The first episode of season two was a declaration of some great big generational smackdown: war vet Don Draper and his cocktail-sipping comrades versus the encroaching tide of Pepsi-drinking baby-boomers, with fresh-faced kids invading Sterling Cooper like cute little
cockroaches. It was a great set-up. So of course the second episode of Mad Men — the most deviously unpredictable show on TV — ditched all that, almost entirely.
Work: It’s life, with a paycheck.
“There’s life, and there’s work,” declares Draper. It’s meant to be a sage bit of fatherly advice given to Pete — but it’s obviously bogus. Any at-work drama, from M*A*S*H to Grey’s Anatomy, commingles the personal and professional to ludicrous degrees. Mad Men is no different — especially in this episode, in which the distance between home and work collapses in the most horrible way. Luckily, more work for the crew means more life for the show’s characters. Now that Matthew Weiner knows his show is in no danger of cancellation, everyone’s getting a better backstory to go with their desk. Even that dweeby pipe-smoking dandy Paul: Turns out he’s an urban pioneer in Montclair, New Jersey, where he’s dating a black woman. This is doubly exciting, because we get the show’s first black actor — and the show’s first admitted racist, in Joan, who tells Paul he’s “falling in love with that girl just to show how interesting you are.”
Peggy? Turns out her family is mad Catholic — like, anti-abortion Catholic. So Mom’s got her tow-headed son sleeping in the bedroom, but Peggy rarely visits and won’t even say hello. When forced to hold him, she looks so uncomfortable and disconnected she might as well be
holding, well, Pete. As for Don at home, he is lost. There’s a beautiful shot of him watching his wife with a mixture of admiration and terror, marveling at how sharp this woman is becoming, but also rather befuddled. Don is getting the terrors on a regular basis now; he constantly seems dazed or angry. John Hamm must be working with onions to get those watery red eyes. Draper has lost control of his wife — and his work, where he’s forced to fire one of his favorite clients.
But the big news falls from the sky — an American Airlines flight crashes down into Jamaica Bay. The office is stunned for a few seconds, then starts making tasteless crash jokes. Pete says there were so many golfers on board, they turned the water plaid. Then he finds out his father was on the plane. Of course, Pete’s always seemed more connected to his work family than any blood relatives — and he has some serious daddy issues with Don. Pete glommed onto Draper in the first season, desperate for his approval. Then he rebelled against him, and embraced him again. When he gets the news about his father, he doesn’t call his wife or anyone else. He walks to Don’s office and asks him, “What does one do?” But Don never quite connects — and even yells at him the next day.
So Don’s rival Duck swoops in, fakes human interest, and, gallingly, asks Pete to use his dead dad to bring in American Airlines as a new client. It’s such a horribly crass maneuver that Pete rejects him at first. But after getting the brush-off from a distracted Don, he takes the bait and makes the meeting. It was never going to take much to lure Pete (Annakin-like in his hunger for power and recognition) over to the dark side, but it doesn’t hurt that Duck (Palpatine-like in his soulless pursuit of power) gives him a firm push in the wrong direction.
The Early Results
No sophomore slump yet. Though we’re obsessed with the show’s top four — Don, Betsy, Pete, and Peggy — Weiner, at least, remembers that there are other characters on the show. Something interesting is brewing between Joan and Paul — and the end-of-episode teaser suggests that mild-mannered media buyer Harry is headed for his own breakdown
too. Best of all, the dark march of Duck is beginning. He’s a bluntly corrupt foil — so direct, it looks like Don will have to fight sooner than later. When Don does finally engage, it looks like he’ll be battling for the cretinous, misshapen soul of Pete Campbell. —Logan Hill