Mad Men Season 4-08 ‘The Summer Man’ Recap

After tipping on the point of alcoholism, Don has decided to turn his life around. He has to endure physical changes, the first time we see him he is diving in a pool and he has given up drinking liqour at work. But more importantly he endeavours to write a journal in which finally he can put down his true thoughts and can exorcise his demons. This writing of the journal is done as a voiceover, which at the start is rather off putting and actually pointless, however despite at the end I warmed to, it still seems out of place with the tone of the show. At best it reminded me of Taxi Driver, at worst Blade Runner.

On the other hand, it is the opportunity however for us to get closer to Don, and for a character who is an enigma that can be dangerous but as this season is all about us getting to know who Don is and how he thinks. In this regard, the voiceover is something experimental within the show and they are exploring new ways of developing character and telling stories, which in a show’s fourth season is incredibly refreshing to see. By the end I did think that somehow it had transformed it into classically shot television into having a cinematic sensibility. This episode in particular just has a feeling of film about it and had it been shown on a huge cinema screen it wouldn’t have looked out of place. It’s that well made and well lit.

The story is concerns itself with Betty and her tortured relationship with ex-husband Don, who informs him that he is not allowed to attend his youngest son’s 2nd birthday party. There is also further strain in her relationship with Henry as Betty behaves, according to Henry, in an uncouth manner during a dinner encounter where they happen to bump into Don on a date. The marriage as we know was never perfect, created out of simply lust at first site, I think Don did truly love Betty and Henry might do too. There is something just wrong with that relationship, it’s hard to put my finger on but despite Don always going off to find comfort with other women when he was with Betty there was something right about it.

Now however it is hard to see them back together, funnily enough it appears to be Betty who is making life worse for everyone. She has turned into the Ice Queen, detaching herself from all humanity and wanting to retain her status, love seems to have oozed out of her. This is demonstrated by a very nicely by a nice piece of juxtaposition when after the meetig at the restaurant both couples, Betty & Henry and Don & his date are seen in cars. Whilst there is love between Don and his superfluous date there is no love between the married couple. In fact the coolly lit car dispute between Henry and Betty reminded me very much of Revolutionary Road, both the book and the film, which looms large in the back of the whole series anyway.

There is further tension in the office which bring back the element of sexism in the 60s. Joan and art department freelancer Joey buttheads and he is inconcievably rude and misogynist towards her. This affects her quite badly, it is fascinating to see the hard hearted Joan become so fragile. Peggy in a swift move steps up to the mark, learning her lessons from last week’s episode, and fires Joey. Of course it is radical to see that in a show set in the 60s, as Joan later says “You’ve done nothing but prove yourself to be a more uptight bitch than before.” Which perfectly within context summarises the divide between men and women. Had Lane fired Joey, would the reaction have been different. Equally however this just could be chilly detachment on behalf of Joan, whose husband is being drafted into Vietnam, Peggy clearly sticks up for Joan, with whom she has always had a tortured relationship, but this does her no favours.

The more subtle stuff of the episode is what makes it all the more memorable, there is nice moment in a meeting which Don is hesitant to take a drink of whisky then looks at Peggy and turns the drink down, nicely complimenting the events of the last episode. What is more disappointing is that Duck Philips doesn’t come back, leaving that mystery of ‘uncle’ further untold, but still a solid episode most remarkable for catapulting the show into the realms of cinema.