“Do you think I’m a good mother? Then why don’t they love me?” In “Field Trip,” it’s Betty who utters those words. But truthfully, with a little arranging and substitution, it could have been almost anybody. Megan has tried to be a faithful wife to Don, but that hasn’t amounted to much. Don isn’t exactly received with open arms back at the firm, and Peggy, who has tried just about everything to be liked as well as respected has ended up with neither. In many ways, “Field Trip” was an episode that felt negative, but there are still tinges of hope. It may not be quite like how we pictured it, but sometimes you’re just walking a cloud of no. Hit the jump for why your self-pity is distasteful (are you aware?).
The biggest change to Mad Men this season is a new kind of honesty. Don is still paying the consequences for his honesty last season, when he broke down in a client meeting, told his life story, and cried. It was a catharsis he (and we) needed, but what now? It’s a question Don has been struggling with over the last two episodes (and, it seems, for an entire year). Some things about Don has changed: he has been good (as far as cheating goes), and he hasn’t been drinking that much. But nothing has really changed between him and Megan. He is still choosing his job over her.
In “Field Trip,” he acknowledged several important things to that end. One was that he needs his job, the specific job he had and continues to want despite other offers, because it validates him. Without it, is he just Dick Whitman? Two, he told Megan that he knows how he wants her to see him — not how she actually does see him. She tells him he doesn’t know her at all, and it’s such a striking subversion to the position Don is usually in. Here, Megan sees him fully as a philanderer, a drunk and a liar. He sees her as a problem that needs to be fixed, just like his job.
Don’s woes were intriguingly juxtaposed with two of Betty’s adventures. In the first, she meets with an old frienemy, and they trade passive aggressive remarks while trying to one-up each other. It was comparable to Don’s lunch meeting in the last episode, where he put on cryptic airs about his unemployment (in “Field Trip” though, he essentially came clean). In a surreal turn, Betty chaperone’s Bobby’s field trip, and while the two bond over vampires vs wolf men and Betty drinking fresh milk out of a bucket, Betty turns on him like a viper when he trades her sandwich. She chastises him, but then goes into her mode of victimization, pouring the guilt on Bobby, punishing him continuously for a mistake she claims meant nothing. Later, she muses to Henry about why her children don’t love her.
With Betty, who’s always been a little over the top, it’s easy to see the irony. With Don, it’s not always so. Like Don, Betty can be extremely charming, and her natural attractiveness hides a much deeper sense of insecurity and vulnerability behind a veil of confidence. Don is the same, and burned some bridges at SC&P (or at least, singed them). But Don sitting and sweating for an entire day at the firm shows what a compromised position he’s in, almost like when Betty, sans make-up, laid in the bed with Gene and fretted over her failings.
Both are drawn to old patterns (as we saw from their coupling last season), but things can’t go back. Megan doesn’t accept Don’s overtures, and SC&P do not accept Don back (at least, not in a way that’s respectful to him). But he acquiesces anyway, because he is completely adrift without his work there. Being assigned to occupy Lane Pryce’s cursed old office seems like a particularly bad omen. Don can’t live with SC&P at the moment, but he can’t live without them. What’s different this season, and what might make a difference moving forward, is his acknowledgement of that.
Episode Rating: B+
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Poor Dawn, she too is stuck with Don and running his errands, even though she’s in a new and higher position now.
— Wasn’t Don’s return to SC&P nightmarish? It was like that dream where you go to school and realize you aren’t wearing any pants. Don has become infamous now. The looks on everyone’s faces when they saw him …
— Did anyone else notice Ginsberg holding a “Lou” cup? He and Lou seem to be pretty good buddies. Lou is odious.
— The show has great style of course, but it outdoes itself when it comes to gorgeous nightgowns.
— So happy Jim called Harry Crane out: “You have stiff competition, but I believe you to be the most dishonest man I’ve ever met.” Also, it was interesting to hear Jim ranting about a computer versus Don. I have indeed been privy to some of those conversations where it’s a question of someone’s salary or a software upgrade …
— Don being propositioned and then running to Roger about the job (attempting to fix things) was a new leaf, truly.
— I love Betty, and everything about her story slayed me, particularly her conversation with Bobby in the bus, and her (shared) snark with another mother about “the farmer’s daughter needs a bra.” Also her smoking constantly, even in the bus. Her drinking that milk though was unbelievable. Such a surreal journey.
— Have you ever eaten Gumdrops of Shame? Taste like tears.
— So many little things … Ken’s kid being named Eddie, and the carousel picture reminds him of Don. Also, the random guy asking Don for life advice. I like that Bert let Joan’s boots into his office, but not Roger’s shoes!
— Is Megan as crazy as Alan Silver claims she is? Will that have a bearing on her untimely end? (As we all suspect).
— Jim: “Are you aware your self pity is distasteful?” Harry: “This conversation is over!”