The first episode of Game of Thrones? No, last night's Mad Men, of course, and if you're a fan of holy crap did I just see that? plot advances, keep reading.
As Alan Sepinwall notes, having Sally intrude on Don and Sylvia puts Don in a position we've never seen him before—without a plan:
We've seen Don Draper scared before. We've seen Don Draper angry before. We've seen Don Draper be a little kid before. But we've never seen... this. We've never seen Don Draper with absolutely no idea what to do next. We've never seen Don Draper pacing back and forth the way he does in the lobby of his building, exploring a series of equally unappetizing possibilities: Do I go back up to my mistress's apartment so she can take me along on a massive guilt trip? Do I chase after the daughter I've completely betrayed, even though I have no idea where she's going, or what to say to her? Do I... what the hell do I do here? Jonesy, you got any ideas?So, of course Don does what Don normally does: he tries to bullshit his way out of it. It doesn't work. I don't know that anything would have worked, but that bell can't be unrung. First Sally sees her stepmom's (married) mom pleasuring her dad's colleague in a back room at the Codfish Ball, now this? Welcome to adulthood, Sally Draper; welcome to years of therapy (and/or a fucked-up adulthood like your dad's).
And that moment of Don being at a complete loss stands out — and is among the single best things I've ever seen Hamm do on this show — not only because he usually has some answer (even if it's to run away), but because of the nature of the betrayal that puts him in this unhinged place.
We've seen Don Draper do bad things to a lot of people over the years. We've seen him cheat on both wives. We've seen him roughly grab the reins with Bobbie Barrett. We've seen him steal a dead man's identity, yell at Peggy until she's a sobbing mess, put his own interests ahead of the agency's time and again, and even take Sylvia's reading material while ordering to stay in her hotel room. This is not a prince of a man, ladies and gentlemen. But the one relationship he has that was close to sacred — the one person with whom he genuinely tried to be a decent human being with most of the time — was with Sally.
And then there's Bob Benson. Oh, sure, we all had our theories, and sometimes knee-on-knee contact is purely accidental, but maybe that beach trip with Joan was to Fire Island after all. Matt Zoller Seitz takes it one step further and wonders if Benson's gaydar was, in fact, accurate:
Pete hates women, and when you see how his mother talks to him, you can understand why. Lack of mother love has made him hate himself and the entire female gender, I suspect. Sure, Pete may love individual women — Trudy, for instance, and Peggy, with whom he seems to have achieved some measure of peace, if only when he’s drunk and not in the office being reminded of the fact that she has power now and doesn’t have to put up with every bit of his guff — but he still seems very much a misogynist, even more so than Don. He ran away from heterosexual domesticity, flat-out sprinted, even more energetically than Don, who seems uncomfortable around his own children about 90 percent of the time. He’s got a bachelor pad in the city, as far away from the signifiers of heterosexual suburban nesting bliss as he can get. None of this is to say that Pete's mommy issues made him gay, if in fact he is — just that he acts like a fellow who'd like to be far away from the wife-and-two-kids life as he can get, and seems to have far less patience for that life than Don, who feels guilty, sometimes, for not wanting it. And I just don't think he enjoys women in the way Don does, Don's sexist attitudes aside. Pete has two modes with women: peevish acquiescence and a conqueror's hostility. He hates everybody, but women make him uncomfortable in a way that men don't.(For what it's worth, I thought James Wolk played the hell out of that scene; his barely perceptible reactions to Pete's diatribe about Manolo were spot-on.) (Also, re Manolo, The Good Wife did it first, and better.)
Pete’s reaction in that knee scene is intriguing, to say the least. Everything we know about the guy suggests he’d explode in gay panic at such an advance, maybe storm into Roger's or Don's or Bert’s office and demand that Bob be fired on the spot, push-broomed out the door like poor old Sal. But he doesn’t react with anger or shame or even discomfort. He just moves his knee away. Like he’s not ready yet....
[S]omething in Pete’s face during the knee exchange suggests that he’s not rejecting Bob’s monologue out of hand. Maybe there’s something to what the younger man is saying, and on some level Pete knows it and can’t handle it right now, but has absorbed it and knows that at some point he’ll have to consider it. Variations of “perversion” and “degeneracy” keep popping up in Pete’s dialogue this week; he’s talking about Manolo and his mother, the possibility that the old woman isn’t fantasizing, but maybe the words mean something else, too — maybe they’re his way of rejecting his true nature, which is bubbling up.
Also, apparently, there's an ad agency to run, and Ted Chaough is doing his best to protect his turf, advance the company, while also spending time with his kids. Peggy's got rodent issues, Jonesy's a bit too generous with the keys, there's an awful war going on in Vietnam, Stan Rizzo's able to convince a woman to sleep with him while the Israeli Minister of Defense glares at them, Roger Sterling can juggle, Dawn still exists, and ... oh, come on: Don Draper just f'ed up any sense of trust between himself and his daughter, possibly forever, and everything else feels trivial compared to that.