Blogging Mad Men: Season 4, Ep. 8, “The Summer Man”

After all of the drama that exploded last week, “Mad Men” fans had to be wondering which direction the show would take in this week’s episode. What we got was Introspective Don, who has decided to put down the booze and pick up the pen. The opening scene had him narrating his thoughts as he jotted them down in his journal, using the laziest narrative technique ever: the voiceover. Ugh.

Thankfully, the episode picked up enough for that transgression to be (mostly) forgiven. Picking up where last week’s suitcase metaphor left off, this week seemed to be about getting rid of excess baggage (or boxes, as the case may be) and moving forward. With a renewed effort to experience life, Don begins swimming. He is more perceptive about life’s details, like the pleasant feeling of being able to stretch out alone on his bed, and the smell of corn in the air as he walks outside.

Regarding Don’s personal life, we see the return of Bethany Van Nuys, a.k.a. Betty 2.0; their resemblance is uncanny. Their date is momentarily interrupted by the unexpected presence of Betty and Henry Francis. “Her?” Bethany incredulously asks, when Don tells her that Betty is his ex-wife. It’s not exactly evident why Bethany is so shocked about Betty. Was she aware of her resemblance to Betty? Did Betty’s pouting and non-stop smoking put Bethany off?

Although Bethany and Don are able to continue having a good time throughout their dinner (and in the cab ride after), Betty has a hard time letting go. “I hate him,” she sullenly says on the car ride home. “Hate is a strong word,” Henry responds. “I hate Nazis. I don’t hate my ex-wife.” Betty has always had a childish approach to the way she handles her problems, and this encounter with Don was no exception. “Before you, he was the only man I was ever with,” she tells her husband. She is having a hard time letting go of the past, and her behavior is having a negative effect on her marriage to Henry, who must keep urging her to move on. “I misbehaved,” Betty later admits to Francine, who tells her to be careful because, “Don has nothing to lose and you have everything.”

Back at the office, Joan is fighting an entirely different battle: sexual harassment. After reprimanding a group of her male co-workers over the noise they were making trying to get an item out of the new vending machine, Joan becomes the target of Joey’s harassment. First he tells her that she looks like, “some madam from a Shanghai whorehouse,” claiming that she walks around looking like she wants to get raped. It is a particular sting to Joan, considering her past experience being raped by her then-fiancé.

After being confronted by Peggy, Joey continues the “she asked for it” meme, saying that Joan wears her pen on a chain around her next so that men would “stare at her tits.” Ignoring Peggy’s advice to stop harassing Joan, Joey decides to turn it up a notch, drawing a vulgar caricature of Joan and Lane. Joan sees the caricature and confronts Joey and his cohort, icily telling them, “I can’t wait until next year when all of you are in Vietnam…Remember, you’re not dying for me, because I never liked you.”

Peggy takes the caricature to Don, hoping he would yell at Joey, but Don tells her to take care of the problem herself, lest she want to gain the title of Office Tattletale. She confronts Joey in her office, telling him to go apologize to Joan. When he counters that the reason he hated working with women was due to their lack of a “sense of humor,” Peggy fires him. Joey’s buddies are shocked that he’s fired; Harry tells Joey to give him a call later so they could grab a drink, while Stan mutters something about Peggy “advancing the science of wet blanketry.”

At the end of the day, Peggy gets into the elevator with Joan, asking her if she’d heard about Joey getting fired. Peggy, expecting a grateful acknowledgment or some type of woman-to-woman commiseration, is shocked when Joan instead reprimands her. “All you’ve done is proved to them that I’m a meaningless secretary, and you’re another humorless bitch,” Joan tells her. Though Joan is probably right, her own indirect method of dealing with the harassment wouldn’t have garnered a much better result: the only “lesson” Joey and his friends were receiving was that they could get away with whatever they wanted.

Towards the end of the episode Don goes on another date, this time with Faye. It is reminiscent of his earlier date with Bethany, only this time, the woman sitting across from him is his age, and he refuses to repeat his previous patterns. Their dinner conversation is more intimate and revealing than the coy banter he had with Bethany. On the cab ride home, Don also takes a different route: he kisses Faye, but rather than take her back to his apartment, he makes it clear that walking her to her front door is as far as he can go at the moment.

At the end of the episode, Don shows up at baby Gene’s birthday party. “What is he doing here,” Henry asks her. “It’s okay,” Betty responds, picking up Gene and walking over to hand him to Don. She returns to Henry, the vision of a content housewife. “We have everything,” she firmly states, repeating Francine’s earlier line. But as she watches Don playing with Gene, her self-righteous façade slowly begins to fade. Betty hasn’t had any meaty episodes in a while; she’s always acting childish, and this episode gave her more to work with.

Thoughts?

feministtexican

Melissa reads a lot and is obsessed with Dexter and Mad Men. She talks nothing but books at The Feminist Texican [Reads].

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  • FINALLY someplace to vent.

    I didn’t think this was a brilliant episode, but I thought it set up a bunch of really interesting relationship parallels when taken with the previous episode.

    Last week we saw Don and Peggy going from potentially-sexin’-but-voluntarily-nonsexual mentor-and-protege to PSBVN friends. This week, we see all the other permutations of that. We see:

    – the visual riff where we think Don is attracted to Peggy, but he really is attracted to booze;

    – we see Joan break down and cry, because the only real ally she ever had at work was Roger — are Roger and Joan a sort of alternate Don and Peggy? Is Joan a version of Peggy born too early to get a shot in a man’s world, born too early to relate to a man in a way other than sex, and who now finds herself full of unused talent, separated from her true partner, unable to use sex to manipulate the too-young too-sexy male artist, and coupled with a dumbass future corpse? Is this where Peggy would be, ten years earlier, or ten miles inland?

    – and we see Joan and Peggy. Joan’s being terrible to Peggy, but Joan’s never been anything but. She never had the opportunities that Peggy had, and had to invest in an underground intra-office economy of power to get a station deserving of her (no sarcasm). And now, that station is crumbling, the same way Don’s man’s world is crumbling — because Joan’s world is that same man’s world. Why the fuck should she be nice to Peggy? Some sisterhood-of-women crap? Is Peggy going to wave a wand and hire on Joan as a new junior copywriting intern? Fuck that! Better to go out in a blaze of righteous snark.

    Also, hella parallels between Joan and Peggy’s mom, except Peggy seems like she can deal with it a lot better now.

    • Scipio Africanus

      I couldn’t shake Joan’s hypocrisy towards Peggy. She was trying to do exactly what Peggy did, only Peggy had the actual power to fire Joey. Joan would have if she could have. She tried to lay a guilt trip on Peggy by using basic truths to support a fake point.

      I don’t know whom I dislike more, Joan or Betty. Psych naw, everyone knows Betty is the worst.

  • When Don went to Gene’s birthday party carrying a stuffed elephant, was I thinking too hard about the whole “elephant in the room” symbolism or what?

  • Solomon

    I just typed up this long post and right before posting it somehow a new window was opened and I lost the whole thing. So I am just going to say…..

    Joan is a delusional nut job who has never done anything that one might interpret as a kind gesture. She is slinging so much hateraid in Peggy’s direction on the regular that as far as I’m concerned not only should Peggy not be feeling sorry for Joan, but Peggy would need to be brought down for a mental health evaluation if she even considered Joan as somebody to keep around at the company.

    It is the old “s/he who laughs last, laughs best” and after all the years of torment at the hand of the crazy azz Joan Peggy is finally getting her sweet revenge. Even though it seems like Peggy really does not get a great sense of satisfaction in the suffering of others, and that even means when it is Joan, the one that treated her like the office ‘whipping person’ from the minute Peggy walked in the first day.

    The funny part is Joan will still be all kinds of stuck on stupid even if Peggy treats her only with respect and is nothing but kind to her. Joan will still see Peggy as the one that must have really been doing some ‘favors’ on the side in order to leap right over her and into the top spot.

    I am excited to see how the story twists and turns from here now that after so many of the relationships seem to be on the way out and there is so much uncertainty in the air.

    Van’t wait for next week!

  • -k-

    My take on Bethany’s reaction was that Betty’s appearance ran counter to two narratives- one, the one we all secretly hope is true about our partners’ exes, and two, a larger societal narrative about The Kind of Woman Who Gets Divorced, which Betty (and, by extension, Bethany) are supposedly not.

    Channing, good call on noting Don’s longing gaze– for those couple of seconds where it seemed like it was about Peggy, it was shocking. They got me.

  • Scipio Africanus

    I felt like the rape line was a shoe-horned and obvious downpoint in the episode. The writers are usually way subtler and sharper than that.

    Bethany’s attraction to Don went up to 11 once she realized Don’s ex was hot and a slightly older version of her. That shows how much of attraction has to do with things other than the person him/herself.