Mad Men: “Flight 1”

Wow – Mad Men continues to impress! In this episode in particular, the attention to detail was simply amazing. It began with a party scene (more on that later), then went back to the office the next morning, where people were huddled around a radio: it seems that American Airlines flight 1 had crashed in Jamaica Bay (and yes, that actually happened). Later in the episode, one of the characters goes to Mass, and not only is the priest celebrating the Mass in Latin (Vatican II hasn’t happened yet), the crucifix is also draped in purple cloth… and yes, the American crash did happen during Lent in 1962. It’s the attention to detail that really makes this show so special; most other TV shows would have had the Mass in English, or forgotten to drape the crucifix in cloth (or both). But not Mad Men.

As mentioned, the episode opens with a long party scene at Paul’s place in Montclair, New Jersey. Paul makes a big deal about telling everyone from Sterling Cooper how “artsy” and bohemian Montclair is. He lords over his party with his new beard, ascot, a pipe… and his new black girlfriend! Paul is a pretentious twit, and his efforts to be “cool” are obvious to everyone. He’ll get his comeuppance later in this episode, trust me.

We then move ahead to the next morning, where everyone is huddled around the radio, listening to news reports about the plane crash. People start making off-color jokes, including Pete… who finds out minutes later that his father was aboard the plane that crashed:

It’s never been a secret that Pete and his father didn’t get along. Pete’s dad hated his son’s profession (he famously called Pete a “pimp” in “New Amsterdam” in season 1). Pete’s dad – from a now-broke blueblood New York family now coasting by on their name alone – was an overbearing bastard, the type of guy that only tells his son that he loves him once or twice in an entire lifetime. Although Pete is often played as a jerk, it was nice seeing him look around the office for sympathy, specifically how he looked to Don as a father figure. But more on that later.

While all that’s going on, Sterling, Cooper and Duck are having an intense conversation. It seems that one of Duck’s contacts from his London days works for American, and they are interested in possibly changing ad agencies in the wake of the crash. There is, of course, a catch: Sterling Cooper currently represents Mohawk Airlines. And thus, a huge conflict erupts between Sterling, Cooper and Duck (who see huge dollar signs if they can land the American account) and Don (who thinks it’s unfair to ditch Mohawk Airlines just for the chance of landing American). This is, of course, quite revealing. Don is, at heart, a con man. You’d think that he’d be all for trying to get an account that could get him a summer home in the Hamptons. But no: Richard Whitman has so thorougly become the man he is pretending to be that he can’t see things as they actually are.

We then visit the Campbell family as they “grieve” over the loss of their father\husband. Many online pundits seemed to misunderstand this scene. It’s an old-school WASP family that has absolutely no idea how to grieve, much less deal with each other:

It’s slightly familiar (although my family wasn’t nearly as stiff as the Campbell family). The bit where Pete’s mom pratically forces Trudy to take the pink elephant is so… human. She sees her world collapsing around her – especially since Pete’s dad apparently not only spent all of his own money, but also spent a huge chunk of his wife’s trust fund too. It’s awkward, in much the same way that scenes from The Office make you cringe… only this time it’s not funny.

Next its off to the Draper home, where Don only wants to rest after a trying day. Unfortunately for Don, Carlton and Francine are coming over to play cards. There was a lot going on in these scenes: Don teaching his young daughter how to make mixed drinks (that’s probably considered “child abuse” thse days); the kids sneaking around, trying to see what the adults are up to; Don and Betty’s differing opinions about their son tracing a drawing and claiming it as his own (Betty: “he’s a liar”, Don: “boys will be boys”); the almost complete reversal of Don and Betty’s roles in the home (sometime between late 1960 and spring 1962, Betty started wearing the pants inside the Draper home, and now Don is the whiny, needy one – more impotence on his part?); lastly, there’s Don’s nickname for Betty. During season 1, he usually called her “Birdie” – now she’s “Bets”. What does that mean, exactly?

One of the mysteries from the end of season 1 was answered next, as Peggy goes to her mother’s house… where her son now lives. Peggy doesn’t ask about her son, doesn’t rush in to pick him up and love on him… in fact, she only opens the bedroom door to get a quick glance at him, only to turn away with a cold look on her face. Peggy just can’t relate to her child at all, as if he’s some kind of thing:

Next up: Joan’s delicious dressing down of Paul. And the funny thing about the scene is that they’re both right: Joan is, on some level, jealous of Sheila… and Paul is, in fact, a pretentious douchebag that’s only dating a black girl so that he can appear to be “cool” and “hip”. Joan said something to Sheila at the party to either break up Paul and Sheila, or at least cause a lot of friction between the two. Sheila should consider herself lucky to my mind: Paul’s doesn’t really want to settle down with a supermarket checkout girl, and the fact that he’s only dating her because she’s black is reprehensible in my book.

Paul, of course, has his revenge. Although we don’t specifically know it was him, we see a male hand reach into Joan’s locker and take her pocketbook. That “someone” then uses the new Xerox machine to make a photocopy of Joan’s driver’s license… which that “someone” posts prominently on the office messageboard, thus revealing Joan’s true age:

What a dick. Seriously. But at least Paul isn’t as cold as Duck, who has worked his dark magic on Pete. Duck goes to Pete’s office, under the guise of “brotherly understanding”. He claims to care about Pete, and understand where he’s coming from with his dad’s recent death. He is, however, just manipulating Pete into doing the pitch for the American Airlines account… just days after Pete’s dad died in a crash on an American Airlines jet. Duck plays Pete like a violin, initially “understanding” when Pete turns down his offer to do the pitch… only to set it up so that Pete has no choice but to do the pitch. It’s a masterful performance on Duck’s part… too bad that he’s such a bastard. At the moment, however, Pete needs to talk to someone. he looks around the office. He and Peggy lock eyes for a moment, then Pete decides to see Don again. Only this time Don yells at him instead of offering sympathy. Poor Pete!

Poor Don, too. Sterling sends Don to tell Mohawk that the agency no longer wants their business. Don is, of course, the guy that wanted to keep Mohawk. The dressing down that Henry gives Don in the Chinese (Japanese?) restaurant cuts him to the bone. All the things that Don said to his bosses is thrown back at him by Henry. Don is physically taken aback by Henry’s last line to him: “I’m almost embarrassed to say this… you fooled me”. Ouch!

After Henry leaves, Don sits there quietly in the restaurant. He’s approached by a waitress (I mean that literally). Don obviously is interested in her… but nevertheless says “not tonight”. The scene was strange and awkward. What does this mean? Is Don no longer a “playah”? Does he have some reason to say “no” to this woman? Why did he say “not tonight”, and what exactly did he mean by that? Was he just being polite… or could he be back tomorrow?

Finally, we come to the closing scene, where Peggy attends Mass with her mother and sister (something she earlier said she wasn’t interested in doing). When Peggy’s mom and sister go up to receive Communion, they hand the baby to Peggy… and he immediately starts drying. Peggy looks as if she’s handling a bomb, not a baby… it hasn’t fun for either of them, apparently:

What an awesome episode of an awesome show… I can’t wait until next Sunday! And, as I said earlier this week… if you don’t LOVE this show, you’re stupid!

One Reply to “Mad Men: “Flight 1””

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.