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Mad Men Recap: You Look Swellegant!

My name is Peggy Olson and I’d like to — oh, hell, I’ll try anything! How satisfying is it to see a Peggy and Pete episode, finally? It’s 1965, the year of "(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction" and "You've Lost That Lovin’ Feelin,'" and this episode, "The Rejection," cues up all sorts of heartache on the SCDP jukebox: Allison is rejected by Don, then Don is dumped by Allison. Pete’s Clearasil account is given the boot, then Pete clashes with his father-in-law. Joan is kicked out of her office. Don rejects the market researcher. A photographer’s nude photos are rejected by Life. And Peggy is reminded of how she’ll always be rejected, on some level, by everyone at SCDP, like she’s some alien feminist tissue forever being rejected by the host body of the Old Boy’s Network. But maybe all this rejection is for the best: As a result of it, Peggy makes a wild group of new friends (and lovers?), Pete lands the mother of all accounts (or at least the father-in-law of all accounts), Allison is off to a simpler job with a female boss, and Don — well, okay, maybe Don is still just Don.

First, a joke: The episode begins with a bone-dry gag about how this show glamorizes the ugly past. Don and Roger are on the phone with Lucky Strike’s Lee Garner Jr., explaining that the brand has agreed to stop shooting its ads in certain ways — including shots from low angles that make “the smoker appear superhuman.” The episode’s opening shot is of our hero Don, and it’s filmed — yep — from a low angle, making him look larger than life, as usual. Only this time, he’s unattractively chain-smoking, lighting one cigarette with the butt of his last, while lying through his teeth. All the stories this week are about rejection, but visually, the episode is obsessed with these kind of meta-jokes about how framing shapes the way we see people.

Everyone in this episode (which picks up where we left off last week, with more explicit talk sex talk and profanity) is looking through a frame at someone else and thinking that they understand who they see. Don and Peggy stare through the focus-group glass and have no idea what’s going on with Allison, who’s distraught over Don. Peggy peeks through her office window to see what the hell just happened between Don and Allison, just after Allison literally shatters one of Don’s frames (shattering what little is left of his upstanding reputation in the process). Ken Cosgrove worries about how Pete has been spinning his past to friends of his fiancée. Most moving of all (if a bit heavy-handed), Peggy and Pete stare at each other through glass doors as they walk into different lives. Sometimes these frames are forced onto people (the focus group), other times they’re chosen: Whatever box Pete is in, for instance, he chose it. He picked the office next to Roger and ended up with a bizarre column blocking his doorway. (He’s to blame for almost all of his own problems.) And the market research? What is market research, except putting people into boxes, like “single women 18-25?”

This is what pisses Don off. What does anyone see, really? The real person or just the box: their true self (if there is such a thing) or their reputation, that agglomeration of what people say about themselves and what they’re known to have done? Don thinks it’s all bullshit: “You can’t tell how people will behave based on how they have behaved,” he barks. That market research about women is worth about as much as Freddy Rumsen’s caveman preconceptions. But it seems to be true. Is this just the latest instance of Don preferring hopeful fantasies (Anna) to the cynical facts of reality?

And that’s where we fans find ourselves, wrestling with this amazing episode for Peggy (Elisabeth Moss has never been more charming, or her delivery more spot-on). It’s a flat-out thrill to see her head down to the Lower West Side (that’s not a typo: Washington Market is the area razed in the late sixties to make way for the World Trade Center). It’s even better to see her flirting with the cocky, self-possessed Joyce (played by David Mamet's daughter, Zosia Mamet). Though, really, is this Matt Weiner’s idea of gay romance? Something that almost happens, before the cops break up the party (Peggy), or the fire department shuts down the hotel (Sal)? Over and over again in this episode, rejection leads to something better for people. Does Peggy’s rejection of Joyce’s bizarre chomp on her ear ("I'm hungry?" Really?) make a romance with Abe possible? Will it finally torpedo her absurd relationship with the dweeb? If there is any justice in the world, yes — but this show rarely writes happy endings.

One would like to think that Peggy will thrive in this new bohemian world — that she’ll finally find a place where her dry wit (“Well, he’s renting it”) and smarts are appreciated, a place where people don’t assume that she became successful by sleeping with the boss, as she’s reminded by Allison. As yet, she’s just a naïve tourist in this world, who’s just learning the barest facts about Malcolm X and art and people who don’t just do things for money. She’s a quick study. Earlier, we noted that Don’s art-film ad for GloCoat indicated that the show was finally exploring the overlap between the New York art scene and advertising (the supernumerary Bethany, the photographer, etc.). Now it seems that Peggy, fan of near-pornographic photography, might be the person who brings that art world into SCDP. It could work, she could be inspired by these wonderful people and their liberating nonconformity. But what about that awful art, which Peggy appreciates while stoned, and the soul-dead artist who looks like some glam version of Paul Morrissey? His name: David Kellogg — a name that doesn’t show up in Wikipedia as a brilliant sixties artist (Commenters, are we missing something here?). The only reference we could find: The David Kellogg whose biggest successes were directing Playboy videos and who is widely believed to be one of the worst directors who ever lived. Could this David Kellogg be an homage to the David Kellogg who won a Razzie for directing Vanilla Ice in one of the world’s worst movies, Cool As Ice? If so, maybe this is just another dead end. Maybe they’ll all reject her, too.

One person who’s not worried about being rejected? Pete. Whereas happy Ken Cosgrove is deeply worried that his golden-boy reputation might be tarnished by Pete’s gossip, Pete reminds us that he’s never cared what anyone thinks of him. He just wants what he feels he deserves. When his father-in-law calls him a “sonofabitch,” Vincent Kartheiser delivers the most incredible little shrug we’ve ever seen. It’s just the slightest lift of the shoulders, but it says everything: He knows he’s a sonofabitch, but he’s going to be a rich sonofabitch. (Really, that sociopath Glen should get an internship with Pete.) Pete uses the birth of his child as a way to wrangle more work from his family, but this doesn’t mean that he isn’t genuinely thrilled to be having a child. The scene with Trudy is lovely; he’s genuinely moved — and, yet, already, you can see the gears whirring. It’s even more heartbreaking when Peggy enters Pete’s office and is the one human being in that whole inhuman cubicle farm to give Pete the warm, unprompted congratulations that he deserves. The look between them at the end could say any number of things, but in this episode, it feels like a reminder of how ruthlessly complicated lives are, and of how few people really understand much at all of what really motivates others, of how much is hidden.

“Did you get the pears? Did you get the pears? Did you get the pears?” barks the batty old husband, who has somehow managed to grow old with his gruff wife. “We’ll discuss it inside,” says the wife. Don can’t begin to imagine what it is that makes their marriage work. But he’s probably thinking that the reason it works is buried in all that stuff about them that he’ll never know.

Photo: Photo by Michael Yarish / AMC