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October 9, 2015

'Mad Men' Season 4, Episode 8 Recap

by Maureen Ryan, posted Sep 13th 2010 6:00AM
['Mad Men' - 'The Summer Man']

"We're flawed because we want so much more."

A lot has been happening on 'Mad Men' of late.

But on Sunday, we got a differently paced episode in which not a lot happened. Still, 'The Summer Man' found Don Draper making some quietly important decisions.

Well, perhaps it's more accurate to say that he consciously made decisions. For the last few months of his life, Don's been careening from one disaster or near-disaster to another. Between the breakup of his marriage and the pressures of his new job, Don had been thrown way, way off his game and he was barely keeping his head above water.

He was frequently just reacting to situations, and not with instinctual savvy or thoughtful consideration. Until last week's all-nighter with Peggy, and even partly during that, he was drowning in fear, grief and despair.

So how appropriate was it to find Don in the water, but with purposeful intent this time. It was a baptism of sorts for the man who finally decided to get fit and not spend his life in a drunken haze. There's no doubt that Anna's death wrecked him, but at least he knows that he's not alone, he's not unloved. The emotionally intimate moments he shared with Peggy allowed him to realize that and come to a place of honest self-reflection.

So that's that! Don Draper has gotten his life back together, so thanks for coming, the show's over, move along, we're done here.

I'm kidding. There's still lots of 'Mad Men' to come, and surely Don is not quite as together as he might appear in 'The Summer Man.' He's taking time for introspection and even starting a journal (what's next, beatnik poetry?), but he's not entirely reformed. After he has that tense phone call with Henry, he looks longingly at the liquor bottles in his office and glances at his watch like a man desperately trying not to count the minutes until 5 p.m.

But there's no doubt that this was an episode that found Don waking up from his lost weekend -- the epic, soul-destroying, waking-up-with-Doris kind of lost weekend. He's coming to his senses, literally. We see him float in the water, finally remembering that there is a body attached to that overworked liver. We slow down and see him actually taste the liquor in his glass. He talks about liking the cool spot on the bed. There are several references to how things smell.

Don's senses are starting to work again; he's actually in his environment, rather than passing through it on the way to his next drink. And to hammer the point home, we heard '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction,' the Rolling Stones' love letter to ad men (ha), as Don watched people in bright summer clothes passing by his athletic club. Don, whose entire career was based on his ability to notice things, was finally seeing the world again.

Given that Anna had recently died, and given that his son's birthday was coming up -- a child who, like him, was "conceived in desperation and born into a mess" -- Don could have thrown himself even deeper into the abyss, but we're seeing him make real changes here. Whether they'll be lasting is open to debate, but they seem quite significant, especially in regards to two personal situations (and this was an episode decidedly focused on the personal, which made sense, given the strong focus on the office in the first seven episodes of season 4).

In the first situation, Don didn't let Betty's mixed signals and Henry's posturing keep him away from his kid. As Faye told Don when they were discussing Gene, "All he knows of the world is what you show him." Perhaps I'm assuming too much, but my take is that Don finally thought about what Gene needed, rather than how he (Don) would feel at the party or what Betty or Henry would do or say. Don decided that this child was not going to grow up not knowing who his father was.

It wasn't about being in a contest with either Henry or Betty. Don never knew his biological mother, but Gene would grow up knowing he was loved by his father. This was simply about doing what was right, for both him and Gene, not what was convenient for other people or even for himself.

And in the other situation -- shocker! -- Don didn't take Faye home. She was clearly ready to take that step (and let's face it, from how she reacted to the kiss, it's clear she'd been wildly attracted to Don from Day 1). But Don appears to want more than just a fling with her, and it turned out that him picking a restaurant near his apartment wasn't a ploy to get her in bed quickly. This was a more mature, awake Don realizing that he's just begun the process of getting his life back together, and jumping right into bed with a co-worker was not a great idea.

It's a change, because Don has been Captain Not a Great Idea for some time now, but he's clearly trying to think more proactively. Still, given his old-school worldview and the rather fragile state he's in, he's not quite ready for the forcefulness of Bethany (who uses other means of persuasion when Don balks at being anything but a casual date). Perhaps Bethany is the "wind" and Faye is the "sun" of the the Aesop fable. Simply by listening to Don and getting him to realize what was really bothering him, Faye may get the moderate commitment that Bethany wanted.

Indirect methods vs. direct methods, subterfuge vs. direct attacks: These things were also the focus of the Peggy/Joan story, and as has often been the case with those two, they just weren't on the same page.

I've written a lot about how the times, they are a changin' on 'Mad Men' this season, and Joey always felt like a harbinger of that change. He wasn't respectful of hierarchies or sentiment or anything, really. And, what a surprise, his free and easy ways masked deeply ingrained sexism and fatuous arrogance as well. Let's face it, he made Stan look enlightened by comparison.

Perhaps this analogy is just too far-out, but there was a lot of Vietnam talk in the episode. America went into Vietnam with the most powerful military in the world, yet 10 years after Greg reported for basic training, America withdrew as Saigon fell. How has Joan -- a mere secretary, allegedly powerless in the male-dominated workplace -- survived all these years and even built up her own power base? She has waged guerrilla warfare, and she's been really good at it. She's more than held her own.

The most she would do openly was give that memorable speech in which she declared her hope that the increasingly detestable Joey and his cronies would get sent off to Vietnam. The thing is, Joan can't do the equivalent of marching onto a battlefield -- she can't take Joey on publicly. She can't fire him; if he has enough support in creative, which he might, despite her attempts to spread "people don't like Joey" disinformation around the office, he might be reinstated. And then the power she'd so carefully built up would collapse like a house of cards.

Instead, she'd do what's always worked for her: She'll pull the levers behind the scenes and then suddenly, mysteriously, Joey is out of a job.

But Peggy is not Joan, and she has to confront an unsolvable problem: How does she, as a person of some real standing in the office, set limits and deal with idiots? How does she use her power without making everyone hate her?

She can't be seen as a doormat, neither can she be seen as a harridan. Yet there's no middle ground she can stand on. She and the other professional women of the era will have to carve out that middle ground, not before going through a lot of suffering and painful uncertainty. As I was entering the workforce in the '80s, the Peggys of the world were still there, and even if I didn't always see eye to eye with those women, I silently thanked them for the battles they'd fought on behalf of my generation. It took a lot to get the Joeys of the world to learn what is and is not acceptable.

Peggy's situation with Joey might have been salvageable, had he not eventually shown his true colors. "You have no sense of humor." Until he said that, Joey actually had a shot at keeping his job. But at that point, Peggy had no choice but to fire him. Joey had not only made Peggy angry (she can be quite funny, our Pegs), but he'd revealed that he would never take a woman seriously as a boss.

"I was wrong about you," he said, and he sure was. He assumed he and Peggy were peers. They weren't. She was his boss and he was a mere freelancer. Will this hurt his career? I doubt it. After all, he may have a part waiting for him on 'Peyton Place.'

It's not surprising, though, that both Joan and Don found the forceful approaches rather off-putting, to say the least. Bethany is supposed to just be glad that Don calls her at all, not asking for him to give her more. Joan wants Peggy to employ her methods -- subterfuge, stealth, sneak attacks.

Joan is in the process of fighting to preserve the hard-won territory she's gained, and it infuriated her that Peggy would humiliate her by "solving the problem." The thing is, Joan used to be the queen bee of the office, she was the unquestioned ruler of certain domains. But her methods will not work for much longer. The old deference is on the way out, and her scolding condescension is only making her more isolated (though nothing she did or said deserved Joey's hateful speech, which was a painful reminder -- to the viewer, if not Joan -- of the time Greg raped her on Don's office floor).

This is a bit of a segue, but I can't help but think that we're going see a Roger-Joan reunion soon. Joan's so alone. Her idiot husband tells her to talk to her friends at work while he's gone; of course he's too dense to figure out that she not only has no friends at work but that some people kind of dislike her. Plus that imperious image she works so hard to maintain at work is simply draining. She has no real friends at SCDP, except Roger, the man she used to sneak away from work to meet at midtown hotels. Little did Greg know that when he was trying to put her in the mood, he put her in the mood for a nooner with Roger.

Speaking of ladies who feel isolated, we got another glimpse of where things stand with Betty. Henry's right -- she still has a thing for Don, but it's a twisted thing and it's clear that she has a child-like grasp of the world and her own needs and feelings. So please, please, please, I hope we are not heading for a Don-Betty reunion. Please.

Still, I can't deny that it's hard for anyone to see, for the first time, an ex out on the town with someone else. It's a crushing experience, and honestly, Henry could have been a little more understanding. It had to be especially hurtful that Betty saw Don out with a younger version of her (and somehow I doubt Henry's ex-wife ever subjected him to a situation like that). Yet Henry's also attempting to deal with the fact that, at his age, he married a child. Now you're reconsidering, Henry? Good luck with that.

I'm not quite sure how Betty got from petulant anger ("He can't have this family and that too!") to quiet acceptance of Don's arrival at the party. That transition could have been handled more adeptly, I think; it almost felt like a scene was missing. But perhaps in her own child-like way, Betty decided that she'd won the game she assumed she and Don were playing. She had everything she was trained to want -- the house, a successful breadwinner, an acceptable public image, etc. But her relaxed air at the end of the episode showed that maybe there's hope yet for Gene and the other kids, if she can put aside her petty grievances at least some of the time and accept the situation with Don.

Acceptance vs. resistance; many characters were deciding what they'd tolerate and what they wouldn't, and how forcefully they'd resist certain boundaries (Henry drew a line, Don calmly crossed it to see his kid). Speaking of tolerance, your mileage may vary as to whether you enjoyed Don's voiceovers (correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe they were a first for the show). They were a little jarring at first, I must say. 'Mad Men' is a show that tries to avoid being on the nose, but with Don's monologue and even the Stones track, scenes and moments were more on the nose than they usually are.

But that actually makes a certain amount of sense. It's not as if Don will be joining Freddy at AA any time soon, but he was taking a moral inventory of sorts. It's a transition time for Don, as he tries to gain some kind of control over his feelings and his life, so it made sense that we'd get a transitional sort of episode.

We're heading into the last five episodes of the season, so I'm guessing this was the quiet before the storm.

A few other notes:

- A couple more things about Peggy: She actually notices Miss Blankenship, as a person, not just as the office joke. She at least attempts to be kind to her. And she also notices that Joan's "people don't like Joey" story is full of holes -- though Joan did her a solid by making it known to Don that Joey was a problematic employee.

- The scene between Joey and Harry not only reinforced Joey's essential douchiness, but also showed us how much Harry has changed. He's got quite the swanky office and he's really picked up the Hollywood lingo. In fact, these days he resembles a glad-handing agent ("You're too modest!"). The fact that Joey thought Harry was gay just shows how much square old Harry has evolved, at least outwardly.

- There was no Roger Sterling or 'Sterling's Gold' in this episode. I demand doubles of both next week.

- I know it means that I'm evil, but I thought it was a little funny that Stan was wearing Miss Blankenship-style Mr. Magoo glasses at one point.

- "It takes intense prolonged contact." Well, Bethany got her wish later, in the cab.

- It wasn't an especially funny episode, but Francine did have a good line: "You have terrible luck with entertaining."

- By the way, my previous stories on 'Mad Men's' fourth season are here, here and here.

'Mad Men' airs Sundays at 10PM ET on AMC.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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Excellent review. This is what I expect from TV Squad

September 18 2010 at 3:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Don can't go to visit Anna in California anymore, therefore has to find ways to regroup on his own in NY. Interesting episode because it shows his need to save himself from self-destructive patterns.

Peggy and Joan, always will be at cross purposes, just not enough room in this town for the both of them. Peggy represents new professional model. Joan will have to crack open her "complete" understanding of the old ways to allow for shifts underfoot.

Betty and the other Draper kids. A glimpse of life in the new environment of fragmented families. Don and Henry will have to reach some kind of stasis.

Love your recaps Mo, bring out more that I thought I saw when watching. Late to the party this week. My laptop has died, using other machine and preparing to buy a new toy.

September 17 2010 at 10:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3rd of 5

I can't hate Joan's husband. Can't do it. Other people on the show have done other despicable things. Not to the extent that Joan's husband has, but not a single protagonist on the show is remotely near earning their wings.
Joan very much tries to be independent and handle things in her own way. Other than (maybe) Roger, I don't think she's truly opened herself up to any of the characters on the show in any meaningful fashion. Yes, she has tried a little with her husband, but she has also tried very much to keep that part of her life separate from her work life.
In his own boneheaded way, Joan's husband is trying to do what men are expected to do, which is to have control and support a spouse and family. He wasn't able to cut it and become a surgeon by normal means, so he enlisted in hopes of one day being able to do so, and therefore give Joan the life he feels she deserves. In a way, he's the anti-Don. Instead of faking his death and running from his identity and his duty, he decided he'd do whatever he had to, by any means necessary. Even though he's done some despicable things, there's something admirable in that. Even when he's shut away, he does that.
Solid episode overall. Really hard to follow up from last week's masterpiece, but it was a good change of pace. Smart, lively, not quite as grim. Nice to see Don not wallowing in vomit and booze for a change.

September 17 2010 at 1:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

All I care is that Sally's therapy is touched on at some point by this season's close. Am I the only one that loved her story line in the Chrysanthemum episode?

September 16 2010 at 12:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

When Francine told Betty "You have everything to lose." Did it make Betty realize she better grow up....the first divorce was so unthinkable...a second? And her role is to make the husband happy...? How much does she still think it's her "lacking" that created the demise of the marriage to Don? That "lacking" is certainly the basis for Don's entire life.

September 15 2010 at 6:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Given Betty's arrested development, it might be interesting to see what drew Don to Betty in the first place.

There must have been a time when either she wasn't such a pain, or when Don was looking for something different.

September 15 2010 at 2:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Is it just me or is the Henry as a daddy figure aspect really disconcerting but really fitting?

September 14 2010 at 12:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I practically stood up and cheered when Don walked into the house to see Gene! Henry and Betty-geez what a pair! Henry isn't man enough to get Betty to move out of her old house (and world) and wants Don to get boxes out of his own garage? Henry knows that he's just a substitute Don in Betty's eyes. And Betty's reference to Don being the only man she'd ever been with? Did she have an anonymous bathroom hookup in season 2 or 3? I even thought maybe Gene wasn't Don's baby at that point...Joan and Peggy-what a scene. They represent where women have been in the workplace and where they are going. From an age viewpoint, there's maybe 10 years difference, but a light year in attitude.

Side note: somebody made a comment last week about Peggy's "ugly dress." I LOVE the women's fashions on this show and can't wait 'til designers get with it and make these available for the rest of us. Peggy's blue dress this week-too cute!

September 14 2010 at 10:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
R Reed

Very intriguing episode.....not sure where it will all lead, but I am willing to follow. Thanks for another well-written and thought out commentary Mo, terrific work as always !

September 14 2010 at 10:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This episode with the voice-overs by Don really reminded me of Up in the Air. It had that tragic realism that captures you and really makes you feel the emotions. Both made me cry even though neither was meant too.
The portrayal of divorce is mind-blowing,even though its a easy subject to go two-dimensional with. I feel like he captures every thought racing through the character's heads.
I've always been sympathetic to Don and couldn't understand why but this episode highlighted how similar he is to his children. Don and
Sally's rebellions aren't because they are flawed character but because they have had flawed lives.

September 13 2010 at 10:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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