Both shocking and hilarious, this season three episode of Mad Men is arguably the most memorable of all. It’s about plans for the future – the future of the company and of individuals – but also about status, and who’s going to be the boss of whom. In the end, dreams are dashed by stark twists of fate, fears are allayed by home truths, and most of our characters return to being pretty much who they were.
The main story begins on the morning of Monday, July 1st, 1963, when office manager Lane Pryce announces company-wide that executives from PPL, the British agency that bought out Sterling Cooper, will be visiting during the next two days. This elicits groans because July 3 was to be a day off for an extended Independence Day holiday weekend, and several people have to change their travel plans.
Joan has recently resigned, and Tuesday, July 2nd is to be her last day with the company. Her plan is to live the dream of being a stay-at-home wife, and her resident surgeon husband, Greg, expects to be appointed Chief Resident. With this bright future in mind, she bosses her secretary around and then is bossed equally rudely by Mr. Hooker, who will be assuming her job after she leaves. That night, after she cooks a celebratory dinner at home for Greg, he stands her up, stays out drinking instead, and eventually comes home roaring drunk. He confides that he wasn’t named Chief Resident after all, and that he was told by a superior that his hands lack “brains” as a surgeon. When Joan reminds him she already left her job, he says flatly, “Get another one.”
Tuesday morning at the office, Joan vibrantly greets the Brits. Saint John (Sinjin) Powell, head of PPL, along with Guy McKendrick, anointed as Sterling Cooper’s new CEO, and Sinjin’s assistant, Harold Ford, seem dazzled by her presence. Guy is escorted around the office by his British entourage and introduced to everyone he will be in charge of. Oozing charm, Guy flatters Pete, Peggy, and presumably others by way of the same hollow line: “I know everything about you. You’re very impressive.” The Americans are foolishly flattered, while comically and pathetically, Peggy’s unglamorous secretary, who is utterly disregarded by the Brits, swoons from a distance over Guy’s good looks. Behind the scenes, Bert builds up Don’s expectation that he’s in for a promotion.
Guy is then led to Bert Cooper’s office to meet with top SC executives. Sinjin flatters Don by telling him that Guy has been studying his creative process. Then he quickly follows up by reciting Guy’s Cambridge and London School of Economics educational background and superior resume, putting Don in his place.
Next we see Sinjin and Harold Ford meeting in Lane’s office. After vigorous flattery, they instruct Lane to open a gift package they’ve brought him. The box contains a dead snake – their way of revealing to Lane that he’s being transferred to their Bombay (Mumbai) office. Lane is disturbed by the idea of life in Bombay, but Harold warns: “Don’t pout. One of your greatest qualities is that you always do as you’re told.” Sensing Lane’s feeling that he’s being demoted, the cynical Sinjin adds, “Nonsense. You’re moving up.”
Later, Guy heads an executive meeting and announces a reorganization of the company. Each of the executives strains to understand who they’ll “be” under the new system. Just about everyone at the agency (except Harry Crane, the TV ad man) is to be demoted. Roger – seeing that his name doesn’t even appear on the new org chart – is steamed. This meeting reinforces the Brits’ “re-conquering of America” after they conveniently “forgot” about the July 4th holiday.
Back in the main office, a party with champagne and cake gets underway. Guy commends the “inspired stewardship” of Lane Pryce and offers a toast to Joan for her nearly 10 years of service. “I wish you caviar and children and all that is good in your new life” he says to Joan in a seemingly gracious, admiring tone. With that, Joan bursts into tears, confusing Guy, who then attempts to shame her into controlling her emotions.
Also during the party, Don receives a surprise phone call from Conrad Hilton’s secretary. Not enjoying the party anyway, he leaves the office immediately to meet with Conrad and is surprised to realize he has already met him, anonymously, at a previous social function. An interesting exchange takes place in which each of them jockeys to be on top in the relationship by giving wiser advice. Before their business negotiation gets too far, Don receives an urgent call from Sterling Cooper and rushes out to the hospital emergency room.
Meanwhile, back at the party, account man Ken Cosgrove drives a large John Deere lawnmower out into the main office to show off his new account. Unfortunately, a few champagne drinking employees decide to fool around and take turns driving the lawnmower. When secretary Lois climbs on, she loses control and heads straight toward Guy. In a heartbeat, she mows over his shoe, chopping up his foot, blood spurting everywhere. Guy screams in shock and falls to the floor. Immediately, Joan instructs someone to get the first aid kit, wraps a tourniquet around his ankle, and orders someone to call an ambulance. In a side office, account men gather to cast blame. Roger enters and asks, “Any news?” Paul says, “He might lose his foot.” Reversing the mood, Roger quips, “Right when he got it in the door . . . Believe me, somewhere in this business, this has happened before.”
On arrival at the hospital ER waiting area, Don meets Joan and learns that Guy has had his foot amputated. Joan quips: “I bet he felt great when he woke up this morning…but that’s life. One minute you’re on top of the world; the next minute, some secretary’s running you over with a lawn mower.” As they laugh, in walk Lane, Sinjin, and Harold Ford, a bit surprised by the lighthearted mood. Sinjin says, sans irony: “He was a great account man. A prodigy. He could talk a Scotsman out of a penny. Now that’s all over…the doctor said he’ll never golf again.”
With few prosthetic options back in the ‘60s, it only takes a moment for Guy to lose his promising career. Lane is told to remain in New York indefinitely, and the Brits “retreat” to reevaluate their entire strategy. Lane then pronounces the office closed on July 3rd after all – now that people’s plans have been changed.
A great reversal involves Sally, who is convinced that her baby brother, Gene, is really her recently deceased Grandpa Gene, or that Grandpa Gene is still lingering as a ghost. She tells her dad she doesn’t want her bedroom light off at night, without saying exactly why. Here the struggle for who’s the boss occurs between Betty and Don, as they blame each other for Sally’s behavior and as each tries to solve Sally’s behavior problem differently. Thinking Sally resents the new baby, Betty leaves a Barbie doll gift under Sally’s pillow with a friendly note supposedly written by the fairies on behalf of baby Gene. Sally tells her mom she doesn’t believe it and later tosses the Barbie out her bedroom window, where it lands in some shrubbery.
Late in the show, Don returns home at night and, seeing the doll in the shrubs, brings it upstairs and puts it on Sally’s dresser as she sleeps. Then he goes to his bedroom to get undressed. Suddenly, Sally shrieks at the top of her lungs, obviously having woken up and seen the doll, the reappearance of which she likely attributes to Grandpa Gene’s ghost. Her screams wake baby Gene, who starts crying loudly. Betty bounces baby Gene to calm him while lashing out at Don for what she considers his inept handling of Sally, making the baby cry louder. This triggers a loud argument from their bedroom that Sally overhears. Sally eventually steps into her parents’ bedroom to apologize to her mom for waking the baby.
In a complete reversal, Betty quietly tells Sally that it’s OK. Don silently disses Betty and walks Sally to Gene’s bedroom. He picks up the baby and places him on his chest, sits in the rocking chair by the light of the moon, and holds Sally on his knee as he rocks them both. In this beautiful ending to the episode, he looks Sally in the eyes and asserts slowly and reassuringly, “This is your little brother, and he’s only a baby. We don’t know who he is yet or who he’s going to be. And that is a wonderful thing.”
The amazing unpredictability of this episode not only provides fabulous entertainment but also reflects the times. With the assassination of President John F. Kennedy later in 1963, the fate of the president’s family, those implicated in the assassination, the nation’s immediate political direction, and the mood of the country saw astonishing reversals. Earlier that year, the shooting of Mississippi civil rights activist Medgar Evers, who died after initially being refused hospital ER treatment due to his race, ended the promising young leader’s life.
Yet in an amazing reversal, his legacy in music, film, and literature has influenced hearts and minds ever since. And women like Peggy Olsen were beginning to challenge male power structures, sometimes in unpredictable ways, in order to gain control and establish themselves as authorities, too.
Thank you, Mad Men, for this fabulous episode Don’t miss Mad Men Season 7, which resumes at 10 p.m. ET on Easter Sunday on AMC!
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