Mad Men: Out of Town (season premiere)
by Allison Waldman, posted Aug 17th 2009 12:35AM
(S03E01) The more things change, the more they stay the same. Don has returned to Betty, the baby's on the way, but all's not right in Don's world. There's turmoil in the office and a current of unrest thanks to the British takeover of Sterling Cooper.
But if you hoped, or believed, that Don's sojourn to Los Angeles and his contemplation of another life was a wake-up call, think again. Don Draper remains Dick Whitman. A leopard doesn't change his spots.
Birth was on Don's mind as he fixed a cup of warm milk for Betty, and we learned that Dick Whitman was a gift from God, by way of a hooker who died in childbirth. The opening scenes unfolded before Don's eyes as if he was there watching his own creation. In his mind's eye, he's as tawdry as the tableau.
Meanwhile, Betty has moved on from her anger and now seeks perfection, even though she knows the most she can expect from Don is the illusion of perfection. His description of the beach scene, to lull Betty to sleep, is Don Draper, ad man, at his best. Don knows how to sell anything and, for now, while awaiting their third child, Betty's buying. When they're like this, Don and Betty seem like they can make it.
The Brits have moved in on Sterling Cooper and it's not a comfortable fit. One-third of the staff has been cut and those remaining -- like Pete Campbell -- fear what's happening. The firing of Burt Petersen, head of accounts, represents just how much the Americans are bucking under the yoke of the English. He screams bloody murder at being axed. Then, the scene at the end when Roger, Pete, Don and Bert all wind up in Don's office for a drink, underscored just how unhappy they all are with the British.
At the same time, the PPL team of Pryce and Hooker were ill at ease among the Americans. Hooker was above being thought of as a secretary -- Moneypenny -- but Pryce chastised him for taking an office. He put him back in his place. What was striking about the British was their duplicity, setting up Campbell vs. Cosgrove, mixed with their own self-deception. Hooker resents being a secretary, which he is; Pryce doesn't believe that London fog is a real weather condition.
The trip to Baltimore for London Fog, the raincoat company, provided Don with a chance to do what he does best, prevaricate. From the lie about his name -- Bill -- to the type of accountant he was to his claim that it was his birthday so he could get Shelley into his room, Don was his old self on the road and away from Betty.
Sal's moment of sexual joy was fleeting, thanks to the fire alarm, and to make matters more complicated, Don saw him in his room with the bellhop. Armed with the knowledge of Sal's secret, Don used advertising to enlighten his friend about how to keep a secret secret -- "limit your exposure." If there's one person at Sterling Cooper Sal could trust with a secret, it's Don.
Once back in the nest, Don learned that Sally broke his valise to keep him from leaving. Sally couldn't conceive that it would take more than a broken clasp to stop her father's wandering ways. Don's time in Los Angeles has traumatized his daughter, even if he does assure Sally that he will always come home and she'll always be his girl. We know too well that Don has a hobo heart when it comes to home and family.
The theme of birth recurred again when Sally asked Don to tell her about the day she was born. Don had nothing. As vivid as his imagining of his own birth, he had next to no memory of Sally's. He knew Dick Whitman, but Don Draper... not much.