Mad Men: “The Jet Set”

Wow. I really did not like this episode of Mad Men. I’ll explain why later… but first: the recap… which begins right now:

The episode starts off with Roger and Jane in bed at the Sherry-Netherland hotel. Jane is dressed only in a sheet. Jane writes poems about Roger. Roger proposes to Jane. Seriously. I’m still not buying it.

Meanwhile, Peggy leads a meeting about Right Guard deodorant, with Paul, Harry, Sal, Kurt and Smitty in attendance. Paul mentions a study that found that “80% of men say that Right Guard makes them feel more confident at work”. Wasn’t “confidence at work” at part of Right Guard’s advertising later on? At any rate, it’s clear that no one is very interested in working in Don’s absence: the meeting quickly turns to pop culture gossip: Sal asks if anyone saw The Loretta Young Show the previous night; he then says it was “awful” with “the aprons, the nauseating upholstery on the couch”. Upholstery, huh? Smitty asks if anyone’s heard from Paul Kinsey, who is at Ole Miss protesting on behalf of black student James Meredith (this dates the episode to around September 30, 1962). A conversation starts about prejudice but quickly turns to how the event will affect business. Kurt says the he has no idea what’s going on, since he doesn’t have a TV. Harry tells him that he must have a TV for his job. The guys ask Kurt what he does in his spare time instead of watching TV. He says that he goes to concerts, and Smitty mentions that Kurt recently saw Dylan. This sparks an interest in Peggy, who breaks the meeting up to flirt with Kurt, who asks her if she wants to go see Dylan with him.

Don and Pete have made it to Los Angeles. The airline has apparently lost Don’s luggage, so he’s stuck at the pool in a suit:

Pete wants to spend the day at the pool, but Don tells him to get out his list and get to work. Pete kind of mumbles for a few minutes, then Don snaps him to attention with the best line of the episode:

“Do you want to be on vacation, Pete? ‘Cos I can make that happen.” – Don Draper

Don decides to get a drink while Pete’s working, but as he approaches the bar, he sees a woman that could be his wife’s doppelgänger. It makes him pause. As he stands at the bar waiting for his Old Fashioned, a man approaches him, asking if he’s an actor or astronaut. He introduces himself as the Vicomte Mont de Forte (Willy), some type of low-level European royalty. He then introduces Don to Joy, a young woman that wanted to meet him:

Willy invites Don to dinner, but he politely refuses. Pete shows up, introducing himself as “Peter Dykeman Campbell” and asks if they’ve met before… at Newport. Ah, Pete… what a suck-up! As the party walks away, Joy turns back to Don and tells him to “look for us!” Pete, meanwhile, complains about how nothing runs on time in Los Angeles… and that he saw Tony Curtis in the toilet. Don asks who they’re meeting with that evening, and Pete explains what the defense contractors do. It makes Don’s head hurt, and instead he just looks at Joy.

Back in New York, Roger is hearing the bad news from divorce lawyer George Rothman. George says that Mona really has his ass over a barrel. He asks Roger if there is any way to have some kind of “alternative” to divorce. This makes Roger go off about how he’s sick of being miserable with his wife, and doesn’t want to die “with that woman”. George says “[t]hink of all the good things in life… now think of half”. Roger tells him to push as hard as he can, but to get it done quick.

The meeting is quickly finished, because Duck Philips is outside waiting to see Roger. Duck has picked just that moment to ask Roger to make him partner. The tables are quickly turned when Roger rhetorically wonders whether Duck is even worth the job he has now, much less a partnership. He advises Duck to seriously get it in gear if he wants to make partnership.

The next scene is incredibly moving: Don and Pete view a presentation about a cutting-edge technology of the time: MIRV missiles (MIRV stands for multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle). MIRV missiles  contain multiple independent warheads. Thus, a single nuclear missile could deliver nuclear bombs capable of hitting 14 different cities. It was a breathtaking idea. Even if the Soviets could stop half the missiles from detonating, they’d still let more than enough through to completely destroy the Soviet Union. Don’s face during the presentation is simply priceless. His face has the perfect look of fear, of having “been there” before (i.e. a real war, in Korea), and the brutal realization that his life could, in fact, end in a horrible nuclear holocaust at any time. Without a making a single sound… it was some fine acting by Jon Hamm.

Pete and Don go back to their hotel. Don sends Pete out on errands… only to see Joy walking towards him. She walks right up to Don and kisses him on both his cheeks. She says that she has to go to Palm Springs. She invites Don… who initially says no. But then Joy says “Why would you deny yourself something you want?”, and walks away. Don smokes a cigarette and watches Joy get in the car, put her gloves and scarf on… and all the while, he’s thinking. And he gets in the car and goes away with her:

At the house in Palm Springs, Don has a drink… and almost immediately passes out. He’s first introduced to a motley band of European jet setters. Joy pulls Don to the pool to take a dip. But Don is pale and sweaty. He hits the ground, passed out. He awakens to a “doctor” named Klaus, who is about to inject him with something. Don refuses his “treatment”. Don asks Joy who all these people are, and she says that they’re “nomads”. Don later eats Mexican (for the first time!) for dinner with the whole crew. It’s awkward. As it turns out, however, Don and Joy end up in bed together. Don asks who she is, and she says only “I’m Joy”. The two stare at each other for a few moments… then lovemaking begins!

Anyway, the next morning, a giant pile of doughnut boxes await everyone at Sterling Cooper. Ken says that they’ll be getting a shipment like this every morning! Kurt reminds Peggy that their Dylan concert is tonight. Everyone assumes that it’s a “date”. Everyone giggles. Kurt tries to calm everyone down by telling him that he is a homosexual. The entire room stops. Peggy walks out of the room, followed by Kurt. Harry, Joan, Paul and Smitty talk about what a “filthy pervert” he must be… in front of Sal, who we all know is deeply in the closet. Watching Sal standing there and taking it while everyone jokes just about broke my heart.

It’s also morning in Palm Springs, and a naked Don and Joy are in bed. He’s just woken up and she’s reading The Sound and the Fury. Willy stops by to wish them both good morning… as they’re naked in bed. Willy says that Joy is beautiful… and several other things that make Don realize that Willy is Joy’s father. Creepshow!

Back in New York, Duck has a plan: he meets with Saint John Powell and Alec Barton, two British executives from Duck’s old agency in London. Duck initially asks about openings at the agency, but quickly shifts into persuading them to buy Sterling Cooper, on condition of getting a “finder’s fee”, presidency of the new agency, and complete control over Creative (thus becoming Don’s boss). Duck knows that Roger might be on the ropes financially soon, and he could get access to his shares. So it’s as much about revenge as it is power. Oh, and Duck has a drink to celebrate the plot… will be grab control of Sterling Cooper or he self-destruct before then?

In the next scene, Kurt shows up at Peggy’s place. Peggy wonders why she always picks the wrong guys. Kurt tells her it’s because she looks frumpy. So, in a mindbogglingly clichéd scene for a great show like Mad Men, Kurt gives Peggy a hair cut. Because, ya know, he’s gay, and all gay guys know how to cut hair, right?

Back in Palm Springs, Joy tells Don that the group will soon be heading out to the Bahamas. “Something about taxes”, she says. She gives Don the deal of a lifetime: he can go with the jet-setters to the Bahamas (and then on to Capri, if he can get a passport). Her father will even take care of Don. It is a tantalizing offer: all the hot 21 year-old tail he can handle, in some of the world’s most amazing places, with a pack of rich (and lazy) Europeans that like to sit around the pool and drink all day… and who are footing your bill for everything.

What will he do?

Before he gets a chance to say anything, a new friend of the jet setters appears – this time with his two small children. Don looks at the children – who vaguely resemble Sally and Bobby – as the man tells of his woes with his soon to be ex- wife’s attorneys. Don just stares at the kids. Then stares at his nearly-empty whiskey glass. Symbolism, much?

The next morning, Duck gets a delivery of Tanqueray gin from his British associates. Duck has completely fallen off the wagon. He tips Joan an entire bottle just for delivering it to him.

Pete is also back in the office. He greets his peers, who have gathered in Harry’s office. Pete says that “the people” were what he didn’t like about Los Angeles, although he had a good time overall. Sal, Harry, Ken and Peggy are watching the news about the Ole Miss situation. Pete notices something different about Peggy. “It’s my hair”, she says:

Duck, on his way to Bert’s office pops a Mentos. Drinking at 9am, are we, Duck? Duck tells Bert and Roger that his old agency wants to have a New York office, and they would prefer to simply buy Sterling Cooper, instead of creating a branch from scratch. Both Bert and Roger sit stunned for a couple of minutes, until Roger asks if it’s “as solid as American Airlines”! Ouch! Duck says that they can continue on as a piddling “middle of the road” agency… or can get piles of money, access to much larger resources and international clients and prestige, and perhaps eventually go public. Like any good salesman, Duck appeals to their dicks, not their brains. Duck says that his old company merely “wants a key” to the office in New York, implying that nothing will change, leadershipwise, at Sterling Cooper. Duck says they have five days to decide. Bert tells him to have them present a proposal. Roger isn’t convinced.

Back in Palm Springs, Don wakes up on the sofa. He flips through an address book, then calls someone (it is obviously a long-distance call). “Hello, this is Dick Whitman”, he says, “I would love to see you… soon.” He writes something on the back page of The Sound and The Fury, then tears the final page out of the book. The camera pulls away into an exact negative of the show’s titlecard. Instead of in a suit with the arm pointed to the right, we see Don’s naked arm pointing left:

The episode closes with Don’s suitcase being delivered to his home in Westchester county. The deliveryman rings the bell a couple of times, but no one comes to the door.

MY THOUGHTS:

– I don’t like anything about the whole “Jet Set” storyline. Those people are either grifters or are just plain creepy. If this was supposed to be the vehicle that lures Don away from Betty or his life in New York altogether, it’s a poorly thought-out one.

– Just how good of a con man is Dick Whitman anyway? There’s that old saying “you can’t con a conman”. Does anything about the group make Don’s spidey sense go off? Or is he biting hook, line and sinker? Or are they, in fact, legit?

– What’s with Kurt just coming right out of the closet like that? I know that Kurt is supposed to be Swedish or something, and perhaps Sweden was much more liberal than the United States in the 1960s. But I’m still not buying it. Walking in to the break room and announcing your homosexuality could cause trouble for you today, much less 40 years ago. Back then you could get arrested (and your name put in the newspaper!) for even dancing with another man, much less anything else… and that was in New York City, to say nothing of the rest of the country. The Stonewall Riots wouldn’t happen for another 7 years, so the thought of Kurt admitting his gayness without consequence (other than a few snickers and rude comments) just rings hollow.

– No Betty, no sale. I love Betty Draper. I have a secret giant crush on Betty Draper. She’s so young, so beautiful, and so lonely. Whenever I think of Betty, I eventually get around to the “washing machine scene” from season 1… and it absolutely drives me insane. There, I said it! I know a lot of people dislike the Betty character, but she is, for me, the only “pure” thing in the entire show. Please bring her back soon!

– Riots at Ole Miss and William Faulkner in the same episode? NO WAY! (I kid)

– “Saint John” Powell pronounced that old-school aristocratic British way: sin-jin.

– The full text of the speech Kennedy was giving on TV when Pete returned to the office can be read here. You should really read it: it’s short but breathtaking in its message and delivery. Plus, it’ll remind you of a time when presidents sounded like statesmen. Ronald Reagan was the last president to give so eloquent and passionate speech to the nation. Can you remember any televised speech from Bush 1, Clinton, or Bush 2? I can’t.

– Does Don even have a passport? I would assume that he has all the documents he would need to get a passport as “Don Draper”… but if he don’t have one already, he’ll need birth certificates, baptismal or school records, and a bunch of other paperwork that Don might or might not have. So if Don lacks a passport, is Don simply going to have fun in the Bahamas and go no further? Or does he want to cross is point of no return?

– One of the characters in The Sound and The Fury runs away in the middle of the night with a carnie, taking the family’s life savings with her. So is the book symbolic of Don’s current sitation? Any symbolism in Don tearing out the last page of the book? The director went to the trouble to let you see that there is printed text above Don’s scribbles on the page Don removed.

– I suppose the final shot of Don officially ends talk about which character is supposed to be falling in the main credits. Some had an alternative theory that could be Pete. I guess the final shot ends that discussion.

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