"That's the way it is. It's every man for himself." That's what Roger (John Slattery) says to Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) when she accuses him of being selfish for putting his desire for recognition before the agency's needs. At least he has the self-awareness and honesty to admit it, which is more than we can say for those behind most of last night's self-seeking initiatives. As series producer/creator Matthew Weiner himself admitted even before the season started, Roger's words not only summed up last night's theme, but the season's on the whole. Every episode pits one person's ambitions against another's, so the natural question is: Who will come out on top?
Betty Vs. Food: An Uphill Battle
Betty (January Jones) is back, and, we have to admit, we actually missed her presence. Not because we identify with her, but amongst characters who share much of the same fears and goals, she stands out as singularly unique in her emotional extremes.
Each season, we've witnessed Betty's attempts to deal with her anxieties, and a great portion of that struggle has always been identifying what exactly drives them. Two therapists, a new husband, and zero iotas of self-progress later, Betty has found a new outlet for her dissatisfaction: food. It's comical (and borderline in poor taste) how many times we get hit with blatant Fat Betty jokes, from Betty funneling whip cream into her mouth after meeting Megan (more on that later) and asking if she can count a bite of steak for the next day, to Don's reference to Betty's "fat nose." And, the most telling of all, Betty's comment about Bobby's drawing of a whale: "I don't know why he's smiling."
Clearly, Betty is grossly uncomfortable in her own skin. While in the past, she's been a woman who, at least on the surface, appeared very much pulled together, she's now forced to live inside a body that reveals just how little self-restraint she has. We see her trying to regain control over her eating habits (and, thus, her emotions), carefully weighing out her food, but she's clearly losing the battle, despite what the scale may attest. When she sees Don (Jon Hamm) and Megan's (Jessica Pare) apartment for the first time, Don's new life, and his new wife, Megan's slim physique, she lashes out in a way that shows just how little control over her emotions she has.
Betty reveals why she had a "bad week" (despite her weight loss) in her Weight Watchers meeting: "I was in an unfamiliar place. I saw felt a lot of things I wish I hadn't." Yet, despite this recognition, she still goes on to take a vindictive route to resolve her emotions after reading a lighthearted love letter (Don actually telling someone where he's gone, how uncharacteristic, we mean, romantic!). Don wrote to Megan, choosing to oust his first marriage to Anna rather than discarding the note (and the negativity).
What's saddest about this is, in seeing just a snippet of conversation between Henry (Christopher Stanley) and Betty over a midnight snack, we see just how much better off she is with him than Don. Henry talks to her frankly about his job, and seems to truly value her opinion. He shares his life with her, which is more than Don ever did, but Betty's discontent is not based in reality, nor is it situational. It's her appetite that's the issue: She can wants a bite of everything, and what's on her plate will never serve to satisfy.
Id Vs. Ego: The Men Of SCDP Struggle With Selfish Desires
Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), too, tussles with the overarching sense of never having enough. He's SCDP's leading account man by a landslide and talented enough to inspire the jealousy of Roger (and this episode, even Burt), yet his fear of becoming insignificant still weighs heavily on him. When he daydreams of Beth (Alexis Bledel) waltzing in wearing only her coat, she seductively purrs: "I forgot you and then I saw you in the New York Times Sunday magazine." It's a sex dream and a nightmare all wrapped up in one, the terror of being forgotten altogether, and the pleasure of being recognized. In a way, this fantasy/fear sums up an overwhelming portion of Pete's motivations in work and love.
Pete seems to lack the self-recognition required to wrangle the affirmation he needs in a healthy way. He displaces his desire onto Beth, failing to realize his inability to be content lies in his inability to be grateful for what he has. Out of all the characters on the show, Pete has the most, but operates in a way that reveals he feels he has the least. His easy jealousy is the greatest symptom of this. When he gets upset the Howard doesn't appreciate his wife, it's not only ironic (Hello, Trudy?), but also evidence of how sadly unaware he is. Howard has more of a handle on the situation, calling the spade (even without seeing Pete's cards): “I guess the grass is always greener.”
Don, meanwhile, is focusing on his own lawn, and realizing his once evergreen well of creativity has all but evaporated when he's looking over past projects to submit to the New York Times piece and realizes his name is not on a single one. Joan (Christina Hendricks, in her one, brief appearance) does what she does best, reassuring Don it's a sign of success in his role as creative director: "Look at all these voices, all this talent," she points out. But Don's ego is not easily appeased, and he decides to literally go back to the drawing board and unearth his long dormant creativity. He leafs through Ginsberg's (Ben Feldman) drawings (in a folder amusingly titled "Shit To Do"), and his competitive instincts are reignited. He comes up with a decent idea for Snowball playing on the phrase "A snowball's chance in hell," and Ginsberg, probably shocked since Don hasn't put out many decent ideas as of late, blurts out, "Wow, that's actually good."
When they leave, a triumphant smile doesn't spread across Don's face, which we would have expected from someone like Pete or Roger. He just closes his eyes with relief. His face seems to say, "Thank god I still have it. I'm surviving. I'm relevant for one more day."
Not about to have his moment in the sun edged out by Ginsberg's (better) idea, Don conveniently leaves Ginsberg's pitch in the taxi. He knows that if his idea and Ginsberg's competed, Ginsberg's would win. Don's devil pitch satisfies the client, and temporarily supplies Don regained confidence in his creative abilities, but Ginsberg's not about to let his tainted moment to shine go unnoticed.
When he calls Don out on his shady move, by saying, "I feel bad for you," Don's response is, coldly, "I don't think about you at all." Which overtly reveals the mode many of Mad Men's characters operate under, an "all about me" mentality that's less about commercial gains for the agency, or even professional gain, and more about finding a way to placate a subconscious, egotistical yearning their personal lives can't satiate.
Or, in Don's case, a desire his personal life provokes. At home, Don is the older man with the younger wife, trying to keep up. He will never regain what Megan has, her passion, her youthful spirit, and most enviously, her inherent knowledge of what's cool. Instead, he's forced to keep up with the kids at work to assuage his out-of-touch apprehensions.
Roger Suffers A Rude, Gut-Checking Awakening
Roger is experiencing much of what Don is, but finding his rival in a different face. After Pete's sniveling declaration that the New York Times reporter was only interested in talking to him, Roger dryly comments that the agency's name is "Sterling Campbell Draper Pryce", replacing Burt's name with Pete's. The jab spurs Burt to put a new account possibility in Roger's hands ("Don't you think we're capable of doing this on our own?") and Roger enlists Ginsberg's talents for the job, partially because he's Jewish and the account is Passover staple spirit Manischewitz. When Ginsberg interrogates his motivations, Roger voices words that could have been uttered by (and true for) anyone in this episode: "When a man hates another man very, very, much sometimes he wants to know something is his. Even if in the end, he has to give it up."
Hate is a strong word; envy is actually more accurate. Roger is more self-aware than the rest of men at SCDP, because he's able to see his motivations for what they are: an attempt to claim a moment of recognition, even if that moment is fleeting, because that moment may never come again.
So Roger coughs up (yet more) cash to get Ginsberg on the case, and even enlists Jane (Peyton List) to play the part of Jewish housewife to seal the deal. The whole affair costs him $200, the price of new apartment for Jane, not to mention a possible new lover in the form of the client's young, flirtatious son. He seems content with the tangible costs, but not the latter, and his jealousy fuels a romp in Jane's new apartment. Jane regrets the christening in the morning, realizing she's allowed Roger to ruin her fresh start. "You get everything you want and you still had to do this," she says, calling Roger out on his selfishness, much like Ginsberg called Don out on his.
For the first time in the episode (and possibly the first time ever for Roger), there's a sincere expression of regret. "You're right. I don't know why I did that. I feel terrible." Roger realizes he's acted with no regard to his ex-wife's needs and is genuinely apologetic, and moreover, admits he doesn't realize what drives his egotistic actions. But as outsiders, we do. Just like Pete's preoccupation with another man's wife, Don's sneaky spotlight stealing, and Betty's attempts to rain on Megan's parade, Roger places himself at the center of the universe, but he's shocked when reminder comes that there's actually more out there than just himself.
Sally Tries To Makes Sense Of It All
Apart from the adult world, but sticking a tentative toe in, is Sally (Kiernan Shipka). Thanks to Betty's overt manipulation of her, she's forced to confront an uncomfortable truth about her father that her naivete incorrectly assesses. Sally proves the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, taking a sardonic tone that sounds straight out of Betty's mouth, cruelly informing Megan, "You're not special, and neither was Anna," adding, "Are you going to make yourself cry?"
Sally misinterprets the situation, assigning blame on Megan and assuming her father's sexual insatiability as the culprit, when in fact that's only glossing the issue. Megan sees Betty's bait for what it is, realizing that she finds satisfaction in "the thrill of having poisoned us from 50 miles away". Betty is the toxic air Megan fears letting in (Weiner's most heavy-handed metaphor yet), a smog capable of polluting the very healthy thing her and Don have going.
Sally may not be a "a little girl" but she still has trouble sussing out adult motivations. She's calls Don out on his secret wife and is emotionally astute enough to peg her as "the woman whose house we went to in California, the one who called you Dick," but doesn't see her mother's meddling for what it is until Don points it out. Armed with another example of how adults play dirty, she delivers her own underhanded blow when Betty inquires about the fruits of her scheming: "Daddy showed me pictures and they spoke very fondly of her." If Mad Men's definition of adult means hiding your true intentions, Sally's well on her way to womanhood.
Other Points Of Interest
- Roger's most politically incorrect jokes are admittedly some of his best. Among his punchlines at the expense of Manischewitz: "They make wine for Jews and now they're making one they want to sell to normal people." And, "How Jewish are they? Fiddler On the Roof—audience or cast?"
- The lines from the Dark Shadows script (as in, the 70's soap opera, not the underwhelming Tim Burton movie), which Megan's friend reads, sound like something any of Don's ex-girls could have said: "Who was she to him? I've heard her name too many times. What can that miserable school-mom offer him that I can't?" Megan's reaction ("She's insane. She needs a drink.") suggests she might fare a little tougher in the face of Don's inevitable future infidelities.
Written by Shanté Cosme (@ShanteCosme)