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'Mad Men': Change the conversation

April 22, 2013|By Tenny Tatusian | This post has been corrected. See note at bottom for details.

Harry Crane knows how to throw a temper tantrum. He is fearless if sloppy, and through doughy cheeks delivers a toxic barb in Episode 4 that is shocking on its own, but made exponentially so coming from this at-times hapless infant-man who in earlier years ran to his wife for crumbs of resolve.

In a pitch for Heinz ketchup, Peggy Olson displays a confidence and salesmanship she could have learned from only one person. Her work is powerful, and all Don Draper can do is listen to his heir even though he hasn’t given up the throne.

“I always say, if you don’t like what they’re saying, change the conversation,” she says in her new, deeper, fuller voice. It’s the same strategy Don used in 1963 with a client who wanted to tear down Penn Station. It is a shocking defeat for Don.

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In the background, the Vietnam War brews, the Smothers Brothers agitate, Don continues his affair with the doctor's wife and he and Megan are propositioned by another couple. We learn it’s not just us and the partners who know the launching pad for Joan’s ascendancy.  In an office where “when they empty the garbage, there are so many bottles” it was only a matter of time before whiskey-laced whispers turned into legitimate gossip.

By firing Harry’s secretary, Scarlet, it is Joan herself who ignites the string leading to her humiliation. Outraged over Joan‘s “dictatorship,” Harry stomps into a meeting of the partners, where he feels he belongs. Confusion and humor envelope the scene until they are torn apart by Harry’s resentment. “You know what? I’m sorry my accomplishments happened in broad daylight and I can’t be given the same rewards.”

The room is stung into a moment of steely silence and only Pete speaks up. By the time the episode is over, Harry will pocket a bonus check that effectively doubles his salary for coming up with the idea of “Broadway Joe on Broadway,” featuring Joe Namath and friends and sponsored by Dow.

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Joan will kiss a young stranger in a Greenwich Village bar and later say that despite 15 years of working for the same men, they still treat her like a secretary. (Considering how they treated her last season, secretary seems far better.)

Finally, we’re able to go home with one of the show’s few black characters. There were opportunities before -- Carla, the Drapers' housekeeper, and Hollis, the elevator operator, to name just two -- but with Dawn we snatch a glimpse of the black professional woman’s Manhattan of 1968.

It’s a confusing terrain where the white secretaries might be using her, where passing a black friend in a mostly white area is oddly no reason to stop and talk, where women cry in the bathroom and men cry in the elevator.

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At least one frustration reaches across all races: A good man is hard to find, sister. Dawn has exhausted the search. “Church is impossible. You can’t stand out in that crowd of harlots.”

And now we come back to Don, philandering, cruel and insecure, who once again displays galling hypocrisy. In Season 3, he called Betty a whore when he learned of her relationship with Henry Francis. And just before firing art director Sal Romano for fending off sexual advances from a male client, Don, dripping with disgust, refers to “you people.”

Here he shows up on the set of the soap opera where his wife’s character begins an affair. The fight later in her dressing room is ugly: “Were you going to brush your teeth at least before you came home?” This from a serial adulterer.

This, like many of Don’s shortcomings, is deeply rooted in his tortured upbringing. In a flashback, a young Dick Whitman watches his very pregnant stepmom in bed with a man at a brothel where they’ve come to live. He’s caught by a prostitute before he sees too much.

Before he leaves Megan’s dressing room, he comes just short of calling her a prostitute. “You kiss people for money. You know who else does that?”

[For the Record, 10:25 a.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that Peggy Olson won the Heinz account.]

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