Mad Men Season 2 Episode 12: The Mountain King

Posted on October 20, 2008

“People don’t change,” says Dick Whitman (for that was Dick and not the wholly created Don Draper we saw throughout the entire episode) and the rest of the episode goes about both proving and disproving it in various ways. Dick Whitman tried to change himself into an entirely different person and now he’s paying the price of his decade-long lie; Joan is trying to change herself from a woman in charge of every aspect of her life into a subservient plaything and she paid a HUGE price; Bert Cooper is being forced to change from master of his universe to irrelevant footnote and Peggy Olson, god bless her, the character who has changed the most since the beginning of the series, leans back in the deskchair of her new office, takes a sip of J&B from her own bar, and looks at what she has wrought with tremendous satisfaction.

We finally get almost all the blanks filled in on Don’s life as he visits the mysterious blonde woman who confronted him in that car dealership with “You’re not Don Draper” almost a decade ago. She’d know better than anyone since the real Don Draper was her husband. Through a couple of flashbacks we meet her, Anna, and we kind of love her a bit. She’s warm and genuine and deeply concerned for Dick’s well-being. She’s everything that every other woman in Don’s life is not and tellingly, they have absolutely no sexual relationship at all. She’s more of an older sister who loves him very much. Although we don’t think it’s a coincidence that she could easily be passed off as Betty’s older sister. Nor do we think it’s a coincidence that Dick is seen fixing one of Anna’s chairs in light of Betty’s scary breakdown when she realized Don didn’t fix the dining room chair before the dinner party that destroyed their marriage. Layers upon layers with this show.

And a big shoutout to Jon Hamm for busting out the acting chops this episode. When Dick is with Anna he’s not Don Draper at all. His voice, facial expressions and mannerisms are totally different and even though he’s in turmoil, he seems more relaxed in his skin than at any other time in the series. Still, we’re worried about him. He doesn’t even introduce himself as “Don” anymore and he tells those car mechanics that he’s looking for work. Is that last scene a baptism or a suicide attempt? We’re really hoping it’s the former because it’s looking more and more like back in Ossining, Betty might be pregnant.

And geez, if Dick/Don ever does decide to return home, he’s in for a rude awakening because the partners all voted yes on the merger without his input. Sure, it’ll land him a nice chunk of change, but he may no longer be the Big Man at Sterling Cooper and we can’t imagine how he’s going to deal with that. The long shot of poor old Bert looking irrelevant as the partners file out of the conference room was awfully sad but as an aside, how hilarious is it that his sister is named Alice Cooper? There was a lot of heartbreak and sadness in this episode but little things like that – and Alice’s biting line about Roger having more than one child – just goes to show how damn good those writers are.

As for the heartbreak, it’s killing us but it looks like this season, without our even noticing it before it was too late, is partially about the downfall of Joan Holloway. Once the Queen Bee of Sterling Cooper, her arc gets sadder and sadder as the old ways fall away and she realizes she doesn’t have the tools to deal with the new way. We’re torn over which was the sadder scene: her rape by her fiance on the floor of Don’s office or the forced manner in which she attempts to build up her would-be husband’s career in the face of Peggy literally closing her brand new office door in her face. Joan once felt that Peggy was a fool to try and make her way in “their” world, but Peggy is undeniably happy and Joan is looking at a lifetime of misery ahead of her and no good way out of it. Just writing about Joan is making us depressed right now. Joan, leave that asshole! He can’t even handle you being on top during sex, for god’s sake!

In other Sterling Cooper news, Pete’s still a douchebag but we couldn’t help cheering for him a little bit. Yes, he treats Trudy like shit once again – and we cheered a little when she, in a voice shaking with rage, screamed “You don’t talk to me like that!” – but we sympathize a little. He’s being pulled in every direction. His own mother threatened to disown him if he attempted an adoption and his father-in-law threatened to pull the Clearasil account if he didn’t go through with an adoption. He’s almost completely lacking in charm or sympathy but we don’t blame him for being mad at Trudy and we silently cheered him on when he basically told his father-in-law to go fuck himself. Also, we absolutely love when he uses anachronisms like “Hell’s bells, Trudy!” Hilarious. He deserves an Emmy nod just for being able to say lines like that with a straight face.

Speaking of Pete, do you all still think we’re crazy for thinking he and Peggy are going to wind up together? She’s the only person he even attempts to confide in and she is completely comfortable around him in a way that she isn’t with anyone else in the office. When Pete asked how she managed to swing Freddy Rumsen’s old office and without missing a beat she calmly shoots back “I’m sleeping with Don. It’s all working out really well,” we had to laugh. She would never in a million years make a joke like that with anyone else in the office and it’s notable that Pete immediately recognized it as a joke. Had she said something like that to Ken or Paul or Harry, they would have believed her.

Back in Ossining, Betty’s a nasty hardcore bitch. One thing we love, they have her treating her children in ways that are shocking to us but very true to the period. We would consider pulling a child’s hair and locking them in the closet to be abuse in this day and age but it really wasn’t all that unusual back then. At least she made up for it later by sitting Sally down and telling her as much of the truth as she could handle about her father’s absence. Still, we did kind of love Sarah Beth calling her a “horrible woman,” because let’s face it, she is one. Is she pregnant? Well, why else would they have a “Mommy, you’re bleeding!” scene? There’s no dramatic reason for Betty having a heavy period, nor does it make sense for her to have a miscarriage at this point in the drama. Besides, it’s the only reason we can think of for her to take Don back, assuming he ever comes back.

[Photos: Courtesy of amctv.com]