Last night's episode of Mad Men was like a perfectly-rolled joint: tight, slow burning, and leaving everyone completely satisfied. There wasn't a lack of things harshing our mellow, but here are the five overarching themes of this beautifully constructed hour.
All of the story lines were running parallel last night, with the actions (and outfits!) of each set of characters reflecting back on the others. Whether they were at the same party, or getting fucked up in totally different setting, drugs, race, singing, and fabulous accessories were on everyone's minds, and their meanings were reverberating through a retro echo chamber. Let's just hope that "My name is Peggy Olsen and I want to smoke marijuana" isn't the precursor to "My name is Peggy Olson, and I'm a drug addict."
Getting Wasted: When Paul and Smitty decide to get stoned for some inspiration for their Bacardi campaign, as usual Peggy was not initially invited. To the protestation of her creepy new secretary, she forces her way into the boys' room to get in on the fun. Isn't that the story of her life? Of course, she gets totally wasted (for a girl who doesn't seem to know how to inhale) and for the first time sees clearly, not only about the ad they're working on, but also about her place in the firm—at least among the women. She gives a rousing speech to creepy secretary about how she is not afraid to be a trailblazer in a man's world, and finally sees that all her old chums in the secretarial pool are just nervous for her. Putting her insecurities about being in charge behind her (for good?), she orders the secretary to fix the Dictaphone and get her a glass of water. Cottonmouth is a bitch.
Things don't go as well for former secretary Jane, who had one too many mint juleps at the Kentucky Derby party she hosts with Roger. While under the influence, she has a run-in with Don, grabbing at his belt and asking why he doesn't like her. Roger comes into the scene and is ready for the confrontation with Don that has been brewing all season.
Invitations: Everyone was having parties last night. Aside from Roger and Jane's country club shindig, goddess of domesticity Joan opened her home for Rapist Doctor's surgical chums, and Paul and Smitty threw an impromptu party in the Sterling-Cooper office, but all of them had their unwanted guests.
When Don finally confronts Roger and tells him that everyone thinks he's sad for marrying his secretary bride, Roger says of his country club, "That's the great thing about coming here. You can be happy, and choose your guests." If only that were true, my man. If anything, Mad Men shows us that the idyllic lifestyle is merely a mirage, and intruders and interlopers lurk behind every highball. It's only those blinded by fantasy and their own ego don't see them.
Luckily both Don and Betty had their eyes open while wondering away from the other guests. Even in a controlled environment, their happiness is tested in unexpected ways. Don runs into a well-off gentleman from a humble past, and connects with him well enough to share a story about peeing in the trunks of cars when he was a valet at a fancy club. He makes Don remember who he truly is in these posh surroundings. Also having a reminder of faith is Betty, who flirts with a man while waiting for the restroom. When he lays his hand on her pregnant belly, it's the most intimacy we've seen her have with a man all season, before Don finds her in the garden and kisses her at the end of the episode. They may not be welcomed guests anymore (wait for Don's statements to Roger to have repercussions at work) but they have at least reconnected.
Performance: Joan deals with her own uncomfortable moments at her party, when it seems like Doctor Rapist is much better at the latter than he is at the former. But they both cover up the awkwardness the best way Joan can, with charm, guile, and talent. She busts out the accordion and gives everyone a chuckle with her French song. For Joan, the whole evening was a performance, setting the house up, cooking the dinner, entertaining the ladies, and doing her bit to make Doctor Rapist successful so that she can hang up her gold pen necklace for good. However, she's starting to see her new life is going to come with complications, like Doctor Rapist being a total asshole.
Paul also has to put on a show to prove his singing talent to his Ivy League drug dealer and his colleagues. After his pedigree has been challenged and his New Jersey roots revealed, he defends his role in Princeton's Tiger Tones by busting out a little ditty (not well, mind you). It's enough to satisfy his (stoned) coworkers, so Paul's posh artiface remains intact.
And speaking of performance, Roger really sang in blackface.
Racism: While Joan and Paul's performances were about saving face, Roger's was all about putting on another one. It's good to see that Don was squirming at the sight as much as most viewers at home, though many of the guests laughed, either cause they're casual racists, or because they're trying to keep the boss happy by playing along with his shtick. Either way, this performance solidifies Roger as a major asshole, if we needed that made any more plainly.
Racism was more subtly referenced when Grandpa Gene lost five dollars (which Sally stole from him to go get her lisp fixed). Carla, the Draper's maid, looks everywhere for it, knowing that she'll be blamed if the cash doesn't show up, even though the man who lost it (another guest who is wearing out his welcome) is slowly losing it. She even stands up for herself against the old meanie, who is either a casual racist or just doesn't know better. In the end, Sally creates a ruse to give the money back, and all is forgotten, for now.
Hats!: Our favorite Mad Men accessory was on full display last night. First, Jane shows up at Sterling-Cooper and runs into her old secretarial pals, including mother-hen Joan, and shows her dominance with a gorgeous black and white beehive number and matching outfit. The other ladies, heads bared, can do nothing but smile and follow her orders.
The real millinery jackpot though is at the Kentucky Derby party. Jane wears a peach and straw number that is again coordinated with her dress (like she doesn't have enough taste to buy anything but the set), while Pete's wife Trudy scores for the second time this season with a floral bowler. Harry's wife Jennifer misses the mark with a floppy yellow bucket that looks like it washed up alongside the Montauk Monster.
All of these head-toppers are just another layer of artifice, the women trying to show their status one of the few ways they can: with fashion. When Jane is finally drunk enough to go after Don, her hat is mysteriously missing, her artificiality and new-found extravagance stripped away by her loutish behavior. Also, none of the show's heroines—Peggy, Joan, and most conspicuously Betty—go bare throughout the episode. As if to say that they are incapable or unwilling to hide their true selves behind a ridiculous dome.