For those of us who weren’t alive at the time it’s hard to imagine what the 1960s were like. Everything has become a cliché of bellbottoms and velvet coats and massive cars. As fractured and polarized as America is today it’s nothing compared to the riots and street fights and assassinations that wracked that golden decade. But that was mostly in the late 60s, after everything changed. In the autumn of 1963 we were still the great city on the hill but hurtling toward the day when it all came crashing down; when nobody was quite sure what was going on and what you were supposed to do about it…or if you even could do anything about it. It was Friday, November 22.
I don’t know about back in the day but Friday is the day people usually get fired. If you come in to work and the boss asks you to have a seat in your office you can be sure it’s bad news. Pete Campbell wasn’t exactly fired, but he was assured that the path he’s on at Sterling-Cooper was a dead-end. Lane and the men upstairs decided to give Kenny Cosgrove the lead position on Accounts. In explaining his decision Lane tells Pete that while his accounts are made to feel their every needs are met, “Mr. Cosgrove has the rare gift of making them feel as if they haven’t any needs.” In client services, it’s all about anticipating a client’s needs and heading it off at the pass. Playing catch up costs money.
Suddenly, Duck Phillips’ offer isn’t looking so bad, and heaven knows Peggy’s been getting an advance on hers. Our new Gal in the City is living it up and having a blast being a fling, if not a girlfriend. But being a good lay for an older man only goes so far and Peggy’s roommate, upon hearing that Duck is not married, asks “Then why are you with him?” It’s a funny question that Peggy herself is probably now pondering. Maybe she can hand him right off to Pete Campbell for a little Afternoon Delight?
We’ve known for some time now that poor Margaret Sterling was heading for disaster with a wedding day scheduled for November 23. But she has no idea what’s about to go down in Dallas so what’s she crying about? Perhaps it’s the plight of children of divorce and her natural questioning of the entire institution of marriage? It can’t be easy for a girl with a daddy complex to know that the old man has not only been tagging every secretary in the office but actually left mommy for This Year’s Model. To her credit, Jane tried to reach out to Maggie but botched it by presenting the girl with a way-too-expensive peace offering, further supporting the stereotype of the gold digging second wife. After fits and screams and locked bathroom doors, both young Sterling women agree to disagree but tolerate each other on the Blessed Day.
Back at the office, Peggy gets a booty call from Duck who cajoles her into a nooner. Since he left Sterling-Cooper and started drinking again, Duck Phillips has become a playa. Turtleneck sweaters and meetings in hotel suites. In ten years time he’ll be doing lines off of an ex-dancer’s belly, but for now he’s holed up in a rented room waiting for Peggy Olsen and watching TV. That’s when the news bulletin comes in from Dallas. Duck, not wanting to miss his chance to get busy, unplugs the TV when Peggy knocks at the door. Why let a national tragedy get in the way of a quickie?
While Peggy’s getting her bell rung, the rest of the office is glued to Harry Crane’s TV watching the events in Dallas unfold. If you were near a TV on that day, you were watching it. “They just said he died,” Betty tells Carla who rushes in from running an errand with the kids. Sure, Betty held a fundraiser for Republican New York Governor Rockefeller just a couple weeks ago, but Kennedy’s death was a shock to the American psyche that crossed political lines. It doesn’t matter that he was a divisive character in the few short years of his presidency (which is easily forgotten in the haze of our modern day Kennedy worship). John F. Kennedy’s assassination shook people’s beliefs in what America was and what it stood for. That the most powerful man in the world could be gunned down in broad daylight on the streets of Dallas was difficult to believe. That it was the work of a lone assassin would be too much for a majority of Americans to believe for decades, but in the days immediately after his death people questioned their own mortality and what their lives were for and who they were spending them with. At least, Betty Draper was.
Don arrives home to find Sally and Bobby watching the news coverage. “Am I supposed to keep it from them?” Betty asks. Don tells her to “take a pill and lie down,” and then does what dads do: he comforts his kids. “Everyone will be sad for a while,” he tells them. “But it will all be OK.” It’s hard to tell if they believe it. It’s hard to tell if he does either.
Imagine being expected to celebrate someone’s wedding the day after something like that happens. Yes, life goes on but it doesn’t go on unchanged and not so soon. Don convinces Betty that they have to attend Margaret Sterling’s wedding. Even if it’s canceled, they have to at least show up. Pete decides that’s bullshit. It’s NOT business as usual and he’s not going to go to what is essentially a mandatory work event for a company that just gave him a thumb in the eye. No, Pete and Trudy Campbell are staying home.
The Campbells aren’t the only ones skipping out on the Big Day. Poor Maggie’s reception is scarcely attended and it sounds like most of the asses in the pews during the ceremony were praying for President Kennedy’s soul rather than bestowing blessings on the happy couple. Roger displays more of that charm and wit that makes the office girls go wild by not only navigating the otherwise minor hiccups of a wedding that are blown out when the nation’s in mourning, but also tips his hat to his ex-wife. Roger grew up in the same generation as Sinatra and it shows. You may not always be a great person, but you’re always a gentleman.
Somehow, the party goes on. Given the circumstances the normal rules of formality and ceremony are thrown out the window (a foreshadowing of cultural things to come?) to join the bride and her father in the first dance. Who should show up but Henry, The Man From Upstate, accompanied by a young philly,as Betty surely notices. Turns out the honey is his daughter. Still, the attraction between Betty and Henry is there and each eyes the other from across the dance floor, all without exchanging a word. Most of us reach out to those closest as the world falls down around us. Betty questions who that should be.
Back at their apartment, Roger deposits a drunk Jane in bed and calls Joan. “I had to talk to you,” he says. They discuss the assassination and the obvious effect it’s had on the normally sarcastic Roger. “What’s that about?” he asks. “Because there’s nothing funny about this,” she replies and she’s right. The interplay highlights just how close Roger and Joan once were and how much he still clearly appreciates her. She was the one he called and she was the one who understood why.
If everyone who was alive when Kennedy was killed can tell you exactly where they were when they heard the news, they can probably also tell you they saw his assassin’s own execution on live TV two days later. Betty screams when she watches Oswald’s murder and tells Don “Leave me alone,” when he tries to comfort her. Later she tells him she’s going for a drive to “clear her head” but ends up mashing with The Man from Upsate in an empty parking lot.
“Where does your husband think you are?” he asks.
“I don’t care,” she replies and you get the sense that she really means it.
“You don’t have to answer me now, but I want to marry you,” Henry tells her. Talk about a mindfuck.
Back in Manhattan the Campbells are still glued to their TV and watch the horror of Oswald’s murder in a slow motion, never ending loop that is the nascent foundation of today’s 24hr news cycle. Proving that Pete may have been talking up his own game a bit at home, Trudy tells him that the clients will follow him should he leave Sterling-Cooper. We don’t see that much Campbell and client interaction on the show but we’re always led to believe that Don Draper is the real draw. Might Pete start believing his own hype and try to jump over to Duck with his client list in hand?
“I want to scream at you for ruining all this,” Betty tells Don when she returns home from her parking lot make out session, which may be true given the mountain of lies she’s discovered about Don in recent weeks but it’s also likely propelled by her own wandering interests. Don tries to dismiss it as overflow from the emotional car crash that was the assassination, but Betty ain’t having it.
“I don’t love you,” she says. “I kissed you yesterday. I didn’t feel a thing.” Don tells her she’ll feel better tomorrow, which just serves to agitate Betty. “You can’t even hear me right now,” she says. “You’re right,” he replies and walks upstairs to sit in a dark room and contemplate just what is going on in his world.
The office is mostly dark when Don arrives on Monday, a national day of mourning. Only he and Peggy have come in. “Bars are closed,” he tells her. People are at Peggy’s apartment writing condolence letters to Jackie Kennedy and her sister’s house is crumbling under the weight of her mother “crying and praying so hard there wasn’t room for anyone else to feel anything.”
Peggy asks if Don wants to watch President Kennedy’s funeral with her. He declines, walks into his office and pours a drink. The President is dead, the country is in crisis. The clouds that were on the horizon are now blackening the sky. If ever there was a time to drink…