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Both sides, now
June 24, 2013 - Ray Eckenrode
“Mad Men” 6x13
Episode title: “In Care Of”
Significance: A direct reference to the letter Sally gets from the DA’s office, in care of Don Draper, regarding her testimony about the burglar. But in a much, make that MUCH larger sense, a reference to fractured families, gradually replacing nuclear families, which are coming to the forefront in the late 1960’s in America and especially in the “Mad Men” universe. As Megan aptly put it, “I used to feel sorry for them. But I realize now we’re all in the same boat.”
Time passages: The episode takes place during the week before Thanksgiving 1968, several weeks after Richard Nixon has been elected president and, according to Drunk Don, “everything is back where Jesus wants it.”
Episode essay I:”The only unpardonable sin is to believe that God cannot forgive you.”
That barroom minister’s reproach (and did you hear “Band of Gold” playing in the background just like in the pilot?) triggered something in Don Draper nee Dick Whitman. At first it was just a memory, another unpleasant journey back to a place and a time he’d rather forget, a place and time where he’d occasionally rifle through the pockets of the men visiting the prostitutes and steal spare change in exchange for a Hershey bar.
Then that memory became a ball of anger, which was not good news for the minister, who got punched, or Don Draper, who wound up in a drunk tank that looked mysteriously like the Hell he had been reading about on a beach in Hawaii a little less than a year earlier.
And that ball of anger grew and festered inside the former Dick Whitman, until he could take it no more and had to do what sinners almost always do: Confess.
So before a room full of Hershey executives and his own shocked colleagues, Don Draper, the chameleon who’d taken a chance opportunity to become someone else and had furiously guarded that new identity, even as it destroyed him slowly from the inside out, confessed what it was like to be Dick Whitman and described to every what the real “currency of affection” is. He told them what it was like to be alone and what it was like to feel normal, what it was like to dream of being one of Milton Hershey’s orphans, one of the lucky ones.
And what a confession it was – a confession that in all likelihood cost Don Draper his job, his pretty young wife and, yes, even his identity. (And a confession that just might win Jon Hamm another Emmy.) But it brought him something else, something more valuable, and given the depths we’ve seen Don Draper sink to, something most unlikely, something we saw for just a second in a little girl’s glance. That confession brought Dick Whitman forgiveness.
And if the son of a whore who grew up somewhere in Pennsylvania can be forgiven his many sins that leaves really only one major question to look toward in the final season of “Mad Men.” Dick Whitman reinvented himself once as Don Draper, but is it now possible for Don Draper to reinvent himself as Dick Whitman?
Episode essay II: We know how traumatic the 1960’s (and especially 1968) were for America and that’s been subtext all season on “Mad Men.” But we got a real sense in “In Care Of” of the personal toll the decade took on families, a toll we’re still feeling keenly in 2013.
We know all too well the havoc Don and Betty have wreaked upon their one-time perfect nuclear family unit, but to hear them realize it so keenly and talk about it was somewhat of a revelation.
And even as the turtlenecked Ted Chaough was whisking Peggy into bed we knew the future they were planning was not the future they’d have. We knew Ted would try to save his shaky family life (although we didn’t know he’d beg Don for the chance to go to California to do it).
And poor Pete, who drove himself off the Chevy account on a day that was most definitely not great, was reminded of just what he’d lost by driving Trudy away (although Trudy gave him such a great pep talk we half believe Pete can rebuild his life in California).
And what to make of the Thanksgiving tableau in Joan’s apartment? She the breadwinner, Bob Benson (who might not know himself if he’s gay or straight) donning an apron and silver-haired Roger bearing gifts of cranberry and thankful for a chance to part of his son’s life. Try to turn that into stick figures on your minivan window. (Alright, it’s 1968, there are no stick figure window clings or minivans, but you get the point.)
About last week: Tim Goodman’s great recap of “The Quality of Mercy” in the Hollywood Reporter last week made a lot of the points we’ve been trying to make about Season 6, just a lot more eloquently. You can find a link to the review in its entirety at right. But Goodman made one great point about the direction, or lack thereof, of Season 6 that we hadn’t thought of: That the seeming overemphasis of Don Draper’s bad behavior in Season 6 could be a function of Matt Weiner agreeing to do three more seasons (instead of two) in the prolonged contract negotiations with AMC in 2011 rather than a planned story arc. If you think the story you have left to tell will fill 26 episodes and you end up signing on for 39, well, you get the picture. The same thing happened to “Lost,” of course, but we won’t revisit those painful memories.
Brand names: Smirnoff and Canadian Club continued to get major air time in Drunk Don’s office. Hershey’s, obviously, was the big name in the episode (and the fine PR folks there were probably thrilled about their “Mad Men” mention until…)
+ Well, I guess we know who wears the pants now at Sterling Cooper and Partners. It’s Peggy Olsen, who we last saw slaving away on Thanksgiving Day in Don’s former office and sporting pants for the first time in the series’ history. You’ve come a long way, baby, indeed.
+ “Moon River,” of course, was written by Henry Mancini and recorded by Johnny Mercer and came to the forefront of American consciousness in 1961 in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” but that was likely Ray Coniff’s 1968 version we heard playing toward the episode’s end.
Sweet tweet: From @edsbs: “Ted Chaough left the turtleneck on because it’s the shirt that’s like a condom for the soul.”
Lines of the night:
+ “Well, I wouldn’t want to do anything immoral.” – Sally Draper
+ “I’d tell you to go to hell, but I don’t ever want to see you again.” – Uncle Mack
+ “We were happy there. We could be happy there again,” – Don Draper
+ “The good is not beating the bad.” – Betty Francis
+ “I don’t know why women do anything.” – Ted Chaough
+ “I don’t want a scandal. I can wait.” – Peggy Olsen
+ “She loved the sea.” – Pete Campbell
+ “It was the only sweet thing in my life.” –Dick Whitman
Have we seen the last of Don Draper?