The Blog Formerly Known as Rebel Prince

Cult TV, Gen Y rants, and endless opera.

Mad Men: “Out of Town”

Posted by therebelprince on August 18, 2009

From About.com

“Limit your exposure…”

– Don Draper

Welcome back to the third season of the best thing on television these days, Mad Men.

If we’re to believe David Simon, of The Wire fame, then the most telling part of a season is its first scene. So, in this case, Dick Whitman’s past – and his decision about what to do with it – is key to our reading of this season. The opening flashback to his birth is beautifully done, although to be honest these southern Gothic Carnivale-esque scenes were my least favourite element of the first season (I much preferred his flashbacks in season 2). But it’s a quibbling detail probably more indicative of my neuroses than anything else!

Meanwhile, on Mad Men: the British invasion has begun. (We’re in 1963, so the Beatles’ first song is about to be released in America after all). Appropriately, we barely see Messrs Sterling and Cooper this episode, although with a big sigh of relief, I noticed that Robert Morse has been added to the main cast proper. Instead, we focus on the dry Mr. Pryce (Jared Harris), the British overseer of our favourite advertising agency. After the cold firing of Burt Peterson (Michael Gaston), who walks out saying “see you on the breadlines”, both Pete and Ken are promoted to Head of Accounts. It’s going to be a joint role, with a very overt competition set up between them. Ken loves this idea, while Pete – who was, after all, promised this back in season two – seethes both inwardly and out.

Elsewhere, Sal and Don take a business trip to Baltimore where both find themselves in intimate situations with hospitality staff (pun intended?).

Sitting at dinner, Don makes the comment that no matter where he goes, he ends up places he’s already been. Never has this been more true than in the current season of Mad Men. Even as Don undresses the beautiful, blonde (Betty-esque?) flight attendant, he’s reminded of the fact that he’s in a tawdry hotel room with a stranger, out of town. He’s tried evolving, but he always ends up right back where he started. At work, Peggy may have an office, a haircut and an assisant (Trisha LaFache), but the boys are still stunned to see how many accounts have been assigned to her. And Joan – still engaged of course – appears to have fallen for Mr. Pryce’s secretary John Hooker (Ryan Cartwright), although don’t tell him he’s a secretary. Joan is doing what she always does: committing to an untenable relationship and then finding something else to distract her.

It would be wrong to say that nothing ever changes, though. Sal experiences his first passionate moment with a man (as far as we know), and Bryan Batt is moving as he portrays Sal’s uncertainty clashing and mingling with his rampant desire. Thanks to a poorly-timed fire alarm, the encounter is cut short – but not before Don finds out. It will be interesting to see Sal’s journey this season. I really hope that one moment isn’t the peak of his sexual journey (as it has been in both seasons one and two) but with someone knowing the truth about him, Sal is going to need a push out the door, that’s for sure.

And Don, at the very least, considers change as he sits on the bed with Betty and Sally. He and Betty aren’t quite together, but nor are they apart at the moment. As Betty tells the story of Sally’s birth, we’re left to contemplate Don’s face. Is he already straying in his mind? Perhaps, but I’ll admit my first thought was that he was thinking back to his own birth – a dying whore (Kelly Huddleston) and a bitter midwife (the great Lauri Johnson). Maybe it’s me, but there’s a part of Don Draper who wants to have the family he was deprived of. It’s a part that’s gradually weakening under his repressed desires, but it exists. Between Roger and Joan, we’re going to get plenty of marital infidelity this season – I’d be interested in seeing what happens if Don truly commits to Betty. (Not that I think this will ever make him happy in the way he wishes it would).

All in all, a very solid premiere with some nice moments for almost all the cast and some satisfying plot developments. Where we go from here is anyone’s guess, but I have no doubt that Matthew Weiner has prepared a great ride for us, and I’m all in.

Diverse observations:

* I say “almost all the cast” above, because poor Michael Gladis is the only one to miss out. Now that Sal, Harry and Ken are all Heads of departments, I can only hope that Paul gets to move up and get a storyline next as well…

* Trudy and Pete’s relationship seems to have really matured this season, which I welcome because I love me some Alison Brie.

* There’s a new Bobby Draper, who looks distractingly not like the old one. But it appears they’re seeding him in slowly, so I can deal.

* Don is mistaken for someone else because of the incorrect name on his suitcase. How very thematic.

* Joan is planning to leave Sterling Cooper. It’s always been indicated that every secretary leaves once they get married, but Joan is just destined to be that sixty-year-old secretary who’s done it all but never committed to any of it.

* And the opening scene reminded me that these people lived in an era before microwaves. That’s the true tragedy here.

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