14
Aug
2010
Mad Men: Season 4, Episode 4
The Rejected
Jordan
Mad Men is an ensemble, which means that not every character can get their fair shake in a given week. Some characters disappear for weeks at a time, only to return in full form and contribute to the overall story arc. "The Rejected" may not have featured Betty, Sally, or Bobby (fuck you, New Bobby), but it did give Pete center stage for the first time this season, gave a fair shake to most of the central cast, and even featured the long awaited return of Ken Cosgrove.

First off, Pete is still a son of a bitch, and was in full form tonight when he was required to tell his father-in-law that SCDP would have to drop the Clearasil account in favor of the conflicting, and more lucrative Pond's account. Pete kn ew that the account had been given to him as a favor, and was reluctant to tell Tom that he would no longer be able to work on it, yet he was able to forestall the revelation when Tom accidentally spilled the news that Trudy is pregnant and the two got drunk together instead. It seemed likely that Pete's cowardly side would remain in the center of tonight's episode when Pete asked Trudy to break the news to her father, but then, last second, his truly dickish side sprang forth when he used his father-in-laws guilt to more or less extort the rest of Tom's company's business to replace the Clearasil account. Tom knew he was beaten, and it was over quickly, with him simply calling Pete a son of a bitch. Pete, knowing exactly what he was doing, and not caring, shrugged.

The first three seasons of Mad Men framed Pete Campbell as little more than a petulant, entitled child. He knew what he wanted, and would do anything to get it, but just as importantly, he would pout and whine and scheme for revenge if he did not get what he was entitled to. Tonight, we got one of the first glimpses of a world in which Pete gets exactly what he wants: he gets to land the big account for his firm, and the ngo home to his beautiful, pregnant wife. Sure he has robbed his father-in-law of his dignity in the process, but that hardly matters to Pete, who doesn't realize that getting what he wants often comes at the expense of another's happiness. His lunch with Cosgrove (who nicely dovetails with the episode's title, seeing as he was "rejected" when the new firm was formed) is a perfect example of this, as Ken calls him on all of his gossip and schemes, and then makes the perfectly sardonic comment that goes right over Pete's head when he says, "Another Campbell. That's just what the world needs." Pete thinks he wants to be a father, but he may soon come to realize he is nowhere near prepared for the responsiblities that lie ahead. Failing that, he may be setting himself up to destroy yet another life in pursuit of his dying dreams: that of his unborn child.

Meanwhile, Peggy made a new friend in Joyce, a photographer for Life magazine who took an immediate interest in Peggy and asked her to a party. Peggy's ability to at least project self confidence, in spite of the fact that she is still internally conflicted about her role in life, has been a central part of this season so far, and tonight she blithely accepts a few tokes of weed from Joyce and just as smoothly rejects her sexual advances. She also confidently offers work to David, a photographer she meets at the party, and is only slightly taken aback when he looks down his nose at her soulless industry. When her newfound freinds discover Peggy is a copy-writer with no grander artistic ambitions, they raise the valid question of whether she is just going to use her experiences with them as fodder for more inspired advertising.

These two storylines came together perfectly in the moments at the episode's end when Peggy learned that Trudy was pregnant. Having previously carried Pete's child to term and, in her own words, given his baby away, the revelation that Pete will find the bliss of fatherhood with his wife clearly pains Peggy. The title of any given episode of Mad Men is of central importance, and "The Rejected"paints both Pete and Peggy equally. At first, Pete rejected Peggy in favor of marrying Trudy, and later, Peggy rejected Pete when he admitted he loved her. Tonight we also saw Tom's offer to help Pete get a bigger apartment curtly rejected, and Alison's attempts to make a kind of peace with Don rejected (though we'll get to the latter in a moment), and near the episode's end, the key shot arrives as Pete stands with his new clients inside the office, and Peggy gathers with her new friends outside of it. In that moment, it seems that Peggy is rejected, but upon further reflection, it is clear that Peggy's new friends will be more influential to the way the rest of the decade plays out in advertising than Pete's clients will (this is also a point Don makes to Dr. Miller, which again, we'll get to in a moment). And I doubt it is a coincidence that as Peggy and Pete stare at each other through the glass, the name Draper is the only thing visible in between them.

This brings us perfectly to the little tragedy that Don plays out over the course of the episode, as he rejects Alison one last time, only to feel rejected himself. Unfortunately for Don, unlike Alison, he has no way to vent his frusteration while maintaining his pride. Their subplot tonight is centered around Dr. Miller's focus group for Pond's Cold Cream, which reveals Alison's lingering resentment and also shows Don's desperation to get past his embarassing indiscretion. He deals with the Alison situation poorly, accepting her resignation but telling her to write her own letter of recommendation for his signature, showing her yet again how little she has meant to him. She gets a final dig in as she walks out of his office for the last time, telling him that, "I don't say this easily, but you're not a good person." Don knows she is right, and begins to write a letter of apology to her that night, but stops himself--some things are too far gone to be saved with a simple mea culpa. Yet Don's regret is still tinged with his standard existential hope, as is evident when he battles Dr. Miller's suggestion that the Pond's account follow Freddie's guide and sell itself by suggesting that all women want to find a husband. Don retorts, in an expression of his own hope that he might become a better person, "You can't tell how people are going to behave just from how they have behaved."

Don knows that he has made a grave mistake in his dalliance with Alison, yet he still believes in his ability to form a more perfect version of himself in the future, and, as always, he refuses to be weighed down for too long by actions in his past. In the episode's final shot, Don walks alone down the hall way to his apartment, witnessing an elderly couple as the wife rejects her husbands question about pears with a curt, "we'll discuss it inside." More than anyone else tonight, Don Draper, walking into his apartment alone, dejected, and knowing he has done wrong, feels rejected by the world he wants to be a part of. Whether he can truly change and leave the mistakes of the past behind him is a matter to be seen, but in tonight's closing moments, there is a hint that Don himself may doubt the words he holds closest to his heart, and may be slowly realizing that his actions define him more fully than he has previously admitted.

Grade: A

Notes:

-If this review feels a little rambly, blame it on the fact that I'm on pain medication after having my wisdom teeth removed. I should be back in top form by next week.

-This episode was directed by John Slattery. Just add that fact to the list of reasons I love him.

-"Lee, the jockey smokes the cigarette."

-Nice touch that I neglected to get into above: Pete drops Clearasil, a product used by teenagers, for Pond's Cold Cream, which fights aging, tonight. Fits perfectly with his own character arc throughout the episode.

-"My father-in-law is a bus driver. The only place he can take me is to the moon."-Harry, with a Honeymooner's reference.

-"You look swelligant." I like Joyce.

-"I have a boyfriend." "He doesn't own your vagina!" "No, but he's renting it."

-Another nice touch I neglected to mention above: Don, torn this season more than ever between the past and the future, loses his bright, young secretary to a positio nthat promises her a better future, and gains in her stead Mrs. Blankenship, a clear relic of the past. Never let it be said that Mad Men lacks subtle symbolic details.
Tags: Mad Men
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