This season on ‘Mad Men,’ we’ve been getting all sorts of insight into Don Draper – Don Draper the divorced bachelor, Don Draper the sloppy drunk, Don Draper the doting father… and all points (some of them terribly unappealing) in between. Last week, we saw Don wear a splotch of dried vomit on his shirt, which was enough for Peggy to ask him when he was going to snap out of his selfish, self-destructive spiral. This week, we get another take on Don Draper, this time from the man himself.
This week’s episode, “Summer Man,” was co-written by creator Matt Weiner. Don takes part in a journal writing exercise. He hasn’t ever written more than 250 words, he announces via voice-over. He says he dropped out of high school (did we know this already?) and goes about assessing his life. But it isn’t just through the journal that we get inside Don Draper’s well-coiffed head. In wonderful little sequences, we see Don abstain from drinking, which colors the world around him. Things slow down and seem hyper-real. He starts to go swimming. He drinks water instead of liquor. He wants to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
As much as the episode is about Don self-assessing, it’s also about the way Don is seen by others. Betty, out on the town with her new husband, spots Don with a hot young date (more on that in a minute) and has a complete breakdown. She drinks heavily and embarrasses her husband. Then there’s Don’s current line-up of women. Bethany, the young socialite he’s been wooing on and off for the entire season, seems like a bubble-headed young blonde but has shown herself to be keenly aware. She knows why they date so infrequently – because Don is sleeping with so many other women, many of whom he pays for. But Bethany gets frisky in a cab this episode, which warrants that network warning about explicit sexuality. It’s a shocking and kind of sexy moment that pushes the limits of what the show can get away with on basic cable.
In contrast, Don finally succeeds in getting the office’s psychiatrist Faye – who’s better at burrowing into people’s heads than just about anybody – to let him take her out on a date. She’s even more persnickety than Bethany. Not only does she have the ability to cut through Don’s bullshit, but she also has Mafia ties. Their date may be Don preying on the overheard conversation between her and a man (explosive, violent), but his refusal to seal the deal makes the relationship even more intriguing.
Before we go, let’s give a shout-out to the amazing Joan/Peggy subplot. To cut things extremely short: Joan’s husband is leaving for Vietnam, which leaves her emotionally vulnerable. At the same time, she’s being constantly menaced by a freelance twerp in the office. Peggy takes it upon herself to stand up for Joan, and fires the young buck. In a touching, funny, totally human moment that bests all of Don’s moaning angst, Joan tells Peggy that she did the wrong thing. She made them both look weak. Peggy is baffled, but you get the feeling that she’s finally starting to understand – both how the office really works, and all the stuff that Joan has had to go through to get where she is and know what she does. It’s enough to fill a journal.