Don hit restart, but thankfully not replay.
“Field Trip” skillfully revealed the answers we had been waiting for since the end of Season 6: How will Don get his job back? And when will Megan find out? In traditional "Mad Men" fashion, of course, any win comes with heavy losses. Don returns to work, and Megan’s done with their marriage.
Like a true 12-stepper, Don accepts that he’s no longer in control. The panning back and forth, between his mental preparation at his apartment as he’s staring at his watch and walking down the SC&P hallway, amplified his anxiety and ours. We know to dread the worst, and at times, that’s what Don gets.
The wound of nostalgia, like his famed Kodak Carousel ad, burns deep. Even more than Ken’s eye wound (that eye patch still depresses me).
Don’s return to the office was about as painful as looking through an ex’s pictures on Facebook (aka the modern Carousel). You know their lives go on without you, but you don’t expect it to feel like a celebration of your absence.
Peggy’s copy chief, Joan’s head of accounts, Dawn’s head secretary – everyone’s moved up but him. “Here’s what we accomplished without you,” the new name plaques boast. But in spite of Peggy’s coldness and Lou’s brusqueness, Don handles himself with gravitas.
“I know how I want you to see me,” Don tells Megan. It’s how he wants everyone to see him. All this time, Don’s made himself out to be the white-collared conservative Jimi Hendrix howls about in “If 6 Was 9” (which played at the end of the episode). While he’s certainly not a long-haired hippie like Jimi, he’s painstakingly trying to blend in with his sharkskin-clad associates. Packaging matters.
But deep down inside, he’s still Dick Whitman -- the misfit prostitute’s son who grew up in on a farm and whorehouse, a stark contrast to the silver-spooned Roger Sterlings or Pete Campbells of the office. He suppressed this lowly side of him with shot after shot of whiskey.
Then he let his freak flag fly high, high at the Hershey’s pitch. He’s now lambasted as a two-faced monster, like Bobby’s favorites, Wolfman and Dracula. Revered ad genius by day, reviled alcoholic disaster by night.
The partners are all too familiar with his shape-shifting ways. Is his genius worth the risk? Is firing him worth losing his partner’s shares?
Roger might be a drunken flake, showing up late and leaving Don for the vultures, but he stays true to his word and fights hard to keep Don on board. His power, however, is still on the decline.
One second he’s boasting about how, as the president the company, he can put the whole office on vacation in a snap. The next he’s asking for Joan’s opinion. Joan, by the way, got to keep her boots on in Cooper’s office. Look who kooky ol’ Bert respects more.
Cutler is increasingly becoming the least trust-worthy character on the show. He doesn’t care one bit about Harry, the media department or a new computer. He’s merely bartering one dishonest man for another.
“I hate what [Don] did to Ted.” Did I miss something? What did Don do to Ted? Yes, Don got Ted obscenely drunk one time, and, yes, the two shared a heated rivalry. But Ted’s boohooing in California because he chose to have an affair with Peggy. That was his decision, not Don’s. Peggy and Cutler seem to forget this. Don might be a monster, but Ted’s no saint.
Ultimately, Roger made the best argument: losing Don’s partnership shares puts them in a gaping financial hole and his genius will bring in more revenue for other agencies. But to stay on, Don must hide his freak flag with partner-approved stipulations.
And what morose stipulations. First, he’s relegated to Lane’s old office. Yes, the abandoned office where Lane hung himself after Don fired him. Cringe. This does not bode well. Suddenly,Megan’s Dracula castle in the Hills became much cozier.
Also, he must report to Lou. Lou! Bizarro Mr. Rogers. Which is worse: a haunted office or reporting to that “adequate” brute? I’d say the latter. If Lou is petty enough not to submit any of Don ad’s for the Clio awards and shoots down Peggy’s ideas (which were actually Don’s ideas by way of Freddy), then he’ll stop at nothing to stifle Don’s career.
As predictable as it might seem for Don to return to Madison Avenue, California would have been too safe for him. He and Megan would have had a few squabbles here and there, and he might have tried to start an agency with Pete and Ted.
But that’s nothing compared to the tensions on the horizon for the last four episodes of this part of the season (and next seven for the final final season).
Peggy needs to put Don in his place again. Joan needs to put Don in his place again. And with her new promotion, Dawn needs to put Don in his place.