“Long Weekend” Review
“Fast Times at Sterling Cooper.”
Donald Draper ends his long Labor Day weekend in the lap of Rachel Menken, sorrowfully confessing the truth about his childhood — that he was the son of a prostitute who died during childbirth, that he was raised by his drunk father and abusive stepmother, how his father died after being kicked by a horse when Don was only 10, that he was then raised by his stepmother and her new husband, describing them as “two sorry people.”
Post-coital confessions aren’t usually this serious, but then again this is Don Draper we’re talking about. It’s the first time in his life that he’s ever opened up to anyone about anything. The fact that it comes after sex only confirms that Rachel is the saving grace he needed.
But maybe the fact that he’s cheating on his wife (again) is being overlooked. After all, not even Betty knows the truth about Dick Whitman. And she’s had kids with the guy.
A “Long Weekend” at Sterling Cooper can only mean two things — seduction and sex, not necessarily in that order. Peggy and Pete find themselves unable to keep their secret romance civil, while Joan Holloway spurns the advances of both Roger Sterling and, in an unexpected turn of events, her female roommate.
To cope with the loss, Roger heads down to the casting department, picks up a pair of twin actresses and, with Don as his reluctant wingman, invites them to spend the evening on his casting couch. The whole situation is as uncomfortable as it sounds, but it’s only made worse when Roger suffers a post-coital heart attack.
Usually, the characters of Mad Men aren’t typically at risk of dying. That’s probably why they live so freely with the consequences of their careless decisions. Nevertheless, Roger’s health scare causes several characters to contemplate their own mortality. For characters like Joan, that means to stop wasting her youth on age (i.e. Bert Cooper tells her that her affair with Roger isn’t worth it). For characters like Don, that means showing up at Rachel’s doorstep before it’s too late.
As for Roger himself, he gains a newfound appreciation for his family. And, well, he learns a valuable lesson for next time: don’t do it twice.
When the series began, Don was already in the middle of an affair with Midge Daniels. He first met Rachel in the pilot episode, and now that we’ve seen their entire courtship, we know that they make a perfect match. Likewise, the two of them both accept what they’re getting into. Even though Don’s married, he’s never felt a connection like this before.
That’s what makes his confession at the end of the episode so mesmerizing, so genuine. It reminds me of a scene from season one of Deadwood, “Jewel’s Boot Is Made for Walking,” in which the episode ends with Al Swearengen ranting about his miserable childhood while he receives a blowjob from a prostitute. Both instances showcase a tragic antihero in an emotionally vulnerable state, explaining how their meager upbringings shaped them into who they are today.
It’s one of the best Mad Men moments so far, and certainly the most honest. Why is Donald Draper the way he is? Because he’s the bastard son of a whore, that’s why.
MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS
- The aforementioned Deadwood scene is a perfect example of what made that show so spectacular. Al Swearengen’s four-minute diatribe is poetic, vulgar, blasphemous and beautiful, whereas Don’s (much shorter) confession is painful, sorrowful and succint. Both shows are fantastic character studies, yet if I had to rank them, I’d place Mad Men higher on the all-time list over Deadwood. To Deadwood‘s credit, however, the margin isn’t by much.
- Joan’s roommate, Carol, is first introduced in this episode. Ditto for Betty’s father Gene. Neither character will play a major role moving forward; in fact, this is Carol’s only appearance in the entire series. However, they both highlight the character flaws of Joan and Betty: Joan has a very shallow and materialistic view of romance, while Betty still acts like a child when things don’t go her way.
- Roger’s heart attack scare is handled very well. The fear of loss is palpable, and the characters’ subsequent reactions are entirely believable. Also, it’s no surprise that Roger — who tells Don about his somewhat spiritual near-death experience — will be tripping on acid by season five.
- In advertising news, Don loses the Dr. Scholl’s account, while Pete Campbell seems to take some enjoyment out of Don’s minor misfortune.
- “Long Weekend” was written by Bridget Bedard, Andre & Marie Jacquemetton and series creator Matthew Weiner and directed by Tim Hunter. Despite having four writers, the episode is very seamless and consistent. It continues Mad Men season one’s noteworthy hot streak: that’s four fantastic episodes in a row.
- “The day you sign a client is the day you start losing them.”
- “I know people say life goes on. And it does. But no one tells you that’s not a good thing. Why is that?”
- “You told me your mother died in childbirth. Mine did, too. She was a prostitute. I don’t know what my father paid her, but when she died, they brought me to him and his wife. When I was 10 years old, he died. He was a drunk, and got kicked in the face by a horse. She buried him, and took up with some other man. I was raised by those two sorry people.”