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Mad Men – Field Trip Review: An Uncomfortable Comeback

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“I wish it was yesterday”

Bobby Draper reflects on his day and utters these sad words to an inquiring Henry. Those Draper men are all alike. Does he wish for it to be yesterday so he can take back what he did during lunchtime, relive this almost perfect day to its full glory? Or does he want to go back to the previous day so he could convince his mother not to go on the school field trip to avoid committing any faux pas against his Betty? It doesn’t really matter; ultimately he just wants the day to not have happened so he can stop feeling so guilty and regretful. He messed up and now he wants to take it back, now that he is aware of his transgressions. Sound familiar? Mad Men isn’t always the subtlest of shows but I like how the writers just let Bobby voice very plainly what Don has never been able to vocalize. Much like Sally’s line last week “I’m so many people”, it communicates plainly what Don has struggled with all these years while at the same time ties his experience with that of his children.

In what might be the one of the most bewildering extended metaphors of the show Bobby and Betty’s day at the farm parallels Don’s past and current struggles. Bobby trades Betty’s sandwich for some delicious gumdrops, and is met with anger and resentment from his mother when she realizes what he has done. Unable to reverse his transaction and only later understanding the wrong of his ways, he is remorseful, but is left to “eat his candy” which is no longer appealing or appetizing. It is basically what Don has gone through in both his personal and professional life.

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Don is currently left eating his candy after many years of insubordination on the job and taking advantage of his position and power. Some could say that this is a perfect set up, especially for someone like Don, he is getting paid to not go to work, he has his days free to do whatever he wants, drink all day sleep with whomever, but (like Bobby with the gumdrops) he does not find any enjoyment in it at all. The same thing could be said about his marriage, which is falling apart as Megan learns of Don’s betrayal. There is a parallel drawn between Betty and Megan, the women are disappointed and put off by their respective Draper men and subsequently punish them for it. Betty totally guilt trips Bobby and forces him to eat the gumdrops and makes him regret the entire day whereas Megan sends Don away and unburdens him from her drama, “I don’t want you to worry about me anymore,” essentially setting him free, almost daring him to be relieved that he doesn’t need to worry about her. This gives Don the impetus to attempt to get his job back, trying to reverse his actions and going back to the way things were. And in this kind of desperation he agrees to the overbearing terms the SC&P partners present.

Of course there is more to the Bobby and Betty plotline than drawing parallels and informing Don’s story, Betty has some of her own character stuff going on, but while I admit that this reading of the narrative could be a stretch, these scenes are so disjointed from the main narrative that there must be a thematic tie to justify their place in the episode. After two week we finally get some Betty material and it is absolutely glorious. Not only does Betty’s emergence brings on the return of Francine (squeal! Anne Dudek is amazing), but also presents a story that allows her to be deliciously bitchy, superior, judgmental, resentful, and incredibly entertaining. Betty might not be the best mom, or person, but there is no denying that she is fun to watch. Her interactions with Gene are amusing and engaging. However, it is definitely jarring every time the episode cuts to these two in the farm, it is such a separate story thread that it can’t help but come across as disjointed and out of place.

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That is because the rest of the episode primarily deals with Don’s painfully awkward return to the offices of SC&P. It is difficult to see Don seem so out of place in the office, it just feels wrong to see him so pathetic. Left to wait while everyone whispers about him, the partners discuss his future in another room, and exchange uncomfortable greetings with his former (?) employees. Of these meetings, the most painful is his encounter with Peggy who is still furious with him because of the St. Joseph’s/Teddy fiasco. Despite the struggles these two have suffered together through the years, it breaks my heart to see them at such odds. I miss their mentor/protégé times. Their relationship is one of the most meaningful aspects of the series and I hope that this final season takes a course to repair it. Hopefully with Don back they will have to join forces to work against Lou, who is still the worst. Can they make up already?! The writers have done a fantastic job in aligning our sympathies with Don and we root for him as well as Roger’s impassioned argument. An uncharacteristic moment from him, who has been coasting in the work department, seems like Cutler’s not-so-veiled threat last week really got to him. But what is more surprising is that Roger is right, it would be much too expensive to buy Don out, and from what we have seen, creative has taken a huge hit. The way Don is brought back is certainly unexpected, with all the ‘Lou is a horrible person’ build up we expected to see him ousted and Don to return to open arms, but this is a much more intriguing direction. The majority of the people do not want him to return (Jim, Joan, Peggy, Bert, Lou) which will undoubtedly welcome conflict.

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“Field Trip” is a compelling hour despite the disjointed narratives. Don’s story is extremely affecting as he is in such an unusually vulnerable and exposed state. It is his narrative that does the heavy lifting in the episode and supports the more compelling drama. What did you think?

 

Final Thoughts

  • It is fun to see the subtle changes and consequences to last week’s events: Dawn is swamped with work, Meredith is working with Peggy, the new receptionist, Don opens up to Megan perhaps due to his conversation with Sally, Roger takes a more proactive role, Joan is having early meetings with Ken, etc.
  • It this it for Don and Megan? It would be interesting to see, I like Megan and Jessica Pare’s performance but I don’t know if what the character is adding to the show is necessary. I definitely would trade any Megan scenes for more Peggy or Dawn or Joan, or almost anybody else.
  • “I don’t care about awards.” Yeah, nobody believes your BS, Peggy. We all know how badly you want your Clio.
  • How is Don going to work under those restraints? The most annoying being reporting to Lou, doesn’t that just make him a glorified copy chief? Which is what Peggy’s position is, which would lead to some issues, no doubt.
Rating
8.2
Pros
  • Betty is Back
  • Betty + Bobby Very Entertaining
  • Don's Return Quite Effective
Cons
  • Disjointed Storylines

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