Sunday, September 12, 2010

Mad Men Season 4, Episode 8: "The Summer Man"

So many joys in this week's episode! Interior monologues! Henry Francis realizes he married a woman with the psychological makeup of a 12 year old! "Satisfaction!" Confronting 1960s sexual harassment! Exercise! The return of suave (and sober) Don! A significant stylistic departure from the Mad Men "house" style (retrograde zooms, slow-motion POV shots, no closing credits music, voiceover)!

This episode seems to mark a turning point in Don's arc this season, and I think it's reflected in these stylistic departures, the episode's form signaling its content. As Keith Phipps points out in his review (,45047/), we've never had such access to Don's subjectivity before. Phipps seems to think it's another persona, one created to make himself feel better (which it seems to do), but I think it's more genuine than that. For one, his genius is evident here - his observations are insightful, eloquent, and sharp - just like his ad pitches. And it seems to be working. For once, he stays sober over the course of the episode. Also admirable (relative to the Don Draper Morality Scale, which ranges from "reprehensible" to "kind of a dick but in a good way"): his restraint with Dr. Miller (a development I really like, by the way. Of all of Don's love interests, I think she's the most suitable match for him so far. Intelligent and classy, she can match Don in conversation like few others have in the past. He seems to respect her. Plus he thinks she smells nice).

Despite the wonderful access we get to Don's subjectivity here, my favorite scene of the episode was the one in the car between Betty and Henry. Not only does Betty finally let slip how childish she can be (or at least, this is the first time we've seen it become a conflict for them), but I think her reaction to Don at the restaurant is an indication to both us and to Henry that Betty married Henry partly (or mostly, or only?) to get back at Don for being so awful to her. Thus her being so upset with seeing Don happy, on a date, and unconcerned with her in the slightest stems from her realization that taking away from him everything (or everything she can) hasn't hurt him as much as she'd hoped (although she's wrong - until now he's been a fucking wreck). Francine's husband is right, he is a sad son of a bitch (or whatever the exact phrasing was).

Other things to love about this episode:
- some really wonderful underwater photography during the swimming scenes. I also like that Don is exercising - it shows a little forward thinking on his part, something that he's been lacking in the past, despite his adaptability.
- I could write a lot more about the sexual harassment and office politics, but I'll just say that I loved Joan's "scorched earth" method of dealing with the assholes in creative. Basically, she told them, "You may die soon and that would make me happy." I was expecting it not to have an affect on them, but they seemed pretty devastated. Also, I was cheering Peggy on when she went after Joey, but everything Joan said in the elevator was right - Peggy didn't make it better for either of them. Ick.
- Another nice scene (nice because it's so perfectly horrible): Joan breaks down in front of Greg, and rather than console her, he tries to fuck her (or perhaps it was a lousy attempt at consolation - "I know what will make her feel better: satisfying my desires!") What an asshole. As Phipps writes, "He’s awful, but he’s all she’s got." Poor Joany. 
- Another sign of a healthier Don: seizing more control of his life doesn't just mean getting his mojo back, it means attending his son's birthday party.
- I've been warm to Henry Francis, but that phone call he placed to Don, plus his willfully ignoring Don when Don comes by to pick up his stuff, ticked sympathy meter into the antipathy zone. I had been hoping he'd be a positive influence on Betty, but it seems the opposite has begun to happen.
- Finally, good laughs: Don's zinger when asked by Bethany about who Henry and Betty were (paraphrasing from memory): "My ex-wife, her husband, and some poor slob who's about to have the worst dinner conversation of his life."

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