Warning: spoilers below.
Early 1968. North Vietnamese troops attack American forces at Tet. The North Koreans hijack the American spy ship Pueblo. And American husbands hit on their neighbors’ wives at cocktail parties.
Don Draper watches the events around him with the eye of an outsider. To everyone in his world he is a successful ad executive, a husband with a quasi-celebrity wife. To his friend’s wife he’s a stud in bed. To himself he’s … well we still don’t know after five seasons.
Flashbacks tell us why Don became a philanderer with little capacity for true human intimacy. He learned from an early age that the man who rules the roost has to literally sleep with every woman in the building.
Now, Don molds the buying habits of an entire nation. Somehow being a total fraud empowers him to attain the respect and admiration of everyone around him, even his friend Dr. Rosen, whose wife, Sylvia, Don is having an affair with.
Don is an addict. His life is an endless round of cocktails, cigarettes, and women. Relationships to him are purposeless, except for the immediate gratification he receives and the status they solidify.
His wife Megan gives him legitimacy in the media realm, but her typical actors’ insecurity and long work schedule leave him insecure and bored. Sylvia finds Don addicting as well. The audience is watching two marriages in a slow-motion train wreck.
I was not quite convinced that Megan’s miscarriage was a true account of her pregnancy’s end. Either she was secretly happy that it happened or she had the pregnancy terminated. She likes being on TV too much to let a child get in the way. Mike Smith led a great discussion on Megan’s “miscarriage,” and different viewers have different takes on that scene.
Peter Campbell and his wife Trudy seemed more pragmatic at first. Pete had convinced Trudy that it’s okay for him to maintain a pied-à-terre in the city. Trudy rationalized his adulterous activities and tried to maintain appearances for the sake of their children.
Peter, who doesn’t have the foresight to even stock toilet tissue, succeeds in sleeping with his neighbor’s wife at his passion pit, but the wayward wife is found out by her husband, who beats her when she returns home. Then, when Peter’s paramour shows up at his house with a black eye and busted lip, Trudy changes her mind and tries to banish Peter from the house.
Peter calls her bluff, and essentially dares Trudy to divorce him. He may be the most execrable, narcissistic character on the show at this point.
Herb is a used car salesmen who landed a Jaguar Dealership. He can afford the luxury nameplate, but he can’t buy class. Jaguar pays for the commercials, and they insist upon an ad campaign targeting the wealthy.
Herb’s business helped launch the agency to its present success and prominence on Madison Avenue. Don and Peter deftly work the sleazeball over, pretending to be his advocate for his idea to revert to old style commercials designed to bring in more of the general (read: lower-class) public to his lot. All the while, though, they don’t dare tamper with the co-op money supplied by the British. Here, Don and Peter’s deceitful personalities are an asset to the firm.
A huge account finds two product reps, one for Heinz Baked Beans, the other for Heinz Ketchup, battling for position and creative preeminence. Don votes to stay with Baked Beans, but unwittingly opens the door for his former understudy, Peggy Olsen, to challenge her former employer for the Ketchup account. Peggy, weary from being assigned feminine hygiene accounts is now tempted to undercut her old pals.
The seeds of Don Draper and Peter Campbell’s demise have been planted. Don Draper knows it. When he arrives home, he can’t face his life as it is. Peter Campbell seems oblivious, merely ordering his subordinate Bob, to go for toilet paper. “It’s all about how it looks, isn’t it?” he says.