When Don Draper dragged himself out to Queens to see the Beatles last season, it was to give the gift of Beatlemania to his daughter, who accepted with an unmistakable Lennon/McCartney-induced shriek. When in last night's episode Don returned to the borough of airports, this time to see the Rolling Stones, he didn't go to observe but to do business with Harry Crane. The difference is crucial.
Creativity, in the "Mad Men" universe of 1966, is in flux. The opening salvos of the revolution heralded by Bernbach's self-consciously straight-shooting ads for Volkswagen have been domesticated, even turned cliche, as Peggy demonstrates when she holds up a minimalist ad for toilet paper and says "If I see one more Volkswagen ad with something else in it..."
What's new is somehow already old and needs to be refreshed. There's a sense, expressed roughly, that smart branding should be more about how brands can tie themselves up with a youth-obsessed popular culture. It's not the creative whizzes at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce driving this within the show, but a slightly bumbling client from Heinz who's obsessed with dipping his baked beans into the zeitgeist, as it were. Last episode, this was about incorporating a protest theme into an ad; this week it was getting Mick Jagger to sing "Heinz, Heinz, Heinz is on your side."
The client's push to tapping cultural phenomena points toward the future; trouble is, that culture is alien to the show's middle-aged marketing decision-makers. Draper and the agency are dragging their heels, in part because the client's specific ideas are lame, and in part because Draper and Co. don't get it -- "it" being the kids. Though Don initially scoffs at the client's suggestion, the notion of the Rolling Stones doing an ad isn't completely ridiculous. In fact, as Draper is aware, they'd done one in Britain for Rice Krispies in the early 1960s. And, we now know, they wouldn't be shy about licensing their songs for ads over the ensuing years or decades.
With backstage passes scored by Harry Crane, Draper and the head of the media department make what feels like a half-hearted attempt to appeal to the Stones or their manager at the time, Allen Klein. While waiting for the band to arrive, Harry smokes some grass and the ad men are chatted up by a pair of teenyboppers, lacquered in mod makeup and brimming with desire for the band.
To understand that desire, Don slips into market-research mode with a girl whose only interest is throwing herself at the ill-fated Brian Jones, peppering her with questions. "What do you like so much about the Rolling Stones?" "What do you feel when you hear them?"
She tells Don he sounds like a psychiatrist. "None of you want any of us to have a good time," she adds, "because you never did."
Probably resisting the urge to scream something like "I was too busy in Korea burying my commanding officer and stealing his identity to have fun," Don waxes fatherly: "No, we're just worried about you."
The exchange between ad hoc generational spokespeople somehow manages to be both heavy-handed and poignant at the same time, foreshadowing what would only become a deeper disconnect as the music gets louder, the drugs get harder and the war gets messier. Bringing the dissonance to its logical end, Don and Harry never meet Brian or Mick or Keith and instead end up with a sack of White Castle and a useless agreement signed by the Trade Winds, an actual act that did open for the Stones that night. Harry, perhaps because he was all smoked up, couldn't tell the difference between the Stones and some hacks who would later that year rename themselves the Innocence and eventually release this winner:
The other major plotline of the night was the return of Betty, who with some serious extra poundage made quite the entrance to season five. Fat Betty Draper, to paraphrase New York magazine's Will Leitch on Tim Tebow, is too much story. Plus, I feel chromosomally unqualified to make the call on whether strapping Betty with a cancer scare was a productive or justifiable use of January Jones' pregnancy weight. You can hash this out on Twitter with the others if you're so inclined. Just search "fat Betty Draper."
More than anything, this hastily resolved arc felt like it had two purposes. If nothing else, it acted as one of the show's periodic injections of mortality, in the vein of past health issues suffered by Don and, especially, the cardio-imperiled Roger Sterling. More importantly, and soap-operatically, the mini-drama preserved the connection between Betty and her ex-husband. It is Don who Betty calls when she can't find Henry in their newly purchased, sprawling and scary house. The revelation elicits the old rituals. "Say what you always say," she demands. Him: "Everything's going to be OK."
The "Betty and Don 4eva" theme goes a bit deeper when Don is faced with informing the new Mrs. Draper about Betty's health worries. The young wife doesn't seem to care all that much, though she is miffed when he tries to use the angst as an excuse to bag a trip to Fire Island with her friends. It didn't make him miss the Stones show, she points out. All in all, it's a pleasing reaction and a mature one at that.
Intra-agency machinations were played down this episode, though it's certainly worth noting that Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is diversifying, adding in the course of just 60 minutes a black receptionist and a Jewish copywriter. As ever, this process is glossed by Roger Sterling in a series of one-liners sure to never get old -- until, that is, they do. In terms of background, we get little of the receptionist and a lot more of Michael Ginsberg, a clownish but talented young writer whose portfolio wows Peggy. His job interview with her is full of faux pas, from mistaking her for a secretary to displaying a fast-talking, neurotic and manic energy she knows will annoy Don.
Is Michael Ginsberg a Woody Allen knock-off character? Let's just say that during a scene at home with his thickly accented father announcing the death of a minor baseball player before intoning a prayer, I was half expecting a rollercoaster to roar by the window, � la Annie Hall.
Ginsberg is hired to work on Mohawk Airline, the real brand you might remember from season two when Sterling Cooper ditched it to make a pass at American Airlines. Pete Campbell reeled the client back in and, in a showy bit of political theater with all hands meeting, handed day-to-day management over to Sterling. "Of course," Pete assures the probably unconcerned audience, "everything he'll know I'll know." The display irks the old but proud partner, deepening that divide.
Mohawk, it's worth remembering, was an actual brand that a particularly fulsome Wikipedia entry tells me has been referred to in "Bewitched" and by bands such as Chicago and the Traveling Wilburys. The airline, which would eventually become part of USAir, was the first to hire an African-American flight attendant when it brought aboard Ruth Carol Taylor in 1958. Too bad it fired her six month later for, wait for it, getting married.
Let's hope Dawn, the new receptionist at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, fares better.