“Mad Men” Recap, 408: “The Summer Man”
“The Summer Man” refers to a man waking up, leaving the New York Athletic Club after swimming and announcing that he could smell the warm season, his olfactory nerves lighting up for the first time in a while, and while the corn smell is probably a faint memory of Dick Whitman’s childhood on the farm, the perfume on the girls in their summer clothes is real. Don Draper is not a changed man, but he is a changing man. He is forcing himself to write every day and opening the shades of his apartment for the first time this season — the effect is so bracing, at first I thought he was holed up in a cabin somewhere.
Don laments the difficulty he finds in writing, and how lazy he was as a teenager, writing the bare minimum on essays — five paragraphs, 50 words each, never writing more than 250 words at a time, ever. To my memory, this is also the first time we learn about the extent of Dick Whitman’s formal education. “I should have finished high school. Everything could have been different.” That may or may not be true in the official sense of his accomplishment as an advertising executive, since in the 1950s and 60s it was still possible to scale corporate ladders without a college or even high school education, but Draper might have been different. His lack of a diploma is just a panel in his quilt of illusion, something else that he had to cover up with alcohol. It must be noted that Draper is not exactly on the wagon in “The Summer Man,” but he’s trying, and every sip he takes of a beer, wine or even bourbon in this episode feels like a punch in the gut, but for Don, moderate social drinking qualifies as teetotaling.
Meanwhile, Joey (Matt Long) is pushing the limits of what SCDP can institutionally bear in terms of jackassery. The candy machine in the breakroom steals some money and Joey tries to retrieve a candy bar, only to have the ravenous chocolate dispenser make off with his watch. Joan complains about the noise when Joey, Ken and Stan rock the machine back and forth, and when the twerp mouths off to Miss Holloway, she asks Joey into her office, castigates him and tells him he’s arrogant, to which Joey retorts, “”What do you do around here besides walking around like you’re trying to get raped?”
Joey’s been on thin ice for a while, and getting Joan at a point when her husband is shipping off to boot camp is fatal timing. Furthermore, Peggy isn’t terribly thrilled with her old partner in crime anymore — much water has passed under the bridge since their “John/Marsha” repartee in Episode One.
Blankenship is bumbling around more than usual thanks to cataract surgery, and when she tries to deliver booze to Don, he turns the alcohol away and tells her to bring more cigarettes. She tells him that “his wife called,” to which Don replies “she’s not my wife.” Well, “Mrs. Francis” called to tell Don he cannot have the kids because it’s little “Bobby’s” (Gene’s) second birthday.
Joan goes home to her husband, who will be showing up on “China Beach” shortly, performing meatball surgery. He tries to console her by saying she won’t be all alone, that she can “talk to her friends at work.” Yeah, the toolboxes who are torturing her constantly with particularly nasty comments about her sexuality and her status at SCDP. Joan begins to cry uncontrollably, though it’s hard to say if it’s because her husband the surgeon isn’t the hot ticket she thought he would be, or because she’s being treated like complete garbage by a bunch of frat boys.
“More and more every day about Vietnam,” Don writes, which could say as much about this episode as anything else, since it informs Joan’s defense against the aforementioned toolboxes. Don writes that Gene was “conceived in a moment of desperation and born into a mess.” Don’s drinking a beer, but as he writes, in addition to climbing Kilimanjaro, he wants to “gain a modicum of control” over how he feels.
In a meeting with Ken, Peggy and Stan, Don tells the Mountain Dew team that the company thought its illustration of a hillbilly was perceived as a witch, and that they need to start over. Peggy is drinking scotch, and, having been passed a glass of his own, Don takes his own drink — every one of them hurts. Don tells Joan he needs Joey to come on full-time for a couple of weeks to bang it out, and Joan resists — she really doesn’t want anymore quippy bon mots about rape than she absolutely has to hear. As they leave, Don tells Peggy to have “Ray Charles come in here,” and Peggy motions to Blankenship.
Harry Crane is talking to Joey about “Peyton Place,” and how he suggested him as a player on the soap, which Joey interprets as a come-on — how many more minutes before this sniveling narcissist gets the bum rush? Peggy confronts Joey about his incident with Joan, and nothing’s getting through. “Message received,” Joey said. “Is it time to go yet?” Cue Peggy eyeroll.
Don is having dinner with Bethany (Anna Camp) when Henry and Betty show up at the restaurant to discuss the political future of future New York Mayor John Lindsay with a Republican operative. Betty spends most of the time looking like she’s going to reveal the lizard under all that peaches-and-cream skin, drinking gimlets as if lime is an endangered fruit. Bethany comments that each date with Don is like the first, and that’s especially true since this is probably the first time Don has been paying attention to anything she’s said. On the way home, Betty and Henry fight over her behavior, with Henry saying that Don is “taking up too much space in your life, maybe your heart.” The ensuing fight ends with “Shut up, Betty — you’re drunk.” Exactly.
Bethany, meanwhile, makes Don … “comfortable” in the back of a cab. Afterward, she tells him “to be continued…” and Don writes, “I bet she was thinking of that line all night.” Don is becoming more poetic in his journal writing, talking about the lonely sex lives of the women in Bethany’s apartment building and how he likes sleeping alone, stretching out “like a skydiver.” Last week, this would be seen as a metaphor for Don’s continued free fall, but now it just sounds like a man wanting to be unencumbered by the accumulated baggage of his life.
When Don returns to SCDP, he overhears Faye Miller (Cara Buono) breaking up with her boyfriend — well, that’s certainly helpful. At the same moment, Henry is trying to sneak out in the morning when Betty wakes up and desperately apologizes, batting her eyes, scrunching her forehead and generally looking like Tuesday Weld when she tries to justify her obsession with Don by saying, “he was the only man I’d ever been with.” As Henry leaves, he crunches a few boxes of Don’s belongings in the garage before backing out.
At the office, Joey’s acting like vodka and Mountain Dew is genius — it’s been 45 years, and still no successful bar drinks based on the Dew. Stan tells him, “You’re a haircut, you know that?” Peggy sends him back to the mixology board while Joan tries to make a case with Lane against Joey coming on full-time. Joey starts drawing a nasty picture of what Joan and Lane might be doing in his office. This was a bad move — he left a douchey paper trail. Henry calls Don to tell him to pick up the boxes of stuff on Saturday, since Sunday is Gene’s birthday, because he needs to store a hypothetical boat. Henry is actively trying to deny Don the right to show up for the birthday. Don is pissed and looks directly at his booze bottles before yelling, “Mrs. Blankenship, can I get some coffee!?!”
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