Lost in the Movies: Mad Men - "Indian Summer" (season 1, episode 11)

Mad Men - "Indian Summer" (season 1, episode 11)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Most days (except Saturday) I am offering a short review of another episode until concluding the first season. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on October 4, 2007/written by Tom Palmer & Matthew Weiner; directed by Tim Hunter): A few episodes ago, when Don opened his briefcase and presented his half-brother with a wad of cash instead of a deadly pistol, I wrote, "This may not be a physical assassination but it is an emotional one...or perhaps suicide is a better analogy." I was referring to Don's resolute erasure of his alternate identity, Dick Whitman - but as it turns out my analogy was more prescient than I realized. "Indian Summer" opens with Adam Whitman mailing a box to Mr. "Draper," leaving the money on a table that says "Enjoy," and hanging himself with his own belt from a pipe in the ceiling. Did Don's plan backfire? Or, on some terrible, subconscious level, did it actually succeed? We won't hear or see anything of Adam again until the end of the episode, when Pete fantasizes about taking over Don's office (after Don's own promotion) and, finding the package on the desk, takes it home. This is just another turn in the identity/mis-identity carousel of the main character's life.

Ironically or not, Don is thriving at Sterling Cooper. Just a few months after considering a move, his decision to stick with the safe place pays off when Roger is invited back for a meeting with the American Spirit executives. They are nervous about his health and the status of the company, but Bert's risky gambit backfires when Roger collapses again. He is carted out of the office a second time as his furious wife tells off the owner and client who put a price on her husband's life. Swallowing hard, Bert makes Don a partner and at least temporarily hands him Roger's office. With her boss in a new position, Peggy is on the rise (including a raise she pushes for, and gets)...but she's also rising of her own accord. Freddy tasks her with another product - a mysterious, electrified "weight loss" garter that turns out to be an elaborate vibrator. It takes a woman to suss this out, and figure out how to get across this appeal without, of course, being explicit. Meanwhile, in a complementary subplot, a frustrated, lonely Betty (Don's not only working overtime in Manhattan but head over heels for Rachel) is stirred by an air-conditioning salesman; she almost invites him upstairs, reconsiders, is reprimanded by Don, and finally fantasizes about him while leaning against a thrumming washing machine, turned on by a Relax-a-Cizor all her own.

My Response:
In his fourth episode of the series, and his second in a row, Hunter continues to prove an adept interpreter of Mad Men's world, particularly on two fronts: subtly cheeky humor (savoring the anticipation and reaction of Peggy's encounters with the Relax-a-Cizor) and a keen eye for the patriarchal frailty of the pathetic Roger (in the sense of both "pathos" and its more colloquially pejorative usage). Roger's downfall is Don's gain, and this more than any other episode so far makes me feel like I'm on a well-designed ride, reaching dramatic moments planned long before the details were filled in. Don and Peggy, essentially the two stars of the show, are moving on up at Sterling Cooper, in ways both connected and not. During Peggy's nervous pitch to a room full of men, they veer between bemused, mostly benevolent appreciation of her talent to "locker room talk" about other men's wives as if she isn't even present. She's getting a glimpse behind the mystique of the boardroom - a glimpse she's already received in a variety of ways, but never so intermingled with the actual work they do. Earlier, the men had been commenting cattily on Peggy's appearance after she left the room only to call her back in. The abrupt switch, between this mode and their condescending yet still empowering invitation to write more copy, perfectly captures the writer-secretary's ambivalent, fluid position in this world, one of the show's most compelling elements thus far.

Roger's health crisis, meanwhile, is revealed to be not just a one-episode hook but an ongoing situation, one of several storylines carrying through as a multi-episode arc with potential ramifications for the entire series. Don's blooming romance with Rachel and Pete's fling with Peggy, both rooted in the pilot, are even more long-brewing examples of that phenomenon, although the first is just heating up while the second is cooling down. Adam's payoff - or fallout - comes sooner than expected. I figured the character was probably done for this season but would pop up to haunt Don again in later years; well, if he does pop up after this, it will have to be a literal haunting. We're only a couple episodes away from the end of the season and, as with Breaking Bad, the penultimate entry may in fact be more momentous than the actual finale. Perhaps I'm reading too much into a title? Soon the Sterling Cooper crew will discover what the rest of us have known for half a century: the wrong fortysomething Naval veteran was favored to win. Their reactions to this revelation will be telling.

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