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MAD MEN 7x03:
Humble pie

April 28, 2014 - Ray Eckenrode

Episode title: “Field Trip”

Significance: A direct reference to the mother-son bonding expedition gone wrong for Betty and Bobby Draper, but perhaps a more subtle reference to the varying degrees to which the adults we see in the episode are able to learn lessons from the places they’ve been.

Time passages: The episode takes place in April of 1969, just after former President Dwight Eisenhower died (March 28) and was featured on the cover of Time magazine. An interesting dynamic is coming into focus here as episodes traditionally take place approximately one month apart and we have 11episodes remaining and show runner Matthew Weiner has said we’ll remain in the 1960’s by the end. You can do the math and surmise that at some point we’re going to have multiple episodes that have a more compressed timeline than normal.

Episode essay I:
Slowly but certainly, we are seeing Don Draper change.
A glass of tomato juice here. An honest apology to his now-estranged wife there. Ignoring not one, but two passes made by beautiful blondes in between.
It’s a process, of course. There are still some drinks and lies and we’ll see about the beautiful blondes, but Don’s painful journey that began with confession in front of the Hershey executives continued in “Field Trip” with an act of penance in front of the partners.
With an offer from a competing firm in his pocket and an odious set of conditions in front of him that would allow his return to Sterling Cooper & Partners, Don surprises everyone, and possibly even himself, by agreeing to return the scene of his highest highs and lowest lows under conditions that were clearly meant to drive him away.
But now we’re left, as viewers, with a troubling question. In this era of the anti-hero, where we’ve made a hard-drinking, womanizing, lying cad a cultural icon, do we really want to see Don Draper change?

Episode essay II:
That uncomfortable day at the office was notable not just for how it ended but what we learned about Don and the other partners before that vote.
First and foremost, we saw Don forced to interact with people as equals for one of the rare times in that setting with sometimes hilarious results. And how torn is Peggy between the creative jolt Don will bring in comparison to Lou Avery versus her festering anger about what happened to Ted Chaough and how he reacted to it?
On the office politics front, maybe we were a bit premature last week in pronouncing Jim Cutler the winner over Roger Sterling in the battle of the alpha males. Don’s return marked a clear victory for Roger over Cutler, who wanted to trade creativity for a computer. As usual, Bert Cooper was concerned with keeping up appearance and keeping the peace. But how cutthroat was Joan become in pursuit of her career? We think that’s a question to be dealt with in depth in episodes ahead. Finally, as we noted last week, Pete and Ted have been totally marginalized in the power structure by their west coast proximity.
So, it appears Don Draper is back in the saddle with a confrontation with Lou Avery on the horizon. But let’s not forget what they’re brining to this fight. Don’s got stipulations and Lou, well Lou has a two-year contract.

Episode essay III:
In stark contrast to the evolving Don Draper we’ve seen, “Field Trip” spends a lot of time with the former Mrs. Draper who most certainly is not changing her ways.
Feeling empty after losing a battle of social posturing with her old friend Francine, Betty agrees to go on her son’s field trip not for him, but to try and make herself feel better.
It’s all going swimmingly until Bobby does what most pre-teens do, thinking of himself first in trading his mother’s sandwich for some giant gum drops (a check of the calendar for 1969 tells us it’s just after Easter and, as usual, the attention to detail by Weiner and his writing team is astounding). Instead of turning it into a teachable moment for her son, Betty uses it to launch her own existential crisis, culminating in the ultimate bad mother moment when she asks Henry (who’s suddenly a sympathetic character), “Why don’t they love me?”
Ah Betty, let us count the ways.

Quick hits:
+ Lost amid the big news of Don’s return is the fact that his second marriage just might have ended a few days earlier. Megan’s bewilderment seemed rightly focused no on Don lying to her about his suspension, but rather that he chose to lie around New York (both figuratively and literally) rather than come to California with her. And although Don’s apology and proclamations of love both seem sincere, especially in terms of the other changes we’re seeing with him, you have to wonder if part of the growth for both these characters is realizing they don’t belong together.
+ So 1969 smoking rules: Planes? Yep. School buses? Of course. The office? No problem. A barn? Gotta draw the line somewhere. (Of course, the “no smoking in the barn” rule is more about fire safety than health.)
+ Um, how long until Megan’s green phone as its own agent?

Historical notes:
+ The French film Don was watching in the episode’s first scene was “Model Shop,” written and directed by Jacques Demy, about a man’s shaky relationship with a Hollywood actress. It was notable as Gary Lockwood’s first big role post “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
+ The episode of “My Favorite Martian” playing in Betty’s bedroom was “Uncle Martin’s Wisdom Tooth,” which originally aired in June of 1964 and had to be in reruns by 1969.
+ Lou referenced 60’s sex symbol Joey Heatherton, who in 1969 married San Diego Chargers wide receiver Lance Rentzel.
+ Bobby’s teacher was braless (and lovin’ it) at a time that was just after the feminist protests at the 1968 Miss America pageant and just before some of the few actual documented bra burnings of 1970.

Brand names: The look on Don’s face when he saw the bottle of Kahlua at Megan’s place was priceless.

Sweet tweet: From @L8dy Sweet: “I bet those gum drops taste like shame, don’t they Bobby?”

Lines of the night:
+ “Who put a knot in your panty hose?” –Sweet Lou Avery
+ “This is the way it ends,” –Megan Draper
+ “You have stiff competition, but I believe you to be the most dishonest man I know.” –Jim Cutler (to Harry Crane)
+ “You were a disaster. We did you a favor.” –Roger Cutler
+ “I wish it was yesterday.” –Bobby Draper

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It'll be a different dynamic with the partners when Don Draper returns to Sterling, Cooper & Partners.


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