After the anguish of last week's "Mad Men," Sunday's episode, "For Immediate Release," was, at least superficially, a breath of fresh air -- a jampacked and unusually funny installment featuring fast-paced business dealings, flight attendants dressed like "Austin Powers" extras, and Roger Sterling at his very finest.
But in spite of the general air of levity permeating "For Immediate Release," it would be a mistake to conclude that happy days are here again because, well, this is "Mad Men," and it's also May 1968, and any episode that concludes with Peggy clacking away at a typewriter at Don Draper's behest should fill us with mortal dread -- not for fate of the show, necessarily, but for our beloved heroine.
This season of "Mad Men" is just about halfway over (already, I know!), and so far the best thing about it is the way that Matthew Weiner and his writing staff have made it a showcase for Elisabeth Moss' considerable skills as a performer. She shines in moments of high drama, such as her farewell to Don last season, but perhaps even more so in humorous moments; she's a master of deadpan.
It's always exciting when you can actually see a show evolving to better capitalize on the talent of a cast member, and that's my takeaway from "For Immediate Release." Has the show ever been more broadly comedic than the moment when Peggy imagines Teddy, reading "Something" by Emerson, in place of her sanctimonious, soon-to-be ex boyfriend, Abe? I'm sure some will grumble about the writing, which is not exactly subtle, but it's kept perfectly in check by Moss' delivery of the line "I love Bobby Kennedy." Hilarious, sad and combative all at once, these seven short syllables encapsulate everything that's wrong with her current relationship.
Every bit as wonderful is the moment near the end of the episode when Peggy, wearing a fetching minidress and a freshly powdered face, saunters into Teddy's office, expecting Teddy will once again put the moves on her. Instead, she sees Don Draper, and panic flashes in her eyes: Oh, God, not this guy again.
It's hard not to feel the same way about the birth of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Cutler Gleason Chaough Hasenpfeffer Incorporated, or whatever insanely unwieldy name the latest incarnation of the agency will have. As if we weren't already sick of Don's cheating, drinking and professional recklessness, now he's going to be taking Peggy for granted, all over again. While I have faith that the creative minds behind "Mad Men" will find plenty of great things for Peggy to do, I have way less faith in Don Draper.
I surely can't be the only one. At this point, Don's even managed to alienate Joan, one of his most steadfast and tolerant allies. But after he ticks off Herb Rennett, thereby losing the Jaguar account and squandering a potential public offering that would have made the partners multimillionaires, she unleashes a blistering tirade.
"If I could deal with him, you could deal with him. And what now? I went through all of that for nothing," she says, referring of course to her calculated decision to sleep with Herb. "Just once, I would like to hear you use the word 'we,' because we're all rooting for you from the sidelines, hoping that you'll decide what is right for our lives."
This, coming from the woman who last season was cooing about Don's irresistibility. Joan has always had a high tolerance for Don's bad behavior, maybe because, compared with someone like Roger, he's managed to keep her mostly out of it. This time, Joan's financial future is on the line, which means it's personal, whether Don knows it or not.
Alas, as we all know by now, Don is entirely incapable of personal growth. So instead of taking Joan's impassioned plea to heart and, ya know, actually consulting with his fellow partners, he runs into Teddy at a bar in Detroit and impulsively decides to merge their agencies in order to win the business from Chevy.
The swift, secret machinations and birth of yet another agency will remind fans of "Shut the Door, Have a Seat," the truly spectacular finale of Season 3. Although the latest development is certainly intriguing, there is, I confess, a certain amount of fatigue setting in at this point: Corporate restructuring is only interesting for so long.
This nagging "been there, done that" feeling is particularly acute when it comes to Pete, who, after last week's temporary outbreak of decency and compassion, is back to his normal loathsome self. During a visit to a Lexington Avenue "party house," he spies his father-in-law, Tom, in a compromising position with a "200-pound Negro prostitute." Ken assures him that he's safe because it's a case of "mutually assured destruction," but what neither of them accounts for is that Tom cares more about his daughter than he does about his own reputation -- and that while Trudy continues to view her father through rose-tinted glasses, she's already well aware that Pete's a creep.
In any case, it looks as if there's yet another "Mad Men" breakup looming on the horizon. While I must say I entirely support Trudy's decision to kick Pete to the curb, I wish there were some outcome for the marriages on this show other than divorce. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: A happy relationship can be every bit as complicated and interesting as a miserable one. (Just ask Tami Taylor, y'all!)
Which brings me at last to Megan. Following advice from her mother, she takes to wearing sexy dresses and gigantic hair to dinner (as opposed to all those sweatpants she was wearing, I guess?) to revitalize her flagging marriage. It's yet another throwback: Not so long ago, it was Betty donning the outrageous outfits and pouncing on her husband in a bid to salvage their relationship. We all know how that worked out.
-- Bert "spirit of elderflower" Cooper is long, long overdue for a decent subplot of his own.
-- It felt vaguely transgressive seeing Joan with her hair down, didn't it?
-- Herb Rennett's ditzy wife got Don to say "I love puppies," so she can't be all bad.
-- Pete and Joan are two characters we don't see interacting much, and frankly, I'm not sure whether I like seeing them in cahoots. I wouldn't want Pete to get any ideas!
-- Not that I'm taking Don's side over Joan's (as if), but can someone tell me why Don wasn't informed of the plans for the company?
-- The top-secret Chevy XP-887 would come to be known as the Chevy Vega. You can read all about the car's fatally flawed design here.