Mad Men recap: The Reluctant Rehabilitation of Don Draper

Don gets the okay to get back to work, while Betty has another Mother of the Year moment
Ep. 03 | Aired Apr 27, 2014

AMC

It turns out Sally will not have to stay in high school until 1975, because her mother isn't yet in the ground after all. Instead, Betty is having a passive-aggressive lunch with her old neighbor Francine Hanson, who is now an existential threat to Betty because she's a working mother. Their back-and-forth is comical, with Betty spitting barbs with a smile: "I thought [children] were the reward? I don't know, maybe I'm old-fashioned." Anyone with young children in 2014 has encountered the same chilly debate about mothers and their responsibilities versus their choices, and woe to the person who wanders into that discussion sure of their point of view.

But in a way, Francine inspires Betty. Not to work at her Wanderlust travel agency or some other employment, but to be the loving mother that someone who's never met her might mistake her for. Opportunity knocks immediately, with Bobby's class taking a field trip to a local farm where his crunchy, nip-slipping teacher grew up. Bobby is thrilled to have his mother's undivided attention, regaling her with details of his favorite monster movies as they ride the bus. At the farm, Betty plays the role she aspires to, bravely sipping freshly-tugged cow milk out of a bucket. But when Bobby trades away her sandwich to a pretty classmate for some candy, Mommie Dearest returns and gives Bobby the cold, silent treatment for the rest of the day. At home for dinner, she refuses to let up, explaining cryptically to Henry why she isn't eating: "I was hungry. Now, I'm not." Even later, she complains to Henry about the children, "Why don't they love me?" I look forward to Henry's reaction when Betty explains this drama was all about a sandwich.

On Don's trip home from California, I half expected to see Lee Cabot again, especially after Tricia the flirty flight attendant gave Mr. Draper the green light on the flight west. But the next time we see Don, he's accelerating his negotiations with Dave Wooster's agency -- because, of course, Don actually has to fix this aspect of his life now that his marriage is falling apart. "Clarence Birdseye" is on the line, and he's ready to stop dancing and get down to business with Dave, who comes to dinner with an offer. It's a significant offer -- and that doesn't include the pretty blonde at the Algonquin who invites Don to join her upstairs.

Don's tempted by the woman, just as he was tempted by Lee Cabot. But instead, he knocks on the hotel door of an old friend, Roger Sterling, and thrusts the rival-agency offer at him. Roger congratulates him, though he can't resist calling the job a demotion, and the two men argue like brothers. Don wants to know where Sterling stands. Should he take the job? Read between the lines: "Does SCP still want me?" "If you want to come back, come back, " Roger says sweetly, though perhaps he's stoned. "I miss you."

Awww. That's all Don needed to hear. On Monday, he returns to the office, eager to get back to work. Unfortunately, it's immediately clear that Roger was acting by the seat of his pants and hasn't informed anyone else at SCP that Don is coming back. Jim Cutler looks like he just saw a ghost. Lou Avery is in crisis mode, making 30-year-old Mr. Deeds Goes to Town references. So begins Don's day from hell, where Ginsberg tells him he smells good, Ken Cosgrove happily flashes baby pictures, and Joan and Peggy treat him like he's Herb from Jaguar and the CLIO jury, respectively.

While Roger is MIA, apparently at his early-early lunch, Don allows himself to get pulled into the writers' room, which really makes him seem like he was in the kids' room at some child-care center. Maybe I'd never noticed it before, but the low table and chairs in the room barely rise above their knees, and the walls are plastered with clips and rainbow art that your children might bring home. When Peggy finally comes in to confront him, dressed like the principal, and tells him flatly "I can't say we miss you," you can't help but feel that Don's neutering was complete. It was not.

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