Mad Men Review by Henry Tran

Mad Men 7.03: Field Trip

Mad Men 7.03: Field Trip

Written By:
Heather Jeng Bladt and Matthew Weiner
Directed By:
Christopher Manley


I find it interesting that this episode decides to have Don function as a lens by which the other characters can use to focus their own behavior. He is, after all, the center of the show and everything nominally functions off of what he does. Since he didn't work at the office, everyone there just naturally assumed that they were better off without his presence. It was a relationship that had been "working". 




But Don still thinks the company needs him, even when his longtime co-workers mostly can't stand the sight of him. Those in the upper ranks carry a lot of animosity towards Don so there is the concern that some other mystery threatens to go off in the future. The company can put all the stipulations they want into his work contract, but I sense that Don will get that renegade urge again. It's just a matter of timing. He's going to work for them, just now as a glorified middle man with many of his secrets out in the open.


So since Don is looking to be more honest with aspects of his life, there is more to the change of status regarding his work. That's the bulk of it, but it plays out in his marriage to Megan as well. He is asked by her agent to come to California to tell her to not freak out some directors. It's not pretty because Megan is clearly struggling with her acting career and there's only so much Don can do. Their bi-coastal marriage is already taking a toll on both of them and both of their career struggles are the primary sore spots that Don would prefer not to press on. But he is the dutiful husband, and so he flies out to see his wife.




The encounter runs just like the last encounter they had in "Time Zones." She initially loves that he surprised her (enough to have sex with him at first glance), then becomes bitter when they get to the real reason he is in LA. Megan really does seem lost in the woods, too self-aware to see that her insistent attitude isn't getting her the traction that she needs to get her career going. She's aging rapidly (on the wrong side of 30) in a place and business where youth is cherished. Don may no longer do the horrible things that he did to wreck the marriage, but that doesn't stop Megan from throwing some of those past sins in his face. He's trying to turn over a new leaf in all aspects of his life, and is predictably finding resistance. They may have sort of made up in their final conversation of the episode, but theirs is a marriage that seems irretrivably broken in some way. Sudden change doesn't undo years of past mistakes. Those mistakes are still coming back to haunt Don.


The message of the episode seems to be that people don't fundamentally change. Also that they can't seem to let go of the past. There was a palpable sense of tension to the whole sequence of Don coming back to the office for the first time in months. The show has played with the notion of time before so initially, it looked like Don was playing out the potential reactions to his return in his mind as he sat nervously in his apartment for the workday to start. It almost felt like Don was an alien who had suddenly dropped down onto this familiar, yet unfamiliar world. Getting messages and office gossip from Dawn was one thing, this is a whole other thing altogether.




It's great just to see how the various other characters react to his presence. The partners treat him with indifference mostly. Ken is most friendly with him but their conversation is limited to photos of his new child. He sits in the common area for creative waiting for Roger to be his savior. This could've have gone totally wrong for him. Roger might not have shown up (and when he does, he's clearly drunk), the other partners would not have known about Roger and Don's deal to come back to work, and Don could have just bolted to take McCann's offer. He's sticking with what he knows. Roger stands up for him to the other partners because he knows that the company desperately needs him. Roger needs Don personally so that he can wield him as a weapon against anything Cutler does to undermine the company. He may be drunk, but he's been in the business long enough to use that acumen to full effect.


Lou is putting out "adequate" work and the company's reputation is not the best right now (whereas, earlier in the decade, they were top contenders). Lou and Peggy and Joan are just going to have to get over whatever hang-ups they have with the guy to get the best out of him. I'm a bit surprised that Joan would hold a grudge against Don given all that he's done for her over the years. Peggy is angry right now and spiraling in self-pity so she's projecting those issues onto Don. Joan's fury seems borne out of her fluid position in the company. They're on equal level in one aspect (as partners) and she might also have to report to him (as accounts working with creative). This new arrangement could stall her ongoing development in the business.




Don is the majority of the episode so that renders Betty's story to a subplot of sorts. That's usually the case with Betty these days. The story about her here largely plays the same beats. Don and Betty are now completely separate so she's raising their kids with Henry alone. The story is largely about her misguided expectations with Bobby. Their field trip together starts out well enough, with the two of them bonding for the duration of the field trip, but then cracks start to form. Betty plays out the suburban mom to a tee, which allows Bobby to show some pride in showing her off to his classmates before the bottom unexpectedly falls out.


The perfect dress, sunglasses, cigarette, and pearls aren't practical for being on a farm. It's completely out of place. Even if Betty did do some horseback riding way back when. Bobby puts the cherry on top of this whole situation by trading away her sandwich for candy. Betty's issues with food are well-documented, and even Bobby noticed how finicky his mother gets around food over the years, so her petulant shutting out of her child looks cruel on the surface but isn't surprising. Betty is living a miserable life right now. There seems to be no concrete way to change her circumstances. Unlike her ex-husband, who is actively trying to move forward and change his life, damn the consequences.


Our Grade:
B
The Good:
  • Don's treatment is simply brutal
  • The end of the marriage is also not pretty
The Bad:
  • Lou couldn't leave soon enough
  • Betty just gets worse with time

Henry Tran is a regular contributor of review for Critical Myth; The Critical Myth Show is heard here on VOG Network's radio feed Monday, Wednesday & Friday. You can follow him on twitter at @HenYay

Mad Men by - 4/30/2014 7:16 AM191 views

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