“The New Girl”
August 24th, 2008
Don Draper is not a man who likes things. This seems strange to say, but it’s true: our protagonist is a man who desires things, who thinks he deserves things, who certainly feels things, but he is the type who has totally disallowed himself from liking things in a normal sense. He is a man who avoids more than he gravitates – he defends against his past while indulging in desire, deciding what he doesn’t like before he ever decides the other way around.
So, while the episode spends a lot of time struggling to discern what Don likes, it’s really through his actions that we are able to understand what he likes, or respects. Of the thing he lists to Bobbie, only movies seems to be true, as we saw him use it a few weeks ago as his work escape unrelated to his affairs. What he really likes is people who are reliable, people who are there for him and to whom he can reveal parts of himself others don’t see. In this episode, he runs into one of them and it sends him into a downward spiral; when he needs to escape it, he turns to another, one who owes him a favour.
What it boils down to is a discovery of how, precisely, Don Draper decides to live his life – and, like all good Mad Men episodes, it says as a little about everyone else on the show too, although the episode was less interconnected than others. With a glimpse of the past and a look to the future, “The New Girl” does manage to say a lot…even if I still am not sure who the title refers to.
I’m limited on time this week, so this should be shorter than usual – this episode, too, wasn’t quite as broad reaching as some of what we’ve seen early in this second season. That’s not to say it wasn’t good, but rather that it felt like we were still skirting painfully close to some things. In retrospect though, the episode isn’t so much struggling to get to something than it is pointing out the problems with those theories, with those ideas, and challenging us to think of new ones. In other words, it’s about showing us just enough to confirm some suspicions and to destroy others in order to keep things moving.
There is something very compelling about Don’s story here, even though he can now add drunk driving to his list of rather unfortunate characters flaws. Weiner has guts to make this character do so many dangerous things, but at the same time he plays the ace up his sleeve, or starts to anyways. We see our first glimpse at Don’s role in assisting Peggy in regaining her footing in life following her psychotic break, something that we knew was coming (How else could she have kept her job?) but certainly have plenty of questions about.
The problem with the episode is that we don’t get all that many answers: we get only two scenes from Peggy’s time in the hospital, not quite Lost flashbacks levels of detail, so it’s kind of hard to go by what we’re seeing here in terms of piecing together her experience. All we got was a sense of her psychosis and then Don swooping in to give her a speech about how she has to pretend that this didn’t happen, that soon she’ll be surprised at how much it won’t have happened if she moves on. He observes, ignoring her parents’ warnings, that Peggy is in the position he was once in, so he gives her that message. But, that’s all we see – I, for one, want to and feel like I need to see more of how that developed.
Now, that’s not to say that this doesn’t raise new questions outside of Peggy and Don’s interaction: Peggy’s sister was apparently pregnant at the time of Peggy’s own pregnancy, so the question remains just what baby she is raising (As we only see one baby). If that’s so, Anita’s jealousy of sorts seems even more strange than before, as if she isn’t actually raising Peggy’s child (Which would make all of the awkward “Don’t you want to see the baby?” talk more about a general trauma than a specific one) I don’t really know what is going on. I’m going to have to rewatch this one, as I was kind of distracted at certain parts of it, before I can try to piece it all together.
This all rose to the surface, of course, because Don’s spiral ends him up in jail. It really started with seeing Rachel Menken, now married and (to Don’s chagrin) a completely different person. She is prim, proper, made up beyond recognizability and seems to have lost some of her edge in the process. I don’t know whether Don’s tail spin, ending in the car crash, is because of his long hibernating feelings for Rachel, or for that reminder that everything he wants to hold onto changes, that something happens which takes it away from what he liked, what drew him in.
I don’t have an answer, either – his decision to call Peggy, though, is far more straightforward. She is the one person who he can truly trust with his, who he holds enough weight over that she is willing to go to the lengths she does. The scenes with Bobbie and Peggy were especially good, as I enjoy Bobbie as a character in terms of getting to the bottom of things. It was a bit of a simple ploy to force out those questions, to which we already knew the answers, within the show itself, but it was a nice odd coupling for the sake of story and plot. I don’t quite think that Peggy has “assertiveness” down to a science, but she does at least ask for her money back in a timely fashion, something that she might not have done otherwise. Still, she has a long way to go yet.
It was a light episode otherwise: Joan is getting married, Don’s new secretary is particularly alluring but thus far not really a character (She is, though, “a bit clairvoyant), and we get to spend some time with Pete and Trudy and their struggles to conceive. While it’s not much that we didn’t already know (Again, we knew Pete was not infertile), it was a nice counterpoint to Don’s life: if he had decided not to necessarily do what he didn’t actually like, what he felt he had to do for the reasons society gave him and to blend in with the crowd, would he have been more happy? Would he like more things, in the traditional sense at least? Regardless, it was also more of Pete’s impetuousness, unable to realize that his own insecurities about possibly being the problem would obviously exist within Trudy as well, even moreso when her self-doubt is confirmed.
But, that’s part for the course: I wouldn’t quite call it coasting, but Mad Men is certainly not speeding up its pace as it enters into the next segment of its season.
- Fantastic cut from Pete about to provide a semen sample to Roger batting the paddleball furiously…a wonderful little euphemistic editing choice.
- And, since AMC’s viral marketing people were kind enough to send the link over, I leave us with the episode’s most random scene, but delightfully so: Zipper Mozart