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'Mad Men' recap, 'Field Trip'

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.

The office – and the audience – needs another reason to be in awe of his creative brilliance. And how will he reconcile his past now that it’s out in the open?

As heartwarming as it would be for the series to end with Don shedding his 50s-era suit and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, like he wrote in his journal back in season 4, that’s far too sappy and happy-go-lucky for "Mad Men."

Instead, Don, and the writers, should strive for his other, more plausible goal: “Gain a modicum of control over the way I feel. I want to wake up. I don't want to be that man.” But even that’s not too realistic when he’s still throwing back booze and hiding secrets from his wife.

Rather than work it out with Megan and take that job offer from the California agency (like he promised his wife), he comes crawling back to Roger – the only person who sent him a Christmas card, signed Judas.

Roger even said it was a good offer. Why didn’t Don take it? He’s too comfortable at SC&P. More importantly, he didn’t want his confidence to erode. Taking the California agency job offer would have admitted he was indeed “damaged goods."

During Don’s surprise visit, Megan gets suspicious. How does he have time to visit her in the middle of the week? Why is his office so quiet when she calls? Why does he never answer her calls? Don reacts as you would expect: with deflection, distortion and typical cringe-worthy Don behavior.\

Note his language: Don tells Megan she’s acting “crazy” and like a “lunatic” and asks “Have you calmed down?” It’s classic gaslighting. Coined from the titular 1944 film "Gas Light," it’s a manipulation where the abuser convinces the victim to doubt their sanity or perceptions. Don mentally abusing his wife? The guy who locked up his married mistress in a hotel room for days? No, you don’t say!

“With a clear head, you got up every day and decided you didn’t want to be with me,” she says, restraining her anger. He won’t admit that he’s wrong or that she has every right to be betrayed and hurt. Her feelings are invalid as long as he feels vulnerable. He instead turns the blame on her and her sanity. But Megan sees right through it. It’s over, she says.

“I’m not walking out of my own house, so you have to leave,” she tells him. Power points for Meg. Each episode this season we see the "Mad Men" ladies flex their muscles. The men are losing their grip, and Don’s taking the biggest hit.

Later, he confesses that his “logic” was not as clear as he’d assumed. “I just thought that if you found out what happened, you wouldn’t look at me the same way.” It’s honest, but his recovery path is still wobbly. He lied when he said there weren’t any other women. Don’t Sylvia and Betty count?

“Stop pushing me away with both hands,” Megan cries on the phone with him. After she hangs up, the sirens wail in the background, a motif echoing from their relationship troubles last season. Glad to see she’s pushing back.

Return of the heartless Betty! Whose life is she making miserable this time, other than her own? What makes Betty’s cruelty so riveting – and soul-crushing – is that she doesn’t need to raise her voice or hand to ruin her children’s day. Just the snarl in her voice as she tells Bobby to eat the gumdrops makes him practically hum The Beatles’ “Yesterday.”

When has a kid ever looked that gloomy eating candy? Betty’s Reddi Whip shot is a close second. Whipped cream might not be candy, but Betty counts as a child. Emotionally, anyway.

In her mind, the ice-cold shoulder is only fair: Bobby ruined their “perfect day.” He let some young girl take her sandwich. Ouch, the sting. What, is she just supposed to live off warm milk and cigarettes?

Side note: Between Bobby saying, “I didn’t know you were going to eat,” and Henry asking what she ate that day (red flag if a guy actually wants to know what a woman ate), that meager meal is probably not far off from Betty’s usual diet. Yo-yoing from one extreme to another.

Funny how Betty and Don, divorced for years now, should run such parallel lives. Both are losing their sense of worth as the new generation comes parading in with their pro-feminist, flexible work schedules and newfangled computers. They’re obsolete and replaceable. And they both know it.

“Why don’t they love me?” Betty whimpers about her children, her main source of self-esteem (after her looks and rich husband, of course). For Don, it’s clear why his colleagues don’t love him. It’s up to him to prove that he’s worthy of their love.

MORE HIGHLIGHTS FROM “FIELD DAY”:

BEST ROGER ONE-LINER: “Sorry I opened the door — I was expecting a BLT.”

BEST NON-ROGER ONE-LINER: “What’s he doing?” Peggy, on Don’s return.

Meredith: “Who cares?” Love it. The bigger her hair gets, the better her lines get. More hairspray, please!

BEST CONTINUITY: Don getting his job like he did the first time: by begging Roger. Only this go-around, Roger came into work hungover on his own.

MOST NAÏVE ONE-LINER: “My mom loves animals.” Poor, foolish Bobby. He doesn’t know about his mom’s spiteful hunting past. Only Betty could find a reason to hate doves.

MOST GLARING CASE OF DENIAL: “I can’t say that we miss you.” – Peggy to Don. Oh please, Peggy. You weren’t even rejected or considered, as Ginsy so sardonically taunted, for a Clio under Ted’s wing. Your best work was with Don. Plus, everyone on Madison Avenue knows SC&P’s creative work lately has been “invisible.” That’s no coincidence.

NEWEST DON DOPPELGÄNGER: Harry. He’s deceitful and he’s even copying Don’s mantra: “This conversation is over,” he says to Cutler before storming off.

BIGGEST BUMMER: Lou Avery has a two-year contract, and he’s only a few months in. Boo. I was really hoping to see him get canned.

BIGGEST MYSTERY: Where’s Bob Benson? I miss his short shorts.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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