Mad Men Season 6 Episode 5 recap

That’s what was in store for us this week. That’s why we got to know Dawn last week, a little more personality to put behind the drama of this week. That’s why the previews reminded us that Don and Linda Cardellini "can’t fall in love", perish the thought – we needed to worry for her safety, and for the good Doctor’s, too.

I liked this episode of Mad Men, to an extent, but it does seem like they’ve gone to this same well a few times now: “Tragedy happens – let’s see it ricochet in the lives of our people”. Perhaps that’s cynical, especially as each new shock that happens in our own lives feels new and different each time. But it just felt a bit constructed. The awards dinner, and the fact that everyone was there together. The endless weeping of Megan (though that might just be generalized irritation). The old broadcasts.

The best parts, of course, were the parts that felt right for the characters. Pete and Trudy talking reminded me so clearly of Pete and Trudy on the couch three years ago, not going to Roger’s daughter’s wedding. They are the type for whom outrage and hurt at a social ill are a bonding structure – and they approached being real people with one another for the first time in seasons while they discussed it. Pete is, of course, the worst because he doesn’t realize how good he has it – as I watched Trudy say that no, she didn’t need him to come out or to keep up appearances with her parents, I realized she’s going to be one of those awesome women: "My mom was a single mom and did it all, spectacularly". The stories Tammy will tell when she grows up will be of Trudy,  force of nature.

And the worst of it is what we know periodically – Pete is not a good guy, but he really would like to be. He’d like to see himself as a socially upstanding tuned-in member of the cultural elite, and indeed, he is when he wants to be. It doesn’t make up for the rest of his irritable life, but his rage at Harry is genuine and heartfelt. (It’s nice that Harry never changes. He’s just a horrendous dick, and won’t understand why his wife and children think he’s a dick.) If only Pete could harness his good side more than periodically, and actually know the difference in the types of behavior people were looking for, he’d be doing well.

As I mentioned earlier, the endless weeping of Megan seemed tiresome and also put on, as though she was trying to make the tragedy about herself, especially in the place of her age-contemporaries, Peggy and Ginsberg, both of whom had far more practical concerns to deal with. Are youth more callous? Or, like Peggy’s secretary, did they just know it would happen? I also thought Peggy’s story – the one we’ve seen over and over, that Abe is "in her life" but that she makes all the decisions, thus absolving him of being a grown up in any way – is one that’s going to play out for another few years. She won’t feel independent enough to ditch him because he’s a golddigger, and to be fair, he isn’t really – he’s not demanding any of the trappings her salary provides. But Peggy’s one nod to traditionalism is keeping a guy close and further, keeping up the pretense that he’s an equal partner. As her discontent at work grows, will she feel obliged to keep Abe ever closer?

Peggy is, if my calculations are right, about 28 now, but I never got such a close read on Ginsberg’s age. Let’s say he’s 24 – still old to be a virgin, in the 60s, right? And his father is Concerned. I don’t know what we were supposed to get out of this, other than that he basically had the best parental fixup of all time and that his father still brings him sandwiches, which is adorable. Am I to intuit that Ginsberg otherwise has a hard time getting girls? Because he’s short? Because of his heritage? It was unclear, so the parental intervention felt unclear. What is it his father wants of him?

It’s that inelegant segue that takes us to the first time we’ve ever actually stayed with Bobby Draper. Bothered by inexact wallpaper and interested enough in the movies to ask intelligent questions and win the prize of another screening. As I’ve said, Don has been more and more repugnant this year, but I have always liked his casual, shrugging treatment of the children. He treats them like small matters of fact, which is so refreshing on its own. He doesn’t harangue like Betty and he doesn’t coddle, like Megan (who is saddled with those kids so often that I think she’s making the right choice in not being a mother herself), but regards them as mostly irritating curiosities.

When Don confesses, in the end, that sometimes the feeling you’re supposed to feel about your children doesn’t come until years later, I was struck by the fact that he doesn’t give himself any credit for who they are. Bobby Draper (the…5th? 6th?) reaches out to the sweeper at the movies, not because either his father or mother taught him compassion, nor, I assume, was his stepfather around often enough to have much of an influence. That’s inborn, and not only can Don not take the credit for it, he’s astonished by it. By the basic good of children, specifically his, whom he barely knows. I hope I’m not horrible by saying I hope this was an isolated story; I can’t drum up emotion for Bobby and still care about everyone else, particularly almost-teen Sally Draper. I do, however, wonder if he’ll grow up to be an American novelist, repeating some of the ridiculous things his mother would say to him -- "Why are you trying to ruin this house?" --  as though they made any sense. Her political ambitions will propel him forward into something even colder than he’s known in his childhood so far.