Mad Men, Season 6, Episode 13: “In Care Of”
Written by Carly Wray and Matthew Weiner
Directed by Matthew Weiner
Airs Sundays at 10pm ET on AMC
Leave it to Mad Men to make the inevitable seem surprising. The way Don has acted this season—from Jaguar, to warring with Ted, to his Hershey pitch—it’s unfathomable that he would escape without reprimand, yet the moment he is asked to step away from his job is truly shocking. Perhaps because more than anything else—his wife, his family, his relationships—his job is what defined him as Don Draper. Part of me expected the episode to end as the elevator doors closed in front of his face, the man brought in as his replacement smugly asking “going down?” It would have been unbearably dark, but fitting for a season that began with Don reading Dante’s Inferno on the beach.
We’ve watched over the course of the season as he’s returned to old habits only to find society has changed to such an extent that they are no longer valid. His drinking has gotten out of control, which might account for his incessant solipsism, his penchant for making decisions without concern for anyone but himself, leaving the detritus of destroyed relationships in his wake. He’s alienated Sylvia, and Sally, and Peggy, and Megan, and the partners at SC&P. He realizes this and attempts to make the move to California, a place he’s always felt comfortable enough to be himself without carrying around the baggage that comes with the Don Draper persona.
The final scene we do get addresses that baggage and affords a modicum of hope. I get a strong Wes Anderson vibe from it, something I wasn’t expecting. It’s not just the Judy Collins song on the soundtrack (but that is a big part of it). It’s the image of a bruised and broken family addressing an icon of its dilapidated past. It’s not hard to picture Sally playing Chas Tenenbaum to Don’s Royal as they exchange their glances, seeming to reach, if not a mutual forgiveness, at least an understanding, an armistice of sorts. I think much of Don’s epiphany (if we’re willing to grant him the capacity to have epiphanies) originated in the phone call from Betty, as he saw a bit too much of himself in his daughter, assuming aliases and using alcohol to escape. Those glances are crucial.
Just as Don sees too much of himself in Sally, Ted begins to see too much of Don in himself. If there is a difference between the two, it’s that Ted recognizes what he’s doing is unfair. As much as he would like to continue his affair with Peggy, he doesn’t feel entitled to it. In fact, he realizes how deeply unfair his actions are not only to Peggy, but also to his wife and children. But not even Ted’s courteous nature can disguise the male privilege afforded to him as he informs Peggy of his decision. “Well, aren’t you lucky,” she says, “to have decisions.”
All the important decisions in Peggy’s life this season have been made by the men around her. It was Abe’s ill-fated decision to buy the house on the upper west side. The shock on her face as Don and Ted announced the merger would suggest that wasn’t how she intended her career to play out. Don stripped her name from the best ad she’s come up with all season last week, and this week Ted decides she has no say in the relationship he selfishly initiated. All that frustration was present in the anger that coated each of those words. It’s nice that we got to see her in Don’s office taking control of creative and sharing a moment with Stan, the only man she’s shared a symbiotic relationship with this season.
But wait, there’s more. There is so much going on in “In Care of” that it feels a little overstuffed, and unfortunately the Pete/Bob/Roger/Joan stuff is given short shrift. We gather that Roger has been set adrift without a family to fall back on. It’s what led him to approach Joan a few weeks ago about reconnecting with his son, and also what inspires the outburst he directs at Bob in this episode. We see that Joan finally acquiesces, but not without first establishing some ground rules. Bob’s role in her life is still unclear, is he using her as a beard?
Thanks to Bob, Pete ends up in much the same situation as Don as we approach season seven. Trudy claims he’s free, but unmoored feels like a better descriptor. His mother has always been a burden, but he seems unsure of how to carry himself with the weight lifted. He initially directs his anxiety towards Bob in the form of anger, but that only quickens his descent. There is something poetic in his accidentally accelerating in reverse. It’s always with conviction that Pete ends up sabotaging himself.
Season six is the first season of Mad Men that hasn’t improved upon the previous, but with so many seismic changes and things left up in the air, it’s hard not to look forward with anticipation. Will Don be allowed to return to the firm in a few months, or was he given the Freddie Rumsen treatment? Has Megan permanently left him? Has Peggy finally been afforded a position she deserves, or is it going to be usurped by the man from Dancer-Fitzgerald? How are things going to play out for California? It’s important to remember that if season six was a bit of a disappointment at times, it was only disappointing in relation to other seasons of Mad Men. Matt Weiner is still consistently delivering one of the finest hours on television week in and week out.