You can sort of feel the weight of the future bearing down on everyone in this episode. From the opening scene, with Don and Roger on the client phone call about new restrictions in cigarette marketing (with Don chain smoking! I don’t remember seeing him do that before — it seems so uncool and un-Don Draper), to the closing scene, with Peggy and Pete sharing a glance as she goes off with her new hippie friends and he’s making nice with the old corporate silverbacks… hints of the complications that are starting settle on the world are here.
And there’s little personal smacks in the face to more than a few people, too. Peggy isn’t taking well the news that Pete’s wife is pregnant: I don’t think she wants Pete and she certainly didn’t want his baby (though I suppose it’s never too late for her to decide to actually embrace the child), but it must be a reminder of a very different route her life might have taken, had she chosen it. Don walking past the elderly couple pleasantly bickering in the hallway of his apartment building: He’s never going to have that now. He may eventually find someone to grow old with, but it’s too late now to have someone he’s spent his whole adult life with. (He probably wouldn’t have had pleasant bickering, though: it’s hard to imagine Betty mellowing much — she’ll just get more bitter.)
Is Pete getting ready to jump the SCDP ship? Or is his comment about the grass always being greener just his way of calming himself down after a bad day at work. God knows why they value him — though I supposed an oily schmoozer like him is always valuable when you’re selling something. Funny thing about Pete, though: He doesn’t really seem good at the schmoozing, either, but he always managed to get folks to come round. Like his father-in-law. He turns having to dump the Clearasil account into an opportunity to pick up all Tom’s other accounts. (Vincent Kartheiser is so incredibly sly as Pete. I can never figure out if I like Pete, or dislike him, or outright hate him. I consider that a sign of both good writing and good acting.)
Here’s why Don Draper remains one of the most fascinating characters on television: He’s so uniquely his own man (even when he’s another man entirely!). He goes with his gut. Often that gets him into a lot of trouble (as with the fiasco with Allison, who I’m sorry missed when she threw that paperweight at him). He hires Faye to do all this market research on how to sell Pond’s cold cream — and man, that focus group scene was layers and layers of deceptions and manipulations and, at the same time, honesty and heartache, too; brilliant — and then he rejects her conclusions. Not that Don has ever been a toe-the-line kind of corporate guy — and there’s the sense, too, that he’s rejecting Faye’s work precisely because he doesn’t like how well she can peg people, and not because she’s wrong — but Faye’s work was supposed to be exactly the kind of newfangled thing that a young and hungry agency like SCDP would go in for in an attempt to get ahead. Of course, Don is taking a risk in another direction in going with Peggy’s “pamper yourself” campaign idea. Maybe Don is simply pathologically incapble of doing anything except his own thing…