The self-made Don Draper begins to make himself over again in Season 4, Episode 8. He has reached a turning point. He's ready to curb his drinking, ready to immerse himself in his work and maybe ready to find someone to get close to, someone to replace Anna. This episode was different from any that has gone before in the series. For once, we hear Don's voice as a sort of narrator, as if he's living a Cheever story. Maybe that's who Don Draper/Dick Whitman is becoming: a Cheeveresque writer. This episode even had a water motif, like Cheever's "The Swimmer."
The episode is titled "The Summer Man." Don begins a journal in a spiral-bound notebook, and the date we see is June 1965. He says he's never written more than 250 words, even in high school. He also says that he was lazy and that things would have been different if he had finished high school. We see him swimming at an athletic club, and when he comes out, he says he smells summer. The music playing is The Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." Don is in a new world. The year 1965 is when the postwar period was over, and we started to be more concerned about Vietnam and rock'n'roll was the soundtrack.
Don goes on another date with young Bethany, and they run into Henry and Betty. Henry is at the restaurant to talk to another political operative. He's about to get the chance to run a campaign for John Lindsay, the handsome congressman who would soon be New York's mayor and was even talked about as a presidential candidate. (Lindsay was a liberal Republican. Remember when we used to have those?) Betty is rattled by seeing Don, and, as she puts it later, she misbehaves. Henry is livid, and he even suggests that they rushed into their marriage. Betty is contrite the next day, and Francine reminds her that she has a lot to lose if she loses Henry.
Betty and Don's youngest child, Gene, is getting ready to turn 2. As Don says, "He was conceived in a moment of desperation and born into a mess." Just like Dick Whitman. Don says that the child thinks Henry is his father.
In the office, the frat boy atmosphere takes an especially nasty turn when freelance art director Joey is disrespectful to Joan and draws a pornographic cartoon. Peggy, who has warned Joey that Joan is important in the office and told Joey not to draw that cartoon, goes to Don with it. She wants Don to come play the daddy, but he tells her that she should establish her authority by firing Joey. When Joey is dismissive of her, she does fire him. Later in the elevator, Joan is not grateful that Peggy fired Joey. She says that now everyone will continue to see her as a powerless secretary and Peggy as a humorless witch (not the word, but you know what I mean). It's still bad for women in the workplace in 1965. I can hardly wait for women's liberation to come to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Joey and Stan put the pig in male chauvinist pig.
Don finally gets a dinner date with Faye, whom we hear earlier having a blowup on a pay phone with someone named David. Faye also reveals that her father owns a candy store and implies that he knows mobsters. When Don asks her what he's like, she says, "He's a handsome two-bit gangster like you." Ah-ha! Now we know why Faye is both suspicious of Don and drawn to him. They kiss in the taxi, but he won't take her back to his place. He seems to want a more meaningful relationship with the interesting Faye.
The episode ends at Gene's birthday party. Betty hands the child to Don, and as she watches them, she tells Henry, "We have everything." But she looks as if she still wants Don, too.
This was a very writerly episode. One of my favorite parts was Don ruminating on men and identity as he drives to the suburbs to get boxes stored in the garage at his former house. Henry is mowing the lawn. They don't speak. Don, in his narration, says a man "will tell you about the time he thought he was an angel and dreamt of being perfect." And, he says, "We're ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had."
Other things that happened:
- Joan's husband, Greg, leaves for basic training.
- The team is working on a campaign for Mountain Dew.
- Miss Blankenship has had cataract surgery and comes back to work with thick glasses.
- Harry tries to get Joey interested in a TV acting career because he's so handsome; Joey just thinks Harry is trying to pick him up.
- Francine had the funniest line when she and Betty were talking about whether Don would be at Gene's birthday party: "Oh, Betty. You have terrible luck with entertaining."