Everyone in Mad Men episode 7.03, Field Trip, is looking to others for validation of a self-image, as if they are looking through a broken mirror. There were a number of conversations that pointed directly to this struggle to be seen and known. I didn’t find any of the dialogue “on the nose,” in the pejorative sense of being too obvious, too pointed, too “look at me, I’m meaningful!” Yet it really was on the nose, in the sense of getting right to the heart of the matter.
Just listen to Don and Megan:
Don: I just thought that if you found out what happened you wouldn’t look at me in the same way.
Megan: I can’t believe after all this time you don’t know me.
Don: I know how I want you to see me.
Don wants Megan to see him a certain way. Megan wants Don to know her. Megan is incredibly fragile in this episode (and it’s probably the best work Jessica Paré has ever done), and so is Don. Both of their fragility is rooted in the need to have someone just see them. Megan takes professional rejection to mean that she isn’t known, isn’t loved, isn’t valued, isn’t an actress. Don does the same, doesn’t he? His professional rejection—his forced leave—is something he can’t have his wife or children see, lest they stop loving him. It’s funny how, in the episode where Megan tells Don it’s over, we can finally see what a perfect match they are for each other. Megan’s brittle mini-breakdown, chasing after directors and begging for a second chance, looking wild-eyed when she finds out that her agent, Alan, called Don, parallels Roger’s snide, yet disturbing portrait of Don: The man who talked to Hershey, I’ve seen that man wandering the streets with a sandwich board saying, “The end is near.” Wandering the streets or wandering into country clubs chasing Rod Serling, it’s not a far distance.
Don’s long, difficult wait in the Creative lounge is juxtaposed, note-by-note, with Betty’s trip to the farm with Bobby. Few scenes in Mad Men‘s history have been inter-cut so closely. I mean, the show lives and dies on juxtaposition, but usually it’s a scene here and then a scene there; the two field trips: to the farm and the office, were not scene to scene so much as moment to moment. And what does Betty end up expressing about her day:
Betty: Do you think I’m a good mother?
Henry: Of course.
Betty: Then why don’t they love me?
A little nothing of a transgression (particularly minor for Bobby, who is always in trouble) and Betty is destroyed, unloved. Her children are her broken mirror. She can’t imagine doing what Francine does, because she has to stay home and have that mirror all the time. (Or can she? Perhaps Betty envies Francine’s ability to get out—there are more mirrors out there.)
Betty eats lunch with Bobby, looking for signs she is or is not loved, having fun or not having fun based on nuances of a child’s behavior. Meanwhile, Don eats a lunch provided by Dawn, waiting for a sign that he is or is not loved (professionally), while a parade of people look into his mirror for their own validation. And Peggy? Peggy must remain furious, refusing to ever again be validated by Don, because he took away Ted, her mirror of choice.
Let’s discuss why Roger said yes to Don. It was a great fight, about loyalty, about friendship, about who owed what to whom. These two have always been complicated in their anger at each other, the pleasure they take in one another’s company, and in their absolute failure to understand one another. To Don, loyalty remains paramount, but Don is also fighting for himself, and Don is exciting when he does that.
Did Roger feel remorse? Guilt? Did he really just want Don back because he missed him? Last week, we saw that Lou was just no fun to joke around with. Roger derives no pleasure from Lou, who is creatively “invisible.” Or, was it part of the complex power play that goes on between Jim and Roger?
Last week, I interpreted Jim’s “I’d hate to be your adversary” as fondness, and pretty much the entire Internet disagreed, calling it a threat. I’ve rewatched and it’s absolutely both. Of course, you don’t say “adversary” unless the possibility exists (threat), but I do believe that Jim is fond of Roger and that they really understand each other; old school account men of about the same age and personal style. Roger is easily out-maneuvered because he is so privileged, so used to having his name on the door, that he often takes power for granted instead of working for it. Yet he’s also foxy as all shit and, we learned this week, is the President of SC&P. He can move chess pieces on a board if he has to.
Roger, then, might genuinely miss Don as a person, and might be making a power play against Jim. He also might fear for his agency, with Invisble Lou running Creative. Roger wants the prestige that accompanies powerhouse creative, and, in 1969, showboat creative is ruling Madison Avenue. Note they’re name-checking Mary Wells, young, up-and-coming, a new kind of advertising executive, and it’s Wells whom Don would be working for if he accepts the offer he received.
Of course privileged, sloppy, guard-down Roger walks in late and drunk, but he still had a lot of cards to play when the partner’s meeting finally happened.
How amazing was that meeting? When Don walked into the conference room, neither Professor Spouse nor I knew what the partners were going to say to him. The meeting weighed the pros and cons so powerfully that, while it seemed the odds were in Don’s favor, it was hard to be sure. That’s terrific writing on so many levels. First, because everyone’s point of view was clear, and second, because the show is unpredictable enough that there was no saying to yourself, “Of course Don comes back.” Mad Men just doesn’t have much “of course” about it.
Here come the bullet points:
- I sometimes get so caught up in analyzing and exploring an episode in my recaps that I am accused (rightly) of not saying whether or not I liked it. Make no mistake, I loved Field Trip. Best episode of the season so far, and a stand-out episode in the annals of Mad Men.
- FRANCINE! Francine is back! Who did a happy dance with me?
- Hey Basketcases, what movie was Don watching in the opening scene? I know I’ll have an answer in moments.
- Quote of the week was, again, not a contest. It’s Jim Cutler’s “You have stiff competition, but I believe you to be the most dishonest man I have ever worked with.”
- Was anyone else confused, at first, as to whether Don was actually going into the office? As we cut between him looking at his watch and walking in, I feared he merely fantasized going in while staying, frozen, at home.
- Closing song was Jimi Hendrix, If 6 Was 9.