Mad Men episode 107: “Red in the Face”

Don and Roger play a drawn out game of manly one-upmanship. Betty dukes it out with Helen Bishop. Meanwhile, Peggy gets to work on writing copy for Belle Jolie, after Freddy says that her coming up with the “basket of kisses” line was like watching a dog play piano.

A season of Mad Men follows something of a template. The first episode of the season is devoted to catching up with the characters, and seeing where they all are with the passage of time, and setting up some of the storylines and plot arcs we’ll follow this year. Then the show will glide along at a slow pace, often eschewing plot, and having a couple of episodes that take the focus of off Don or Peggy. In the middle of the season, usually episode 7, something big and/or very entertaining will happen. The show will then drift for a bit, catching up briefly on a few of the arcs. The penultimate episode is usually where all the plot threads come together, and something major happens, leaving the final episode of the season to tie together any loose ends, put a cherry on top, and wrap up everything in a nice bow (or, in narrative terms, denouement). The first episode 7, “Red in the Face,” is indeed one of those special episodes, a Mexican standoff between two good friends and co-workers who are also hyper-masculine.

The bulk of the episode revolves around the frenemy rivalry between Don and Roger. Roger may be Don’s only true friend, but he’s also Don’s boss which complicates things. They often find themselves unintentionally competing with each other because of that masculinity that is hard-coded into their separate strands of DNA.

Roger wants to spend the weekend with Joan, as Mona and Margaret (his wife and daughter, respectively) will be out of town. Joan needs more notice, and has made plans with her roommate, Carol. Feeling like a little kid let loose in the big city with money in his pocket but nothing to do, Roger begs Don to go for “one drink” at the Oak Room’s bar.

One drink turns into a few. Roger and Don make eyes at two young ladies, who must barely be 18 (the legal drinking age in New York at the time). When Don gets up from the bar, both girls watch Don, leaving Roger feeling old and inferior to his younger, movie-star-handsome friend. But with nowhere to go and nothing to do, Roger invites himself to dinner at the Draper household. As Don, Betty and Roger eat and get more drunk, Roger becomes Mr. Suave and charms Betty. When Don has to go out to the garage to get more liquor, Roger makes his move: he tries to grab Betty close and kiss her. Although Betty rebuffs him, upon Don’s return, there’s an awkwardness in the air.

Roger leaves, and Don tears into Betty for being so receptive to Roger’s flirting. Don parrots a line he heard from earlier in the episode, when he called Dr. Wayne to check in on the psychiatry sessions: “I feel like I’m living with a little girl.”

Don punishes Betty for being an attentive host and maybe showing just a bit too much interest in Roger’s stories. But he also plans on doling out revenge on Roger. After Roger stops by Don’s office and tells a pretty hilarious story about driving home drunk one night, and walking into the wrong home, his apology falls flat when he makes the stiff analogy “sometimes we’ve all parked in the wrong garage.” Don’s not pleased and puts his plan in motion.

After bribing Hollis the elevator operator to pretend like the elevator’s out once he sees Don and Roger return, the two ad men go out for a way-more-than-two martini lunch. Don is smooth and charming here, letting Roger lead the way to overindulgence in both alcohol, seafood and sweets. They return to the office just in time to meet the Nixon campaign folks–if the elevator was working like it was supposed to. Instead, they have to take the stairs all the way to the 23rd floor. Roger seems like he might have a heart attack at several points along the way, so the younger and fitter Don rushes ahead. When Roger shows up in the office a few minutes after Don, it doesn’t take long until he vomits up that excessive lunch. In the battle of manliness, score one for Don.

The theme of masculinity plays out in a smaller storyline in this episode. In a classic moment that has been memed to death since 2007, Pete shows his office colleagues the duplicate chip-and-dip he received as a wedding present: “it’s practically four of something.” When trying to return it at Bonwit Teller, he tries to flirt up the customer service lady, who is having none of his “charms.” He eventually arranges for a store credit exchange on the chip-and-dip, but is distressed to see the lady in customer service reciprocate the flirting of Matherton, a college acquaintance of Pete.

Pete’s shot down trying to be a smooth ladies’ man, but still walks out with a symbol of masculinity: a .22 rifle. He proudly proclaims to his officemates that it was “the same price as a chip-and-dip.” But his masculinity is stripped from him again when Trudy won’t let a gun in the house, and berates him (in a shrill off-camera voice) for returning a gift from her family, despite the newlyweds receiving two of the same item.

The smallest storyline of the episode has the biggest ramifications for the rest of the season (and continues a storyline that will recur all the way up until the end). When grocery shopping, Betty runs into Helen Bishop, who confronts Betty about her giving Glen a lock of her hair when she had babysit him. Helen asks what kind of woman Betty is, and all Betty can do is give Helen a good slap across the face, leave her grocery cart mid-aisle and leave.

Helen_betty_red_in_the_face

Although Betty’s friend and neighbor Francine Hanson comforts Betty by letting her know the rest of the neighborhood ladies are on her side, this is a turning point in the long, strange, and oddly poignant relationship between Betty and Glen.

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