It was a bed-hoppin’, bomb-droppin’, chain-smokin’ good time! The second episode of the sixth season of Mad Men gets back to what we love about the show in the first place, and it doesn’t waste any time getting there. It was even filthier than we expected. It is January 1968, the Tet Offensive is throwing a major curve-ball at U.S. military strategy and Johnny Carson is on The Tonight Show to discuss the escalating war. While the country is becoming increasingly divided, we’re also becoming privy to the slow decay of the city — not unlike most of the marriages in this episode.
We begin in chirpy suburbia, with the Campbells charmingly biding their dinner guests adieu: And while Trudy Campbell primly sends the two husbands away with a bit of coquettish pleasantries, Pete’s busy lubing up their wives. We can’t help thinking that the three couples will be throwing a “key party” with each other sometime in the early ‘70s. Brenda, one of the shy wives, wants to surprise her husband with tickets to see the controversial Broadway prediction of Hair, which features on-stage nudity, yet she’s scared of venturing into the city. Pete offers to deliver the tickets to her at Grand Central Terminal and “throw in a hot dog,” which later turns out to mean Pete’s going to pull out his “hot dog” at his bachelor pad and give Brenda some quick lovin’.
A few days later, when poor Brenda gets her nose bloodied by her husband (who we assume recently learned of her whorish ways) she comes crying on the Campbells’ kitchen, where a paranoid Pete hisses at her and Trudy sympathetically dabs the blood off Brenda’s face with. (Incidentally, we never hear if Brenda’s husband was surprised by the Broadway tickets or not — or if he was just mad because she didn’t get tickets to Noël Coward’s Sweet Potato.) The following morning the cat is out of the bag and Trudy is livid. Apparently it’s all right for Pete to bang floozies in his Manhattan lust nest, but Trudy draws the line when he’s bedding the broad-next-door right under her nose. After all, what will the neighbors think? When Pete thinks she’s threatening divorce, Trudy — in true WASP fashion — declines for appearances’ sake and chooses instead to emasculates Pete by banishing him from the house.
Speaking of cheating hearts, Don fiddles about while VietNam burns. We see Don in the elevator as it stops on the floor of Dr. Rosen while he and his doo-ragged wife, Sylvia, are kvetching about money. Sylvia slunks back to the apartment cutting an eye at Don as the doors close, and just as the elevator reaches the lobby, Don tells Dr. Rosen he forgot his cigarettes, ascends back up to the good doctor’s place and screws the living daylights out of Sylvia. Upon leaving, Don throws some money at Sylvia, and instead of being furious with him a la Elizabeth Taylor in Butterfield 8, she gladly accepts it.
Later, Sylvia sees an emotional Megan in the laundry room, crying, and they go upstairs for a girl chat. Megan reveals to Sylvia that she had suffered a miscarriage only two days ago. More revealingly, she hints that she had never told Don about the pregnancy because since her career was finally taking off, she was considering not actually having the child. Mouths agape, we were shocked when said adulteress, and fellow Catholic, Sylvia, passes judgment on Megan for even considering such a thing. Note to doctor’s wife: according to the Catholic Church, banging your neighbor’s husband is a sin, too. This is when we decided we don’t like Sylvia one damn bit — and if truth be told, she was already on thin ice with her creepy raisin eyes and that shitty Ann Lander’s coif she was working.
We also see the return of Don flashing back to his past. This time it’s of a memory of himself as a teenager and his pregnant mother at the doorstep of his aunt’s whorehouse. The best — and creepiest — scene in the entire episode was when Don’s potato-faced “uncle” Mack informs him that there’s “only one rooster in this hen house.” We quickly learn that means young Don had better keep his claws to himself. Meanwhile Mack gets his mack-on while screwing Don’s pregnant mother. And who’s looking through the peephole? Don. And you wonder why Don has issues. It is reported that when the episode aired, 62 percent of viewers gave themselves a scrub-down Silkwood shower, 30 percent sent their souls to the Wash-Dry-N-Fold, and the entire town of Gloverille, South Carolina, thought it was totally hot.
Back at the office, Joan cringes upon recalling how she had whored herself out — to save the firm and her ass — with that sleezeball Herb, the president of the Jaguar Dealership Association. He stops by Joan’s office, and as cool as a cucumber she politely lobs a few fastballs at Fatty von Hogface, who doesn’t even realize that Joan doesn’t look back fondly on the darkest night of her life that she had to spend with this creep. Speaking of creeps, Pete Campbell drags Herb out of Joan’s office just in the nick of time, and we miss the opportunity to see Joan throw sharp objects at them both. After breaking out in a sweat from walking up just one flight of stairs to Don’s office, Herb demands that the firm redirect a huge proportion of the national Jaguar advertising budget to his yokel local dealership to help sell cars to everyday slobs like Dick and Mary Shirt-Ass by way of hilarious radio spots which he acts out himself. Pete acting like he’s practically on a date with Herb is the only one laughing, however. Later at the meeting with the Jaguar executives, Don sabotages the whole thing by deliberately taking the idea to the extreme and tells the Jaguar execs to sell the luxury automobile by very base means such as radio ads, flyers and (quelle horreurs!) newspaper circulars! The Englishmen decline ever so politely and then that Fatty Arbuckle-looking Herb, who’s sweating like a piece of rancid pork, waddles out sad and defeated. Hooray!
Peggy’s relationship with her underlings has taken a chilly turn as she calls them in her office, tells them to sit — then
abruptly changes her mind — and demands that they stand up again. Later when they leave a feminine deodorant powder product on her desk Peggy, fails to realize it’s a joke, but it’s only after she’s standing in front of her boss Ted (eternally “Joe Cool” in blazers and turtlenecks) when she realizes it was put on her desk not to be advertised but used by her to freshen her sour lady boss demeanor. Ouch. It’s hard being a lady version of Don Draper (complete with an au-courant frosted-lipped African-American secretary of her very own!)
But why is Don straying again? A leopard can’t change its spots? All cats are gray at night? All of those hoary chestnuts are true for the boy who came of age in a whorehouse. Furthermore, this explains how Don is able to act like a prostitute himself — effortlessly compartmentalizing his emotions from every extra-marital physical encounter he plunges into. We can’t imagine this ending well if Megan ever finds out. Young and idealistic, and not afraid to call Don out on everything, and always up for a good fight, we doubt she would “look the other way” if she learned of his infidelities. (You can practically see Megan ripping out — or off — Sylvia’s ‘do alla the powder room scene from Valley of the Dolls.)
And while the war will rage on, and LBJ will soon step away, the bed sheets on Mad Men will continue to be soiled with the sweat of infidels, and the cocktails will still clink, and the colors will bloom brighter. And Don will, most likely, still be in black and white doing his own thing until he can’t anymore. Let’s just hope he doesn’t turn into Hambone Herb.