next to his (and he notices her new haircut). The office is unsettled by the presidents speech the night before about the looming confrontation in Cuba, not realizing that big changes are on the horizon for them wholly apart from the international crisis. Joan catches Don up on what he's missed and he drops a little dig at Duck's expense that further pits the two of them in the US v. Russia position with Sterling Cooper as their Cuba.
Pete comes into Don's office still angry at having been abandoned in California, but Don turns it around, spinning it so that his ditching Pete was "a test" that Pete passed with flying colors. Note how rod straight Pete stands, getting the approval from Don for a job well done. It's really sad how needy Pete is for that parental approval and while he got a taste of it from Duck, it's always been Don whose approval has meant the most to him.
Don goes to see Roger who fills him in on the latest, Roger's engaged and the firm's been sold. The latter fact equates to $500,000 more in Don's pockets. Don is suspicious when he learns how the deal came together, with Duck supposedly running into them at a bar (as the supposedly sober Duck should not have been hanging out in a bar), but Roger is too happy with his huge payday to question how it happened.
The Greek chorus of Harry, Paul, Ken and Sal know something's brewing at Sterling Cooper and they ask Lois if she has heard anything. And has she! She gives them the complete scoop about the merger with PPL, even down to the fact that there will be certain "redundancies" - i.e., time to update your resume.
Betty drops the kids off at Don's hotel and them goes aimlessly window shopping, where we see her staring at bedecked mannequins. She then goes to a bar (with some small bags, so she might have done some actual shopping) and she sits down and is immediately bought a drink by a young Don Draper lookalike. She's in pretty deep denial about her pregnancy (she discussed back at the hair salon with Francine perhaps getting an abortion). So it's not a surprise to see her there acting like a single woman, not a married mother of two with another on the way. She flirts with the man who bought her a drink, then rejects him, then flirts some more, kissing him by the bathroom. Its reminiscent of how she flirted with the guy who helped her when her car broke down (Ep. 2.01), but this time she goes much further.
It's such a startling contrast. Don in the hotel, munching hamburgers and fries with the kids, Betty, legs wrapped around some stranger on a coach in a bar bathroom. Role reversal, he's the dutiful parent, she's the errant spouse. Well, one good thing to come from her dalliance. Betty got her appetite back.
Everyone is still in a panic about the missiles in Cuba and what that means for the country's safety. Everyone but Harry, who is more concerned about the upcoming merger announcement. Pete is not worried, he already has the inside information from Duck about what's going to happen and what it will mean for him. He decides to go to Don with what he knows. Remember back to when Bert Cooper told Don to keep Pete around and that the loyalty he built might come back to help him some day? That bit of advice is finally paying off.
Pete gives Don a bit of news. "We stopped a ship today. I bet the Russians will reconsider now that we've made a stand." The metaphor is not lost on Don. In the meeting with PPL, Don makes his stand. The company that Duck describes is not one he will be working at. Duck thought he had the upper hand, until he finds out that Don was not under contract at Sterling Cooper and is free to leave at will.
With everything seemingly going his way, Pete decides to go after one more thing that he wants - Peggy. He professes his love, but it's way too late. While he and Trudy were dealing with infertility and adoption issues, he learns finally that he fathered a child with Peggy that she gave up. Peggy will not be the answer to his marital discord. She paints a picture for him in painful detail. She chose not to have a life with him, she chose to give away what they had created together. She didn't want to have a future with him and she accepts that it will never be. Pete is devastated when he discovers all that he lost and can never have.
But while Pete reels from this blow, there might be a chance for Don to regain what he lost. The letter he wrote Betty while he was in the hotel with the kids may have struck a nerve. Or she may feel she has no choice but to try and make things work. Or with the end of the world looming, she is grasping on to whatever she has for safety. Whatever her motivation, she asks Don to come home. And she tells him about the baby. He holds out his hand and she takes it and as the camera pulls back the two sit in silence.
Season 2 ends on a cliff hanger. Will Don and Betty come back together now that there's a new baby in the picture, what will be the future of Sterling Cooper now that Don has walked out and Duck taken over? What kind of a relationship can Pete and Peggy have in the future with this knowledge existing between them. The threat of nuclear annihilation may have lifted, but the nuclear family is still under attack.
Oh how times have changed:
Betty drinking and smoking while pregnant would be a criminal act today, while she could much more easily get an abortion if that's what she decided on.
Don: The world continues without us. No need to take it personally.
Betty: I'm pregnant.
Pete: If I'm going to die, I want to die in Manhattan.
Harry: The loyalists are hung and you don't want to get caught in the fallout.
Paul: What's wrong with you? Aren't you loyal to anyone?
Don: Without you, I'll be alone forever.
Duck: It'll take a second to find a kid who can write a prose poem to a potato chip.
Saint John: He never could hold his liquor.
Peggy: I could have had you in my life forever if I wanted to.
Peggy: Well, one day you're there, and then all of a sudden, there's less of you, and you wonder where that part went, if it's living somewhere outside of you, and you keep thinking maybe you'll get it back, and then you realize it's just gone."
SPOILER-Y OBSERVATIONS (Don't read until you're caught up):
After Lois told the guys what she'd heard, she asked that if any of them survived the merger, to get her off the switchboard and back on a desk as their secretary. She became Paul's secretary. But her most memorable moment was atop the John Deere when she accidentally ran over the foot of Lane Price's replacement, setting the stage for the later creation of SCDP. While Lois was fired off of her last desk job for incompetence, her incompetence on the tractor ultimately saved the day.
It has been noted, but I think it has to be a coincidence, that the mannequin on the left that Betty is looking at in the store window bears a striking resemblance to Don's next wife, Megan.
Pete is seen holding the rifle he bought with the money from the returned chip and dip, and seven seasons in Chekhov's rifle remains unfired, a symbol of Pete's efforts to reestablish his manhood whenever it comes under attack, but nothing more.
Clearasil comes back to Sterling Cooper years later, after its merger with Cutler, Gleason and Chaough.
Duck's repeated attempts to beat Don and come out on top are never successful, but he comes awfully close down the line. The sight of him exiting the elevator at the end of Season 6 with Don's replacement as Don hops in "going down" is etched in my memory.