Infidelity's been a big part of Mad Men, and this episode saw both Don (Jon Hamm) and Pete (Vince Karthesier) get pricked by its many barbs. Don's obviously moved on from Megan (Jessica Paré) without her even realising their relationship's over, to have an affair with his doctor friend's wife Sylvia (Linda Cardellini). It's a situation made worse by the fact Megan's suffered a miscarriage and kept it to herself, although she confides in Sylvia without realising she's opening her heart to the third person in her marriage. It's all very awkward and even Sylvia seems less sure of the path she's on, although she just can't resist Don when he turns on the charm. Their uncomfortable dinner date was nicely interspliced with a flashforward of them having passionate sex soon afterwards.
Pete's always been a weird echo of Don's life in many ways, and his marriage to Trudy (Alison Brie) is also beginning to hit the skids. But she's a very different character to Don's first wife Betty; being pragmatic about her love-rat husband's indiscretions, and only demanding he keep a distance once she realises he's been sleeping with a neighbour called Brenda (Collette Wolfe)--whose husband beat her after he found out, forcing her to arrive on the Campbell's doorstep begging for help. For fans of Trudy, it was fantastic to get confirmation she isn't blind to her husband's philandering, and Brie was given a rare opportunity to grab a scene by the throat. Thanks to Community I tend to see Brie as a comic actress, but her scene laying into Pete proved her straight acting's just as good ("I will destroy you, you understand?")
Elsewhere, I really enjoyed the return of Herb Rennet (Gary Basaraba); the portly businessman whom Joan (Christina Hendricks) agreed to sleep with so the company could land an expensive Jaguar account. There's bad blood in this deal, so it was great to see Don dish out some punishment to Herb by refusing to help him by convincing Jaguar's execs that local advertising to 'the common man' may be more beneficial than national advertising to 'an elite few'. The way the meeting with Jaguar went badly thanks to Don cleverly going along with Herb's recommendation (in a half-hearted way that made the idea sound terrible), was fantastic to see unfold. I especially liked how Don ended the Jaguar meeting by making a point of shaking Herb's hand, having refused to in their pre-meeting when Herb's idea was raised.
Away from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce*, the season still drops in on Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) over at Ted Chaough's rival agency. It's too early to tell exactly where this storyline's headed, beyond showing us how far Peggy's come over six seasons, but I get the feeling her loyalty is going to be tested. Having accidentally let slip to her boss that Heinz may be back on the marketplace, after relaying a funny anecdote from Stan (Jay R. Ferguson), this marks the first time Peggy's connection to SCDP has been exploited. I have to wonder if Peggy will be forced to manipulate Stan further, using him as an 'inside man' in order to create business for her new company. "This is how wars are won", assured Ted. Will Peggy accept underhanded tactics are just part of the job?
We also had some unexpected flashbacks to Don as a child, in his Dick Whitman days, going to stay with his pregnant mother Abigail (Brynn Horrocks) at her sister Ernestine's (Julie Alexander) rooming house. It's been mentioned in the past that Don's upbringing was in a whorehouse, so this was our first look at this part of his childhood. Indeed, it seems that Ernestine and her husband Mack (Morgan Russler) have a very open attitude to what goes on under their roof, and young Dick's already peeping through keyholes to watch people have sex. This perhaps goes some way to explaining Don's attitude to sex: as a power trip, but also something that's a transactional arrangement. Immediately after the flashback the adult Don is seen giving Sylvia some money, perhaps subconsciously feeling that's what is expected by women.
As usual with Mad Men, there were lots of subtleties and clever used of subtext. I especially liked Roger (John Slattery) equating Jaguar to pre-war Munich (where Germans were given everything they wanted to please them, but it only made them crave more), because in many ways that echoes Don's insatiable personality.
And what is it with Mad Men and pregnancies? So many female characters find themselves pregnant, but it never goes anywhere positive. Peggy gave her baby up for adoption, Betty wasn't happy about bringing Gene into the world (she wanted to terminate her pregnancy), Trudy was desperate for kids as a means of patching up her marriage (it didn't work), Joan gave birth to Roger's child (who is unaware it's his) and later became a single parent, and now poor Megan's had a miscarriage in private. I'm struggling to think of one character who was genuinely happy and pleased about bringing new life into this world, or managed to do so successfully. Is a positive experience as an expectant mother just too boring for drama, or is creator Matthew Weiner subconsciously saying something?
written by Jonathan Igla and Matthew Weiner / directed by Jon Hamm / 14 April 2013 / AMC
* Is that still the name of the company, in light of the fact Lane Pryce died six months ago?