Mad Men: The Downward Spiral

Mad Men

The Color Blue
Season 3 Episode 10

Last week, as Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, everyone’s dreams were crushed: Don couldn’t give Connie the moon, Betty quit mooning over Henry, and Sal was exiled from Sterling Cooper. Around this point in the arc of each of Mad Men’s three seasons, things have generally gotten very, very bad. So this bleak tenth episode seems to set the stage for even more tragedy. Just three more weeks: Can you take it?

First off: no Joan, no Sal. Is there a chance that we won’t see either again this season? Or ever again? In fact, after a veritable buffet of red herrings, this episode feels almost entirely like setup for an awful final act: Betty opens the desk drawer and calls Henry (finally); Don launches into his first serious affair of the season (finally); Sterling Cooper is for sale; Peggy thrives. Let’s look at where this leaves everyone.

Pryce is jerked around yet again, shocked to hear that Sterling Cooper is for sale, but still so loyal that he won’t share the news with anyone but his shrewish, selfish, nagging, ball-busting wife (another of the show’s oh-so-happy marriages). When will he reach his breaking point? Will he pull some corporate jujitsu and be part of a surprise corporate takeover?

Peggy seems more confident in the office, despite the smackdown by Don, and perhaps because of whatever is happening with Duck. Even egotistical Kinsey rebels against Peggy because he feels like she’s stealing his shine. Then he gets drunk, masturbates to a jazz record, gets a great idea, forgets it, and finds new respect for her. The more powerful Peggy grows, and the longer her and Duck’s romance is kept under wraps, the more convinced we are that Weiner’s setting us up for something spectacularly awful. Will Duck’s revenge come when his company buys Sterling Cooper — and both Peggy and Don have to call him boss? Or will Peggy find more support from new owners and rise in power?

Roger seems primed for some serious bloodsport with Don.The speech at the end of the episode was all B.S. His true feelings came earlier in his conversation with Cooper, when he says, “Screw him.” Will Roger make some play for greater control?

Betty finally opens that desk drawer that Weiner’s been hinting at all season. Since the season premiere began with Don’s origin story, we expected it to come full circle. After Betty puts down her copy of Mary McCarthy’s The Group, we see her struggling with her fury, waiting for Don to come home, but she bites her tongue and gets all dolled up for the anniversary dinner just the same. She needed only the slightest excuse to call Henry — so we know she’s still flirting with the idea of him. Now that she knows about Don’s fake identity, what will she do? It has always been hard to imagine that Betty could actually leave Don until she met Henry. Now, if she and Don have a horrible blow-up, will she run into Henry’s arms?

Is Miss Farrell falling in love or turning into some crazed stalker? Don continues to fetishize her supposed wholesomeness (“Nobody feels as good about what they do as you do”). He plucks that gold star off her cheek, calls her “Miss Farrell,” swoons over news of the new bake sale and that long curly hair that “nobody has” anymore. Miss Farrell begs him to spend the whole night, finds him on the train, and talks about the meaning of truth and perception (she’s romantic; he’s pragmatic).

Miss Farrell’s brother is epileptic — but also seems unstable, a drifter like Don. Is his instability a hint that his sister’s going to come unglued? Or will he return to cause trouble — perhaps blackmailing Don? (He’s got his card and thinks he’s arrogant.) After talking about free will and destiny with the kid, Don says, “He’ll be as good as he can be.” This fatalistic spin on the old Army motto might as well be a diagnosis of what’s wrong with everyone on this show. Maybe the brother is just a mirror for Don, who can’t change his philandering, drifting nature, any more than the kid (“Sooner or later they see that there’s something wrong with me”) can stop pissing his pants.

Don’s definitely returning to his bad habits: attracting drifters, losing interest in his home life, and falling down the rabbit hole of an affair that’s obviously trouble. Just like last season, he’s taken his eye off work. But this time his distraction might hurt him, with the company’s future in limbo. Shacked up with Miss Farrell, he seems clueless to Betty’s unhappiness and glib about the marriage. After their recent fights, he ran away. Now Betty is about to blindside him.

Related: Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss on Peggy Olson, the ‘Ultimate Feminist’

Mad Men: The Downward Spiral