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Samantha Zalaznick

Samantha Zalaznick

Posted: September 14, 2010 06:11 PM

Mad Men Recap: Power of the Poontang

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In "The Summer Man," the change of season brings a changed Don. Anna's death was a wake up call, and we see Don finally trying to pull himself up out of his downward spiral. The last episode closed with him leaving his door open, in an attempt to leave himself open as well. A start. Fast-forward a month or so (What's the date? Anyone know Gene's birthday?), Don's actually cleaned up, has a routine, and is continuing to open up by writing down his thoughts and feelings. This introspection is so not Don, but neither is waking up sober. He's strayed so far that he needs to change to regain control of his life. He opens with the first step, acknowledging his drinking problem. "They say as soon as you have to cut down on your drinking, you have a drinking problem. My mind is a jumble, I can't organize my thoughts. " He sits at a sparse table in the corner of his apartment, with light finally shining through the window. The quality of the voiceover gives the episode a different dear-diary kind of feel. Instead of watching him experience subtle and intense emotion, he's actually telling us what he's thinking, taking control of the narrative as he's trying to take control of his life. He's questioning everything, even saying, "I should've finished high school, everything could've been different." He knows though, "I feel like a little girl, I'm writing down what happened today." With Anna's death, he lost a major piece of his identity, and he knows he needs to redefine himself. He had lost all control, and he needs to get it back to figure out what kind of person he wants to be.

The episode opens with him diving into a pool and swimming laps. The swimming imagery perfectly captures his state, metaphorically mimicking both his drinking and his rehabilitation. While swimming, he's strong and powerful, but he's terribly out of shape, heaving and coughing as he comes up for air. Someone asks if he's alright. He's not, but he's trying to be. He sits at his desk and writes, (yes, a little corny) "A list of things I'd like to do. One, climb Mount Kilimanjaro [...] Two, gain a modicum of control over the way I feel. I want to wake up. I don't want to be that man." He says that as he lets the air out of his lungs sinks towards the bottom of the pool. It's the image of what he's been doing to himself all season: he's been drowning himself in alcohol, he's been letting himself sink towards the bottom. He's been underwater -- zoned out and blurry -- but now he's pulling himself up for air. He's trying to regain control.

If the last episode dealt with the women most important in his life, this episode deals with the women in his romantic life -- and women in general -- the power of the Poontang!

The Stones "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" plays in the background as Don steps out into a sunny day, signaling Don's status. He looks at women, "the smell of perfume" hits him and he's on the prowl -- so he calls Bethany, his standard go-to girl when he's tries to resume respectable dating. Bethany, young and forward, calls Don out. "Every date feels like a first date with you," annoyed that he won't let her in. She asks, "Don't you want to be close to anyone?" He replies, "I do," emphatically. He does, but he's just started, and he doesn't want to be close to her.

The most exciting part of their date is the run in with Betty and Henry -- finally! A showdown we've been waiting for. Betty is visibly flustered and jealous. Now she's the one acting like Don, going straight for the bar. Betty's acting childish as ever. She doesn't even acknowledge Don or Bethany when they go over to say hello, she just looks away. She watches Don angrily from her table, staring and smoking, downing her drinks, and running off to the bathroom to freak out. When Don tells Bethany that was his ex-wife, she appropriately gasps, "What? HER?? Childish or not, Betty is stunning, and Bethany is obviously intimidated seeing who she's being compared to. She looks at her in awe and then goes back to her meal, probably pleased to be in the same category. Notice their similar up-dos (Betty's, by the way, I thought looked fabulous when it was all messed up in the morning). Bethany is similar to a young Betty (not angry yet) -- remember she's the supernumerary who doesn't speak and just fills a role -- the role Betty played as Don's wife.

It's interesting that Henry keeps calling Betty Elizabeth. It's as though he's trying to train her to act more grown up -- but, in doing so, he's parenting her, treating her like a child, which in turn seems to allow her to behave this way. On their way home, their father-daughter roles really come out, as she slumps against the window while he scolds her. "What are you? A wino? [...] That is not something you're allowed to say." She fights back like an angry teenager. "I hate him [...]You're right who cares about him!" and tries to get out of the car. Henry, who I find annoying, actually is an adult, and is right. He tries to explain the proper way to feel, " I have an ex-wife, she bothers me, I don't like seeing her, but I don't hate her." Henry tells her obviously she cares about Don, "he's taking up too much space in your life, maybe in your heart." He finally says, "Look, maybe we rushed into this." He obviously regrets marrying her. He didn't realize her anger and feelings towards Don wouldn't subside once he whisked her away. He gets fed up and yells at her, "Shut up Betty, you're drunk." Betty also apologizes to him like a child who's stepped out of line. "I don't want to have to defend myself all the time." She whines, "I'm really sorry, Henry" and then tells Francine, "I misbehaved."

Henry is over dealing with all this Draper crap and makes a power play against Don. Annoyed by Don's presence in his household, from the boxes to Betty's heart, Henry tries to get rid of some of the Draper clutter. He calls Don and tells him he needs to move his stuff because he wants to park his new boat there. Manly. I feel bad for Henry, I don't think he realized what he was signing up for when he galloped in on his white horse to save to the blonde, beautiful damsel-in-distress.

Their car ride home is directly contrasted with Don's ride home, as he and Bethany make out in the taxi. Bethany, "makes him more comfortable" and goes down on him in the cab. HA, always such a gentlemen, Don's voiceover cuts in, "She's a sweet girl"...now we know what he really means by that. She gets out of the cab, and says, "To be continued." He writes, "I bet she's been thinking of that line all night," and he would think that, Mr. Ad Man. He writes, "People tell you who they are but we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be," a true and insightful thought. It rings true in a lot of relationships, especially to Betty and Henry. He ignored who she was, the way she was acting when she was married to Don and imagined a fanciful future for them instead. Then Don muses, "I like sleeping alone, stretching out like a skydiver, cool patches to roll on to." He's becoming more comfortable with himself, with being alone. "I should appreciate it more," sleeping alone. He's finally appreciating sleep now that he's not drunkenly passing out into it.

Back in the office, Miss Blankenship is recovering from cataract surgery, "I was blind and now I see." Her cataracts were like Don's drinking -- blocking his vision. Now she can see clearly, and so can he. Holding back on drinking is tough in the office where it's such a standard part of their daily routine. He watches Peggy and the boys drink in slow motion, then takes a sip, and completely zones out as the alcohol takes over him for a moment--but snaps out of it. With only one sip, he's participating but restraining himself, trying to strike a balance. He sees how many bottles Miss Blankenship got for him and tells her to bring them back, looking horrified by how many bottles she brings, how many she expects him to drink.

There's lots of excitement over the vending machine. Peggy says, "I feel like Margaret Mead," watching the boys jumping around, trying to figure out how to deal with the machine. The vending machine represents progress, and change. It removes a person necessary to sell the food, it combines the two steps, something they haven't had before. For Joan, the vending machine is a step towards making her role obsolete. She's losing control of the office, not respected by the young guys. Joey, in particular, is a complete ass and shockingly shameless. She takes him into his office to yell at him. He responds to her, "What do you do around here besides walking around like you're trying to get raped [...] I'm not some young girl off the bus, I don't need some Madame from a Shanghai whore house to show me the ropes." First of all, holy shit, Joey just called Joan an old whore. The rape line is ironic remembering when husband Greg raped her in the office. Joey's rudeness is beyond comprehension, it's too cruel (what's his problem?), and startles Joan, who should've kicked his ass. She's like twice his size, she could take him out. Joan tears up and leaves for the day. She's not used to being treated this way, no one has ever dared speak to her like that in the past. Joey's never had any respect for the older partners, he was always inappropriately insulting Don. Maybe he doesn't respect them, but it's weird he's not worried about his job. Peggy defends Joan -- for Joan and for herself, as a woman. Peggy warns him not to mess with Joan, "she's important around here." Joey, who thinks he's much more important than he is, says, "We're creative, and she's an overblown secretary [...] There's a Joan at every company, my mother was a Joan." (So then where's the respect for his mother? He obviously has some mommy-issues of his own). Peggy tries to set him straight, "She's not your mother and she and Lane basically run this place." He says "message received" but obviously not -- He then goes so far as to draw a picture of Joan giving Lane a blowjob (the second of the night!) in his office with a caption "Tally Ho!" and tapes it up on her window. Joan takes care of that by calmly telling the boys, laugh now, but when you're dying in Vietnam, remember I never liked you. So cold that it works. Thinking about her own husband in Vietnam, perhaps?

When Joan goes home to Greg (BTW who's going to be on this season of Gossip Girl), it seems like they actually have a nice relationship -- much nicer than I expected. She says, "What am I gonna do? Who am I gonna talk to?" suggesting a real level of intimacy and closeness. She bursts into tears when he says, "You'll talk to your friends at work." Her world is falling apart. She's not where she wants to be, she's not important enough at the office or at home, at the office for respect or at home to keep her husband from going away. Her composed exterior is breaking down, I hate to see her like this. Roger Sterling to the rescue?

Peggy and Don's working relationship is moving forward nicely since their bonding session last week. He's training her to be a boss, helping her progress. She brings him a problem, the 'Tally-Ho!' drawing which Don comically admits is weirdly well-done for Joey. She tells him she told him not to do it and he did anyway. Don says, "I wouldn't tolerate that if I were you." She wants him to do something about it and he says, "Look Peggy, just go fire him." Instead of handling it for her, Don's teaching her to handle it for herself. He tells her if she wants any respect she's going to have to go get it for herself--and he gives her the confidence to do so. She does it, and handles it beautifully. Joey, as usual, doesn't take her seriously and tries to undermine her, "We'll see what Don has to say about that." She shoots back, "Don doesn't even know who you are," reminding him, you work for me. She dismisses him, "I'm sorry it didn't work out," and he smirks at her with contempt and says, " Well, I was wrong about you," -- and he was. He was wrong not to take her seriously, wrong that she wasn't one of them. She is. Get it straight.

The Peggy-Joan elevator face-off was perhaps the most significant scene of the episode. Peggy, pleased with herself, gets in the elevator expecting Joan to thank her for defending her and firing Joey, but she gets a different reaction. In her high-pitched-Joan-voice, Joan says, "Now everybody in the office will know that you solved my problem and that you must be really important, I guess." Joan is the problem-solver and doesn't need anyone going over her head, even if Peggy's just trying to help. As the most powerful woman in the office to the next, Joan warns Peggy, "You want to be a big shot, well, no matter how powerful we get around here, they can still just draw a cartoon. So all you've done is prove to them that I'm a meaningless secretary and you're another humorless bitch." This is the epitome of the problem for women. No one would've thought there was a chance one of the younger guys would treat Joan this way, but they can, and Joey did. Even though Peggy and Don don't support it, Stan and Harry laugh (I'd expect more from Harry, he's been around long enough) and it's impossible to truly rid the work environment of sexual stereotypes. Peggy tried to do so by stripping in the hotel room, and kind of did by out-liberating Stan. We see a transfer of importance from Joan to Peggy. Joan was it, the top dog of the stereotypical female role, taking it even farther as an office manager with her own pseudo-office. Now we see Peggy who's going to be able to go so much farther. Joan's role is fading--with both the vending machine and the complaint hotline, there's less of a need for her. Peggy on the other hand, is becoming more important. She's becoming one of the guys, but Joan's warning her that as much as she thinks she's one of them, she never really will be. She's upset she made her look like a stupid secretary, by exerting more power than Joan could have (Joan could have gotten him fired, but could not have done so directly), Peggy reduced Joan's role without realizing it.

Faye, like the other women in this episode, Betty and Joan, is breaking down, screaming at her ex-something on the phone, "Go shit in the ocean!" They all have their problems. So Don, getting his mojo back, realizes this is his moment to swoop in and finally gets his date (two in one week--he's back, ladies). We know it was coming, she obviously wanted to go out with him, but she demands a more proper proposal. More proper than just tagging it on to the workday, and certainly more proper than drunkenly trying to take her home after the Clios. She's good for him, she helps guide him. A psychologist is exactly what Don needs right now, and since he's too proud to see one, he might as well date one (or the closest he can find). "You smell good," apparently his go-to line. Don, in direct contrast to his date with Bethany, immediately opens up, and tells her about his swimming therapy. "I've been a little out of sorts lately, and its an effort to get in the water but when you do you're weightless and you don't even sweat and in the end you're wrung out." The swimming is a metaphor for his rehabilitation, it's an effort to get in, but once he does he's weightless, he's in control. He's wrung out because he needs to get back into shape, because he, and his body, needs to adjust to healthy activity. It also sounds like a metaphor for drinking, once you start, you feel weightless, invincible and then wrung out -- but differently. But anyway...the date. Faye's dad is in cahoots with the mafia! Who knew that was a responsibility of a candy store? In that case, Don better be on his best behavior. She tells him her dad is a "handsome, two-bit gangster like you," commenting on his lifestyle.

He tells her it's Gene's second birthday (has it really been two years??). He says he's not going, "because I'm not welcome there. He thinks that man is his father. Maybe that's okay." Faye responds with advice, "All he knows of the world is what you show him." Then Dr. Faye quotes Aesop's fable about the wind and the sun. In a competition to get the traveler's coat off, the wind blows fiercely while the sun shines warmth -- the sun wins. "Kindness, gentleness and persuasion win, where force fails." As Don's trying to pull himself back together, he needs to be more like the sun. It's summer now, the sun is shining, and he can now get what he wants through warmth over force--courting women instead of drunkenly hitting on them. He thinks he's so smooth when he says, "so what you're saying is you want my coat" -- its definitely better, hitting on her with kindness, but no, that's not what she was saying -- she lets it go, she wants him. They have a passionate, I've-been-wanting-this-for-a-while kiss in the cab (also in contrast to the less interesting one with Bethany) and she offers to go home with him, but he says he's just going to take her to her door, "because that's as far as I can go right now and I'm not ready to say goodnight." That was smooth. That's as far as he can go because he's trying to be honorable and he's still working on himself. He's rebuilding and wants to get himself together before taking the next step with Faye, which shows that he takes her seriously (or maybe he's just scared of her dad). More seriously, say, than a taxi blowjob. Do you think this could turn into a real relationship? As an analyst she's good for him, and could help him rediscover himself. In any case, Don turning down sex is a major change. Also note that her hair is distinctly different from Betty and Bethany's.

He comes up from his first lap in the beginning gasping and coughing, but has visibly improved by his final lap. A younger swimmer threatens to pass him by and he speeds up and manages to keep his lead, and comes up just normally out of breath. When he feels the triumph of that control he feels the confidence to go to the party. He had been thinking about Gene. He writes Gene was "conceived in a moment of desperation and born into a mess." He's deciding what kind of father he wants to be, the kind of man he wants to be, and even though he says decidedly throughout the episode that he can't go to the party -- all of a sudden, he can. Gene will only know what Don shows him -- he takes Faye's words to heart (she's already helped him). He wants to be his father, make sure Gene knows that he, not "that man" is his father. So, he shows up, with a stuffed elephant in hand (HA! because Don's the elephant in the room). The same way Gene will only know what he shows him -- the world will only know what he shows it. Don doesn't want to be that man, he wants to change to show the world who he really is, not just a drunk mess. While he was in a bad place he wouldn't go near the children. He was building up confidence in other areas but he couldn't quite deal with the family. Now that he's finally facing them, it shows actual improvement.

As Don throws Gene up in the air, you see a shift in him--he's getting his priorities in order. Betty looks at him longingly as he plays with Gene--she sees the dad she wanted him to be--it recalls when Don wrote, "we're flawed because we want so much more. We're ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had." That's exactly how it seems like Betty feels--she wanted more but maybe now she just wants Don back? As Don gets better, and has more positive interactions with the kids, I see Betty (secretly) trying to get back together with him and him turning her away. Her situation is only getting worse as his is getting better.


Best moment of the episode: Harry trying to convince Joey to become an actor--"You're so handsome, I showed them a picture." Harry's so underrated, he's my favorite--and peeling that orange, he's amazing.

Obviously Stan has a crush on Peggy after the whole hotel stripping fiasco. Notice how when Stan says, "Peggy Olson, pioneering the science of wet blanketry," Joey mumbles, "you love her." He definitely does. Any potential there??

WHERE IS ROGER??

Also, lets see more of Lane--He has little figures of the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty on his desk -- and the Mets flag on the wall -- so cute, America loving.