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“Mad Men”: Episode 8, “The Summer Man”

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Call this the Generation Gap episode of “Mad Men.”

There was great detail in this episode, “The Summer Man,” if not as much plot movement as the past few segs. I can’t decide which I enjoyed more — seeing Betty miserable or seeing Don take baby steps toward getting his act together.

Once again there were a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle suggestions in this episode — written by Lisa Albert, Janet Leahy and Matt Weiner and helmed by Phil Abraham — that the world around our characters is changing fast.

I kinda think that was the point about the scene early on where Don is standing outside of the Athletic Club and watching people pass by in slo-mo. The look and the styles worn by the people around him were very 1965, yet Don is still in stuck in skinny-tie/gray suit look of 1961-62. By the end of the episode when he’s on the date with Faye he looks a little more contempo — and much more relaxed, after all that swimming.

The weightlessness metaphor that he cited with Faye about his new interest in swimming was interesting. I can’t give up the idea that this season is about Don Draper becoming unshackled from the chains that were so punishing to him in the past. As far as I can recall this episode marked the first time the show used over voice-over narration. I was trying to think about what would have spurred Don to try to collect his thoughts in journal form — if there was a fad or a popular self-help book around that time that pushed journaling. I thought it worked OK in this episode but it feels like something that needs to be used sparingly in this show.

The generational differences theme was hit hard in every storyline — Don and Bethany, Betty and Henry, Henry and Don, Joan and Peggy, Joan and the ultra-obnoxious Joey. Not sorry to see him go and it was soooo great to see Peggy, quietly empowered by Don, do the right thing in axing Joey (which meant that Don did the right thing by his closest living friend in the world).

But the disconnect between Joan and Peggy I think underscores their age difference and the difference in their career paths. Joan is demeaned by the “boys” as an “overblown” secretary whose contributions to running the company are not always easy to see. Peggy has to fight the sexist assumption that she slept her way to her job, but it’s clear what she does and that her work is good.