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

Cutler promises an irate Lou that they're going to ask Don to leave -- but not so fast. During an impromptu partners meeting, Roger and Cutler contentiously debate what Don's leave of absence meant in the first place. Cutler (and Joan) assumed it was a euphemism for termination, but Bert Cooper lends Roger support by saying he assumed that the matter would be revisited sooner or later... or today. Roger thinks the current creative team is pathetic, reflected by the recent near-shutout at the CLIO nominations, and that Don is a genius who they can't afford to compete against if he bolts for Mary Well's agency. Joan is surprisingly cool about his return, noting that Don "is a very talented man, but how does he fit in to everything now?" Wow, Joan. Claire Underwood couldn't have damned with fainter praise any better. What am I forgetting from last season about Joan and Don that would explain her response? Now that she's got that prime upstairs office, does she maybe see him as a rival?

Cutler wants to discuss how the Draper dilemma fits into SCP's larger financial strategy -- especially with his computer obsession, though I suspect he has no idea what a computer is or does. He's also none too pleased with Harry Crane, who lied to clients to hide the fact that SC&P don't have the same computer capabilities as at least one rival agency. ("You have stiff competition, but I believe you to be the most dishonest man I have ever worked with," Cutler told Harry after learning the truth.) "He's gone," says Roger quickly. "Anything else?"

At this point, I'd like to suggest a sitcom spinoff starring Roger and Ginsberg. It could be based on The Apartment, or even a 1970s buddy-cop show; I don't care. But whoever is writing their lines -- and hand motions -- this season is spinning pure gold, especially when Ginsberg describes the "honking" approach to Playtex's campaign that landed him the CLIO nom. Lately, the series seems satisfied with minimizing their A-story contributions and leaning on them for comic relief, but I wouldn't mind seeing more of both characters.

Don is finally summoned (but not before asking Dawn for more coffee and handing her his hat and coat, revisiting the last week's racial undertones), and for the first time, I notice Don's brown suit and brown striped tie. Brown. Have you ever seen a great brown suit? Have you ever seen one on Don? It certainly makes him look... well, less-than-Don... and I can't help but think that was the point.

Cooper coolly welcomes Don back, but only with a few stipulations. And by a few, I mean, it's quite possible that the partners decided to insist upon so many deal-breakers that Don would walk away on his own volition. He's not allowed to be alone with clients. He has to stick to the approved scrip at pitch meetings. He can't drink in the office. He's assigned Lane's old office, and -- gasp -- he has to report to Lou. And if he violates any of these new requirements, he will be terminated and forfeit his partnership shares in the company. Will he comply?

In those last moments, as Don looks at the contract and the camera zooms in on his face while he weighs the offer, I envisioned him going in either direction. An eff-you response wouldn't have shocked me, nor would some form of counter-offer to save face. But his simple "Okay" took me off-guard. What's Don Draper really up to?

I can't imagine him reporting to Lou for long, so maybe Don is actually headed for Los Angeles, the dream he had for a moment last season. If Harry Crane is truly finished at SC&P, then the firm needs a new media and television (and computer!) man. Don could certainly be the ideal guy for the agency; the job would also keep him away from Lou and Peggy, and allow him to give his failing marriage one last shot. Or simply to be the male protagonist in the last act of Mad Men's Model Shop.

Monday Morning Talking Points

1. Can the show really toss aside Harry Crane aside so abruptly? Do you think Roger was being facetious when he said Harry was finished, or was that on the level?

2. Don has turned down at least three beautiful women already this season. Is he seriously determined to salvage his marriage, or is he due to slip back into adultery?

3. Will you ever get over the image of Betty Draper sipping steaming cow milk out of a pail?

4. Best line of the night? Don, to Megan, after he comes clean about his leave of absence: "I've been good. I haven't even been drinking that much."

5. I never thought we'd be at a place so soon after last season where Don's best relationship with a female is with Sally. Megan, Peggy, Joan, and, presumably, Betty are all rather anti-Don these days.

[Note: An earlier version of this post misidentified Peggy's St. Joseph's aspirin ad.]


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