This episode was all about women, specifically (well to me, and I’m biased), Joan and Peggy. But before I get ahead of myself singing their praises, the episode begins with Don and Megan in the elevator. Don, who is terribly sick (his sickness is pertinent to his plotline), gets accosted by Andrea, just one of the many women in Midtown that he has slept with. Megan, as any wife understandably would be, is pissed and is not having it. Later in the episode, she’ll confront Don, telling him that his careless appetite for sex can’t all be Betty’s fault, and then send him home before he dies. Megan’s got some balls. She’s feisty, and I like her more and more with every passing episode. I might even like her more than I liked Faye, and I was pretty peeved when Don dumped her for Megan last season.
But anyways, on a more important note, JOAN JOAN JOAN. Sorely missed last episode, we see Joan preparing for her husband Greg’s (remember him? the doctor who went off to war, the one who raped her on an office floor in season 2) arrival home. She’s bustlin’ around the house in that little headband of hers (I wish I could pull off that look), making cake and getting little Kevin all ready for his dad. She hasn’t looked this happy in awhile and I’m thinking maybe Joan can finally get a break and have it all. Except not at all. Greg comes home and at first it’s hunky-dory: he holds his son, they spend time together, Joan’s mother knows to make herself scarce. But then out of the blue he tells her he has to go back to the front for another year, and of course, Joan’s sad and mad, but then she comes around, and I’m thinking she’s still going to get to have it all (sort of), but then it all blows up as she finds out that Greg actually volunteered to go back! AHHH. POOR JOANIE. But it turns out Joan’s a lot more resilient than me because while my emotions are all over the place, Joan calmly (and I think calm anger is always the scariest) tells Greg that he can pack his bags and never come back. She knows he needs something to make him feel like a real man because he never really was one, even before they were married. And all the sudden the rape from two seasons ago resurfaces so poignantly and heartbreakingly, and I just really want to give Joan a big hug.
Second in line for the award for being awesome goes to Peggy as this episode’s comedic relief. This is the second time in three episodes were the increasingly useless Roger has to flat out pay someone to do his bidding (hmmm…should I be concerned?) This time, he pays Peggy to do an overnight campaign for Mohawk Airlines. Still arrogant as ever, he gives her ten whole dollars, thinking that that will be enough; and maybe it would’ve been two or even one season ago, but it’s season five now, and Peggy’s holding her own with the boys, and she’s living on her own now with her hipster boyfriend and she’s sassy. She’s not having it. (She’s also kind of tipsy, which may explain her initial confidence). She tells Roger that she knows he’s desperate and demands that he give her everything he has, which turns out to be $400. Why does Roger ALWAYS carry around that much cash? Last time he paid Harry around $1000. Is that normal? She almost takes him for his watch too, and when the scene ends I’m practically out of my chair (read: sitting up from my lounging position in my bed) cheering for her. Oh how her character has evolved!
Speaking of evolution, Dawn, Don’s secretary, and the sole African-American working at SCDP, has been secretly sleeping in Don’s office because she’s too scared to go home at night due to the race riots and murders that have been happening. It’s one of the more explicit moments so far in this episode, and in the series where the country’s changing politics has been mentioned as directly affecting the characters. Peggy discovers her and invites her back to her place. I love this scene. I love when we get to see the characters outside of the office without all their built up professional walls. Peggy’s gone from tipsy to flat out drunk, and semi-deep conversations ensue. She shares about her insecurities as a woman copywriter, whether she has it in her to continue and whether she even actually wants to continue. OH PEGGY. You’re so fabulous; you can do it! And then my favorite, favorite scene of the episode: when Peggy decides she’s heading to bed and she looks at her purse on the table, and than very very consciously realizes her actions and its implications (as does Dawn), and there’s an awkward pause, and just to prove something to herself, she leaves it there. It’s an excellent and subtle portrayal of humans, that despite our best efforts, we still battle underlying subconscious feelings of racism.
The third major plot involves Don, who spends pretty much the entire episode sick in bed. He’s gone home per Megan’s orders and begins to have crazy hallucinations where Andrea (the woman from the beginning of the episode) sneaks into his home, seduces him into having sex with her despite his initial and ardent refusal (at least he initially said no…), and then refuses to go away. In a fit of anger, Don strangles her to death and kicks her under the bed. At this point, I’m having a panic attack because I’m really not sure if this is a dream or not because Don giving into his sexual appetite is completely plausible, and the last time I thought Don was dreaming (when he spontaneously dumped Faye and proposed to Megan in the season 4 finale), it turned out to be all too real. I’m debating whether I would actually continue to watch this show if they went the route of Don killing someone and having another secret to hide, when it becomes clear that it was all just a fever induced dream. I’m feeling a little bit ashamed that I would even think a show of this caliber would even stoop to plots like that, but more just relieved that Mad Men continues to deliver week after week.