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Mad Men: Greener Pastures

Last week delivered a new Eugene, a newly turtlenecked Duck, and one long, strange Demerol trip, even as Pete and Peggy were chafing at Sterling Cooper’s limitations. This week, as Weiner and company took the stage at the Emmy Awards, the Brits attack the office — and leave behind a bloody mess.

The Pitch: Mow down the Man!

The Campaign
This season we’ve seen several of Matthew Weiner’s painful teases (Sal’s not quite seven minutes of heaven) and plenty of sick jokes (Don’s crass origin story, Roger’s blackface serenade), but nothing like this: The entire episode is one painful tease punctuated by a single gag so gruesome it could have been an outtake from Shaun of the Dead. With one bold stroke, it rejiggers the entire season.

Just before the Independence Day holiday, Pryce and his unctuous lackey announce that the British brass is flying in, though they say there’s nothing to worry about. So everyone freaks out — except Don, who’s told that he might be in line for a transatlantic promotion, and golden boy Ken, who drives Pete crazy by riding a roaring John Deere mower (and the company’s account) into the office, just in time.

To prepare, everyone cleans house. And so does the show. Don and Roger are ordered to become Lewis & Martin again, so they make peace over a shave and the episode’s second-sickest joke: Roger’s story about his father’s death. The punch line? Dad died not by crashing into a tree, but another car!

Then we get the tragedy everyone but Joan anticipated. Her celebratory dinner goes to waste when the bad doctor comes home late — and drunk — admitting that he’s failed to make surgeon. If he wants to be anything other than a measly doctor, then they’ll have to move to a redneck hinterland like Alabama. (Joan in Alabama? Not seeing it.) His callous disregard for Joan has never been more obvious — he demands, dully, that she find another job when she points out she has already resigned from Sterling Cooper — and Joan is still gracious and comforting. But does she really treat him with much more tenderness than she will soon give to MacKendrick? When Joan tells him her love is “for your heart, and not your hands,” does she mean it?

Meanwhile, at the Draper home, Betty’s in her own cruel world. Who tells their son, “Go bang your head against the wall”? Even more pathetic is her attempt at placating poor Sally — confused and frightened by the apparent reincarnation of grandpa Gene in the form of a namesake baby brother — with a Barbie doll. And the bullshit about the gift coming from the baby himself (apparently, he even wrote his own card!) only brings Sally’s paranoia about Gene haunting her to a fever pitch. Is the infant an excuse for Betty to curl up like a baby herself and escape the adult world — including her role as a mother? Is there any hope for her?

Don gives Sally just the attention she needs. In fact, this may be the very first episode in which he’s entirely admirable and sympathetic. Getting his professional hopes up (and dashed), nurturing Sally, comforting Joan, reconnecting with Roger, and jockeying with Conrad Hilton, Don was at his best. We’ve never liked him more. And because of this, we’re more convinced than ever that he’s going to do something terrible with Miss Farrell.

Back at the office, his firm’s rational ant-farm logic turned against him, the Dickensian-named Pryce is callously transferred to India. Dashing wunderkind Guy MacKendrick presents a reorganization chart with an extra layer of British supervision, essentially demoting everyone in the office except Harry. Roger is left entirely off the chart, consigned to wisecracking irrelevance. Don feels old, upstaged by the new kid.

Then there’s a party! When Joan is wished caviar and children in MacKendrick’s farewell, she cries and says the whole thing’s unnecessary (another tease, since we hope she retracts her resignation). Peggy, still speaking in this season’s precise epigrams, tells Joan, “I don’t want you to think I never listened to you. It’s just that we can’t all be you.” And then: The ditzy secretary drives the John Deere right over Guy MacKendrick’s foot, spraying blood everywhere. Peggy faints; Pete catches her (!). And for what we hope is not the last time, Joan proves why she’s indispensable, bravely setting a tourniquet and saving his life.

Jilted Don, meanwhile, has left the office for his meeting with Conrad Hilton. (By the way — here’s that Time cover.) Called to the hospital by Joan, he discovers that the the Brits intend to cut Guy loose — “He’ll never golf again” — revealing just how cruel and idiotic they truly are. Lane stays, and the re-org is canceled. Nothing changes except the way everyone feels.

The Early Results
Why the reorganization ruse? We wonder if it was decided that the first few episodes were just too messy — motivations cloudy, plotlines and principal characters drifting apart, and office life too removed from the intensifying sixties. We’ve wondered how the anachronistic, buttoned-up Sterling Cooper would reflect the decade’s turmoil; maybe this is Matt Weiner’s strange way of doing it. Mostly, the moves seem practical: Like Joan and company, they’re cleaning house and, per Teleplays 101, dramatically raising the stakes. Don and Roger? Pals again, and driven once more. Pete, Peggy, and Don suddenly seem more likely to leave the agency; Joan’s marriage is on the brink; and Pryce is no longer a priggish stereotype. Plus, we have a genuine bad guy, clueless and callous, in the form of this idiotic corporate board. Will it be the Mad Men fighting the Man?

Don could start his own agency with Conrad Hilton’s bankroll and maybe take Pete and Peggy, perhaps even Joan and Roger, with him. Unless Duck hires them away first. Or will there be an interoffice revolution — and if so, how will they brand it? The biggest question: Will Joan return? It breaks our heart to think she might not. So let’s phrase that another way: How will she save face?

Photo: Carin Baer/AMC