Do Hitchcock blondes ever go to the farm? The answer was a decided yes on this week’s Mad Men, with the return of Betty Francis, kitted out in her best orange sherbet shift dress with a matching orange sherbet coat, her hair a glorious blonde helmet, her lipstick a perfect red, tripping along in heels, smoking a cigarette before trying some milk straight from the cow. She was trying her hardest, but the visual was all wrong: on her son Bobby’s field trip, everyone had jeans and shirts, the authority figure of the teacher didn’t even bother with a bra (free love!), and there was Betty, completely overdressed.
Think about that: Betty at the farm, dressed in fashion that I would gander had its high point before 1969, the world revolving around her into mud and muck at the farm. It’s a good visual for the week.
We start out with Don at the movies. He looks like perfection. He makes movie watching look good, and it’s a shot of a car on the streets of California (Jacques Demy’s Model Shop, perhaps? But I want it to be Bullitt). When he gets out, he calls the office. Dawn, in her new position as the new Joan, can barely deal with her responsibilities towards Don with her phone ringing and ringing, but she pulls it off, competent as ever. Don learns the important information: Megan’s agent called. Out in California, the agent confesses to Don that Megan seems to be losing it — she bombed an audition, so she basically stalked the director, finding him at a dinner and begging for another chance to audition through a scrim of tears. This behavior won’t do, so hopefully Don can come out west and straighten his wife out.
After all, what else is Don doing?
Betty Francis is having tea with Francine, yes, Francine, back from the Bullet Park Road days and creepy next-door-neighbor Glen. Francine is a new woman, working three days a week in Dobbs Ferry as a travel agent. “I really needed a challenge,” she says, resplendent in her pantsuit. Betty nearly blanches at the idea of work. “I needed a reward,” Francine corrects. Betty is old-fashioned, comparatively, but after all, Gene is still very young and needs her on a daily basis.
Over in the land of office politics and parrying forth at Sterling Cooper & Partners, Harry Crane is talking. He is improvising at a meeting, claiming that the media department has computers but “Computers don’t think, people do.” Because they need computers for something. Harry Crane remains the worst, but he’s a Cassandra underneath all that smarm. He should be listened to, and Jim is trying to do it. But it is hard, understandably. They have another scene later where Jim calls Harry “the most dishonest man I’ve worked with,” and the computer situation is called an arms race. I am falling asleep thinking about this plot.
Don is back in California. Megan’s apartment seems bright and colorful this time around. Don is adjusting a bouquet of beautiful flowers when she comes in the door. Notably, he’s not drinking publicly. Megan is thrilled to be surprised, and they immediately have sex (Finally!). But there is little room for afterglow. Don’s real reason for his visit, Megan’s erratic behavior, spills out. He’s there to be the big daddy figure.
Megan lashes out, accusing Don of not caring. Don does nothing but care, he says. He’s honest with her about the mess he’s made of his life in the past year, being put on leave at Sterling Cooper & Draper, avoiding the constant temptation of women: “I’ve been good. I haven’t even been drinking that much.” But the damage is done. He’s been lying to her for a year. And maybe he could’ve gotten away with it if it seemed like he put Megan first, whether it’s in the long distance relationship or finding a job in Los Angeles or anything of that sort. Megan is clearly not his home, his place of refuge and honesty. She’s just another woman he’s performing for, and she’s done with it. She kicks Don out. They’re done.
Alone again, naturally in New York, Don gets it together. He calls that advertising agency he’s been flirting with. They make him a job offer. A blonde woman makes him a sex offer, in the middle of dinner (the second blonde woman to be brazen and forward this episode. Blonde women!). Don takes his offer letter straight over to Roger’s place. Roger tells him to come in Monday, and hippie Sherry’s disappointed that Don’s not staying in the love nest. Job acquired, Don calls Megan, who’s asleep in bed, makeup-free, telling her that he fixed it. She says “You don’t know me,” and he says “I know how I want you to see me.” She tells him to stop pushing her away with both hands. They’re done, done, done.
In the land of women who’ve lost Don Draper, here’s Betty, a chaperone on Bobby’s field trip, sitting with her son on the bus. Bobby 7, the same young actor who stood toe-to-toe with Jon Hamm when they saw Planet of the Apes, is telling Betty about the many monsters of the world. They’re having a great conversation. Betty is way overdressed for the farm day.
It’s Don’s first day of work! We are cross cutting between what seems like Don on his bed at home, full of nerves, and Don walking into Sterling Cooper & Partners, clocking what’s changed. Lou Avery has his job, of course. Don can’t go back into his office. He’s shunted away into the creatives’ playroom, kicking it with the proletariat, looking like a man among the children as the new stream of young people at the firm, like Ginsberg, who did the work on this year’s lone CLIO nomination, try to see how he’s been doing. Ken and Joan pop in. Joan’s horrified to see him, but Ken’s quite chipper, showing him pictures of baby boy Cosgrove on the carousel in Central Park, “which always makes me think of you,” he says to Don. Minor comedy ensues. Shirley pulls Jim away from Don’s romper room! Lou fumes in his office like a company zero to the core!
Betty waits outside the barn, smoking, but when she’s done, she follows the kids inside, listening to the farmer talk about a cow. She even tries some of the fresh cow milk. She’s game. But when lunchtime comes around, disaster strikes. Betty goes to the bathroom. Bobby lays out the blanket and food. He shoos away a classmate. But when Betty returns, there’s no sandwich for her; Bobby had traded away the second sandwich for candy. Betty fumes. Her son protests. “I didn’t know you were going to eat.” The lovely time they were having is over. Betty’s frosty exterior descends.
Back at Sterling Cooper, there is a partner meeting. Don remains in the romper room. Half of the partners want Don gone — Joan and Jim — Bert is less impressed, and Roger has the right bead on it: because Don is a partner, with shares, he’s got them over a barrel, really. Don is a genius, something about non-complete clauses and how much it would cost to buy him out of his shares…
The field trip is over. In the Francis kitchen, Betty and Bobby are still in a standoff. Bobby says, plaintively, “I wish it was yesterday.”
Don is stuck in the kids’ corner, and Peggy finally pops in to say hi. “I can’t say that we missed you,” she says. Not the nicest statement, and it’s full of holes, in a fashion. Sort of like Peggy’s weird position at SC & P these days.
Betty’s putting Gene to bed at the Francis household. Henry comes in to see how she is doing. She asks, “Do you think I’m a good mother? Then why don’t they love me? It’s just a matter of time.” It’s a little heartbreaking.
Finally, Don gets to go into a meeting like a grown man. The partners have come to terms, and they’re going to spell it out to Mr. Draper. Don can come back. Everything he plans to write or say in a meeting has to be approved by partners beforehand. He can’t drink at the office. And he has to report to Lou.
What do you say to that, Don? These terms suck! Do you really want to be reporting to everyone’s least favorite Lou in the world, a man in a cardigan with no real vision? (You want Don to give a speech, a no, a take this job and shove it! You get… )
“Okay.” Cut to black, Jimi Hendrix on the soundtrack.
The audience cries “noooooooo!” like it’s a horror movie. Chinatown screenwriter and legend Robert Towne’s name pops up on the credits as part of this season’s writers’ room. See you next week!
Reading material: Henry Francis’ potential rise to “Attorney General” shows that the writers’ room has a knowledge of New York machine politics. See: Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, William Kennedy’s Roscoe.