Mad Men is back to wearing it's John Cheever-ness on its sleeve, with Don swimming his way through his demons (see Cheever's short story The Swimmer), and returning to the false utopia of his Ossining life (For those of you playing at home, Cheever spent the majority of his productive years in Ossining, drinking and adultering until death by cancer).
However, like many of Cheever's short stories (see also The Enormous Radio, a personal favorite), The Swimmer features a young man who loses himself or a spouse to the darker undercurrents running through New York suburbs. Which is ironic since, for the first time this season, we're seeing Don try to shape up and course-correct (Which I was a little disappointed by to be honest, I was looking forward to seeing Don's bound-to-be-legendary rock bottom).
Meanwhile Joan takes a big step back. Like Don, the passage of time has made her attempts to assert power seem less cutting and a lot more desperate. Compare Joan's reaction to the vending machine scene to Peggy's in the Xerox scene in season two's "The Mountain King." Joan is struggling with the slow loss of control while Peggy is on a journey of consolidation.
I'm not going to go on too much about Don's inane voiceover, this has been fairly effectively trashed over at Slate. It's also too soon to discuss Dr. Faye Miller; her narrative is not complete, and her role is not yet predictable. But for the first time, we do see what kind of woman might make Don into a better man (apart from Peggy, of course).
It's tempting to dismiss Betty again, as it seems most have all season, but at last we are shown her value to the narrative. She is not as strong a force in Don's life as she once was, but she's still one of the unpredictable currents in his swimming pool.
After I finished writing this post, I stumbled across Natasha Vargas-Cooper's far more extensive discussion of the parallels between this week and The Swimmer. If you're interested, go here: The Footnotes of Mad Men: The Swimmer
Mad Men, Inked: The Swimmers
Labels: Mad Men
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