“Business and Pleasure”
By Colin Hart
9.0 / 10
For a TV show that places so much emphasis on realism, it’s jarring to see Mad Men season three begin with a haunting sequence of mysticism. But that’s exactly what the opening scene entails, as Donald Draper pensively watches the story of his own troubled birth unfold in his living room.
Whether it’s a reverie, hallucination or some supernatural power ultimately doesn’t matter; it just goes to show that Don “Dick Whitman” Draper is the most interesting television character ever created. The rest of the season premiere goes on to prove this thesis correct.
“Out of Town” is a remarkable feat. Not only does series creator Matthew Weiner welcome us back into the world of Mad Men with open arms; he immediately thrusts us deep into highly-nuanced thematic territory. It’s one of the rare season premieres that benefits from multiple viewings.
As evidenced by the opening scene, the idea of birth — and rebirth — hangs heavy over Don’s mind. Betty is pregnant with their third child, and the episode takes place on Don’s birthday (a fact he only reveals to the stewardess he fucks in Baltimore). At the end of the hour, he returns home to tell Sally the story of her birth, thus causing the episode to come full circle.
Even though there are several moments of comic relief, “Out of Town” requires thoughtful viewing, not too dissimilar from Don’s daydream in the kitchen.
As is the case with Mad Men, the more that things change, the more they stay the same. For example, despite being under new management, Peggy Olson and Pete Campbell still take their work too seriously. Meanwhile, Don still excels at his job using charisma alone.
That uber-masculine charm is on full display during his business trip to Baltimore with Salvatore Romano, in which the two have a meeting with the CEO of London Fog. But Don uses the opportunity to assume a new alias (“Bill Hofstadt,” the name on his brother-in-law’s briefcase), and engage in a one-night stand with a sexy flight attendant. We should consider ourselves lucky to be able to witness such a generational talent.
But when a fire alarm causes everyone to evacuate the hotel — including Sal and a shirtless bellboy — we feel an impending sense of tragedy come crashing down. Luckily for Sal, however, Don doesn’t seem to mind; he instead uses the opportunity to come up with a new tagline for raincoats: “Limit Your Exposure.” Once again, Donald Draper is the greatest to ever do it.
Even though the character is back to his old adulterous ways, actor Jon Hamm’s captivating screen presence is enough to carry the episode by itself. Pairing him with Sal Romano — the only other male character with a troublesome secret — is a stroke of genius, pure and simple.
“Out of Town” is the type of TV episode that sneaks up on you from behind. Its greatness lies in its subtleties; the shared histories between the characters saying more than words ever could. Even though it teases potential new storylines, the main focus is entirely emotional.
As Don says to the stewardess: “I keep going to a lot of places and ending up somewhere I’ve already been.” For him, this means that his eternal mid-life crisis is still … well … eternal. But for Mad Men itself, this can only mean good things to come.
From a quality standpoint, season three is already off to a great start. The premiere might be small in scope, yet it sets a perfect tone for the year to come.
Mergers and Acquisitions
- The origin story of Dick Whitman is as follows: his father, Archie, accidentally got a prostitute pregnant. The woman dies in childbirth, repeating the phrase, “I’m gonna cut his dick off and boil it in hog fat.” The baby is then brought to Archie and his wife, Abigail, who was unable to have a child of her own (she’ll later give birth to Adam). The boy is named Dick after his mother’s dying words.
- Don has exhibited “visions” like this once before. Even though Mad Men gives no explanation to how this is possible, it will be an important element throughout the series.
- Since being sold to Putnam, Powell & Lowe at the end of last season, Sterling Cooper now has a noticeable British presence. Most notable among the new additions is Lane Pryce, the new financial officer who acts as a liaison between NYC and the home office. Unlike Duck Phillips last year, Mr. Pryce figures to be a likable character who can add a welcome new dimension to the series.
- After head of accounts Burt Peterson is fired from Sterling Cooper, Lane promotes both Pete Campbell and Ken Cosgrove to the vacant position. Pete is irate, while Ken is ecstatic, and a rivalry between the two up-and-comers is now in full bloom.
- Pete acts like a petulant child, but his wife, Trudy, is there to support him every step of the way. Once again, she’s the most underrated character on the show.
- The episode takes place on Don’s birthday, but not even Betty seems to notice. That’s because it’s Dick Whitman’s birthday, not Don Draper’s. The exact date is unknown.
- The episode also features a great original score by composer David Carbonara, especially in the scenes that bookend the hour. The strings are reflective, and carry a distinct Irish tone.
- “Out of Town” was written by series creator Matthew Weiner, and directed by Phil Abraham.
- “Who is the man who imagined her ecstasy?”
- “It’s my job to be out of town.”