Mad Men – In the Wee Small Hours

Mad Men - In the Wee Small HoursNietzsche posited a concept of the Übermensch (aka: Superman or Overman) as a goal for humanity to set for itself in his 1883 book Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The Übermensch is not drawn away from this world with the promise of a better existence in the after-life. He makes what he can of this life. Part of the Übermensch philosophy is that religion was devised in part to separate man from his body, hence the need for an eternal soul and an after-life. Rather than suppress or fight against urges of the flesh, the Übermensch may revel in them, regardless of societal mores or social constraints. The Übermensch may, in fact, live by another set of rules. Sounds like Don Draper.

Of course, even our comic book version of Superman has a weakness and the seemingly indestructible Draper may be finally meeting defeat. In the last couple of episodes he’s had his clock cleaned by wayward young hitchhikers who taunted his voyeuristic leanings and emptied his wallet; he’s been usurped by Duck Phillips (at least, seemingly in Peggy Olsen’s case); and been out foxed and out maneuvered by Burt Cooper and right into a contract, complete with a non-compete clause. Yes, it’s been a tough couple of weeks for our hero.


While Don’s getting his comeuppance, Betty his developing her own wandering eye in the guise of local politics. Lured into a local preservation issue by a lot of bored civic-minded ladies of the community, Betty crosses paths with an assistant to New York Governor, Nelson Rockefeller. They first met at the same function where Don initially crossed paths with Conrad Hilton when Bets was preggers but now that she’s dropped the kid (and the baby fat, miraculously), Betty is leveraging her feminine wiles to score points with the tea and cookie caucus. Betty has a habit of flying a little closer to fire than she’s comfortable with though and her flirting with the Upstate Man veers into straight up infidelity, despite the lack of consummation…yet. She dreams of his hands on her body and sends him cryptic notes to ensure some nosy office girl isn’t reading his mail. She already got nailed in a restaurant office last year, is she looking for more action or just more attention?

Of course, the Drapers attract strange like sticky attracts lint and our man Don has had eyes for young Sally’s teacher for a while now. He comes across Ms. Farrell out on an early morning run and can’t help but give her a lift (never mind the fact that she’s out running for exercise—who turns down Don Draper?) and puts on an extra dose of Grecian Formula charm. The teacher is intrigued but scampers off to her rented apartment leaving Don to imagine her post-run shower as he slogs in to another droll day at the office making up pitches for Hilton’s latest folly.

Speaking of…it’s unclear when this happened since the last we saw Draper was giving Peggy the once-over for being too ambitious in trying to angle her way onto the burgeoning Hilton account but her gall seems to have worked because there she is pitching new ad concepts to Don, who summarily dismisses them…even those he came up with. Of course, he does it in his dismissive Draper way, which is surely not sitting well with the recently Duck Sauced Peggy. In case you missed it during my hiatus, Peggy Olsen is getting shagged by Duck Phillips, who was trying to woo both she and Pete Campbell away to his new agency. So far it’s only Peggy who’s taken the bait, if not the job. We’re presuming Pete Campbell is satisfied with kissing Don’s ass—and foreign nannies. Oh yeah, you missed that too.

You know, it’s as if the writers and producers of Mad Men knew that Obama was going to be facing added pressure to finally repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell this week and actually address equality for gays in America because wouldn’t you know it but resident closeted queen Sal Romano has had a hell of a season. This week our man gets cornered in the film editing suite by the client from Lucky Strike, who not only wants to direct the latest round of commercials for dad’s tobacco account but also wants to direct “Sally” in a little after-hours scenarios. Sal, ever the professional (and clearly conflicted suppressed homosexual) deflects Bossman’s advances and finds himself the victim of some agency-client back room politics. Seems the Texan put a call into Harry F-ing Crane to put the axe to Sal. Crane, rightly confused, ignores the request to fire Sal as nothing more than drunken ramblings and decides to do nothing. That is until the next Lucky Strike client meeting when the Bossman storms out upon seeing Sal at the table. Roger drills them both for the story and ends up firing Sal on the spot.

On Roger’s orders to have Draper “fix this,” Harry heads to Don’s office. Sal follows. Harry recounts what he knows, then departs. “Sal, something must have happened,” Don says. Sal describes Lee’s actions in the editing room, expecting at least some understanding from Draper, but ends up with a dismissive sneer and a vague reference to “you people.”

“I guess I was just supposed to do whatever he wanted?” Sal asks. “”Lucky Strike can shut off our lights,” Don concludes and sends him out on the streets with a handshake.

In order to cover up an unannounced visit from the Upstate Man, Betty concocts a fundraiser in her home for Rockefeller. Don couldn’t care less as long as he doesn’t have to be there and he’d presumably be busy getting his daddy issues resolved with Connie Hilton or getting his knob polished by Ms. Farrell anyway.

Betty expects her new man to be there to address this gathering of local Republicans but gets her famous blond dander up when some dopey lady from the governor’s office shows up in his place. Betty gathers the checks and heads to her beau’s office to hand deliver them with a bit more force and fury than newbie expected. It looks at first like he’s going to soothe her rage and tag her right there on his taxpayer funded oak desk but Betty—despite her many other faults—is not tawdry. She declines him and exits for what may be the last time for the government man.

As someone who has put more than his fair share of time in client services I can tell you that it’s a losing game to figure out how to make them happy. Best you can do is manage their ever loftier expectations to something you can actually make money on and then spend the rest of your day documenting nonsense. Draper would normally know this as an additional sense but he goes all gooey when in Hilton’s presence and strives too hard to be the “son [Hilton] never had…my angel” and ends up a dope like the rest of us.

Don presents the team’s campaign to Connie:

How do you say “Ice Water” in Italian? Hilton

Or “Hamburger” in Japanese? Hilton.

Connie concedes that the concept is good, but scolds Don for ignoring his instructions about showing Hilton on the moon. “When I say I want the moon,” Connie says, “I expect the moon.” Yes, the moon. When it comes to Connie Hilton even hyperbole must be met with action. Draper is taken aback. I mean, people usually melt under his words and gaze and here’s Conrad Hilton beating him like a bad dog. It’s enough to make a guy run out and find affirmation in the arms of a young honey, which Draper immediately does with a stop by Ms. Farrell’s.

Draper has long had shades of nihilism in the deeper recesses of his character. “I live like there’s no tomorrow because there isn’t.” But as the seasons unfold and we get a better sense of not only what Don Draper represents but who he is, we understand that that cool demeanor is made possible by his detachment from the world in which he lives and the people with whom he shares that world. The problem with being the coolest guy in the world is that your surrounded by inferiors. Draper’s battle with that reality is starting to tear at the seams and even if he believes he lives by another set of rules and values that doesn’t mean he isn’t bound by those that rule the rest of us. It just means he isn’t aware of it and awareness is the only thing that keeps and adman alive.

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4 thoughts on “Mad Men – In the Wee Small Hours”

  1. I’m enjoying your writeups, Derek. As someone who keeps blanking out on Sunday nights (who can remember that shows have actual times anymore?) I’ve missed a lot of episodes. When did Don figure out/acknowledge that Sal is gay?

  2. Every time I find myself really sympathizing with Don I’m shaken back to the reality of 1960s America. The sexism, homophobia and racism is disgusting. The scene where Don fires Sal made me want to vomit.

    It also makes me think back to so many classic films of that era, many of which are laced with that same bigotry, either explicitly or implicitly. Like watching an old John Wayne film with hindsight. All those white actors painted up to look like native Americans, just so The Duke can execute some manifest destiny on those savages. It’s hard to stomach, and it puts an awful stain on things.

  3. That’s an interesting point of discussion, actually. I mean most of us have older relatives who we love and who are genuinely good people but probably still harbor some less than acceptable opinions and perceptions. I like that this show does try hard to address the complexities, and not to simply mock how un-PC or unaccepting people were back then.

    Don, while somewhat progressive and at least sympathetic in many ways, is still a product of his time.

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