09/13/2010 04:44 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Mad Men : "The Summer Man" Is Clearing His Head

"The Summer Man" is another very fine and very consequential episode of Mad Men. We're up to June 1965, hence the title of the episode, moving swiftly through time with over a third of the season left. It was just before Thanksgiving 1964 when the season began, and Lyndon Johnson, the assassinated JFK's vice president, had just been elected president in a landslide. As always, there be spoilers ahead.

Another big campaign is underway, for mayor of New York City, and it deeply affects two of our major characters. But before we get to that, let's talk about the Summer Man.

It's Don Draper, of course. He's gone through a string of depressing holidays, the winning of a big award, and now the death of his closest friend -- Mad Men creator Matt Weiner has seemed determined to showcase Don this season at the times in which he is most likely to get ridiculously drunk -- and he's ready to take stock of his life.

He's writing in a journal (going more than 250 words at a stretch for the first time in his life, Don having come from a horribly impoverished background where it hardly mattered that he dropped out of high school), cutting way back on the booze, and exercising. And not a moment too soon.

Incidentally, you can see all my Mad Men pieces, from this year and last year, here in The Mad Men File.

Can Don Draper get "Satisfaction?"

This is only the second time we've seen Don, now in his late 30s, exercising. The first was in Season 1, when he did all of 15 push-ups, and faked it for Betty as though he'd just done 100. With all the drinking, smoking, and unhealthy eating he's been doing all these years, it's a wonder he's kept his looks intact as long as he has.

Until you consider Roger Sterling, who's significantly older, looks absolutely great, and has had no embarrassing Freddie Rumsen-like episodes that we've ever heard of. He has had two heart attacks, but that's another matter.

It may be that Matt Weiner is afraid that he's made Don Draper seem too glamorous -- just as Sopranos creator David Chase feared that Tony Soprano had become a hero -- and has decided to give in to moralists and scuff up the character. Though he has always been an anti-hero. We do seem to be seeing a lot less smoking this season, too, though the country had not changed by this point.

There are some real alcoholics, also heavy smokers, who continued to look quite good at Draper's age and well beyond. Without exercising, either. By the time they're in their mid-50s, however, they're lucky to have made it that far.

Don Draper, who wears the same brand watch as Sean Connery's version of James Bond, would undoubtedly have taken note of Ian Fleming's death from a second heart attack at age 56 just a few months prior to the release of Goldfinger. (Fleming had Bond smoking 60 cigarettes a day.)

As the episode begins, we see Don in his Greenwich Village man cave, noting in his journal that his mind is a jumble. After a swim, and a nifty coughing fit, he's off to the office where he asks his secretary for young gal pal Bethany's phone number. Okay, he says he left his "book" at home, but still. He doesn't know her number?

One of the Young Turks at the agency -- on second thought, make that Young Jerks -- loses his watch in the vending machine. What a clod. (It's Joey, a smartass who was dissing Draper, behind his back, a few episodes ago.) Naturally, he and his boys club confreres have to mess with the machine like clowns. Peggy Olsen, who learns in this episode that having a little bit of power can be more complicated than she assumed, aptly notes that she feels like anthropologist Margaret Mead watching their irritating antics.

Joan tells Joey that he needs to behave better in the office, whereupon he proceeds to insult her in the grossest sexual terms. "What do you do around here besides walking around like you're trying to get raped?" For good measure, he likens her to "a madam in a Shanghai brothel."

I'd already sensed Joan was a little shaky, and she shows it by her lack of a withering response to the young arse. She heads home early.

We quickly learn why she's feeling vulnerable. Her beloved husband, Dr. Blockhead, who actually did rape her in the office, is getting ready to leave for basic training. You recall his brilliant plan to make a success of himself after all after botching an operation or three. He'll soon be operating on our boys in Vietnam!

Speaking of the Rolling Stones, or at least, Rolling Stone ... Behind the scenes at Rolling Stone's recent cover photo session with January Jones, Christina Hendricks, Elisabeth Moss, and some guy.

But first he gets a couple months of basic training. Having gone through it myself, I look forward to seeing a few scenes of the not so good doctor exhausted, face down in the dirt, being screamed at by a drill instructor with machine gun fire in the background.

Yet, and maybe it's just my male intuition, I have a feeling that Captain Greg Harris, for that is Dr. Blockhead's name, will turn out to be a pretty good Army officer after all. He's not stupid, he's not lazy, and beneath the anger and arrogance that frequently makes me detest him, he does want to do good things. After all, our Joan couldn't have married him simply because he's a doctor and looks like a trim young Marlon Brando. And no, I'm not being ironic.

Don again is writing in his journal, doing voice-over as he does throughout the episode like Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I. "I know what you're thinking ..." No, actually, he doesn't say that.

What he does say is that little Gene, his now almost 2-year old with Betty, "was conceived in a moment of desperation, and born into a mess." Not unlike himself, as it happens. Though Gene's stepfather is a ritzy lawyer and top advisor to Governor Nelson Rockefeller, one of the richest and most powerful men in the world, and not an unsuccessful farmer.

Don isn't invited to little Gene's birthday party. Which, as it happens, is at the house that Don owns and is still allowing Betty and Henry Francis to live in. This makes Don sad, so he muses about developing "a modicum of control over the way I feel" and climbing Africa's famed Mount Kilimanjaro. Which, since it is more than 19,000 feet high, Don hasn't a prayer of doing unless he's in five times the shape he's in now.

At the office, with Mountain Dew rejecting an ad idea, Don tells Joan he wants her to bring Joey, who's a consultant, onboard full-time to work on the campaign. Joan lets him know that Joey has been sexually obnoxious, but is evidently too embarrassed to cite his specific statements.

Meanwhile, Harry Crane, ever anxious to talk up his growing ties to Hollywood -- he has an autographed poster of Buddy Ebsen from The Beverly Hillbillies (the number one show in America the previous season) in his office -- tells Joey that with his looks and pizzazz he could be in television. Which not long after prompts Joey to tell Peggy that Harry was making a pass at him.

It looks like little Joey has some serious issues around sex, not to mention having his head, from a perceptual standpoint, well up his posterior.

Now Don's on a date with lovely young Bethany, Jane Siegel Sterling's fix-up from Thanksgiving. While she's wondering why Don doesn't call more often, Betty and Henry Francis arrive at the restaurant with another man, a top aide to Congressman John Lindsay. An awkward encounter between the two couples ensues, which Don handles well. Betty, however, is badly shaken seeing Don with what looks like a younger version of herself, decamping to the ladies room and declaring that she needs a drink.

Bethany reacts differently. Seeing the beauty of Don's former wife turns her on, as we see first in her suddenly carnal look at Don, and later on in the evening. There are few better ways to pique the interest of a beautiful woman than to be associated with another beautiful woman.

This is actually a very important dinner for Henry, who doesn't need Betty's psychodrama. Henry has arranged for Governor Rockefeller to endorse Lindsay, who is running a closely fought campaign for mayor of New York City.

Lindsay is a younger, more handsome version of Rockefeller, minus the extraordinary wealth but with more charisma. He, like Rockefeller, is a liberal Republican, a term that seems a complete oxymoron today but had great currency in the era of Mad Men. In fact, he is running as the candidate of not only the Republican Party but also the Liberal Party, a New York state outfit that was a major factor in Empire State politics for decades.

If Lindsay is elected mayor of New York, he can become a major factor in presidential politics, or so goes the thinking, especially since he hasn't sabotaged his prospects, as Rockefeller had, by divorcing his wife and marrying a divorcee prior to making his second White House bid in 1964.

Henry is very ambitious, and wants another shot at presidential politics. The charismatic young Lindsay, as mayor of the then most important city in the world, could be just the ticket.

He only plays a Republican on TV. Three-time Emmy nominee John Slattery, known in the Mad Men universe as Roger Sterling, cut this TV spot for Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, a Democratic candidate for New York state attorney general.

Since politics, not entertainment, is my real field, I'll jump ahead here and tell you that I met John Lindsay less than 20 years after this Mad Men episode plays out. He was supporting my old friend Senator Gary Hart -- whose memoir I just reviewed here on the Huffington Post -- for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Lindsay did end up running for president. In 1972, as a Democrat. By the end of the tumultuous 1960s, there was absolutely no room for him in the Republican Party. He won his race for New York mayor in November 1965, but when he ran for re-election in 1969, was denied the Republican nomination. So Lindsay ran on the Liberal Party line, winning re-election over a conservative Republican and a conservative Democrat by knitting together a coalition of blacks and Puerto Ricans and well-educated, affluent white voters. He got nowhere running for president in 1972 as an anti-Vietnam War Democrat, a niche dominated by eventual nominee George McGovern, whose campaign Hart managed.

There are big changes not far off in the well-ordered world that Henry and Betty Francis imagine they live in.

But in this moment of still relative calm, Henry needs his beautiful, brainy wife to stop being so visibly jealous of her ex-husband.

On the drive home, she and Henry are clearly exasperated with one another, with Betty threatening to leave hm.

Don has a more pleasant drive home, with Bethany not only passionately making out with him but going down on him the back seat of the cab.

The next morning, Betty apologizes to Henry, saying that Don had been the only man she'd had sex with prior to marrying Henry. Since this is anything but reassuring to Henry, he rams his car into boxes of Don's possessions in the garage as he leaves for work.

The essential milieu of Mad Men is not especially admirable.

As Don's new day starts, he overhears the fetching and manipulative psychologist Dr. Faye in a phone booth, apparently breaking up with a man in notably loud fashion.

Henry calls Don and tells him he needs to remove his boxes from the garage. Which, lest we forget, Don owns. Nonetheless, he agrees to pick them up on the weekend.

Now we get to the crux of the episode's very consequential B-story. With Joan in Lane Pryce's office discussing administrative matters, the agency's Young Jerks, er, Turks, indulge in pornographic speculation about what is really going down behind closed doors.

Which is precisely what they lewdly imagine. That little charmer Joey draws a sketch of Joan on her knees, working away between the Brit's legs under the caption "Tally Ho!'

He then tapes it to Joan's office window. Demanding to know who did it, Joan is met with silence. She tells the boys that she can't wait till they are dying in Vietnam. But she clearly has an earlier form of revenge in mind.

Peggy decides to take matters into her own hands. By dumping it all in Don's hands.

"You want some respect?" Don asks her. "Go out there and get it for yourself." He seems perfectly fine with canning the little twerp, but thinks that Peggy will look like a tattle-tale if he steps in.

Whereupon Peggy orders Joey to apologize to Joan. But he's having none of it, and refuses on the grounds that "women have no sense of humor." So Peggy fires him. And keeps on firing him even after he agrees to apologize.

Is this still the most frequently featured television programming in the Don Draper household? No.

Meanwhile, Don, who clearly had other matters on his mind, suggests to Dr. Faye that they continue reviewing her research over dinner. Asked if that means he wants to have a proper dinner with her, Don says that he does, that Saturday night, the night before little Gene's second birthday party.

Proud of herself for firing Joey, Peggy, running into Joan in the elevator, makes sure Joan is aware of it. She is. Oh, yes, she is.

"All you've done," declares Joan, "is prove to them that I'm a meaningless secretary and you're another humorless bitch."

When Saturday comes, Don picks up his boxes from the house he owns that his ex-wife still lives in. Henry has ostentatiously put them out on the sidewalk. Don shows a similar lack of regard for his possessions of the past, throwing them away after he drives off.

At dinner that night with Dr. Faye, who is clearly taken with him now that he isn't sloshed as he has been virtually every other time he's come on to her, he learns that her father is, as she puts it, "a handsome two-bit gangster like you." Uh-oh.

She urges him to go to Gene's birthday the next day. Asked how she gets what she wants, she recounts a fable about "kindness, gentleness, and persuasion."

On the cab ride home, the good doctor needs no persuading. She's very passionate, as is Don, after a fashion. But he declines to take it further, this time. "That's as far as I can go right now." Smooth.

The next day, Don goes to little Gene's birthday party. "It's okay," Betty tells Henry. "We have everything," she says, recounting something her friend Francine told her to make her feel less anxious.

As Don, bringing a stuffed elephant for a gift -- an elephant in the room, how on the nose is that? -- raises little Gene over his head, Betty gazes at him across the room, the light in her eyes making it clear that there are more than a few embers still ablaze in her heart.

A few questions linger.

Should Peggy have fired Joey?

Peggy's power is minimal, entirely dependent on Don. She's a copywriter for Draper. Yet she had every right to fire Joey, and in essence was given license by Don to do so.

Joan, in contrast, is essential to the actual running of the place. But Joey is in Don Draper's purview, as an outside consultant to the creative shop.

That's why Joan is not in a direct position to fire him. He's in another department. Not that she would think it a good idea to be so direct.

Joan realizes that it's not 2010, it's 1965, and that sexism is still very current. If anything, it's even more blatantly offensive with the new crew of young guys than it was with the Ken/Harry/Pete/Paul crew of 1960, which was bad enough.

In my view, Draper dropped the ball here. Either he or Bert Cooper should have had what's known in politics as a full and frank discussion with young master Joey. First to see if he could be salvaged and his attitude adjusted and if not, then to fire him.

Joey's problem is not merely that he is sexist, but that his attitude is deeply malign. But he's not likely to accept this from a woman, not in 1965, and not from a 26-year old woman.

Then there is the Henry Francis mystery. Why is this man, a prominent lawyer who is a top hand for Nelson Rockefeller, who told Betty that he would take care of her and she should take nothing from Don Draper in their divorce, still living in Don's old house?

There's something very off here.

Perhaps Henry was blowing smoke when he told Betty -- when they met with Rockefeller's divorce lawyer to discuss their plans -- that she shouldn't take Don's money in the divorce. But even so, it's still strange.

The writers may not know this, but Nelson Rockefeller had a history of making very generous gifts to his top aides. This came out during his confirmation hearings for the vice presidency in 1974, when Congress learned of his massive gifts to his former advisor Henry Kissinger, then the U.S. secretary of state, and others.

So why are Henry and Betty still in Don's house? It's very strange.

By the way, it doesn't look like Matt Weiner is much of a Beatles fan. We've had Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, and now the Rolling Stones ... but the lads from Liverpool have been relegated to Christmas gifts for Don's kids bought by his former secretary.

Oh, well.

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