It's official: Don Draper was named after a very badly-behaved penis.
I don't exactly understand what this revelation means, exactly - Don as proxy for penile castration? - but it certainly started off last night's season 3 premiere of Mad Men with a bang, or, perhaps, a whimper.
The episode, for those who didn't see it, opens with Don standing above a hot stove, warming milk for his now very-pregnant wife, Betty, who is having trouble sleeping. (The symbolism in this scene- both with regards to Betty's pregnancy and Don's conception/birth - is hard to miss, and, to stomach: the milk exploding up and out of the saucepan; the care with which Don skims off the membrane with a wooden spoon. Ejaculate and placentae never looked so, well, unappetizing.) As the milk is slowly brought to a boil, we, and Don, are transported back to the time before his birth: His mother has just suffered yet another miscarriage, and his abusive, resentful father, Mr. Whitman, goes to visit a young prostitute, who threatens to cut his "dick off and boil it in hog fat" should anything about the assignation go awry.
Cue Don's - er, Dick's - dramatic entry into the world.
Birth and death - or perhaps, the uneasy spaces between them - are, of course, the major themes of the episode, and, probably, the new season. Soon we are back in what we believe is the warm, familiar cocoon that is Sterling Cooper, only to learn that the agency's new
British overlords have colonized its Madison Avenue offices and are firing people right and left. We meet Lane Pryce (Jared Harris), the officious, haughty money man from across the pond who sets Pete Campbell and Ken Cosgrove against one another; with Lane is John Hooker, an aide with an inspired name and a penchant for chatting up the agency's "girls", including Peggy's own assistant, Lola. Peggy's ascent in the corporate world, we are warned, is not going to be helped much by persons of her own gender.
She'll need all the female help she can get, however. Women, you see, run the farm, despite their status as second class citizens. (One hopes that the Mad Men writers pursue this particular line of inquiry.)
(Note to self: Use the word "gynocracy" as often as possible.)
But back to Don. At the request of Mssrs. Sterling, Cooper and Price, Don and Sal are dispatched to Baltimore, where they must assuage the concerns and egos of their clients at London Fog (an purposeful reference to the suddenly-swirling politics of the Sterling Cooper offices, post-British invasion). On the flight there, Don and Sal meet a sweet-talking stewardess named Shelly, who confuses him for someone else - he's more than happy to oblige. After a group dinner, multiple martinis, and a dramatic exit by Sal, Shelly attempts to seduce her real-life "Ty Power". Don seems to resist at first - is he changing his ways or does he simply prefer redheads and brunettes for his extracurricular activities? - but, when Shelly expresses her own trepidation - she's engaged, you see - he deftly, almost imperceptibly turns the tables, informing her softly that it's his birthday. She falls back into his arms. (Blame it on her Southern hospitality.)
A few floors below Don and Shelly, Sal is playing host to an Italian-American bellhop summoned to fix a malfunctioning air conditioner. Things get hot - fast, although Sal's much deserved "little death" is interrupted by an ill-timed fire alarm. (I love the last line in the clip below.)
Don, who learns of Sal's sexuality while peeking through his hotel window on the way down the hotel fire escape, says nothing, except to instruct him to "limit your exposure" while in the midst of a London Fog brainstorming session the next day. A life lesson, it seems, for the ages.
Speaking of: What the hell is this supposed to be? A female flasher?
And can we discuss this? (Octopussy!)
The episode ends where it started: back the Draper household, where little Sally - outfitted in Shelly's stewardess pin - apologizes for sabotaging her father's luggage earlier and asks him to relate the circumstances of her birth. ("Tell me about the day I was born," she instructs.) Don starts off the story, but cannot finish - silenced by the weight of the past, or the uncertainty of the future - so Betty jumps in to add narrative assistance. Most everyone, faced with the first glimmers of the changes about to upend their lives - new babies, changing jobs, the slow erosion of white male supremacy - seems to be holding on tight to the past. It is 1963, after all: As fired account head Burt Peterson says during his dramatic exit from the office, everyone is about to go straight to hell.