Mad Men–Season 3, Episode 6: Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency

I believe that it was Anton Chekhov who first said that if you park a lawnmower in an office in Act I, you need to run over an Englishman’s foot by the end of the play.

If reports are accurate, I watched this entire episode with my mouth agape. Agape, I say. I was made sufficiently uncomfortable last week by the baby, and the prison guard, and Sally’s teacher, and the rest of it that I was looking forward to an office drama. I believe it was Chekhov who also said that you should be careful what you wish for! I haven’t had the time (or energy) to write up everything I want to say from “The Fog” about Betty’s delivery or Pete’s career, but I found this latest episode much more painful–obvious jokes aside. Everything in it was stressful, and I’m not sure there was a single happy thing in the entire hour, with the possible exception of Joan hearing Peggy say nice things to her, and even those were cut short.

In all of three seasons, this is the first time that I’ve really experienced the characters being caught up in something out of control.

Not all the characters, of course–Cooper and Campbell and Olson seem OK, and I’m sure there are others–but the image of Don tumbling from great heights is the perfect way to describe what was happening. I often miss the credits when I’m watching, choosing that time to run and get a soda or a blanket to help me watch, and I didn’t even see them this time at first. But I’d missed the first thirty seconds or so and stuck around at the end of the episode for the song and to pick them up again on the AMC rebroadcast that follows immediately. This meant I saw the episode end with Barbie cast out from an upper-story window to meet her doom below, and then I saw Don cast out of an upper-story window to an unknown future. We saw Pryce cast out of New York; we saw Guy cast out of his position, we saw Dr. Harris cast out of surgery, and we saw Don have his dreams dashed. Have we even seen Don with real dreams before? I don’t think he really expected to be moving to London, but it was a fun fantasy to have for a day, and because Don is so rarely shown indulging in fantasies or having fun or taking pride in his abilities at all, it was a delight to see him dream of a promotion–and it hurt even more when he was just reorganized.

But my god! What happened to Don–being reorganized by the parent company–is by no means a travesty on the scale of what they are going to do to poor Guy McKendricks, the wonderboy from Putnam, Powell, and Lowell, who can graduate with degrees from Cambridge and the London School of Economics and transform their branches with charm, efficiency, and a lavender suit, but lose the ability to play golf and he’s worth nothing. More than any cultural differences or power imbalances–like Hooker the secretary lording it over Joan and the pool, or the executives at PPL jerking Pryce from place to place, or different views about race relations–the handling of Guy underscores what kind of people these are. That Guy is named “guy” makes it clear that he’s a stand-in for any of them. They are all interchangeable. This is as close as we’ve seen rich, powerful people being portrayed as monsters in this program. You see how Don reacts not only to the crude reshuffling but also the news that Guy is expendable (seriously? what does a guy have to do?). You see how Roger bristles at being left out but doesn’t really care (he is numbered among the rich and powerful to a degree, despite his behavior). Cooper is willing to be a rich guy who sold a company for the perks of having his own office with a newspaper and refreshments. Don stands at the cusp–he is young enough to be lumped with the rest of the men at the office; he could join the ranks or he could spurn them. Pete is the one I really want to see a reaction to. He comes from the rich and powerful (his mother was a Dyckman, after all), but he’s precisely the young person/potential golden boy embodied by Guy. This is a pretty good indication of what PPL thinks about ability. He’s gotten an offer from Duck about greener pastures (let’s leave aside for the moment about the validity of that offer); will he still try to advance within Sterling Cooper?

I particularly like the reappearance of Connie in this episode, and not just because…

For purposes of full disclosure, I must reveal that I’ve taken a three-hour break. This means I have lost my original train of thought and that this post will go long. You have been warned.

…because Connie–Conrad Hilton–is as big a symbol to modern day viewers of America money and power as they are likely going to get. Don did not know he was talking to Conrad Hilton at the time, which is kinda funny, because Connie clearly thought that Don did know who he was. Don treated him so naturally at Roger’s party that Conrad Hilton made all kinds of assumptions about Don at the time, assumptions that carried over into their Waldorf meeting. I could write an entire essay on that meeting, but won’t, but can’t decided if it was obnoxious for Conrad Hilton to invite Don Draper over for a bit of free advice. I don’t think it was. They’d had a rapport; they both knew Don was in advertising; this seems like a perfectly ordinary thing to ask for. He just wanted Don’t opinion; he didn’t want a free campaign. Was he asking Don for a favor because he thought Don was “up there” with him? I don’t really think he was trying to take advantage of Don, or Don’s lower social position, or anything. Don’t reaction was very, very unexpected, I think. I was surprised that he quibbled the point about this being his profession and not giving away expertise for free. But honestly that’s not what was going on. I couldn’t name any specific interviews with Conrad Hilton that took place before July 3, 1963, but I’m pretty sure he’s on record in all kinds of places giving general advice and insight about why his hotels were so successful. He’s a professional/Don’s a professional–people share expertise. Don has baffled Connie, but the audience (and by the audience I mean me) has learned that Don is afraid/private/grew up with stingy people and doesn’t really know how to give and take, or how you don’t always lose by donating something. Set against the backdrop of big business movers and shakers–British and American–Don looks so alone and unskilled. I really have started to worry about what is going to happen to him.

Anyway… I don’t know what larger points can be made about the British way of doing things and the American way, and I don’t even know that the show was trying to make a statement about any of it, and I am not going to try to write a sentence, but here is what I’ve observed: England = Established, American = Upstart; Established = Conservative, American = Resourceful. Do you really think that Conrad Hilton is the kind of person who would discount someone’s business experience because he can’t golf anymore? Meanwhile, do you think that PPL is the kind of company that would consider a guy who used to park cars for rich people worth getting the opinion of? I think mostly PPL is supposed to represent an extreme version of the old way of doing things, and perhaps Conrad Hilton the new way of business. I see Don and Pete perched between two schools of thought, which makes me see them more as alike than I have to this point, even though I thought it was already obvious.

I have hit the TL;DR limit, so I am resorting to a numbered list:

1. Don all Madonna and Childy with Sally and Gene; what a beautiful image of his gentle loyalty and awareness of what his life really means, but also a fantastic symbol of a man who has the ability to bridge the old and the new if he takes a stand and chooses to do so.

2. These last two episodes have devillainized Pryce. I was startled last week to hear him speak up in defense of Pete’s Admiral television marketing idea (which was completely logical); I was very sad for him when the powers that be planned on moving him to India. The first thing he said was how it would hurt his wife and child, and I don’t think they were the kind of people you have to say things like that to. I think he was horrified about moving them to another country. He has officially become a new character for me to watch.

3. Joan’s inability/decision to not speak up for her old job even though it was pretty clear she could keep it. I am not surprised she is ashamed to do it (and I never expected her to do it in public), partly because it means she has lost the doctor gamble (so much for the summer mansion), but partly because she seems like the kind of person who honors her contracts. Plus how awesome was it to see her save a life the same episode her husband was pushed out of surgery! I know that was maybe too obvious, but I still liked it. Plus she so saw herself in Guy’s shoes. (hahahaha!) But the thing is, too, that she maybe wants her own fresh start. She’s already shown she’d like to try something new, but as long as she’s at Sterling Cooper, she is only Joan, Queen of the Office. It’s great to be Queen, but it’s the same old thing.

4. I keep thinking about that line in the bible that if your right eye/hand offends you to cut it off, because you’ll have no need for that eye or hand in heaven. I also keep thinking about how an animal in a trap will chew off its foot to escape (whether that actually happens in real life I don’t care; I am referring to the literary trope). And here we are, with Guy having his foot cut off. He has a chance, now, to use his talents for a company that isn’t playing chess with lives and for people who will appreciate him. I’m not saying he’s lucky, but I do think that PPL is a trap.

5. Peggy saying goodbye to Joan and thanking her for her advice through the years. I love how Joan took some of the credit (even if she doesn’t really think it), but I love how Peggy always says what needs to be said. I was sorry that the conversation was cut short.

6. Don wigging out on the baby’s name was his gut getting ahead of his heart, but it really isn’t about the baby’s name. It really is about poor Sally, and I’m glad he knew enough to say so. I was also touched by Betty’s attempts to warm Sally to baby Gene, even if she did it wrong. I also can’t wait to lie to children by saying that fairies help babies write. I assume those fairies also help cats sign birthday cards. It was the most delightful thing I’ve heard in a show!

7. So the show title is “Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency.” My question, then, is who walks out?

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