Mad Men has some of the finest television writers working in its staff right now, including screenwriting guru Robert Towne. It makes a lot of sense that writers would be magnetized to a character who is an enigmatic creative type, an alluring presence everyone feels and understands but cannot define distinctly. When Don lets part of their allure fade, like he did at the end of last season, the characters do not know how to respond. However, the role of a man with a lot of sway and a lot of creativity losing the trust of his creative partners and resorting back to gloomy nights shivering on the porch of his apartment balcony? A man with a lot to offer aching to get hired? It sounds like the life of a screenwriter to me.
That writer’s mentality works well for the third episode of Mad Men’s seventh season, which is all about pitches, as in the kind a budding scribe would give to a room of eager executives. On Sunday night, there were three pitches: Megan’s, Betty’s and Don’s. (Four, if you count the SC&P creatives trying to get a sleek Chevalier Blanc ad through Lou’s mind, and not getting much of a reaction.)
Megan’s pitch was her audition to the network – shown off-screen – and it did not go well. Her agent tells Don over the phone that she made a scene at a restaurant to one of the producers to demand another reading, and this leads to her reputation in Tinseltown spiralling. Don knows a thing or two about botching up a pitch from recent experience, so he heads west to L.A. to offer Megan some relief and try to straighten her out. The problem is she reads through her husband’s charade, which then escalates into an argument when he reveals that he has been out of a job for months.
This butting of heads between the couple coaxes out what may be Jessica Paré’s best performance on the show thus far – almost as memorable as her captivating rendition of “Zou Bisou Bisou” in season five. The moment where she realizes her husband has deceived her is a devastating blow to the fantasy life she clearly desires. “So with a clear head you got up every day and decided you didn’t want to be with me,” she shouts, glaring at Don. Her outburst eventually leads to an even more revealing phone call a few scenes later. (Christopher Manley paces and directs this call superbly, the perfectly symmetrical position of Don on the left and Megan on the right, the faded red hues reflecting the muted passion between them.)
In that phone call, Don tells her, “I know how you want to see me.” He has been struggling with figuring out what sides of him to show to other characters. Although Don initially felt like someone who could boost the life of a tender young woman through love and luxury – that debonair image of himself he prides on promoting – she is too separated from him. Megan has outgrown Don and it is fascinating to watch the two actors arrive at this conclusion through a mix of shouting compromises followed by empty stares.
Also pitching this week is Betty, who finally returns to the show despite January Jones still taking up fourth billing in the opening credits. Her pitch this week is to sell to Bobby that she is a good mother. Betty has struggled with her maternal side for much of this show’s run, her iciness and stern tone the antithesis of the stereotypical TV mom. However, after lunch with her friend Francine (House’s Anne Dudek), who reveals she has taken a part-time job now that her kids are growing up, Betty wants to prove that being a mother is still as much a job for her. (Going into the workplace just doesn’t seem to go with old-fashioned Betty, Francine and the show’s writers remind us, perhaps a bit too on the nose.)