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Power Plays, Both Corporate and Domestic, on "Mad Men"

I'm still reeling from last night's awe-inspiring episode of Mad Men ("The Mountain King"), in which we finally got some answers to some long-burning questions while pushing some characters past their boiling points.

(If you haven't yet seen last night's episode, stop reading now as I am about to dive sharply into the plot twists and shocking developments that we received last night.)

First I want to say just how brutal and shocking the scene with Joan and her fiancé Greg was in Don's office, especially as it seemed to come out of nowhere. Up until now, we've seen Greg as pretty harmless, a catch even: a handsome doctor who seems to adore Joan, even if he has some rather outdated ideas of what a woman should be doing at the office. (He did not like it at all when Joan took it upon herself to read those scripts for the television department.) But he seemed to love Joan and I think she needed that comfort and safety after everything that happened in Season One with Roger. And then last night happened.

It was clear after their failed bedroom tryst that Greg has a thing about being in control at all times and about maintaining the power in their relationship. When Joan attempts to take control of their love-making, Greg reacts badly and (to put it mildly) is extremely weirded out by Joan's attempts to climb on top of him. Later, he meets Roger at the office and realizes that he is Joan's former lover, a fact that he can't deal with. But even I had no idea the lengths he would go to in order to reassert his power over Joan. And I never imagined that our beloved Joan Holloway would end up being raped on the floor of Don's office by her own fiancee.

It was a harrowing scene, made all the more shocking by Joan's haunted stare as she is pinned against the floor by her fiancé and stares disconcertingly at the couch. And it was a stark reminder that rape is about power more than anything else. Satisfied with his attempted to retrieve his fallen crown, Greg then takes Joan out to dinner as though nothing had happened... and later Joan herself (so uncharacteristic for her) acts as though nothing had actually happened when she tells Peggy about her Christmas nuptials.

It's a sad reminder that, for all of Joan's perceived "power" at Sterling-Cooper, she can still be hurt and used like any other woman. Will Joan shut down completely as she plans for her wedding to this rapist? Or will she stand up and call off the wedding and call Greg what he really is? (I hope it's the latter.) I couldn't help but think of those red, red roses lying forlornly on Joan's desk as she smoothed her dress and left with Greg. Very sad.

I thought for sure that Paul Kinsey would be killed on his little crusade Down South so I was surprised when he turned up with nary a scratch on him, having been dumped by Sheila after only three days into the trip. Whew.

As for Betty, I could not believe the fight that she had with her so-called friend. It's almost as though Betty pushed the two of them together just so that she could act morally superior when her friend went through with the affair. Did she force her to sleep with him? No, but she did everything in her power to push the two of them together, even engineering a rendezvous for the two of them when she wouldn't go through with her intention to sleep with him herself. Oh, Betty. Could it be that you are finally seeing the temptation that Don experiences?

I could not believe that Pete threw the game hen and the plate out of the window when he confronted Trudi about the adoption agency meeting. Nor could I believe it when Trudi's father attempted to blackmail Pete into making it up to her by threatening to withhold the Clearasil account. Anyone else think that the use of "In the Hall of the Mountain King" distinctly echoed Pete's storyline this week?

Meanwhile, Don retreats into his past identity as Dick Whitman, visiting the widow of the man whose life he stole. I was completely shocked that Don had kept up his friendship with Anna Draper (Desperate Housewives' Melinda Page Hamilton) over the years and that she not only knew about Dick usurping Don's identity, but seemed to enjoy the fact that he had resurrected himself using Don's name. (I was also just as surprised that Don financed her California lifestyle and had "divorced" Anna in order to marry Betty.) It was only fitting that it was Anna who was the recipient of the copy of "Meditations in an Emergency" that Don had sent earlier this season and that it was she to whom he turned when he was once again in need of rebirth.

The episode's beautiful ending, in which Don is spiritually resurrected in the waters of the Pacific Ocean, gorgeously echoed the Tarot Card for Judgment and may have signified the fact that the Don Draper we know may be coming back to New York.

But is it too late for Don? How will he react when he learns that, in his absence, Sterling Cooper is being sold and merged with a competitor? Yes, he'll walk away with a cool half-million (certainly nothing to sneeze at in the 1960s) but he may find that his very identity--ad man--has been stolen through this negotiation. One can only hope that his time with Anna has reinforced the belief that he is more than just the individual pieces that form his life, that Don Draper isn't just an ad man or a husband, but the sum of those parts.

Next week on the season finale of Mad Men ("Meditations in an Emergency"), the office scrambles without Don as Sterling Cooper faces the future as a very different entity than we first encountered them; Betty learns some disconcerting news.


R.A. Porter said…
I'd thought the use of "In the Hall of the Mountain King" was more significant to Don's story. Like Peer Gynt, he constantly changes himself to comport with some idea or being himself.

My fuller thoughts are here.
Anonymous said…
So much happened in this episode! Joan's storyline was absolutely gut-wrenching and I really hope she doesn't end up marrying that horrible excuse for a man.

Speaking of which...I'm glad that Pete finally stood up to his father-in-law but throwing dinner out the window? That was just plain childlike.

And Betty's put down of her friend? Equally despicable!

The one bright, shiny spot in all of the manipulation was Peggy's new office. She knew what she wanted and wasn't afraid to go after it. I love that she's becoming a mini-Don!
Anonymous said…

You didn't mention Betty's bleeding. My girlfriend and I were a bit stumped on that one, and I was waiting for your analysis. Ha.

(R.A. Porter's link speculates maybe a miscarriage.)

Jace Lacob said…
Kilmoonie, seeing how surprised Betty was by the sudden bleeding, miscarriage seems all but certain. But did Betty know she was pregnant? That's the question.
R.A. Porter said…
I've actually seen far more compelling thinking on Betty's bleeding since I wrote my review. Basket of Kisses thinks it's just her period. Because Betty's finally growing up and acting like a woman.

I think as a symbolic nod it works better than anything as pedestrian as a miscarriage.

We'll all know (maybe) in a few more days. Or Weiner will pull a nasty trick and not tell us now, jump ahead two years, and then only slowly drizzle out the missing details.
Brian said…
I think Betty has a serious medical condition. Remember the problem she was having with her hands season 1?

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