Mad Men: “Out of Town”

madmens03e01If season two of Mad Men was about long-term bonds and understandings coming to an end, this season looks to be the chaotic aftermath of that. Under conditions of extreme pressure and energy, novel forms blink into and out of existence, quantum states superimpose, and out of the soup new structures crystallize. This is true of societies and communities in the macro world as much as it is true of particles in the subatomic world. Don is doting husband and father/seducer. Joan is counting down the days till she’s gone/manipulating the office with her usual aplomb. The Brits are in charge/are hopelessly out of their league.

First, let’s get the big mystery out of the way…based on the way Betty’s belly looks I’d say we’ve jumped forward about eight months from the end of season two. Enough time for Don and Betty to have come to yet another in their long string of accommodations, for things at Sterling-Cooper to still be in flux, for Harry ((!)) to be much more important, and for Bert to have acquired a lovely piece of tentacle porn to keep his Rothko company. But just little enough time that we can watch as the new world order begins to emerge.

I will assume Don’s visions in the opening segment were a reflection of his anxiety over being a father again. Notions of belonging, family, parentage, and especially fatherhood are constantly aswirl within him. We’ve seen facets of this confusion before – his fear of being recognized as Dick Whitman and the time he told Bobby how he had been treated by his father in trying to explain he would never treat his own son that way are the two that come immediately to mind – and this scene shows us they are at the forefront of his mind. At least when he’s at home.

Because Don is a man of as many aspects as of suits. The inner strife that roils beneath the surface at home disappears the moment he removes himself from the heat. Each facet of his life seems to get its own, segregated psyche. He is always living in the moment with little comprehension of the consequences of his actions from one realm to another. Don is a master of compartmentalization.

More than Sal, anyway. Poor Sal. The guy can’t cut a break. A man in uniform takes all the pressure off him and…fire alarm. Which interruption is the problem with poor Sal, he who has a burning fire within that can’t be quenched and he won’t let burn free.

As I see it, the episode’s title refers less to the short trip to Baltimore than it does to the Brits out of water. They’re trying to establish control over Sterling-Cooper from afar with a small colonizing force, but simply fail to understand the reality of the situation. Pitting Pete and Ken against each other will only go so far; pushing everyone around with the gracelessness of a dying empire will eventually fail. Note how easily Joan maneuvers Moneypenny into a visitors’ office, knowing full well he’ll be pushed outside to the secretary’s desk once Lane Pryce sees him there. She understands how things work at Sterling-Cooper, and how things work in America. The Brits don’t ((Not yet, at least.))

Unlike Joan (and one suspects, Don,) most of the American staff are in thrall to the romanticism the Brits represent. Hence Bert’s insistence that the fog of London must exist, and barring that, that the name is still apropos. See also the secretaries swooning over Moneypenny’s accent. It will be the clear thinking of Joan and others like her that will keep the essential character of Sterling-Cooper; otherwise, the rebirth we witness this year will be massive in its scope.

One other point about the Americans vs. the Brits: have we ever seen a bald man at Sterling-Cooper before? A bald man in advertising at all? There have been almost no bald men on the show in its two-year run. But tonight we have a loud, brash, ballsy and bald American who speaks truth to power as he’s being forced out the door. A man who rightfully is upset by the manner in which his new corporate masters are rigging the system. A man who, I propose, is Matt Weiner’s avatar. His time at AMC has been (as far as we can tell, and barring the contract dispute last year) relatively calm but he’s been in the business long enough to have had his share of empty suits get in his way. Maybe I’m reaching. You decide.

On the Draper homefront, Betty is completing the distancing from both her children. Bobby’s the little liar and now Sally is (she jokes) the little lesbian. As they remain close to Don, closer than in the past with his softened demeanor, it seems, Betty will be focusing more of her attention on the baby she carries. Assuming no birthing catastrophes befall her, this can only lead to her further infantilization as she spends all of her time and emotional capital on her baby, ignoring her two older children.

Finally: Pete. Oy. He got the inferior client list ((What hapened with Utz that caused Ken to lose them? Am I forgetting something from last season involving Ken, or is this a missing puzzle piece?)) and has the inferiority complex. Instead of accepting the situation as it is and doing his best to make it work – the approach Ken seems anxious to take – Pete wants to bitch and moan about it. His self-righteous sense of entitlement makes this a difficult pill to swallow. Add to that his constant sense of inferiority to Ken and he is practically choking in the gall. Ken is more confident. Ken is better looking. Ken is taller. Ken is a better writer. Ken is, Ken is, Ken is.

All in all, a great start to the season.

What did everyone else think?