So one reason Peggy has been so awful recently is that she just turned thirty (Don Draper: "Oh, shit.") and fears being forever alone, because the last guy who was into her was probably gay and also cut off his nipple to defeat the computers. One good thing about being born in our era is that thirty is nothing, but because it is the olden times before even Boniva, they have to start planning sooner. This puts Peggy in just the right frame of mind to become Don Draper for a day, as she realizes that all good campaigns come from your own desperation because everybody wants the same things.
It's like during Tyra Banks's moment in the sun, I always said that her genius was not in knowing what people want, it was that she was so basic that what she wants is what the people want: Supermodels in fat suits, dolphins raping people, yelling at strippers. Wondering where twins come from.
There's a disconnect between the offices, since nobody but the New York people know how bad things got with Don—and technically continue to be—so Pete's finesse with the Burger Chef patriarchy leaves Peggy confused and frustrated: While Lou doesn't even want Don in the accounts meeting, everybody (including Ted, who shows up on a conference call and breaks the camel's back of her rage) believes Don will end up enchanting them in the meeting. As much as Pete has always lived five minutes into everybody else's future, we're left wondering—much like a few weeks ago, when Burt worried over having a black woman in reception— whether it's his own biases in play, or a correct read on the client and the times.
After she rocks the initial pitch internally, Lou and Pete tell Peggy that Don should be the closer, which sets her right off. Eventually she saves face by pretending it's all her idea, but she needn't bother: Don's so insecure right now that he does a private happy dance (right in front of the Miracle Mets pennant, even) when she orders him to do it. Of course, you can't let it all go down without putting your hands on it, so he suggests an alternate take, which is what does her in. (Well, besides Ted ghosting that call, and Pete's hideous idea of praise: "She's as good as any woman in this business!")
Peggy spends the bulk of the episode in freefall, questioning herself and her creative decisions, getting drunker and crazier, until finally calling Don in the late evening to bitch him out in a barely comprehensible way for tainting her great idea: Since her research shows that moms feel shitty about bringing home fast food, they have to position the campaign to give mothers "permission" to opt out. It's a great pitch, with Mom guiltily driving by a Burger Chef only to find Dad already there, pitching in and picking up, but it's also a fantasy about Don returning to the office and meeting her halfway. So when he tosses off the idea of doing it from the kids' perspective, she loses her shit for a good day and a half, even though he'll probably barely remember offering the alternate take.
Pete wants her to voice the Mother, which speaks to their history as much to his current dilemmas. Don wants the whole thing from the kids' perspective, because his version of trying to support Pete and Peggy as full-fledged adults is to leave the adults out of it, which is the Dick Whitman Survival Strategy to a T. Peggy wants to give herself permission to value her career and her growth over the 1955 bullshit myth of female fulfillment (which was a lie even in 1955). Nobody's quite happy, but everybody knows they're right. And they are.
So by the climax of the episode, Peggy finally drops her act and respectfully requests Don's actual counsel: How to be Don Draper, how to think like Don Draper thinks. ("Living in the not knowing," he describes, accurately and poetically.) Grateful and with more than a little bit of affection, Don says that first he would be a dick to the people who are trying to help him—"Done," she says wrily—and then he would start from the beginning.
They jump into the rabbit hole together, working back to the "Suitcase" level of intimacy they both prefer (not to say need), and before you know it she's freaking out about the choices that have put her in an undervalued position, alone with only Julio for company, and the distinct—to her—possibility she'll die alone. (Even Stan Rizzo, majestically eating a banana with an open shirt and paint-spattered jeans, has more grownup shit to do.) "Does this family exist anymore? People who eat dinner, and smile, instead of staring at the TV?" She could be talking about their original pod—which all three of them haze over with nostalgia, even as they're resenting and halfheartedly backstabbing each other—but really she's diving for a deeper truth, and for just one second it scares the piss out of Don.
You can actually see him trying to keep from shying away as Peggy dissolves in front of him, but because it's Peggy—and because he is a much better man this year—he pulls it together and offers her comfort: "You're doing great," he says, meaning it, and she takes that onboard with a quiet smile. But what if there was a place you could go with no TV, she wishes, and whoever you are sitting with is family? He smiles, fully invested in her Don Drapering this shit, and the second she says it they both proudly admit she's all but landed the client.
Elizabeth Moss nails the hell out of this episode and scene; there are so many subtle moves and expressions and things throughout, pulling you in. But best of all is this moment, right after her breakdown and subsequent brilliance, when Don stands her up and they slow dance to "My Way"—which he indicates is fitting both as a power ballad for her future, and because she finally sees doing it Your Way opens the door to everyone else—and she puts her exhausted head on his chest, relieved that they're back, which makes it all the more touching when he relaxes into her, and places a blessing of a kiss on the top of her head. Excellent work all around, not just in terms of your relief as a fan, but also for the incredible emotional distance they've managed to cover in just a couple of days.
Meanwhile you have a ton of people out of place and floundering in New York: Pete, who acclimated so easily to California, turns back into a POS when he hits the state line. Dragging real-estate Bonnie with him, he's surprised to hear her urging him to finalize his divorce and even more excited by the promise of mile-high sex. But once they touch down, he's obsessing on Trudi's social life, and so ashamed his daughter doesn't recognize him, that he drunkenly abuses his estranged wife six ways from Sunday. Back at the hotel, Bonnie reads him the riot act about how the trip has gone for her (abandoned, overlooked, shuffled around) and says—sounding definitive this time—that he "can't fuck his way out of this one." (A line that would be a lot less disturbing if his weird hairline didn't make him look like he's constantly in costume as a rampaging pervert.)
Bonnie makes the flight back alone, in the end, just a few rows up from Megan, who spent the episode feeling as out of place in Don's world as he did in hers: Packing up her New York shit without admitting to either of them that she's doing it, and generally feeling like a homesick animal. ("I didn't know Don was married!" his secretary explains, mortifying Peggy but, subtly, strengthening Megan's resolve.) Every time she claims to have missed Don it feels more like a tragedy about to happen, and because he's back on the case for the first time in months, he barely hears it. (If only he were paying attention to the comfort food everybody else spends the episode talking about! Because I swear to you homegirl made spaghetti AGAIN.)
The rest of the episode is couched around the other big client, Chevy. Bob brings a couple of identically dimpled VPs with him from Detroit, and pops back into Joan's family like he was never gone: Kevin loves him, Mom loves him, and Joan is just relieved to have her friend back. When you're Joan, you're used to being alone on the gender politics battlefield, so a man she feels such a strong connection with who doesn't see her as a piece of meat with tits would be almost as good as a woman who doesn't view her as the competition. (Or a meal. Remember how fucking awesome Joan was that time her roommate hit on her? "Oh, you.")
Which is what makes it so distressing and deeply disappointing, for her and for us, when Bob flips out. His VP buddy Bill gets beat to shit and jailed for trying to blow an undercover cop, and knows enough about Bob to call him for bail. On the ride back, Bill warns him of three things: First that he needs a wife—hopefully an understanding one—and secondly that New York is chock full of hot guys you will eventually end up trying to fuck, and then lastly that Chevy is bringing the XP project back in house, but has arranged to get Buick interested in taking Bob on as a good-faith gesture.
Bob's response to this is a squirmingly awkward, but mostly sad, attempt to marry Joan. She recoils, betrayed already—even fuckin' gay dudes, now? NOT GREAT, BOB—but at least tries to talk him down, in classic Joan no-nonsense fashion. It's not until he starts talking about how hopeless and old they both are that you see her turn off any feeling she ever had for him: She's not so out of options, or hope, that she won't continue to look for the love he seems to have written off so easily.
It's a very sad breakup, as she politely asks him to exit, and we're left wondering if we'll ever see his beautiful face again. One wonders if this is an episode-specific situation, or whether she'll be galvanized to future action, but one thing is for sure: That was some very sad—if understandable; she really does have options available to her that Bob will never, ever have—bullshit he pulled.
But frankly, Joan's more energized about losing Chevy and the possibility of gaining Buick, so she takes this news to the Board. Roger's pissed she didn't tell him privately, since he's still paranoid about this war with Jim Cutler—not to mention having gotten some weird vibes from Buick's current ad men down at the gym earlier in the episode, that now make total sense—but everybody seems to get the memo that moving to Buick is not so different from the Phillip Morris new business, and that perhaps a giant client turnover will better suit the logistics of their sprawling-but-tiny empire: By positioning themselves as the only company with, of all things, a newly promoted Harry and a mainframe computer that turns you gay via your nipples, they could make themselves the company of everybody's future.
When Peggy and Don drag Pete to a Burger Chef, scouting her idea to shoot the interior for the "family table" idea, Pete appeals to daddy to shut her down. But before you know it, all three of them have gracefully reformed into a single unit, with Don less a patriarch and more a willing participant, and we pull back from them framed in a window, laughing and engaged creatively, in a way you didn't know you've been waiting for since the first season.
We won't see the pitch until next week—Peggy in particular seems hopeful/worried that Don's going to pull some Kodak Carousel thing out of his ass at the last second, like he used to—but in terms of getting all three of them on the same page, it's a hell of an image: These three broken people, fixing each other over dinner, now that all their distractions are gone and they can focus again on the work, and on each other.
Thoughts? There is a bit of on-the-nose neatness to the reconciliation of Don with his protégées, but then, the gravity well of SC&P has worked that way since the first season—and nothing was going to be right until he got Peggy back anyway, for anybody. The subtext of "campaign-as-psychology" was fairly brazen as well, but the whole point of the episode seemed to be exactly that: We want what we want, and fighting toward our clarity about that expands our understanding of and compassion for other people—we do it Our Way, which can't help but greet the world with love, when done authentically—which has always been the secret of Don's subterfuge and his job skills, both. We see again that Bob, as a lesser Dick Whitman, will never be able to read a room that way—although they've both let Joan way down now, ultimately by trying to show her the kindness and respect she deserves. And Peggy, God. If Don's mental breakdowns were half as efficient as hers, he'd be the President by now.
[Image via AMC]