Writers: Chris Provenzano & Matthew WeinerDirector: Paul Feig
Cast: Vincent Kartheiser (Pete), Jon Hamm (Don), Christina Hendricks (Joan), Elisabeth Moss (Peggy), January Jones (Betty), John Slattery (Roger), Rich Sommer (Harry), Bryan Batt (Salvatore), Talia Balsam (Mona Sterling), Robert Morse (Bertram Cooper), Kate Norby (Carol McCardy), Elizabeth Rice (Margaret Sterling), Megan Stier (Eleanor Ames), Alexis Stier (Mirabelle Ames), John Walcutt (Franklin Newcomb), Scott Michael Morgan (Ralph Stubbs), Ryan Cutrona (Gene Driscoll) & Allan Miller (Abraham Menken)
A rival agency try to lure Don away from Sterling Cooper, in a scheme that involves his wife. At the office, the team try to come up with a way to counter Kennedy's latest advertisements...
"Peggy, this isn't China – there's no money in virginity."
-- Joan (Christina Hendricks)
Mad Men has me under its spell. Unlike so many dramas these days, it doesn't have a particular "hook" that demands you seek it out, so you have to sample its quality to become smitten. I keep hearing people say it's too slow, but that's unfair. All too often I find myself surprised an episode is over, as it's one of those rare shows that draws you in with nothing but understated acting, meticulous writing and a simmering undercurrent to that on-the-surface bliss of 60s America...
In Shoot, Don (Jon Hamm) finds himself being courted by Jim Hobart, the head of a rival agency, who compliments Don for his Athletic Club campaigns after bumping into him at the theatre. Jim's wife Adele leads Don away for drinks at the bar, leaving Jim free to schmooze with Don's wife Betty (January Jones). He flatters her by noting her resemblance to Grace Kelly, before giving him his business card and the offer of modelling work for Coca-Cola.
The next day, Don receives a package from Jim (membership to the Athletic Club) and continues to be courted by Jim on the telephone, with the promise of a bigger salary and international clients like Pan-Am. Don remains ambivalent, but soon gets a visit from his boss Roger Sterling (John Slattery), who has heard about Jim Hobart's attempts to steal his top employee. Roger tries to persuade Don that staying with Sterling Cooper is the best decision to make, as big companies like Hobart's don't let their employees be as hands-on in their work. Don stays tight-lipped.
Housewife Betty is already beginning to fantasize about becoming the glamorous face of Coca-Cola, regaling her friend Francine about her past life as a young muse to Italian fashionista Gianni, before excitedly trying on a variety of dresses in her bedroom. Later, during one of her sessions with psychiatrist Dr Wayne, it's revealed how Betty first met Don: modelling a beautiful coat for a fur company that Don (then a lowly copywriter) saw she didn't like giving back afterwards, so he bought it for her and delivered it as a token of his affection. The rest is history.
Throughout the season, the presidential race between Nixon and Kennedy has been omnipresent, and now the ad men find themselves in a tight spot. As representatives of Nixon's campaign, a new TV ad featuring Kennedy's wife Jackie speaking Spanish, has them worried about how best to counter it.
Betty decides to accept Jim's offer of a photoshoot, although Don doesn't seem too keen on the idea. Regardless, she arrives at McCann Erickson along with other young models. Jim and his colleague Ronnie Gittridge, the art director for Coca-Cola, arrive and show her through to the audition. Afterwards, Betty received a phone call at home telling her she's been accepted for the job, and bubbling with pride she shares her good news with Don (who seems happier now), and seduces him in her bright red dress in the front room.
Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) accidentally rips her skirt during office hours and has to borrow one of Joan's (Christina Hendricks), although the men quickly notice Peggy's sexy but badly-fitting new outfit. In fact, the visual change in Peggy seems to match the change in her attitude following her success writing copy for Belle Jolie lipstick, and the men comment on her big-headedness. A little later, Pete (Vincent Karthesier) is present as his colleagues make fun of Peggy's new dress (calling her a lobster, because "all the meat's in the tail") and Pete's affection for Peggy gets the better of him – and he turns on Ken and begins a fight in the office.
The Coca-Cola photoshoot goes well for Betty, but at home her children (being babysat by Ethel) are frightened by their next-door neighbour Mr Beresford, who releases some pigeons into the air, only for one to be caught in the jaws of the Draper's dog Polly. Angry at the mishap, Mr Beresford yells at the kids about shooting their dog if it ever comes into their yard. That night, Don and Betty's daughter Sally takes refuge in their bed after having a nightmare about Mr Beresford and his threat.
Harry (Rich Sommer) and Pete stumble onto the best idea to combat Kennedy's TV adverts, by buying up all the TV advertising space and filling it with laxative commercials. Roger and Cooper (Robert Morse) interrupt a meeting to congratulate Pete and Harry on their brainwave, and the pair are amazed to receive congratulations – particularly from Don.
Later, Don gets more mail from Jim – this time the finished, beautiful photos of his wife Betty for her Coca-Cola adverts. He visits Roger and tells him he'll stay if he gets a pay rise, which Roger agrees to. Don then calls Jim to formally decline his invitation to defect to his company. "It's a pity to lose both of you" says Jim, as Betty's dreams are shattered at the photoshoot, when she's told by Ronnie that the company have decided to go for someone with an Audrey Hepburn vibe. At home, Betty lies to Don about deciding to decline Jim Hobart's offer (not realizing he knows it was all a silly manipulation by Jim to begin with), before breaking her routine the next morning by taking her kid's BB gun into the yard and shooting at Mr Beresford's pigeons.
While not the best episode, primarily because nothing of too much consequence happened, this was still an engaging story that grew into itself. January Jones is such a joy as Betty, and seeing her eyes light up at the prospect of reliving her modelling days, unaware she's merely a pawn in the cut-and-thrust world of her husband, was beautifully handled by the actress and the writing.
But it did leave everything else a little undernourished, as Don's own story was conjoined to Betty's – so only two small moments in the subplots were worthy of comment: Pete's temper flaring as his colleagues poked fun at Peggy (more evidence that he does like her, but I'm still not sure it's love), and the amusing way Pete and Harry played dirty against Kennedy's campaign. It was also fun to see Peggy continue to blossom – making a point to shake off her "new girl" label and stand up to jealous Joan more easily. Or is Joan genuinely trying to help Peggy? Mad Men crackles with ambiguous motives.
The pigeon incidents seemed to be symbolic, but I'm not sure exactly how to translate them. Or am I just over-thinking things? My first thought was that Mr Beresford's pigeons represented imprisoned beauty (Betty), being allowed to fly free from tedious suburbia (to a life of modelling), while Polly the dog's attack perhaps symbolized the threat to that freedom lurking at home (Don).
If that's anywhere near the truth, Betty's final scene – where she shoots at the pigeons, a cigarette dangling between her teeth – isn't a good omen. Was she just venting her anger and teaching her neighbour a lesson, because he threatened her children's pet, or was it symbolic that she feels jealous of the birds who can be free?
26 April 2008
BBC Four, 10.00 pm