"The Gypsy and the Hobo" is a great episode of Mad Men. For those who've been thinking that the pace of the show was more than a bit slow earlier in the season, that's certainly not the case now.
As always with these reviews, there be spoilers ahead, so you've been warned.
This is a most consequential episode which contains the big confrontation we've been waiting for from the beginning.
It also contains some very fine acting. I'd say it's time to polish up an Emmy for Jon Hamm. And perhaps for January Jones.
Incidentally, this review was delayed a bit for two reasons. First, because my Chinatown/Polanski piece was still featured on Huffington Post. Second, because a technological glitch deleted the 3000-plus word piece I was just about to post as I finished polished it up, fixing typos. Apparently I hit the wrong combination of keys.
But I think we can get by with a review in lieu of a long moment-to-moment recap, which was on this occasion even more so than most as I took detailed notes on the episode, which I hadn't done before, to have the precise tick-tock in place.
The A story is Don and Betty Draper, with Betty confronting Don about her knowledge of the contents of his long-locked drawer.
The principal B story concerns Roger Sterling meeting a rich, beautiful old girlfriend who wants to bring the family dog food business (Soylent Green is ... horses!) back to Sterling Coo, and hook up anew with Roger. Annabelle's theory is that Roger has married "a teenager" and she's sure she can snag him by likening their pre-World War II Parisian romance -- it seems that Roger tried to live the Hemingway myth, boxing and partying his way along the boulevards -- to Casablanca.
The other B story is Joan and Greg. Or Dr. Blockhead, as I've come to think of him. He's trying to be a shrink because he can't be a surgeon, at least, not in New York. Violence enters their relationship again, though not in the way that fans expected.
Of corse, it may be, speaking of relationships, that the principal B story is that of Don and Sally's beloved former teacher, Miss Suzanne Farrell. They've become very cozy, especially with Betty taking the kids -- no, she didn't go to California to confront Anna Draper -- to her late dad's house. Ostensibly to work out its disposition with ever whiny brother William and the family lawyer. But also to get the lawyer's advice on what to do about what she's discovered about Don. Or, perhaps more accurately, Dick Whitman.
He tells her to stay in the marriage, because New York state law favors the hsband in divorce. Roger's view of New York divorce law, of course, is exactly the opposite.
Does she take the lawyer's advice? In a way.
Betty decides to confront Don. Catching him ust as he's coming by to pick up a few things for his week-long getaway with Suzanne. Not knowing that Betty and the kids have returned early, Don leaves Suzanne, with her bag packed, outside in his Cadillac while he pops into the house. Only to find the kids and ... a notably displeased Betty.
I was anxious throughout, thinking that Suzanne would, after a time, get out of Don's car and go in and see what happened to him. Had he fallen down the stairs?
Instead, she waits, slumped in the front seat, while Don and Betty's scene plays out.
And what a scene it is. It's a tour de force for both actors. Don tries to bluff his way through -- at first, amusingly, saying he has to go back to the Caddy to get his hat! (and, you know, drop Suzanne back at her flat) -- but Betty's having none of it.
She bores right in through his defenses, even as he looms over her whining about his privacy. She sees that he's caught and sees that he knows he's caught as soon as he realizes that she has seen the contents of his long-locked drawer. He's certainly shaken, so shaken he has trouble walking and can't even fix his own drink, which Betty suggested and ends up making for him. Perhaps, as she suggests, he even wanted to be caught. The burden of such a massive set of fundamental deceptions has weighed him down since the show began.
And so, with her prodding, as is his way he goes through his sad set of photos and tells the story of Dick Whitman. It's like a pitch at Sterling Cooper. Absent the pitch. Explaining the characters, rather pathetically noting of his step-mother's de facto husband that "he was nice to me." The only bit of grace in the tale.
When it comes to his brother -- "the little boy in all the pictures" as Betty calls him -- he at first says that Adam died, but then admits that he killed himself. Not because he wanted help from Don but because he wanted to be in Don's life. And Don couldn't risk it, not without risking "all this."
Don visibly deflates during this like a magnificent balloon in the Thanksgiving Day parade skewered by a lamp post. When he awakes the next morning, he's alone. After putting on his usual Don Draper costume -- it's Halloween morning but, unlike the kids, he's working -- he ventures downstairs and finds Betty and the kids. And all is, if not swell, fairly well.
Sally notices that her parents are, if rather tentative with each other, also interested in each other. Perhaps they're seeing behind the facades. Prompted by the kids, they make plans to go trick or treating.
Which leads us back to the title of this episode.
Sally goes as the gypsy, while little Bobby is the hobo. Now I'd thought, when I saw this episode title, that it referred to proto-hippie/itinerant teacher Suzanne as the gypsy and that rambling man Don Draper/Dick Whitman as the hobo. Perhaps in a way it does. Both directly, as above, and indirectly, in the sense that Sally caught the inspiration from her beloved former teacher and Bobby intuited his father's real background.
In any event, the sort of happy family is out in the neighborhood and rings a neighbor doorbell. It's answered by the frequently annoying Carlton. "I see a gypsy and a hobo," he says, grasping the kids' costumes. Very nice. Then he looks at Don and Betty. "And who are you supposed to be?"
Who, indeed? They'll have to figure that out as the '60s get rolling in earnest.
The credits roll with a song from Oliver! playing over them. That's the hit Broadway musical of 1963, based loosely on Dickens. "A tragedy with a happy ending," as Lane Pryce observed several weeks ago.
It's about a poor orphan who finds a family of a sort when he falls in with a pack of thieves.
Speaking of which, the next two episodes -- last two of the season -- look to be heavily Sterling Cooper-centric.
We do have some good Sterling Coo action in this episode.
But before getting to that, let's talk about our Miss Farrell. Prior to the Big Reveal, it was clear that Don had fallen fairly hard for her. And that she had really fallen for him. They play house while Betty is away with the kids, with Suzanne cooking her favorite meal for an appreciative Don while noting that she can't share it with him in her favorite restaurant. Which leads to Don's brilliant idea of going away with her while Betty's away with the kids. If only he hadn't had to stop off at his house while heading out of town.
But he did, leaving her waiting in his car while Betty forced their showdown. This made me anxious throughout for Don. I've never bought the notion that Suzanne is a psycho stalker type. But it wold have been reasonable for her, after a time, to barge into the house looking for Don. She waits and waits and then finally gets out of the car. And walks away, slumping as she carries her bag, looking dejected. Perhaps she knew that Betty was there. We don't see that. We also don't see psycho behavior from her.
When Don finally wakes up after his big catharsis, he calls her from the office. She's very accommodating. She knows it's over, though Don leaves a crack in the window. Then she worries abot her job. Evidently Don is not her first married man. Their conversation is entirely reasonable, if quite sad.
The conversation in the other misfiring affair, that of Roger and Annabelle, is far more tart. She is really quite insistent on hooking up with Roger again, though that's not what I meant by tart when I typed it. He agrees to dinner with her, at another of his snazzy bistros -- does he know any other kind? -- and over the bordeaux takes a stroll down memory lane with his old girlfriend.
It's a much fonder memory for Annabelle than for Roger. After she pushes it a bit far by telling him that he must have thought of her when he saw Casablanca, Roger points out that the heroine in that story left Bogie with the guy who was going to end World War II, not run her father's dog food business.
Annabelle tries a trump card as they part. "You were the one," she tells him. "You weren't," Roger replies.
It's so good to have Roger Sterling back. He's been moping and sniping, largely at Don -- who dislikes Roger because his marriage to Don's ex-secretary led to the sale of Sterling Coo and because Roger, unlike Don, does seem happy -- through most of this season.
Roger gets in on the action also by helping Joan. After Greg, or Dr. Blockhead as I've come to think of him, the thumb-fingered surgeon who wants to be a shrink, blows his psychiatry interview despite Joan's shrewd advice, he's breaks out his bottle of whine.
"Stop acting like you know everything. You don't know. You don't know what it's like to want something your whole life, and to plan for it and count on it and not get it."
Since she most definitely does, she bashes her very own Exhibit A over the head with a vase of flowers.
She'd already figured out that she needs work other than selling dresses at Bonwit Teller, so she'd asked Roger for help landing a new job. When Joan, her pride in play, turns down his offer of a return to Sterling Coo, he agrees to help her find another good position, and sets about doing just that.
Roger had better hurry because Joan's one-time dreamboat hubster has come up with a new master plan.
Arriving home the next day with flowers for Joan, who's a bit abashed about bashing him over the head, Dr. Blockhead says he'll buy her a new vase and lots more cool stuff besides. Because he's solved their problems.
He's gone and joined the Army. And he can be a surgeon in the Army, too. (Remind me never to get shot in his theater of operations.) And he's going in as a captain. So Joan won't have to work at all and he's going to keep her in high style.
On an Army captain's salary? Do you have to take math to get through medical school?
Of course, he may have to go overseas for a few years. "To West Germany, or Vietnam, if that's still going on."
"Forget the soup tonight," he tells Joan, "We're going out to celebrate!" I don't think dyed-in-the-wool New York girl Joan ever saw herself as an Army wife.
Wait till Roger hears about this. It definitely tops anything from Annabelle, though perhaps not her family firm's little PR problem. Actually, it's a big PR problem.
It seems those folks out in Hollywood, as Bert Cooper points out, have made big trouble for the dog food business with a movie called The Misfits.
That was the last completed film for both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe. Gable had a heart attack a day after it wrapped. He died a week later. Monroe was a mess throughout the shoot. She was so into pills and booze they had to send her to rehab. After the wrap, she went to a sanitarium. She's a bundle of nerves in the movie, and her hysterical reaction when her character learns that Gable and Monty Clift and Eli Wallach are catching wild Nevada horses for their meat is shocking in its rawness. It's directed, incidentally, by John Huston, the indelible villain of Chinatown.
People hadn't realized that horses were killed for dog food, and Annabelle's Caldecott Farms is a big part of the backlash. Don suggests the obvious -- the name is poison, so change it (which, incidentally, Blackwater recently did, end of digression) -- but she doesn't want to do it.
They stage a focus group, with Annabelle watching from behind the glass. The participants talk about their dog's characteristics and then watch as the pets sample the dog food. The dogs love it! They scarf it down, and their owners are very happy. Then the participants are told it's Caldecott Farms dog food. Oh, no, it's evil! Grim scene.
Pollster Paul Maslin, an old friend who's a great fan of the show, has done about a thosand focus groups. He e-mailed, saying: "I love Draper's line 'Is this your first group?' when the guy comments about how the people are describing themselves and not their dogs. Candidates, too? Sort of, but EveryConsultant Draper has identified another eternal truth as is his wont.
With the grand task of opening a potential client's eyes accomplished, Don takes off for his getaway with Suzanne. We know the rest.
Only two episodes left in the season. With much of the personal side resolved, at least for now, in non-soapy ways, look for big happenings in and around Sterling Cooper and the changing advertising business. Which, along with the rest of America and the world, is going to have a mega-seismic shock to the system three weeks from the end of this episode.