“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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  1. I happened to examine your report and identified that your web site is so fantasic I have actually witnessed. Continue to keep in your superior work.

  2. VJWrites says:

    About Don’s suitcase being returned to his home— Remember in the earlier episode with Betty’s ill father? Betty tells Don “I’ve been dreaming of a suitcase.” It’s just not the way she had thought of it…

  3. scatman says:

    I had the the same fear of a James Mason type of swim off at the end but was left with a feeling that, after he dunked his head, Don actually had a ocean baptism and was in some way born again… Also, wasn’t that the theme from HBO’s Rome playing when Don first arrived by the LA pool in “Jet Set?”

  4. hilljack says:

    Wonderful summary, but you may be wrong about one thing.
    Don walks into the water, is hit by a wave, falls backward and pops back up.
    That’s not an attempted suicide. Appalachian ex-pats immediately recognized what it really was— a country church baptism (reinforced by the music).
    Emersion washes away his sins, and the man is born again.
    Don will go back to New York to try to set things right. But with S-C on the block and a wife who’s still nuts, it’s going to be a long season three for ol’ DD. Which will be just the way we like it.

  5. Big Tex says:

    Seems as though Don’s Marcello like tour through La Dolce Vita has taken a turn from self-disgust to more reflective. It’s almost as if he needed to see Anna and take a swim in the ocean to re-energize his batteries but to what end- to keep playing the charade or to find the strength to make a change?

  6. Paul Jefferson says:

    Another great seg…I wish the season was longer! BTW, Sally did mention that “daddy’s suitcase” was home but her dad wasn’t, causing her to question Betty and to show a growing awareness. I did think Don and Anna had the most natural conversation ever, esp. for Don. Remember the old adage that if you don’t lie, you don’t have to remember what you’ve said in the past (or some such)…Honestly, I can’t imagine what Betty’s up to..she’s got a little sadism in herself, too. But our girl Peggy is rising as she should, while poor Joan knows she’s been sold a “bill of goods” that is not what she bargained for, esp. with her body. Will she bolt?

  7. Andrew says:

    What happened with Don’s suitcase arriving back home from his L.A. jaunt the end of the previous seg? Surprised it wasn’t addressed in any way, but maybe in the finale next week.
    It actually was addressed, albeit very briefly. When Betty puts Sally in the closet, Sally mentions that Don’s suitcase is in there.

  8. doobiedoo says:

    Great recap Cynthia. Though I’m surprised you didn’t mention the sly shout-out to Jon Hamm’s next big adventure … the TV in Joan’s apartment was screening The Day The Earth Stood Still! Cute.

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