Mad Men episode 105: “5G”

Don gets a visit from his long lost half-brother, who finally reveals just who Dick Whitman is. Peggy learns more about Don’s lunchtime activities than she wants to know, and reveals more than a good secretary should. Meanwhile, the Sterling Cooper team makes a “private” pitch to a banking client.

With “Who is Don Draper?” established as one of the key themes of Mad Men, the show surprisingly gives an answer in only its fifth episode. It’s the most superficial answer, not digging into Don’s psyche, but it’s still a big reveal, especially for so early into the show’s run: Don is not Don at all, but Dick Whitman, the name we first heard a couple of episodes ago on the commuter train.

Don has won an Advertising Age award, which leads to a photo on the front page of that publication. Don’s (half) brother, Adam Whitman, is a janitor in a Manhattan office building and finds a discarded copy of the issue with Don’s photo. This leads Adam to track down Don (or Dick, as he knows him) at Sterling Cooper. Don initially tries to deny Adam’s claim that he is actually Dick, but even the steely Don is rattled upon seeing his past life intersect with his present life when Adam shows up at the office. He agrees to meet Adam for lunch.

The Don/Adam lunch is naturally the centerpiece of the episode. In just a few minutes at a diner, we learn a lot about Don’s past. He was born Dick Whitman. He shares the same father with Adam, but we learn that Adam’s mother, Abigail, is not Don’s biological mother and that “she never let [Don] forget it.” There’s also a mention of Uncle Mack, who is established as a father figure to both Don and Adam with just a few lines of dialogue. Adam mentions that when Abigail and Mack came to pick up Dick’s casket from the train that has delivered the dead soldier’s body from the Korean War, he actually saw his brother. In an early display of Mad Men’s literary brilliance, key events in the timeline are established with great economy. We’ll see a lot of these events play out in extended flashbacks, and they impressively match up very well to the conversation between Don and Adam.

In yet another display of brilliant writing, even though Adam’s appearance and the lunch is the centerpiece of the episode, it’s not really the central theme of the hour. Privacy and secrets actually the primary concern, and they pop up everywhere. Don and the creatives are looking for a new angle for a pitch to a banking client. They come up with the “private account,” for the working man who wants to keep a separate bank account other than the home account, with statements sent to the man’s workplace. When Paul Kinsey first pitches the idea, Don’s bristles at the word “private,” leading Paul to come up with “executive account” instead. When the client comes in for the pitch, he likes it, because many men have already asked for such an arrangement, and this will now give the bank a way to make it official and charge a fee for it. Interestingly though, he doesn’t like “executive” and steers the conversation back to “private.” Perhaps remembering Don’s earlier thoughts on the matter, Paul throws out the combination “executive private account.”

Calling the idea “private” rubbed Don the wrong way, because he’s obviously keeping way too much of his life private, and it’s causing him great anxiety. We don’t learn quite yet just how bad the repercussions could be if Don’s identity switch were made public, but just for reasons of keeping his new life–with the great job, wife and kids–secure, he must keep his past private.

Of course, Don’s got a lot of other things he’s keeping private, including his ongoing affair with Midge. He may be pining for Rachel Menken, but how can he resist when Midge calls him in the middle of the day, asking for him to come over, pull her hair and ravage her? He can’t resist. By not hanging up the phone quick enough, Peggy finds out more about Don’s private life than she wished she had. This sets up a great comedy-of-manners scene later in the episode, when Betty shows up with the kids at the office, to meet Don for a scheduled family portrait. Don’s not in, and Peggy starts to freak out because she thinks Don’s with Midge. Ironically, Don is not with Midge–he’s tending to other private secrets at the lunch with Adam.

Peggy’s having a near-nervous breakdown trying to entertain Mrs. Draper and the kids until Don shows up. She’d likely be nervous regardless, but thinking that Don’s out of the office having sex with his mistress is making it worse. Peggy steps out briefly to ask Joan for advice on how to handle the situation, which ultimately makes things worse. Joan’s advice is how Peggy would handle the situation anyway, and Peggy has revealed Don’s secret to Joan when she didn’t need to. An extra bit of comedy comes from Joan calling Don’s office while Peggy is struggling to make small talk with Betty. Peggy’s about to have a heart attack, and Joan’s having a blast by making things worse with her little phone call.

Don eventually shows up and uses the common excuse of “being at the printer’s”, and Peggy’s finally able to exhale. But the weight of maintaining his privacy is taking its toll on Don. Unlocking his desk drawer, Don pulls out $5,000 in cash (or 5G’s worth of cash, in more informal speak). He goes to visit Adam in his pay-by-the-week hotel/apartment (room 5G). He tells Adam to take the money and go away, to California or somewhere far away from Don’s new life.

Betty later asks about buying a summer home, and Don says no for this year, as they’re not too flush with cash right now. He says it’s nothing to worry about, but of course he can’t tell the real reason why: he’s just given his brother $5G of cash to go away forever.

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