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“Mad Men”: Episode 12, “The Mountain King”

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“The only thing keeping you from being happy is the belief that you are alone.”

There were about a half-dozen lines in tonight’s Mad Men seg, “The Mountain King,” that reverberated around my living room and demanded to scratched down on my notepad. The quotation above is one of them. I’ve got whiplash from trying to keep pace with the plot developments and appreciate the craftsmanship of this stirring, wildly intriguing penultimate installment of “Mad Men’s” sophomore season.

The themes and the visuals in “Mountain King” hark back to plot points and tidbits from earlier this season and in season one; it’s no surprise the seg was written by Matthew Weiner and Robin Veith and helmed by Alan Taylor, the “Sopranos” alum who directed the “Mad Men” pilot.

We get a glimpse into how Dick Whitman crossed over into fully inhabiting the body, if not the soul, of one Korean War casualty, Don Draper. But of course, the glimpse only leaves us with a few million questions to fill in — hello, season three.

Before trying to connect all those threads, it’s worth a recap of what transpired in this action-packed seg for core “Mad Men” characters. (We’ll leave Don for last.)

Peggy Olson: We are treated to the sight of Peggy Olson shedding her mousy I’m-not-worthy skin and sticking up for herself. She politely but firmly asks to be released from her banishment with the Xerox machine and to move into Freddy Rumsen’s vacant office. It’s appropriate, given that she’s taken on so many of his duties.

We see her nail a new client in a heart-tugging pitch for Popsicles after she reaches back into her Madmenmtkingpeggyroger childhood for insights into how to sell those frozen treats as a year-round packaged good at the supermarket rather than a summertime treat bought off of an ice cream truck.
Peggy’s flawless, supremely confident presentation to the Popsicle execs recalled Draper’s killer pitch for Kodak’s slide device in season one’s closer “The Wheel” (also penned by Weiner and Veith). “Take it, break it, share it, love it.” Sheesh, it almost sent me to the box of Popsicles in my freezer.

Peggy’s haircut and wardrobe makeover that have been unfolding during the past few segs paved the way, but the last rocket-boost of confidence that got her the office upgrade stemmed from her score with Popsicle, and from the talking-to she receives from the Xerox repair guy. He’s unwittingly prescient: “This is a sensitive piece of machinery. I you want it to work you have to treat it with respect.”

The really beautifully shot, wordless scene of Peggy in the office alone after dark, stretching and rooting around in a secretary’s desk for a cig (when did she start smoking, anyway?) signaled her ascent. She’s a player now.

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