Mad Men episode 110: “Long Weekend”

Everyone has plans for the Labor Day weekend, but none of them work out like they’re supposed to. Richard Nixon is also supposed to be the sure winner of the presidential election but the Kennedy campaign is making it closer than it should be.

In the tenth episode of its first season, “Long Weekend,” Mad Men catches up on some existing plot threads and themes, while setting up others for a bigger payoff in the final three episodes. I’ve talked before about how Mad Men structures its seasons, and we’ll see as the series goes along that the tenth episode often functions as both a unifier of plot threads and a table-setter for the home stretch into the finale.

There is one new introduction in “Long Weekend.” We meet Betty’s father, Eugene Hofstadt, for the first time. We learned earlier in the season that Betty’s mother recently passed. Betty is very upset that a new woman has already moved in to her dad’s life. Betty calls Gloria a “vulture,” as if Gene is a prize for elderly ladies to fight over. Don, who has no love for Gene (and vice-versa) sees it a bit differently. Don points out to Betty that her father can’t even make himself a cup of tea, much less cook for himself or clean up after himself. Don tells Betty to let him have his fun with Gloria, and to be thankful that Gene is not a burden to Betty or William and Judy (Betty’s brother and sister-in-law).

Picking up on pre-existing threads, Rachel Menken visits the Sterling Cooper office with her father, Abraham. Sterling Cooper is doing more than an ad campaign for Menken’s Department Store; it’s more of a major corporate image overhaul meant to attract a more modern and affluent customer base. Abraham is a little hesitant, but Rachel is on Team Sterling Cooper, expressing her belief in the new plans. Rachel has also eased up on her stance towards Don. She allows him to be in the meeting and be the mouthpiece of the new plan, and then escort her out of the office.

The Sterling Cooper team also catches up on the Nixon-Kennedy presidential race. Viewing commercials from both campaigns, it’s becoming obvious to Don that Kennedy may very well have a chance to beat the heavily-favored Nixon.

The long weekend of the title is Labor Day weekend. Betty is taking the kids up to her father’s house in Pennsylvania for the weekend. Don makes it clear he doesn’t want to go, and uses work as an excuse to skip out on part of the long weekend with Gene and Gloria, plus William and Judy and their kids.

Roger is left alone for the weekend, as Margaret and Mona have plans without him. His first thought is that he can do anything he wants with Joan. They can be seen together in the city, with everyone who might care being out of town for the weekend. Joan rebuffs Roger, saying she has plans with roommate Carol, a sad sack we’ve met once before this season. Joan says she’s not going to drop her plans with Carol, and that she needs more notice for Roger’s plans. She’s recently seen Billy Wilder’s great movie The Apartment, and she’s starting to feel a bit like Shirley MacLaine’s character in that movie, waiting for men to make plans for her.

Joan’s plans with Carol get off to a weird start. While the two roommates, friends since the first day of college, are getting ready to go out for the evening, Carol professes her romantic love for Joan. Joan is shocked, but tries to play it off like Carol is confused because she had a bad day after being fired by her boss that she was covering for. Joan tells Carol she’ll shake these feelings off. Much like Sal Romano, Carol is forced to live a closeted existence when her best friend won’t even acknowledge her homosexuality.

Roger hits up Don after being shot down by Joan. Roger sells Don on the long weekend plan of “we have to fall in love a dozen times between now and Monday.” Sterling Cooper has been casting a commercial for double-sided aluminum and Roger correctly predicts Freddy Rumsen’s angle for the ad: twin girls. Heading down to casting, Roger picks twins Eleanor and Mirabelle to not only be in the commercial, but to be dates for him and Don this evening.

Don’s not really into Eleanor, but Roger’s having a great time with Mirabelle. So much so that he has a heart attack during his second round of sex with the young woman. Don tells the twins to call an ambulance and vacate the office.

At the hospital, Don tries to cheer Roger up, but it’s clear that the older man is near death. Mona and Margaret show up, and Roger’s guilt makes him profess the love for his wife and daughter that he rarely shows.

Don is able to use Roger’s heart attack as an excuse to stay in the city, and Betty lets him off the hook. Don also uses the situation as an excuse to go see Rachel Menken. She lets him in her apartment, and he immediately starts to make advances. Rachel tells Don to stop, noting that he’s using Roger’s condition as an excuse for bad behavior.

Still, Rachel cannot hold back her feelings for Don, and the two make love on her couch, after Don makes her ask for it. In the post-sex afterglow, Don closes out the episode by making the biggest reveal about his past yet. He tells Rachel he is the son of a prostitute who died giving birth to him. He was brought to his father’s house, and raised by his father and step-mother until his father died via a kick in the face from a horse when Don was 10. His step-mother then “took up with another man” and Don was “raised by those sorry people.”

Way back in the pilot episode, Rachel told Don that she knew what it felt like to be different, to be disconnected from mainstream society, and that she thought Don knew what if feels like too. In this scene, we see that their connection is real, as Don is more honest to Rachel in this one night than he has ever been to Betty.

And with that, the pieces are in place for the first season’s main plot lines to play out: Roger’s health will keep him off work for a while, stirring up the office politics; Don and Rachel have finally begun their affair in earnest; Kennedy is closing in on “sure thing” Nixon; and Don retreats into his world of secrets, putting a large gap between himself and Betty and her family.

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