When we first see the milk sloshing into the pan on the stove and Don all bleary-eyed, we think the baby has been born. But no, Don is caring for his other baby, Betty.
The scene he sees as he stands there is in his imagination. It isn’t a flashback or a memory. This is a new technique for Mad Men, we haven’t been inside Don’s head this way before. The scene gives us a whole lot of insight into Don. It solves part of the mystery of who he is but also sets the tone for his complicated relationships with women. His birth taught him to have no loyalty to women” or maybe it gave him the capacity to love two women at once. Weiner is not afraid of imbuing his characters with ambiguous complicated emotional structures. And here he gives us the origins of Don’s attractions to two kinds of women; the good long-suffering ones like his stepmother and Betty and the loose ones like his birth mother and Shelley the stewardess with whom he shares his real birthday.
Structurally the episode rolls out in time over two days, starting in the wee hours of the day of Dick/Don’s true date of birth and ending when Don gets home from his trip the next day. In between, Don travels far from home to Baltimore, where things get wild late at night. The drunken dinner, fire alarm and the dash down the fire escape give the adventure an unreality. When Don looks through Salvatore’s window, he is shocked by what he sees. He can’t stop staring at Sal. But as they fly home on the plane later, it becomes clear that Don has absorbed the information but is not going to judge. That is another gift of Don’s birth; he has the capacity to accept people. Who is he to judge? In fact, he gives Sal advice on how to manage; limit your exposure. It’s both an ad and advice on survival
The second big storyline of the episode involved the new head of accounts and was mostly seen through Pete’s bitter eyes. We get in a little closer on Pete’s relationship with wife, Trudy. He is delighted to share the good news with her and then to reveal his disappointment and anger when he discovers that it isn’t the promotion he hoped for. She is sweet beyond what he deserves, don’t you think? And she plays him well.
Pete is a prig with Ken and overwhelmed with anger and disappointment that at the promotion. He isn’t good at keeping his mouth in check so when he bursts into Don’s office, we know he’s going to let his bitterness bubble over. But then he sees Roger there and keeps his mouth shut. Instead he mouths platitudes about being honoured. And a darn good thing for Pete too, because next minute in comes Bertram and Pete finally finds himself in a cozy moment with the big boys.
The third major storyline of the episode are Joan’s trials with “Mr. Hooker”, the secretary Lane Pryce has brought with him from the UK. He’s a pain in the ass, flirting with secretaries and distracting them from their work and asserting his power over Joan. But she’s a wily one, isn’t she? Nicely played, Joan.
Interestingly, the final beat of this subplot is between Pryce and Hooker when Pryce tells him to vacate the office Joan has provided him with. Hooker complains that this place is a gynocracy; a genteel way of calling Joan the c-word. It’s also a callback to the opening sequence of the women giving birth. It’s the early 60s and feminism is in its infancy. If you think women are in charge now, Hooker, just you wait.
One other thing I noticed during last night’s episode: the leisurely pace at which the story unfolds. Weiner is in no rush and feels no need to keep us focused on just the unfolding storylines. He’s happy to turn his attention to the players who’s roles this week are more minor. The situation is real for each of them and he is happy to give them a few moments to tell us where they are.
Look at how the Joan-Hooker storyline gets set up for example. We start in Peggy’s office. She’s trying to communicate with her secretary by intercom and when she can’t reach her, goes out to her desk to find her flirting with Hooker.
In the next scene, which sets up both the London Fog business trip and the new Head of Accounts story, Weiner gives the characters time to study a Japanese print on the wall and even lets Roger appear late for the firing.
Then watch how Burt Peterson’s firing plays. It starts out civilized enough. But Burt goes ballistic and storms out. He rails through the next scene where he yells at Joan’s new enemy Hooker and continues into the following scene in which Pete’s secretary tells him that Mr Pryce wants to see him. A lovely little three scene run of screaming, insults and throwing things.