‘Mad Men’ recap: It’s January in California, too

How the mighty have fallen.

It’s the final year of the ’60s and the Don Draper we met years ago is long gone. 1969 Don is completely dejected. He’s on a forced leave of absence from Sterling Cooper & Partners — and hasn’t heard from them since Thanksgiving. His wife is living alone in California and Don turns down a beautiful woman’s advances — yes, you read that right — after a sad plane ride.

His trip to California only highlights Don’s bleakness. His wife Megan picks him up at the airport, glowing in her west coast glory, a slow-motion greeting to “I’m a Man.” This is Megan’s world. The dinners are now about her career, not Don’s clients. The car and apartment are of her choosing and she talks about “my next house.” She’s setting the rules and is clearly upset when Don disturbs the home she’s created with a large, ugly TV set.

Perhaps Megan is smarter than we thought she was. Or maybe it’s her youthful aspirations (and lack of children) that rescue her from Don’s world. Either way, she’s escaped his downward spiral and both she and Don seem to realize they’re just playing pretend now. Their romance is over.

In an unlikely (and funny) turn of events, Pete Campbell is also loving California freedom. He’s bronzed and bouncing. As Trudy said at the end of last season, he’s free now for better or for worse — and it seems to be better for him. As much as Pete disgusted us at times, it’s kind of fun to see him thrive on the west coast. He was such an unhappy city boy. Now, he just misses New York bagels.

Megan and Pete are the only seemingly happy characters in SC&P’s dark world right now. Ted Chaough also made the move to California but, as everyone notes during his New York trip: he isn’t tan. His unhappiness fits right in in the Manhattan office where Ken Cosgrove is overworked (and still sporting the eye patch) and miserable, Don’s replacement is dreadful and uncreative and Roger — whom we never see in the office this episode — appears to be living in some sort of flophouse.

That leaves us with Joan and Peggy (the more compelling storylines lately, anyway). Joan is still trying to find her footing in a serious role with the company, usually by default. Miserable Ken reaches out to her for help and she narrowly avoids disaster. It’s great to see her succeed, even if it isn’t easy.

Peggy is mentor-less. Don and Ted are gone and she’s left with the unimaginative Lou, who says he’s immune to Peggy’s charms. “I’m tired of fighting for everything to be better,” she yells at Stan. “You’re all a bunch of hacks who are perfectly happy with [expletive]. Nobody cares about anything.”

The episode ends with Peggy crying on the floor on her apartment (after triple-locking the door). 

Peggy and Don are both so very alone, after filling their lives with work for so long. Don tries to stay involved by secrely feeding campaigns through Freddy Rumsen (remember him? Yeah, the guy who peed his pants during another drunken day at the office) but that only serves to show what a mess Don is in comparison. Freddy is in recovery, delivering the ol’ Draper genius, while Don is drunk and alone in the cold, with a broken door.

Richard Nixon, as his inaugural address plays on the TV, reminds everyone: “We are caught in war, wanting peace. We are torn by division, wanting unity.”

There is more than enough division (and many story lines) to visit before the series ends, but Betty and Sally were noticeably missing from this episode. The only familial plot involved Roger’s daughter taking him to brunch (with booze, she assured him) and her repetitive “I forgive you.” Roger naturally brushes it off, without apologies.

The men of SC&P have barreled through the ’60s with little (or no) regard for their families. A tidy ending would have them recognize the wreckage and look for forgiveness, but I have the feeling that at the end of the day (or decade, in this case) Freddy — yep, still talking about the guy who peed his pants — is the only man looking for some sort of redemption in this world.