It was a pivotal year, 1965. The initial shock and euphoria of the Beatles landing on our shores hadn’t yet faded but we were all getting used to basking in it. Our year of mourning over the Kennedy assassination was officially over even if the ramifications of that deep, deep wound were yet to be fully realized. It was a point when people of a certain generation had to make choices and had to decide who they were, where they were going, and what they stood for. It was also when the first cracks of the generation gap were truly being felt, and it was more than just in musical tastes. One generation was struggling to define itself while another was struggling just to get a foothold before the whole shithouse went up in flames.
Because I am in marketing and advertising, I love the scenes that involve the business of being a Mad Man…er, that is…an ad man. Don and Roger are caught on an excruciating call with their top client, Lucky Strike’s Lee Garner Jr., and trying like hell to get off the phone. But this is what you do when the majority of your business is with one client: you treat him like the king he is. Lee knows his importance to Sterling Cooper Price & Draper and is probably calling them on a daily basis to cry about the latest tobacco legislation or advertising restrictions on “sin” products. Agencies are more than service providers for clients, they’re often whipping boys, psychiatrists, and shoulders to cry on. Client services are rarely limited to what’s on your rate card.
Keeping clients is one thing, firing them is yet another. It’s not often that an agency voluntarily walks away from a paying client. Staffers dream of firing clients over creative disagreements (which never happens) and management dreams of moving on because better business came along. Well, on TV dreams do come true…for management. Lane tells Pete he has to drop Clearasil, his father-in-law Tom’s account because of a conflict with the much more profitable Ponds. This after poor Pete sucked up to the Old Man in order to poach the business when the gang left Sterling-Cooper last year. Given Pete’s willingness to do anything for the account (remember his leveraging his own father’s death in a plane crash to go after American Airlines?), one can just imagine the boot licking old Pete gave his father-in-law.
Back on the phone with Lee, Roger insists that the agency isn’t over billing Lucky Strike in order to subsidize flagging accounts, something I wouldn’t know anything about! It’s an amateur move, one taken by fledgling, desperate start-ups who lucked into one sugar daddy account while they build up their roster. They hope they can skate by until they’ve built up billing elsewhere, hopefully by winning another big dog.
Pete tries to drop the hammer on his father-in-law over drinks but instead get’s a hammer of his own: he’s about to become a father. Yes, our Pete finally knocked up cute-as-hell Trudy and almost instantly seems like a new man.
Harry invites Pete to lunch with himself and old Kenny Cosgrove. Seems Ken has landed Mountain Dew with eyes on the larger prize, PepsiCo. Ken lets on that it’s all a joke and that he has as much chance of getting the bigger brand as do Pete and Harry. It’s just a race up the ladder, but it’s going nowhere. He does however extract an apology from Pete for talking smack about him behind his back. Pete, perhaps humbled by his pending fatherhood or simply over the sour grapes of sharing his promotion with Kenny at Sterling-Cooper, is almost gracious and does apologize. I can’t help but think there was one eye brow raise too many from Pete to not signal some plan to steal away some client work from Kenny, but let’s leave Pete as a hero…for now.
If Pete is settling into domestic bliss, Peggy is going Bohemian. After meeting a sassy broad named Joyce in the elevator, Peggy gets invited to a genuine New York City happening at the loft space of an aspiring Warhol wannabe. She smokes a joint, gets a nibble from Joyce, makes out in a closet, watches art films, and nearly gets busted. Now that’s a night on the town. Of course she also gets mocked by the host and his friends when Peggy tells them she’s a copywriter and politely suggests he contact her for some commercial work.
“Art in advertising?” he asks. “Why would anyone do that after Warhol?” If he only knew…
The balance of art and science in advertising is shifting too with Dr. Hot Pants back for some audience insight gathering. She assembles a gaggle of office honeys in the conference room for a little girl talk…about Ponds. She’s a behavioral psychiatrist, mind you, and that means she’s digging for the underlying desires and motivations with her subjects, not simply what they say they like or dislike about a given product. But if you dig too deep you sometimes get tears and poor Allison looses it, all under the gazes of Peggy, Freddy Rumsen, and Don, who are in an adjoining room behind a two-way mirror. Don gets visibly uncomfortable until Allison storms out of the session. Peggy follows and tries to comfort Allison until she finds out Don tagged the poor gal and worse still, there’s a perception that Peggy slept her way to Head Copywriter. Peggy’s nothing if not proud of her accomplishments and she defends her honor by telling her “Your problem is not my problem.”
Allison can read the writing on the wall and tells Don she’s resigning and asks if he’d at least give her a letter of recommendation. Now Draper has incredible instincts and perception when it comes to people outside of his immediate orbit, but God damn if he is not completely tone deaf when it comes to people looking for his affirmation.
“Type up whatever you want, and I’ll sign it,” Don replies. Allison hurls a paperweight at him and smashes some junk on his credenza. He deserved it and seemed to know it. I mean the girl was just looking for a token from Don. He tries to stop her but she’s off. A drunken apology letter later goes nowhere and Draper has once again crushed someone with the weight of his indifference.
Pete gets another chance to dump his father-in-law when Trudy’s folks come over for a celebratory dinner. This time Pete doesn’t hesitate and tells Tom that quite frankly, he has bigger business now. Tom takes it as a ploy to squeeze a few more pennies from the account but Pete has a newfound confidence and tells him what he really wants is everything: all of Vicks Chemical.
“I’m done auditioning,” Pete tells Tom. When Tom realizes it’s not a bluff we almost actually see the turning of leverage from one generation to the next. When the defeated Tom calls Pete a son of bitch, all Campbell can muster is a shrug. Procreation lends a certain gravitas and Pete is reveling in his.
Dr. Hot Pants tells Don that her focus group rejected his initial concepts for Ponds and that he should maybe focus on a strategy linking Ponds to marriage. Remember, that was Freddy Rumsen’s idea—the one Peggy dismissed as old fashioned. Draper isn’t buying it, but he seems more bothered by Faye’s methods than her findings.
“You stick your finger in people’s brains, and they just start talking,” he continues. “Not only does it have nothing to do with what I do, it’s nobody’s business.”
Grown-ups realize that actions have reactions. Don’s not blind to the damage he leaves behind, he just seems incapable or unwilling to do anything to stop it. Maybe it’s why he’s no longer the charming man with bourbon on his breath but a cad careening into alcoholism and self-destruction?
Pete lands the big business at Vicks and is suddenly everyone’s hero. A $6 million account dwarfs Ponds and it’s all Pete’s. It’s the kind of account that can change a career; change an agency. As Pete meets the new bosses in the lobby of the fast maturing SCPD Peggy meets her new Greenwich friends outside by the elevators. As she looks back at Pete through the glass doors you can see their separate paths before them.
Draper stumbles home and passes an old woman in the hallway wheeling her grocery cart to her own apartment. Her elderly husband is there waiting for her and asking if she got the pears.
“We’ll discuss it inside,” she says.
Draper looks on until she closes the door. Inside that apartment is decades of a life together. Inside his is fashionable furniture and the phone number of a call girl. Nobody is bringing pears home for Don Draper. The question is whether Don Draper can recognize the juncture his life has reached and that he has a decision to make? Who is he, where is he going, and what does he stand for? The answers are what define us, but Don Draper is losing definition. He’s living an image, not a life, just like the saturated photograph of him with Anna in her cast is a facsimile of a moment in time, not the time itself. This season opened by asking Who is Don Draper? Now the question is where is Don Draper?