As usual, massive spoilers.
Though it’s worth noting that this was one of those TV episodes that spoils itself, by showing the end result and then following everyone to see how they got there. I’m just saying. I also have to add that the title of this post is from a tweet I wrote last night. But it’s originally from a joke on “30 Rock”. It’s one of my favorite Jack Donaghy pearls of wisdoms, and I thought, as I watched the episode, that if Don had only watched “30 Rock”, then none of this would have ever happened.
From the beginning of this episode, titled “Seven Twenty Three”, we know that it’s going to be about following three characters around on their largely separate journeys, so I figured I’d just break this into three parts.
Don vs. the hippies
As usual, Don is the person who has these fleeting encounters with the sorts of people that were emerging in the era as an alternative to the house-and-kids-in-the-suburbs thing. Don’s run with beatniks, partied with career girl stewardesses, and contemplated running away with Eurotrash jet setters. And in this episode, he deals with two strands of the emerging hippie culture, which I will deem the flower children and the fuck-it-all types. The school teacher is subtly characterized, but she definitely seems to be a modern sort of girl who is very liberal and openly objects to conformity to Don’s face. She’s also ambivalent towards him, which is fitting, since those kind of hippie types were and are ambivalent about mainstream culture. The Beatles, for instance: both hippie counterculture and selling so many records that Don wishes he was their publicist. The other kind of hippies would be charitably described as the people who felt that America had abandoned them, and so they weren’t really going to care anymore. With the Polanski arrest, the Manson family murders are on people’s minds right now, and that certainly colored the way the mugging Don experiences played in my mind. It probably seemed more ominous than it was supposed to. One thing’s for certain: The symbolism of ol’ mainstream Don Draper getting hit upside the head by a hippie that he was chuckling at just moments before was hard to miss.
All of this made Don signing the contract seem even scarier. Betty pushes him to do it, arguing that three years isn’t that long a time, and under some circumstances, that may be true, but what Betty doesn’t realize is she’s living in the 60s. When Don puts his John Hancock on that contract, the Beatles hadn’t even been on Ed Sullivan yet; when the contract runs out, it’s about a month before their album Revolver—which is full of LSD-laced hippie weirdness—comes out. In the next three years, there will be the Kennedy assassination, the beginnings of the resentful right wing that started with the Goldwater run, the deep shit digging into Vietnam, and more hippies, hippies, hippies. A lot actually can change in three years.
And one of those things is the employer/employee relationship. We’re beginning to see the corporate revolt against the idea that employees should be treated like people, and the subsequent culture of constant job changing that we live with now. Up until now, Sterling Cooper was following the older social contract, where companies invested in people in exchange for hard work and loyalty. But now, Don’s seeing that this isn’t enough. They’re going to extract more from you than your work for a paycheck; they’re going to start to infringe on your freedom. And while Don is getting richer every step of the way, for most of America, the shift in the balance of power meant calcifying or declining wages, less freedom and more invasion of your privacy by your employer, the explosion of the service industry that undermined labor’s power, and the increase in part-time working. This is the end of the career man, the guy who took a job with a single company and stayed with them until he retired. Which leads us to…..
Peggy and why having sex with ducks is wrong
Let’s all say it at once: Ewwwwwwww.
Okay, now that’s out of the way, the question remains: Will Peggy allow Duck to seduce her away from Sterling Cooper the way he seduced her into bed? The fact that this is Duck should be enough to send Peggy running for the hills, and even though Pete has a lot of animosity towards her, he wasn’t fucking with her when he warned her away from Duck. And I think she’d be thinking more clearly if Don hadn’t screamed at her. She has a knack for coming in and asking him for stuff after his own bosses have pissed him off by pushing him around.
That said, I want to give a shout out to the writers of “Mad Men” for exposing how much it’s bullshit to blame women’s lower pay scales on the fact that Women Don’t Ask For More. You hear and see this all the time, and there’s a lot of truth to the fact that women don’t ask for more, and that scene where Don screams at Peggy explains exactly why. It’s still discrimination, even if the bosses don’t have to actively discriminate because their female employees don’t even bother to push, because they know there will be repercussions. And Don just up and said what a lot of women still suspect male bosses are thinking to this very day: How dare you ask for more, when you’re already doing better than a lot of men out there? No one says the reverse. Bert Cooper didn’t say to Don, “Sign the contract, because a lot of full grown women would love to have your job.” It doesn’t work that way, and that alone goes a long way to explaining the pay gap. That said, the two situations are parallel. Both Don and Peggy were put in their place by having their status as interlopers invoked—Peggy because she’s female, Don because he grew up in poverty and doesn’t have a college education.
The other great thing this episode did subtly was show that Peggy, like Don used to be, is way overworked compared to her colleagues. This has been nodded to before, but I really liked how Peggy was the only person who didn’t find out about Conrad Hilton, because she was in her office working away. She’s always in her office working away, just like Don in the first season was always bringing work home and putting in extra hours at the office (though some times that’s a cover for his affairs). She has to be twice as good to get half as far. Which makes her even more open to Duck’s sales pitch. Even the fact that they specifically want a woman is appealing; how nice it must be to believe that your handicap suddenly becomes an asset.
Betty fondles herself on a piece of ugly ass furniture
It’s nice to see old Betty come back to life a little, even if the only reason seems to be that someone was flirting with her. But Betty’s been so dull and sad and angry lately that it’s hard to remember that old Betty was someone who was charming and well-educated. It was nice to see her take pleasure in mentioning things about herself to Henry Francis that she’s given up thinking anyone could give a shit about: that she majored in anthropology, that she went to Bryn Mawr, that she wasn’t always a housewife stuck in the suburbs, and that she really didn’t want to move to the suburbs from Manhattan. (Which makes one wonder how it was that they moved there; why not just buy an apartment in the city like Pete and Trudy did? Because that offends Don’s just-so sensibilities?) Betty tasted a little bit of politics, and boy did she like it.
I’m glad that Betty is finding a small purpose and relieving her boredom, but I cannot forgive her buying that ginormous fainting couch and ruining her living room with it. That’s just a bad decision, and presumably is a symbol of some of the over-sized bad decisions that were made elsewhere in this episode: sleeping with Duck, letting hippies drug and mug you, not finding some leverage against Sterling Cooper to keep from signing your next three years away, reacting to your husband’s condescending treatment by trying to hang onto him even harder. In the grand scheme of things, an aesthetic travesty like her fainting couch isn’t a big deal. But damn, that was awful.