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Wednesday, 28 of October of 2020

Mad Men – “The Rejected”

“Did you get pears?”

Peggy peeks in on Don as he suffers the loss of his secretary.

This might be the funniest/most telling/allegorical/best/most fourth-wall-breaking/funniest again frame in the entire series.

WARNING: The following post never really discusses the nudity in Mad Men that probably didn’t need to be disclaimed. Reader discretion is advised.

The masks are slipping a little for Don and Peggy, more for the former than the latter, but they are quick to recover in the privacy of their own dominions. And while Don’s story with Allison is interesting, and I’m finally glad to see Pete in the line-up again, it’s Peggy that provides the most intrigue here.

I make it no secret that I have a penchant for the our gal copywriter but I’ve mentioned that, just as Don is being set up for The Big One (where Don finally falls on his face rather than his feet) that Peggy is headed for a fall herself, at the very least a tipping point. Don and Pete have big pieces of this episode but it all feeds into her. And that doesn’t even count the big L word they never even drop.

No, the other one.

Pete finally gets some service this season rather than just whining about Freddy coming back. The thing about Pete recently is that he’s been pretty pathetic. It seemed that gone were the days when Campbell was cutthroat and conniving, even when it didn’t pan out. Season 1 showed him markedly willing to blackmail, deceive, and even sell his own wife out for success. His time at SCDP, however, show him as a bit player in the group, a voice quickly silenced by the swinging nominal partners. To me, that’s just from a lack of competition. Cosgrove, especially in Season 3 (particularly in the episodes surrounding “Guy Walks into an Ad Agency”), pushed Pete in every way: in business, in art, in his after-hours. The absence of Cosgrove in Pete’s professional and personal life has left him adrift in a sea of sputtering career and the memories of fragile German nannies.

When Sterling and Pryce tell Pete he has to drop Clearasil in favor of Pond’s, all he sees is the having to face his father-in-law and tell him he’s no longer needed. He sees the bridge burning, the path to his domestic happiness coming down with it. And that’s a Pete no one likes. There is no one there to push Pete into hunger. When Tom spills the beans about Trudy’s pregnancy, Pete at first sees it as an excuse to bail on breaking Tom’s heart. It’s not the right time despite it being the perfect time. But then, enter: Cosgrove.

Cosgrove is getting married. Cosgrove has a big account. Cosgrove knows Pete’s been talking smack. When Pete and Cosgrove have lunch (brokered by Crane who doesn’t even stick around for a scene he initiated), they hash it out like gentlemen, putting it all in the past but something changes in Pete during their conversation. After Cosgrove calls him out and then proceeds to complain about work, specifically how hard it would be to leverage a small account (Mountain Dew) into a larger account with the parent company (Pepsi), a little heart-light turns on in Mr Campbell. The conflict with Clearasil turns from being an emotional situation fraught with familial challenges into a business one: do what Cosgrove can’t and flip Clearasil into the larger parent company account (Vicks). Instead of being afraid that the bridge to his father-in-law would burn, he sets it on fire himself and puts the burden back on Tom to keep the peace in the family. “You’re a son of a bitch, you know that?” Tom says. Pete just shrugs. He is a son of a bitch. He just forgot for a minute.

As Pete simultaneously damages and tightens his family relationships, Don exemplifies the man that lacks them. We’ve seen Don in numerous situations with various people, with most of whom he shares a superficial connection. I’m not talking Dick Whitman (because his bond with Anna is different) but Don Draper. He may have once loved Betty but she is a non-factor now. The many amorous affairs he has had have never gone very deep. His richest relationships have always been with his secretaries, particularly Peggy but now Allison. While he never expects anyone in his life to know everything about him, he expects his secretaries to know the most. His one-night-stand with Allison ended in a morning of sobriety and chosen amnesia. Don is very good at pretending nothing happened but the situation wears on Allison and is drawn out by emotional conversations in a focus group. This is part of what you’ve been hoping for.

Pete just shrugs. He is a son of a bitch. He just forgot for a minute.

We watched Allison melt when Don ignored their brief tryst and handed her a Christmas card with her “bonus” (and immediately equated that to call-girl money). Last week, we saw her pretend like nothing happened, being slightly more flirtatious with Don as he signed contracts but not addressing anything. This week, however, she can’t take it anymore. While most people react just as coolly to Don’s collected nature as he exudes, Allison stands firm against it. What’s sad is that Don is trying to be sympathetic here. When he offers to sign whatever Allison comes up with for a recommendation letter, he’s not being callous or cruel. He wants her to shoot for the moon, say whatever she wants to say in order to move on. He is giving her carte blanche. Sadly, his attempt misses the mark entirely since all Allison wants is for Don to take some time out of his busy/mysterious schedule to write a few good words about the girl that dedicated herself to him, slept with him, and continued to take his cold shoulder. His offer to sign whatever document she puts in front of him is a slap in the face and she retaliates by smashing stuff up in Don’s office. I love it.

Allison’s exit and the entrance of Mrs Blankenship, an ineffectual hag, the opposite of Allison, marks yet another chink in the armor that is Don Draper. As he mourns the loss of another person that “gets” him, he goes home and attempts to do the unthinkable, something he hasn’t done since he and Betty were on the rocks over Bobbi: writing the words “I’m sorry” in a nice little note. Had this been any other series, we would’ve been witness to some horrible plot device here, where Don spills his feelings onto the page as he draws up an eloquent, succinct letter of grand apology. For this I might have never forgiven Matt Weiner. Instead, we’re treated to Don prompting himself for what his life is, never finishing, and throwing it on the ground. Fitting.

So how does this all funnel into Peggy? Let’s start with Allison.

As Allison rushes out of the focus group (one that is being watched by Freddy, Don, and Peggy) and into Don’s office, only to be followed by Peggy who says she feels a little responsible. Their conversation quickly puts our girl on her heels, though, since Allison infers two things that are damaging blows to Peggy’s persona: (1) that Don and Peggy had a romance and (2) that her relationship with Don is equal to Peggy’s. How dare she! How dare this — this — trollop assume that she has the same complex, high-concept relationship with Don Draper as she does! Peggy sees herself as a woman with keen insight into Don’s personality (figuratively demonstrated by her peeking into his office window through a wall only they share after Allison leaves) and a relationship that is unmatched. Don is the only one in her professional life (which, as indicated by Joey later when he asks if she ever reads anything between the ads, is really her only life) that knows her true history, that knows about her child and what it takes for her to glide along. He is her mentor. She is not some floozie he’s willing to hump on a couch because he’s feeling lonely. Their connection is far more profound. How dare this woman!

I paraphrase but that’s pretty much the gist. Don Draper really is the shining beacon for how Peggy feels she should behave. She is calm and collected, unflappable even in situations that seem untenable. Even when she meets up with the woman from LIFE magazine that is totally in lesbians with her and she licks Peggy’s face, Peggy shakes it off casually. She is not exactly Don Draper (because he wouldn’t find himself in such a predicament, especially when the police arrive) but she is a budding incarnation. Just as Don is able to manipulate his time (in his age), Peggy is able to manipulate her generation.

Which brings us to Pete. Pete’s impending fatherhood is a bit of a tricky subject for Peggy, being the first bearer of his child and all. Peggy is the last to know about the bundle of joy and she slips into her office to beat her head on the desk, international sign of “I’m troubled by these events.” It’s not necessarily uncommon to see Peggy flustered but it is uncommon to see her let something slip through her fingers. Her control over her emotions is only matched by Don himself and this moment of weakness shows a vulnerability that can lead to her fall. How will Peggy deal with Pete fawning all over his child with Trudy, being there for every step of the pregnancy, ready to engage in a lifelong relationship with her? Will she turn her decision to hide Pete’s child from him into feelings of rejection? Peggy told Pete she once had the chance to trap him forever and never pulled the trigger. As they look at each other longingly, she leaving with her friends for lunch and he with business associates ready to make a large deal, you see the spark they still have (which, for this show, means trouble).

This scene is juxtaposed with a scene with Don bearing witness to an interaction between an old couple, the editing relationship connecting them to Peggy and Pete. The old man, unrelenting and selfish, calls to his wife down the hall if she remembered the pears. She, struggling to move down the hallway to her apartment in her old age, drags a cart of groceries behind her. “Did you get pears? Did you get pears?” The guy is awful whiny but the old woman is unflappable, her face stony and blank. As she ducks into the apartment and he has the gall to ask one more time she mutters that they’ll discuss it. A peek into Pete and Peggy’s future? Probably. But how far into the future is it?

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