Mad Men has always specialized in uncomfortable, cringe inducing moments but Field Tripmay be the cherry on the sundae, or the bride and groom on the wedding cake. The latter analogy is the one that fits this episode best. Someone once told Don and Betty that they looked like the couple on a wedding cake. It was at that moment that I knew their marriage wasn’t going to last. The episode places Don and Betty on parallel tracks that end up converging in embarrassment. Don may learn something from his humiliation but Betty being Betty will learn nothing from her lesser mortification.
Time for my weekly windy, discursive, and pointedly pointless comments about this excellent episode but first another picture:
The Betty Francis Bad Parenting Class Is Back In Session: We first see Betty lunching with former neighbor Francine who has become one of them that working women who answer their own phone. Imagine that. These two have always had a testy albeit testosterone free relationship Their claws were unsheathed but Betty has no idea that she lost the hissing contest. It’s the story of her life.
Bobby Draper Mach 4 is thrilled when mommy dearest offers to chaperone a field trip to his hippie teacher’s family farm. In between cracking wise about teacher not wearing a bra, Betty acts like mother of year except for the whole smoking on the bus and trying to smoke in the barn thing. Bobby-4 is oblivious to Betty’s malakatude because he’s so damn thrilled to be with her and have a conversation about movie monsters on the bus. Bobby-4 likes the Wolf Man best of all because he changes but he’s thrilled when Betty knows that Dracula can change into a bat. Unfortunately for Bobby-4, Betty changes into a Wolf Lady when he trades her sammich for some gunky candy that he doesn’t even like.
Betty is all pouty after the trade, acting like a Reds fan when they traded Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas. Yo, Betty, the kid just made a mistake, be a grown up and forgive him. When they return to Francis manor, both Betty and Bobby-4 pout. She asks Henry if she’s a bad parent and he didn’t even say yes. Rockefeller Republican Henry is such a Waspy mensch. Betty is not only passive aggressive but paranoid: she’s convinced that her boys will eventually go Sally on her ass. “It’s only a matter of time,” she mutters darkly. I cannot imagine why, and neither can she. But only one of us is being sarcastic.
The Bicoastal Marriage Blues: Don takes several field trips this episode, one to visit Megan in La la Land. Her oleaginous agent, Alan Silver, tells Don that she’s been acting erratically and unprofessionally and says, “You know her better than I do.” You missed the boat on that one, Alan, like the character in an old Who song, Don doesn’t even know himselflet alone his actress wife. She’s initially thrilled to see him until she learns why he’s there.
Don is cornered by Megan who accuses him of doing what he does best: cheating on his wife. So, he finally confesses that he’s on leave from the agency. She is not amused and tells him she wants to end the marriage. My friend Termite, who is a committed Megan phobe, may have a party to celebrate the news. Hope she invites me.
Tonight on Heavy Handed Death Symbolism Theatre: Jim Cutler is holding a copy of Jessica Mitford’s The American Way Of Death while listening to Harry Crane’s sideburns whine about not being loved and not getting a computer for Christmas.
In the final scene of the show, which will be discussed in more detail below, Roger tells Don that he is to use Lane’s office. You know, the one he hanged himself in, the one no one has subsequently used. This should have the Don will die crowd dancing in the streets. I remain an agnostic on that point; I think it’s too obvious so I think they’re more like the Paul is Dead faction among Beatlemaniacs. Turn me on, dead man and all that shit.
They Made Him An Offer They Thought He’d Refuse: Don goes on a series of field trips when he gets back to NYC: he meets with another agency, receives a job offer and an offer of an assignation with a high-class call girl. He accepts neither. He then goes to see Roger at the latter’s fuck pad and Roger tells him to come back to work. That leads to the big cringe mentioned in the post title.
Roger has always shot from the hip and this time is no different. Nobody, I mean nobody, has any idea than Don Fucking Draper is darkening the door of SCP. The only ones who are glad to see Don are Michael Ginsburg and Deadeye Cosgrove. Even Don’s former ally Joan is horrified and treats him polite coldness before going to see Old Man River Cooper. He is so shocked by the news that Don is there that he allows Joan to enter his sanctum sanctorum with her boots on. Holy Nancy Sinatra, Batman.
The people least happy to see Don are, of course, the Pegster and Not My Problem Lou of baggy gray sweater fame. Don realizes something is up when he sees that Lou has his office. He’s been replaced by a bureaucratic mediocrity who keeps the trains running on time. Peggy still blames Don for everything bad that ever happened to her and treats him like a decapitated bird that her cat left on her pillow. I think the Pegster will be singing a different tune once Don joins her under Lou’s thumb.
The astonishing thing to me was that the partners had NO PLAN for how to deal with Don. They thought he’d just slink away and forgot that as a partner he would have to be bought out. Roger sees a chance to stick it to Jim Cutler and his new ally Joan. She’s already forgotten that Don had her back, well, at least when he was sober…
The partners make Don an offer they thought he’d refuse and are stunned when he agrees to report to Lou the sarcastic sclub, which I thought was the most humiliating condition by far. There’s a lot of debate about why Don agreed to these terms among the Mad Men punditocracy, so here’s my take. This agency is Don’s baby. It was his idea to form it. The merger with Teddy Turtleneck’s agency was also Don’s idea. His whole identity as an ad man and human being is tied to SCP even though his name is no longer on the door. The agency has succeeded and has become a less creative and more corporate entity. I think Don is convinced that he can take it over once again, recreate it in his own image, and stop being the “invisible boy.” I have my doubts that it will work but only Matthew Weiner knows whether this will end well. Whatever happens, it will make us cringe with delight or something like that.