Mad Men recap: What a Piece of Work is Man

The focus shifts from death to sex in this adulteriffic episode that sees Pete and Don misbehaving
Ep. 03 | Aired Apr 14, 2013

GUESS WHO'S NOT COMING TO DINNER Don is left alone with Sylvia after Megan and Dr. Rosen cancel.

Michael Yarish/AMC

The concept of fidelity is front and center in this episode, and not just in marriage terms. Heinz Beans sets up a meeting between SCDP and Heinz Ketchup, the company's overachieving favorite son among all the 57 varieties. (Ken Cosgrove calls it the "Coca-Cola of condiments.") And if ketchup is the blond-haired, blue-eyed quarterback in the Heinz family, beans is the weird sibling nobody wants to sit next to on road trips.

The head of Vinegars, Sauces, and Beans throws a mini-tantrum, demanding SCDP refuse to go after the ketchup account because of his personal hatred of the department head. Cosgrove thinks this is ridiculous, but Don offers up a little advice on a big steaming platter of irony: "Sometimes you've got to dance with the one who brung ya." It's a homespun needlepoint adage that sounds like it might have come from his days at the brothel, but it sums up the idea that there are certain things more valuable than pure practicality. It's the same lesson Don tried to teach a few seasons ago when everyone was parachuting from Mohawk in favor of American Airlines, and it's the same lesson Don will never learn for himself.

Peggy is also wrestling with the idea of loyalty after Ted Chaough catches her on the phone with Stan exchanging office scuttlebutt. Chaough wants her to take advantage of the information she gleaned from it, hoping to snag Heinz Ketchup before anyone else, but Peggy is hesitant. She also struggles with the fact that her copy crew doesn't like her. Peggy isn't used to either giving or getting encouragement, and her attempt at a motivational speech falls hilariously flat, with her pat on the back turning into a slap in the face. Her inferiors announce their displeasure by leaving a joke campaign for Quest Feminine Hygiene Powder on her desk, a bit of sexism that Chaough gets a chuckle out of. It's a reminder to Peggy of what Joan said to her when she fired Joey for his misogynist drawing: No matter how big you get, they can always draw another cartoon. The brief interaction with her secretary, Phyllis, is heartening. She's black and you wonder whether that has anything to do with the guilt Peggy may feel about her awkward behavior with Dawn, but it's clear from the way Phyllis freely offers up advice to her boss that they have a good working relationship. Peggy may not be a Patton when it comes to inspirational speeches, but she clearly hasn't forgotten where she came from.

As usual, the show throws in a few timestamp references like the U.S.S. Pueblo being captured by North Korean forces and the Tet Offensive ramping up in Vietnam. Politics and current affairs vaguely invade the conversations on the show, but it's still mainly background noise. Megan and Sylvia's interaction about the miscarriage—and Megan's characterization of her pregnancy as a potential decision—got at the push-and-pull of sexual morality in that era, five years before Roe v. Wade. Sylvia's upbringing leads her to judge Megan for considering an abortion as an option, even as she herself commits adultery with Megan's husband.

At this point, Don's affairs are admittedly getting a little repetitive. But that's kind of the point. He's caught in another cycle of misbehavior, of happiness gained and then self-destructed. When he slumps down in the hallway at the end of the episode, he seems tired of the whole charade, exhausted from going through the same old motions over and over again. But when has that ever stopped him before?


Jon Hamm directed this episode and there were a couple of nice visual bits, particularly the editing between Don's dinnertable seduction of Sylvia and their lovemaking.

The Pete Campbell Manhattan Sex Pad had a TV, a record player, and a full bar. What woman wouldn't be charmed?

"I have a little beans housekeeping" would make a great euphemism for something or other.

This episode felt a little more sudsy than usual with all the sleeping around and sudden secrets. You'd think after acting on a soap opera, Megan would be able to recognize that she's living in one too.

At this point, I want Herb from Jaguar to get attacked and killed by an actual jaguar. He's so gross. (I'll admit to cheering when Joan hit him below the belt with "And I know there’s a part of you you haven’t seen in years.")

Bob Benson, a.k.a. Encyclopedia Brownnose, keeps popping up around the margins. Pete, a fellow super-sycophant, seems to be impressed with him at least.

Stan's hilariously lame extemporaneous excuse: "I'll have your wig ready, ma'am."

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