Now tipping into the halfway point of the series and most of Don’s backstory dealt with, very little of his past has come into play this season. However this episode tells, albeit loosely, how Don came into contact with Roger Sterling and made his way into the original Sterling Cooper. We open with a young man showcasing his portfolio in a work interview to Peggy and Don where it scrappy and thrown together, the only reason he made an interview is through family connection with Roger. This man is desperate for a job and is eager, we later find out, through flashback his story will be related to Don’s and how he got into the ad business. Being a cable show, Mad Men being restricted to a 45 minute running time and as a result it never has any flab to spare on any of its episodes. So when it flicks in and out of diegetic time there is no room for getting engrained into that. It slams us right backwards and in with the punchy dialogue. Often it takes a while to notice what we are seeing is a flashback but I kind of like with this, because what we are seeing is fairly recent history in the Mad Men universe, it holds no prisoners. The show expects you to keep up with what they are doing, they have a story to tell and you need to be on board, it takes a while to gestate but once you are there, the drama unfolds and you’re with it.
Although it’s quite hard to convince us that the now nearing 40 year old Jon Hamm is an up and coming twentysomething who runs into a less grey John Slattery as Roger Sterling, it does oddly work again mainly due to the work of both actors. Hamm does have considerable range, as roles on 30 Rock and in the Affleck film The Town have demonstrated, here in this flashback he plays an almost puppy dog version of Draper he seems in awe of Sterling and his monetary power. Don is selling a mink fur to him, and this is where he shows off his first advertising skills by a sheet he has done for the store. When Sterling finds in the gift packaging of the coat a portfolio put together is when we truly see where the Don Draper we know of has come from.
Meanwhile, the SCDP team have been nominated for an advertising award and Roger, Don, Pete and Joan go to attend which annoys Peggy due to the fact it was her idea that was the basis for the nominated advert. They win, causing further friction between Peggy and Don which is slowly becoming more and more romantic. There is an odd connection between them which is played and written very well, in fact many have said this underlying tension has been there since the beginning, which I hadn’t noticed, but going back to watch it there is something there. Which tells you how brilliant and understated this show is.
On the rebound of winning the award, Don goes out for a mad night’s celebration and drinking which goes to far and ends up blacking out. Waking up in bed with a woman he doesn’t immediately recognised, he then recieves a phone call from his angered wife who tells him he has stood up the kids. Don’s journey into darkness brings a whole new weight behind it, as does the political backdrop hinted at by the show. 1965 is the year President Johnson pushed forward a full scale invasion of Vietnam, meaning that for some of the younger characters on the show military drafting isn’t far from the horizon. Everything is shifting into the realms of the grim, and better for it. Weiner has always been adept at criticising the shallow beauty of the world depicted and now the characters are beginning to realise that this world is all changing.
In the last moments of the episode we see Roger’s relative getting the job due to a mistake made by Don, by him using part of the cousin’s portfolio in a pitch in a drunken haze. This then flashes back to the time when Don is hired, only that Roger has forgotten, as they pass pleasantries in the reception area of the old Sterling Cooper. Another nice moment is the brief return of Duck Philips who appears to have crawled inside a whisky bottle since the end of the last season and been there ever since. However it must be said that with all these characters making convenient, albeit welcome, returns there is a danger of it becoming the Mad Men reunion. I have enough faith in the creators not to turn it into that.