This week’s Mad Men was a game changer for the show, and possibly the best episode of anything this season (Game of Thrones is settling in for mid-season plot development, and Californication was suspiciously not around this week). Don Draper has finally encountered a problem he can’t charm his way out of, and things are tenser than they’ve ever been.
The three plot lines in the episode were all excellently written and performed. The first focused on Don and Megan, and their dying romance, the second followed Betty Draper trying desperately to be a good mother, and the third involved Don appearing at the agency, much to the surprise of the partners and staff. Matthew Weiner brought his A-game here, stocking the episode full of awkward moments between the cast and the promise of epic changes to the story.
In the first storyline, Megan’s agent called Don to get him out to California, his young bride apparently making a fool of herself in Hollywood. After a lustful encounter between the two, Megan finally forced Don to reveal his suspension from the agency, making it evident how little Don wanted to be in L.A. (can you blame the poor bastard). Upon speaking the line, “This is how it ends,” we knew this marriage in particular was over (later, Megan totally pulled a Han Solo on Don when he tried to tell her he loved her), and Don returned to New York in shambles.
At the same time, Betty finally reappeared, a friend of hers reveling in employment and calling out Betty on being old-fashioned. “I thought [kids] were the reward,” reasoned Betty when her friend told her about professional rewards, leading nicely into Betty trying to have a fun day with Bobby at a farm (little dude traded her sandwich for gummy balls and ruined Betty’s attempt). Betty may finally be realizing how much fear she has sewn amongst her children, and later episodes will hopefully have her try (and elegantly) and fail at motherhood.
The best part of the episode was the final act. At a meeting with another agency, a very attractive young girl lured Don to a hotel room, only to find Sterling (with his hippy lady) and a clandestine invitation to return to Sterling Cooper & Partners. Don took the invitation, and surprised the entire office, no one realizing the guy was set to arrive. This led to a bitter argument between Sterling and the partners, ending in a soul-crushing offer for Don to return to the company. The conditions of this rehiring: no drinking, no alone time with clients, and stick to an approved script. Everything that constitutes the opposite of why Sterling called Don a genius in the first place.
In its final moments, the episode had me hoping, wishing, that Don say no to the offer. He has fallen so far, ruined so many relationships, been so defeated (mostly by himself), but ultimately is a creative genius, despite his un-businesslike proclivities. But he said yes, proving a longtime addiction to work, a fear of being alone, and helplessness in the face of evolving times. His reign is over, but that only means his character has a lot to do in terms of exceptionally enjoyable development. Matthew Weiner has set the bar high, and has given fans a Draper we’ve never seen before.
Also, Harry Crane is, according to Jim Cutler, the most dishonest man ever. Watch the episode to find out why, and enjoy (that Crane, what an underappreciated bastard). Happy television week, Internet friends!