IMAGE CREDIT: Photo by Michael Yarish/AMC
My favorite quote of the episode
“You have stiff competition, but I believe you to be the most dishonest man I have ever worked with.” – Cutler. With surprise and, I’m certain, a great deal of respect.
Aside from the creative team members and, of course, Don, nobody else is overjoyed about the return of Don to SC&P (except maybe Ken) because there’s been no drama since he left. It’s been calm and quiet. None of the creative team members respects his authority. You can hear in the way they say his name that they feel disdain for him. (Ed note. Every time a variation of the “say [pronoun] name” phrase comes up, I think of Walt in Breaking Bad. I miss that show!) But you can see their eyes light up with more enthusiasm than we’ve seen since Don left. And, you notice that most of the creative team, with the obvious exception of Peggy, wants Don’s perspective on current campaigns. They have no time for the niceties. They immediately drag him along behind them as they start rushing around looking for the current work-in-progress. They need him back. Because this is advertising. Calm and quiet is not the way to create winning ad campaigns. Just look at what they have to show for the year at the CLIOs as your guide. It’s the most alive that creative area has felt in a long time. Those few meetings we’ve seen have been deader than Elvis, and I think most of us can agree that “the King” is definitely not alive and well.
We know Roger’s motives are purely self-serving. He’s not out to help his buddy. And he’s still not happy with him for screwing everything up. It’s bound to be the largest reason that he allowed Don to sit in the office exposed to scrutiny and ire before coming in. I’d like to believe that he had a dual purpose in letting Don marinate in embarrassment and humiliation all day. Maybe soften him up for the inevitable rules Don would have to consent to if the other partners agreed to let him come back? Does Roger have that type of strategy left in him? I believe he might. This was a critical move for Roger. He desperately needs Don back because he has lost all power at the firm. He’s closer than ever to becoming nothing more than a name on the letterhead at this point. It seems to me that Bert has gained some of Roger’s lost power. I have found it so interesting, though not entirely surprising, to watch Bert throw in with Cutler. I’m not sure that Don’s return as Lou’s whipping boy helps Roger, but I also believe Don spent valuable time strategizing during those excruciating hours, too. I think his quick acquiescence to the terms doesn’t mean he’s entirely on board with them. More on that below. It was interesting to see that only Roger had the ability to put emotions aside and look at the situation logically. He had the weekend to reflect on it of course. But it was interesting that everyone in the room, especially Cutler, reacted emotionally to the possibility of Don’s return, instead of focusing on the impact to the firm if they fired him – financially with the necessity of having to buyout his partnership, as well as facing off against him in the creative arena. What is the most interesting of all is that we, the viewers, know that Don is much improved thanks to their forced hiatus. He’s back on his game. They would have done well to have treated him a touch more kindly. Just a touch. He certainly deserves their distrust. But their letting him back in with the belief that to do so is facing certain doom is currently not the case.
Fortunately for them, Don doesn’t fully believe that he will be able to turn things around himself which makes him more humble in that end-of-the-day partner’s meeting and able to, at least on the surface, accept terms that would make an earlier Don give them a sneer and a sermon. He knows that a backslide, while maybe not inevitable, certainly is predictable. Hamm, again with the face. I love his ability to say so much with his expressions. And still no award to show for it. Of course, there are other actors on this show who have been overlooked during awards season, too. Vincent Kartheiser, anyone? But I digress. Don’s face as Bert says that they have decided to allow him to return shows the immense relief he feels at those words. And then Bert says the word “stipulations” and Don’s face shows that he is not entirely surprised, but entirely disappointed. Those stipulations are quite harsh in the manner in which Bert delivers them. I don’t think they are unreasonable in light of what happened in the Hershey meeting, but as a viewer, I find myself reeling a bit along with Don. Actually, I’m not sure Don is reeling at all. Which makes me think, more than anything else so far, that Don may be fully back on his game. Roger’s quick note about Don’s new office location should make viewers reflect on the falling man in the credits, but I refuse to do so. OK, I clearly did. But the fixed balcony door tells me not to attach too much significance to Roger’s line. Is someone going to die this season? Almost certainly. Will it be Don? I no longer think so.
He’s taken such great steps again this episode. The old Don never would have flown out directly to see Megan. To do so on a work day meant that he would have to tell her the truth. He evaded it when she asked if he had been fired, but he knew the truth would come out. And he was pretty direct about it. For Don. The old Don would never have purposely put himself in the position were he would have to tell the truth. This Don actively did so. The old Don wouldn’t have cared enough to have put himself in that position. This Don does. It’s great seeing the character FINALLY show some growth. I’d really like to see Don continue on this trajectory in a believable progression. Best sign that we might be heading that way? The fixed door to the balcony. And there are plenty of significant roadblocks in his way that will be dramatic enough for us viewers without having to go down the tired path of drinking and women again. That office is rife with possibilities with Lou and Peggy alone. And that’s barely scratching the surface. Obviously, those stipulations are going to blow up in some exciting way.
I cast Lou as the villain, and that’s not exactly wrong. But a closer word would just be that he is the antagonist. He’s here to act as the roadblock for Peggy and Don. But we’re starting to see a more fleshed-out character this week. There were signs earlier. I said in the first recap of this season that I thought his bark was worse than his bite, and I think I was right. Lou is mediocrity personified. And Lou knows it. His reaction to Don’s appearance inspired sympathy in me which took me by surprise. And his warning to Cutler to call security “just in case” after the most serene of interactions with Don shows he’s very threatened by Don, and rightly so. I bet Roger’s comment that Lou didn’t submit anything to the CLIOs he couldn’t put his name on was accurate. I initially thought Lou was a jerk because he thought he was above it all. But now I see that Lou is a jerk because he knows he’s outclassed, and he’s pissed and blames everyone. I think this is how Lou has lived the majority of his life. Lou will still be fun to hate, but it was good to get a better insight into his character because now I feel flashes of pity for him from time to time. Very tiny flashes. It’s going to be delicious to watch how the Don and Lou pairing plays out. But to add Peggy as Don’s expected adversary into the mix? I cannot wait to see who lands on top and what happens to Lou in the process.
“Well I can’t say that we miss you.” Look, I get that Peggy would blame Don initially for Ted’s leaving. Initially. But shouldn’t she have gained perspective by now? I don’t think she should be feeling any love for Don right now. But the hate for him? I don’t understand it. I’m not sure I’m feeling her trajectory at the moment. I am trying to see the justification for her rapid descent into bitterness. I can see her maybe being at this stage in a few years of dealing with Lou coupled with a personal life as unfulfilling and empty as what we’ve been shown. It just seems that they have lost their way with this character which pains me terribly as Peggy has always been my favorite. Having said that (typed that), I have high hopes for a shake up that may push her buttons enough to either have the character earn the bitterness and coldness that she now embraces or have her return to a more well-rounded character with the relatability I’m used to from Peggy.
Betty’s Her Mother
Oh, Betty. I was actually briefly on your side. Very briefly. When Bobby traded your sandwich for the candy and you were annoyed, I thought, “Yeah, that would have annoyed me, too, because I’d be hungry for the rest of the day.” So, I thought a quick little, “Yo, how about we don’t do that again, kay?” was appropriate. And then move right on. But then I listen to his “I didn’t know you were going to eat,” and I see him eat the candy he obviously doesn’t want to eat because you tell him to, and I know there’s a lot more going on here. Then, you sulk about it all day and tell Henry it RUINED YOUR DAY????? WTH, Betty? And then you’re confused about why the kids grow apart from you as they get older and discover how cold you are? Bobby wishes it was yesterday, and he could talk his mother out of going on his field trip.