12
Sep
2010
Mad Men: Season 4, Episode 8
The Summer Man
Jordan
I tend to tread carefully about naming particular favorites. As avid readers of this blog will know, I have yet to pick a favorite movie, and if you asked me the best tv shows of all time, you'd come away with at best a list. So it is no small gesture for me to proclaim, as I continuously do, that Mad Men is the best show on television right now, and proves itself to me week after week. Last week's episode, "The Suitcase" was one of the best hours I have seen in a long time. I prepared myself all week for the fact that this episode was bound to be a let down after the masterpiece the show gave us this week. "The Summer Man" is not as good as "The Suitcase," but the fact that it did not disappoint me as a follow up to that peak is praise enough for its virtues.

Mad Men is a show about people's attempts to hide themselves from the world, and to remake themselves in a more flattering light. In many cases, its characters have become so good at hiding, so adept at repression, that they even begin to fool themselves. Tonight's episode gave us a peak into Don's head in the form of voice over narration, a trick rarely pulled out on the show; yet it did not give us Don's thoughts. Rather, the show gave us a chance to hear what Don writes in the journal he has decided to keep, and in that, gave us the opportunity to get a glimpse of the Don that Don presents to himself, when he thinks no one else is watching. And that Don is alone. And that Don is afraid. And that Don wants to become a better man.

The arc of this season has taken Don to his depths, has shown him losing everything he had left to lose. At one point tonight, Bett's friend Francine tells her "Don has nothing to lose. You have everything." She's trying to console Betty, but in a way Francine is right. As Don states early in the episode, while making a list of things he would like to do, he desires to, "gain a modicum of control over the way I feel." Don is a man who has spent the better part of his adult life forming the perfect picture of suburban success, and creating himself in the image of an ideal man, successful, smart, unavailable, and enigmatic. His divorce from Betty, and everything that has happened to him so far this season, have shattered that picture, and Don, after mourning the demise of his old fashioned ideals, has decided this week to start picking up the pieces (I think its interesting, by the way, that Don hasn't ordered a single old fashioned this season. Maybe he sees that its gone out of style).

In the first words of the episode, Don proclaims, "They say as soon as you have to cut down on your drinking, you have a drinking problem." He has recognized this problem, and he is trying to cut down on the booze intake. Along with his new found sobriety (he may not be fully abstaining, but at least he isn't sloshed at all this week), Don begins to discard the detritus he has created in the last several months. First, its Bethany, who he sees again tonight, and hopefully for the last time. Don doesn't embarass himself with her this time around, and he's more than willing to accept a blow job in the back of a taxi from her, yet he is dismissive of her, writing, "She's a sweet girl and she wants me to know her. But I already do." The woman he does not know, or at least not as well, is Dr. Miller, who has been a cut above what Don Draper could manage in his emotionally battered, free fall state. Now that he's on his way back up, though, he lands a date with her, and, what's more, knows enough to end things at her door. Bethany might be gone for good, but Don wants to make sure Faye stays around for a little while. "I'm just going to take you to your door," he tells her. "Why is that?" "Because that's as far as I can go right now, and I'm not ready to say goodnight."

As much as I would love to dive into Don's psyche all week every week (and I'll touch on some other excellent lines in the Notes section), I have to mention the other goings on. This was definitely one of Betty's most significant episodes of the season, as we got our first insight since Sally's therapist's office on how Betty is feeling post Don. "He's the only man I'd ever been with," she tells Henry after acting out like a spoiled child upon seeing Don on his date with Bethany. Betty is still the petulant child playing at perfection in the doll house life she has constructed for herself. "We have everything," she tells Henry in the episode's closing words, hearkening back to Francine's consolation, almost as if trying to console herself as she watches Don play with their child, the baby that has symbolized their marriage from the start. Betty's words call back to Francine's advice, sure, but more tellingly they recall a line Don wrote earlier in the episode, when he maligned the fact that, "We're flawed because we want so much more. We're ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had."

That line also plays into Joan's subplot this evening, as she struggles to deal with an office feud in her own way, only to see Peggy handle the situation more proficiently using powers Joan has never had access too. At work Joan bears the burden of endless harassment from the assholes who populate the art department (worst of all is Joey, who Peggy fires in her show of force, and who early in the episode cruelly asks Joan, "what do you do besides walking around here looking like you're trying to get raped?), and speaking of rape, has to go home to her husband, who consoles her only long enough to shut her up and get into her pants. We get to see some of Joans old fashioned fire as she eviscerates the art boys who have insulted and demeaned her, and a bit of her politicking as she edges up to Don and Lane to try and get what she wants but has too much tact and too little actual power to come out and demand. Joan, as Peggy notes, is integral to SCDP, but few people realize her true worth. Because of this, she is forced to try and cajole what she wants out of the powerful men around her, and is understandably furious when she watches Peggy seize the power she desires and weild it herself to take care of the situation. Joan doesn't want anyone defending her, but more than that she realizes the sad fact that, "No matter how important we get around here, they can still just draw a cartoon." Peggy dealt with Joan's harassment in a very modern way (and, in fact, has been behaving in such a modern way all season that I have often heard the writing of her character criticized as anachronistic. I, unsurprisingly, disagree), but Joan knows the sad truth that at that time, and in that place (and still in far too many places today) Peggy's solution wouldn't solve Joan's problems, and nothing else would either. Joan failed to solve her problem not because she wasn's resourceful enough, and not even because she wasn's powerful enough, but because misogyny is a difficult problem to solve, especially when its that deeply ingrained.

"The Summer Man" may not top "The Suitcase" but it gave us a look at Don's standing in the world, and at his renewed attempts to change, shape, and ultimately control that standing, as well as others perceptions of it. We also saw the hint that Betty may not have quite as much as she tells herself, and that Joan is still filled with the deep seated insecurities that have powered her character from day one, forcing her behind masks of seduction, subterfuge and subtle persuasion so that she can avoid admitting that her standing in the office, in her marriage, and in her life, is anything but illusory. Mad Men is the best show currently on television, and I can't wait to see where it takes us next week.

Grade: A-

Notes:

-"The Suitcase" reminded me that I have been giving the "A" away a little too freely so far this season. "The Summer Man" was great, but maybe not good enough to get the "A."

-"Satisfaction" plays early in the episode, demonstrating that we are in the period commonly associated with the '60s. Beyond that, the song has to be one of the best ever written about the emptiness of advertising, and the hollowness that must come along with being an ad man.

-"More and more about Vietnam..I hope its not another Korea." The show's continual references to the war may be a little too "if only they knew!" for some people, but they feel very realistic and well done to me.

-"Will you tell Ray Charles to come in here and clean this up?"

-"You're a saint." "I'm an adult." Amen Henry.

-"People tell you who they are, but we ignore it. Because we want them to be who we want them to be." One of the truest lines ever uttered on this show, and one of the toughest lessons I have learned in life so far. I could probably have written the entire review around that line alone.

-"You need three ingredients for a cocktail. Vodka and Mountain Dew is an emergency."

-"And when you are over there, in the jungle, and they're shooting at you, remember you're not dying for me, because I never liked you." God damn Joan is cold when she wants to be. Her mask has calcified from years of use.

-Don tells Peggy to fire Joey herself, showing increased respect for her. Shades of their development after last week?

-And, because its another stellar line, and a great one to end our examination on for this week, "When a man walks into a room, he brings his whole life with him..."
Tags: Mad Men
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