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The Best of This Week’s Mad Men Recaps: ‘Field Trip’

In "Field Trip," both Don and Betty (welcome back, January Jones!) find themselves face-to-face with their own inadequacies. Don is pushed away by Megan and snubbed by his former colleagues, while Betty's attempt at hands-on parenting results in a perceived rejection by her son. As Vulture recapper Matt Zoller Seitz writes "The episode is filled with scenes you want to watch through the cracks between your fingers. It’s full of scenes where people show up uninvited, often under false pretenses, sometimes in places where they aren’t welcome." Here is your recap of the recaps:

Sunday’s episode was titled “Field Trip” and structured around three journeys: Old-fashioned Betty goes back to the farm. Newly sober Don surprises Megan in Los Angeles. And then—perhaps wearing Chevalier (“knight”) cologne — Don, the Dark Knight, strides back into the office in his two-piece suit of armor, carrying the morbid awareness that he’s risking it all. The episode explores how Megan, Don, Peggy, Betty and Bobby each handle rejection and casts their personal struggles against the show’s larger ambition: a seven-season story about the rise of an increasingly corporate culture that marshals boring, bureaucratic competence against creativity, a theme that is near and dear to any television showrunner’s heart. —New York Times

Ironically, both Joan and Peggy’s anger has its roots in Don’s reckless idea to merge with CGC, creating a new status quo that each woman is now trying to protect. “Well, I can’t say we miss you,” says Peggy. “This,” indicating the office and business, “is working,” says Joan, trying to get the partners to consider not to take him back. It’s interesting (and somehow just) how all Don’s sins have him essentially prostrate in front of the women in his life this season: Sally, Peggy, Joan and Megan. Sally is still a child, and only one of the four who’s related to him by blood. In comparison to the others, it was relatively easy for her to forgive him and move on. But Joan and Peggy have way too much at stake to let him back into their good graces, even though it’s clear from an outside point of view that the office – and by extension, the business – is a dysfunctional, uncreative mess. —Tom and Lorenzo

Tellingly, “Field Trip” doesn’t really give us a way to orient ourselves in [1969], however. It feels deliberately unstuck in time in ways that play nicely off of how lost everybody within the episode feels. When Roger doesn’t show at the office before Don, everybody else in the firm gets to wonder why the latter is there. The book Jim Cutler’s reading came out in 1963. And the episode is filled with characters from the show’s earliest days and nods toward some of its greatest moments. Francine has lunch with Betty. Ken mentions Don’s carousel pitch from the season one finale. A woman approaches Don at a restaurant, claiming to know him, and you almost want to believe her, so lost does the episode feel in the series’ own timeline. On a lot of shows, all of these nods would seem like fan service, like grateful thank yous to the audience for keeping this on the air as long as it’s run. On this show, they feel vaguely threatening, as if Don is going to become a creature of a past he’s run so long and so fast to escape. We don’t get a date or time period, because the episode wants us to feel as unmoored as Don does. —A.V. Club

It’s oddly satisfying to see Don humbled – and a little surprising, really, that he doesn’t get angry and storm out. But clearly Don chooses to play a falsely confident role, and chooses to believe in his own creation myth. He thinks he can only be a winner if he never admits to having lost or failed or stumbled. Going to another agency would’ve been tantamount to admitting failure for him. Confessing to Megan that he’d been put on leave would’ve allowed her to see the truth about him, that he’s not the big man she thought he was. —Salon

Whatever the consequences of that choice — and one imagines they'll be significant — the show has spent the first quarter of its final season building up to the moment when Don eats crow and asks for seconds. He's still got issues with commitment, but he's clearly not cut out for the solitary life; when he calls the West Coast, first to talk to his wife's agent and then to Megan herself, he's marooned in darkness, far more so than a three-hour time difference would account for. At the beginning of the episode, he's all dressed up, but with no one to see it; Dawn's too busy juggling the demands of her new job to run over his typewriter ribbon and onionskin. Megan's thrilled to see him when he unexpectedly shows up in Los Angeles, and she's less skittish and self-conscious than she was the last time they were intimate. But when she coos, "I needed that," it's not clear if she means sex or him. —Rolling Stone

But what will become of Don and Megan? A tearful phone call between the pair showed that Megan still considers Don her husband, but she is unable to tell him she loves him. During Don’s short-lived surprise trip to LA, Megan emotionally points out that Don wakes up every day choosing to not be with her, when he could have moved to California to get a job and continue their marriage. The love that Don says “okay” to at the end of “Field Trip” is not Megan, but SC&P — the ad agency that has withstood all of Don’s marriages, affairs and fleeting something-or-others. —Mashable

Don curls in his watchful cat-ball in a shrouded, smoky Manhattan theater, watching a full Technicolor blast of L.A. traffic snarls, part of Jacques Demy's ethereal The Model Shop. (Deadpan TCM plot synopsis: "An unemployed architect stuck in a dead end relationship with an aspiring actress." Eh?) It's a mixed review of the city—dreamy, moody, a road-trip to nowhere—and Don's own hesitancy about "the Coast" swirls around his head like his cigarette contrails. As Sally, succinct up-summer of all things that are true, could subtitle: "Why don't you just tell her that you don't want to move to California?" —GQ 

And then... Don Draper, master of the universe, mystery man who once erected impenetrable barriers between his work and home lives and couldn't have cared less about the lives of the people he worked with, is forced to sit in that room all day, to be gawked at by Peggy and Joan and everyone else, to look at Ken's baby pictures and hear one of the junior copywriters ramble on about his wedding plans, and to have awkward encounters with the other partners, and with Peggy, who still blames Don for Teddy's flight to California, and for the general wreck her life has become since the merger.... And for a while, it seems like Don Draper is going to be slinking out of that office with everyone watching him and either smirking or sadly shaking their heads. But instead Roger — in an impressive, unwavering display of authority (and contempt for Jim Cutler) — makes it clear that he wants Don back in the office, both as their friend and talented collaborator, and because it'll cost too damn much to let him go. —HitFix

It’s been suggested that women get more promotions when a company is failing. SC&P has been struggling since Don left, but they were struggling before he left. Dawn, Joan, and Peggy have all moved up the corporate ladder. They know that if Don comes back, they could easily all be kicked back down the chute. Don would trade all three of their sandwiches for a bag of gumdrops in a second. But they didn’t fetch his onionskins or tolerate his drunkenness and disrespect because they loved him so much. Joan sure as hell did not sleep with Jaguar for this. Roger is the only one who even really claims to love Don, but his capacity to love anyone besides himself is incredibly low. Roger and Don decided it was fine for Don to come back without thinking about how that would affect the other partners or anyone else, because that is what Roger and Don always do. They override. They act without thinking about the real consequences. They constantly lie to protect themselves. Don was hiding one more secret, though: chicken salad on rye? Who knew Don Draper liked such a boring sandwich? —Grantland

Megan is rejected by Hollywood. Peggy is rejected by Clio. Betty is rejected by Bobby, who sells her out to another pretty face. Don is rejected by Megan and Peggy, who is working hard this season on the Poison Stare. Indeed, Don is rejected by everyone but the blondes and Roger Sterling, who proved that Don is the only person he really cares about, just as, in the last episode, Don proved that the only person he really cares about is Sally. So yes: the episode is about rejection — but to what end? There was a spooky “scene of the crime” atmosphere from the start, with places and motifs we’ve seen before — the movie theater, Betty at lunch, the available Herbal Essence-y elementary school teacher, even the tempting blondes and the bottle of booze — deployed to no end but to prove that all the characters are living in a changing world. The symmetry, as always, is nearly obsessive: Don gets a sandwich; Betty doesn’t. They both get punished, and we get to see that home, for Betty, is an agency, and that for Don the agency is home. —Esquire

"You want to come back? Come back. I miss you." And with those immortal words from Roger Sterling, my heart melted and "Mad Men" season seven kicked into high gear. We've spent two episodes in the first half of our final year with Don trapped in purgatory, waiting to hear whether or not he was really fired or if he'll be brought back to the company he helped build. In last night's episode, "Field Trip," we heard the answer as a defiant "yes" to the latter thought, but not without some risky stipulations to go with it. Via brilliant sequencing of story development motivating character change, Megan's split with Don pushed him not to the brink of boozing or whoring around, but back into the embrace of his one true love: business, and thus, Roger Sterling. —IndieWire

But don’t think Betty isn’t self-aware. She’s constantly questioning her actions as a mother and asks Henry if he thinks she’s doing decent as a mom. He of course says yes, but then she asks a very interesting question: “Then why don’t they love me?” With time, with one child already into adolescence and stumbling, Betty could very well try to change this season. Or maybe not. Maybe this is just another failed attempt to care. She at least has self-doubt, and at least some ounce self-awareness, but Betty has remained the most unflinching character on “Mad Men” to date. The Betty we met in Season 1 is still very much haunted by the same ghosts as now. She is unsure of herself, but also obsessed with herself, and maybe in the last season Matthew Weiner will finally give us a change. —Washington Post

I want to talk about the specter of Fat Betty that hung over this episode. Betty has never been the most flexible woman, but in her post-Fat Betty stage, she has achieved a new kind of rigidity. The woman who, in the aftermath of a divorce and a new marriage, allowed herself to put on weight was a more human type of human than the Betty of much of “Field Trip.” Fat Betty was a person who had desires and whims she couldn’t always control, and didn’t always try to control. The moment this week when she took a swig from that milk bucket was the only moment Betty reminded me of her old self. The Betty of the rest of this episode, gorgeous as ever, felt sharp-edged, irrationally scheming—and again and again it had to do with food.  —Slate

Mad Men must be getting serious about her evolution as a character, as fans have had six seasons’ worth of answers to that question. Betty just isn’t a natural parent. She doesn’t understand that kids will be kids and make dumb mistakes sometimes, and when they do, she’s too personally offended to accept their remorse. Plus, she has a history of seeking attention from children to supplement whatever attention she’s not getting elsewhere in her life — remember her bizarre friendship with Glen Bishop? Betty is the frostiest ice queen January Jones has ever played — and that’s saying something for an actress who starred as X-Men’s Emma Frost, a villain who could literally turn herself into a diamond and become impervious to freezing temperatures. Maybe Betty is just doomed to be unhappy in the Weinerverse (that certainly seems to be the case for Peggy these days). Or maybe, like her ex-husband, she’s wondering why the people around her aren’t suddenly throwing themselves at her feet after she shows the first sign of effort. —Time

In a poignant twist, she’s not there to see Bobby proudly reserving a space on his blanket for his mother, and she interprets the Gumdrop Incident as a personal attack, instead of what it is -- a careless mistake made by a kid blinded by sugar lust. Rather than kindly but firmly instructing Bobby to return the gumdrops and retrieve her sandwich or, failing that, begging Bobby’s trampy teacher for some of that farm-fresh butter and a crust of bread, she lights up a cigarette and immediately freezes out her son ... It’s a childish reaction to childish behavior -- in other words, it’s a classic Betty moment. The irony is that Bobby is actually desperate for his mother’s love and affection, and willing to accept it on almost any terms. —L.A. Times

Twice in this episode, Don suggests that his return to the agency will fix what ails his relationship with Megan. “Things can be the way we want them to be,” he dejectedly promises her during their last phone call, “because I’m going back to the agency.” He sees the status quo as some kind of cure-all. It’s difficult to believe that Don thinks a job will save his marriage, but how about all of his other problems? The drinking, the lack of a routine, the Little Rascals marathons on weekday afternoons? A return to SC&P will allegedly sweep all those cobwebs out of his life—or at least he believes it will. As we’ve come to expect from Mad Men, though, I’m not so sure it’ll ever be that simple. —The Atlantic

Photo: Michael Yarish/AMC