"She was a movie star who had everything, and everybody, and she threw it away. But, hey, if you want to be sad..." -Roger Sterling
All throughout "Six Month Leave," characters wonder how Marilyn Monroe, the most famous, beautiful, successful, lusted-after woman in America, could have come to such a terrible, early end. As Roger says, she had everything and it still couldn't make her happy. If Marilyn couldn't be happy with everything, what chance do the rest of us poor slobs have?
Of course, with the benefit of history, we know that Marilyn only seemed to have everything, that she was treated badly by men throughout her life, that she was a very damaged creature who was almost certainly going to have a bad end. She got everything she ever wanted, then found out it wasn't nearly as wonderful as she had hoped -- just as so many of the "Mad Men" characters find out here.
Don and Betty have already realized that the marriage they both thought was going to be so perfect has been anything but. Roger, who has been complaining about his marriage forever, finally works up the nerve to leave Mona for the much younger and (to his eye) more interesting Jane, and realizes after the ugly scene in front of Don's office that this won't be the perfect escape he expected. Similarly, Jane gets rich and powerful Roger to leave his wife, then has to be confronted by the reality of that. Peggy gets another promotion, but in a terrible way where she'll never be able to feel entirely good about it.
And, in the episode's biggest tragedy, Freddie Rumsen realizes that Sterling Cooper isn't the alcoholic haven he thought it was, and is cast out into the world without a safety net.
There are a lot of parallels between Freddie's situation and Don and Betty's marriage, and not just because Freddie and Betty both wind up passed out drunk on a couch at roughly the same point in the episode. Everybody at Sterling Cooper knew exactly who and what Freddie was, but they didn't care so long as he could function just enough to do the job. And even when he was on the verge of wetting his pants, soaked in sweat and barely able to stand, you saw that he was still able to deliver the Samsonite pitch perfectly from memory. This is who Freddie is; no one had illusions about it. When Roger calls the pants-wetting incident "conduct unbefitting," Don, in disbelief, asks, "Of Freddie Rumsen?" But that urine-soaked pair of pants was a visual reminder of what everyone at Sterling Cooper tried so hard to ignore, something so obvious that Roger finally felt compelled to act.
In a similar way, Betty has always known, deep down, that Don wasn't faithful to her, but until Jimmy Barrett grabbed her by the arm and forced her to take a long hard look at her husband and his wife next to each other, she could pretend everything was okay. Once she saw Don and Bobbie's connection -- as clear to her as Freddie's pants were to the secretarial pool -- she had to act.
Freddie's firing led to one of my favorite "Mad Men" scenes of all time, as Don and Roger try to break the news to Freddie as gently -- and drunkenly -- as possible, and Roger offers a counter to every one of Freddie's attempts to save himself. Everyone starts off telling the common, silently acknowledged lie that this will, in fact, be the six month leave of the title, that Freddie will be paid in full for his time away and be given the chance to come back. Freddie, appearing to take this all remarkably well (though we'll find out later how well he isn't taking it), good-naturedly insists he can do better; Roger shuts it down with his brilliant, "There's a line, Freddie -- and you wet it" joke. Freddie tries to change the subject to Roger's father (who founded the firm with Bert Cooper), hoping to play on nostalgia and Roger's awareness of his own father's excessive drinking to keep his job, but Roger just uses that as an excuse to distract Freddie with compliments about his war heroics. And then, when Freddie starts to make peace with the situation, tries to sound optimistic about life on the road by tying it into his childhood as the son of a traveling salesman who moved the family from city to city, Roger doesn't even let him enjoy the moment with his curt, "Meanwhile, here we are: New York." It's just a masterfully-written scene by Matthew Weiner and Andre and Maria Jacquemetton.
And after an interlude at an illegal underground casino where Don gets to take a swing at Jimmy (more on that in a bit), Freddie has to face up to the reality that this is likely the start of a long downward slide for him. He can't stop drinking, doesn't want to stop drinking, and lucked into working for years at a place that enabled him, provided him a safety net and didn't seem to care that he was three sheets to the wind half the time. Freddie's question about who he is if he doesn't go into that office every day could be uttered by anyone who just got fired, but to someone who suspects he's about to be unemployable, it's a much scarier notion. His insistence on telling Don "good-bye" rather than "good night," and the look on his face as he said it, makes it clear just what Freddie thinks of his future.
Don can be a bastard in many ways, but he has this uncanny knack to feel empathy for other people's pain so long as he didn't cause it. He doesn't feel bad for what he's done to Betty, but he does feel for Freddie. He tries to save Freddie's job, and when that fails, he at least chews out the chipmunks for their (accurate) Freddie Rumsen impressions. Again, Don has a loyal streak (see his attempt to save the Mohawk account), but he also despises gossip -- particularly since he knows there are so many things that people could say about him behind his back, if they only knew. Note that the breaking point between him and Bobbie was when she let him know that she and other women swap stories about his cocksmanship; he doesn't want to be talked about, and therefore gets upset when he discovers a man somewhat like him getting the same treatment.
Don also feels, oddly, for Mona -- or, at least, he's too surprised by her appearance, and her accusation that he told Roger to leave her, to go into denial mode the way he always does with Betty. Roger used him, both in getting with Don's secretary and in making Don the excuse for walking out on Mona, and so I imagine Don will continue to be inclined to feel bad for Mona while also feeling furious with Roger. You don't cross Don Draper and come out unscathed. Last time, Don was content just to make Roger puke; what'll he do this time?
There were several sly references in the episode to Rachel Menken -- Jane buys Don the shirts from Menken's, and Don takes the name of Rachel's husband as his pseudonym at the casino -- to remind us how much she's still on Don's mind. In many ways, Rachel (the woman Don truly wants) is to Bobbie (the pale imitation Don settled for) as Joan is to Jane. And I wonder if, for Jane, Don is the one she really wanted. It's clear that she's buying him the shirts as something more than a secretary, and yet the episode's climax also makes it clear that she's been sleeping with Roger for a while (probably going back to when he saved her job). So is she just hedging her bets by cozying up to the married guy who's already separated from his wife, or would she rather have the younger, more virile Don to the guy with two heart attacks on his rap sheet?
While all this drama is going on at Sterling Cooper, Betty's wandering around Casa Draper wearing one of Livia Soprano's old housecoats while she self-medicates with wine. She looks at the kids like they're not even hers, obsesses on the one locked drawer in Don's desk (knowing Don, the only thing in there is money, but nothing to incriminate him in adultery), and is so eager to be rid of riding pal Sarah Beth and her talk of marriage that she maneuvers her into a lunch date with young Arthur Case. As far as Betty's concerned, a Sarah Beth/Arthur affair would be a big win for her: it keeps Sarah Beth from bothering her and it allows Betty (who has contemplated affairs but never goes through with it) to feel moral superiority over both Sarah Beth and Arthur.
Like Don, I'm wondering how long this is going to go on. Not to bring everything back to "The Sopranos," but when Carmela threw Tony out of the house, they stayed split up for about a season before Carmela realized she had no other option but to take the cheating SOB back. But from a storytelling perspective, at least Carmela was firmly integrated into Tony's world in such a way that they could tell stories about her even when she wasn't interacting with Tony himself. Betty is so far off to the side on "Mad Men" (January Jones jokes that she only ever sees the other actors at awards shows and press conferences) that it's hard to see her remaining a vital part of the series if she and Don stay broken up. And yet watching that scene in the foyer, when Betty finally recognizes how easily and how well Don lies -- "Jesus, did you just think that up?" -- makes it hard to imagine her taking him back anytime soon.
Finally on our list of people finding out success isn't all it's cracked up to be, we have Peggy, who has now leapfrogged all the other junior copywriters (it's clear from that final scene with Duck that she now outranks Paul), but in a lousy way. Freddie, as she reminds Pete, is the man who plucked her from secretarial pool obscurity, and now she gets to continue her climb up the ladder at Freddie's expense. Peggy has obviously been paying attention to her lessons from Don -- when Freddie tries to apologize for the pants-wetting incident, she tells him, "It's over. There's no reason to talk about it." -- but she still retains enough humanity to feel guilty about this.
(Not feeling any humanity at all? Pete, who continues to be less a person than an incredible simulation of one. Note that, in the dress rehearsal for the Samsonite meeting, Salvatore asks "Boy or girl?" as a genuine question, but Pete's response -- "That's good!" -- shows that he just views it as a strategically useful bit of small talk. And what is small talk, after all, if not imitation human behavior?)
And now that Peggy has continued her rapid ascent, from Don's secretary to the number two spot in Creative in less than two years, how happy will she be? She had just started to achieve some equilibrium with the boys in recent episodes; are they going to wind up resenting her just as much as the secretaries do?
Some other thoughts on "Six Month Leave":
• You know I've been complaining about the lack of Roger all season, but we got him back in a huge way here, with more Slattery goodness and one-liners -- "Many's the time I dreamed of finding you like this" -- than the rest of the season combined, it seemed.
• I had been assuming for a while now that people around the office, or at least Don, knew that Duck was a recovering alcoholic, based on both his refusal to drink and all the rumors about his career meltdown in London. But, no: they think he's a teetotaler. Interesting, and of course that means Don didn't really appreciate Duck's comment about how covering for Freddie isn't helping Freddie.
• Do you think Weiner had Peggy replacing Freddie planned all along when he introduced Freddie last year and made him the one to recognize Peggy's talent? Seems too perfect to be an accident.
• Could anyone make out the title of the book Betty was reading before she passed out?
• Patrick Fischler hasn't been given a lot of actually funny things to say whenever Jimmy is supposed to be "on," but I did like his attempt to recover his dignity after Don's punch by asking Floyd Patterson how well he took it. (For what it's worth, by the way, Roger was right and Freddie was wrong about Patterson's boxing career; in less than two months after this episode takes place, Sonny Liston would knock Patterson out in the first round to become the new heavyweight champ, before eventually losing the belt himself to some guy by the name of Clay.)
• Marilyn Monroe died on August 5, 1962. The movie version of "Gypsy" didn't come out until November of that year, so presumably Sarah Beth's aversion to white gloves comes from having seen the Broadway version, which debuted in 1959.
• A nice touch in an episode with so many Marilyn Monroe references: when Don and Roger are drinking at the bar after their casino escapade -- right before Don, drunk, lets down his guard enough to mention his father's name and to reveal his "move forward" life philosophy to Roger -- the camera lingers for a moment on the JFK bust at the end of the bar.
• Poor Sally and Bobby. Poor, poor Sally and Bobby. That is all I have to say about that.
One potential scheduling note before I turn it over to you smart people: I may be taking a few days off early this coming week, which may in turn throw the rest of my schedule off enough to prevent me from getting next week's review done in as timely a fashion as usual. At worst, hopefully, I'll have it done by sometime on Monday.
What did everybody else think?