Mad Men Episodes

2007, TV Show

Mad Men Episode: "Meditations in an Emergency"

Season 2, Episode 13
Episode Synopsis: As the second season ends, things get bumpy at Sterling Cooper while Don is away; Betty receives some upsetting news.
Original Air Date: Oct 26, 2008

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Season 2, Episode 13
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Length: 48:07
Aired: 10/26/2008
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Mad Men Episode Recap: "Meditations in an Emergency" Season 2, Episode 13

As Mad Men drew its riveting second season to a close, the world as these characters knew it was coming to an end — both inside and outside of Sterling Cooper. The fears and uncertainties caused by the Cuban missile crisis gave rise to folks getting their lives in order, either by correcting the wrongs of their pasts, growing into the adult they have been pretending to be or confessing a secret and releasing the hidden burden they have been carrying. As death loomed, so did the promise of new life. As confession healed, it also tormented. As power was attained, it was also lost. And the man we've known as Don Draper has accepted that he and Dick Whitman are two sides of the same coin, realizing that his hope (and the hope for the rest of these characters) to see tomorrow rests on finding that comfortable middle ground between the two extremes.

Betty finds herself hearing her doctor confirm what she believes to be the worst news possible, considering her situation with Don: she's pregnant. Try as she might to tell her doctor and her friends that "it's not a good time," they all fall back on Prince Don Draper to save the day. And he does, strutting up at the stables and in his own measured way, admitting his wrongdoings. With his mind (and soul?) cleaned from his dip in the Pacific Ocean, Don wants to make his marriage work. "I want to be with you, to be together again," he says. But Betty, relieved that she's not crazy, hedges her bets, leaving the kids with their absentee father to order room service and tell knock-knock jokes while she explores the city for a night.

While the kids watch and laugh at Leave It to Beaver, a show whose idealized depiction of family life had once been playacted by the Drapers (and also serves as a stark comparison to depiction of the era Mad Men offers), Betty finds herself in the manager's office of a bar, settling the score of Don's infidelity by bedding a perfect stranger. Revenge? Maybe. But at the end of the world (and the beginning of Betty's adulthood), the moment feels more like release and rebellion. Last season, Betty's wide-eyed innocence was betrayed, which, after more of the same this season, she followed with childish tantrums (hello, dining room chair). But after her adolescent rebellion in adultery (and a sincere love letter from Don: "I understand why you feel it's better to go on without me, and I know you won't be alone for very long. But without you, I will be alone forever"), Betty takes her final steps into womanhood, accepting her situation and Don's apology. "I'm pregnant," she tells Don, home for the first time in months by Betty's invitation, and he takes her hand, sitting by her side as her doctor predicted he would. A season ago, Don sat alone in an empty house, regretting not being with his family. Now, he sits beside that (expanding) family, his only regrets being the ones he mentioned in his letter to Betty. But it was those mistakes that led him to find his way back to being a person who can sit at that dining room table with hope.

Don's professional life also needs some attention and repair, as he learns from Sterling that while "the walls are still standing" after Don's three week jaunt to the west coast, the Sterling Cooper he knew is crumbling. Thanks to Pete, who decides to have a little loyalty after winning praise from Don for his work in L.A. (not to mention a little validation of his secret promotion to head of accounts), Don learns that Duck Phillips is planning to ascend to the throne as president of the agency. Duck's faux shock and graciousness at the merger-finalizing meeting is quickly replaced by the cutthroat businessman we've only seen since he's reacquainted himself with gin. Unfortunately for Duck, he showed his hand a little too early, badmouthing the way creative has been running the show, assuming Don would fall in line under the conditions of his contract's non-compete clause. There's just one problem with that — Don doesn't have a contract.

"It sounds like a great agency, and Duck's the man to run it. I just don't think I'll be a part of it," Don says to the shock of Mr. Powell. While Duck settles into his tantrum, ("He loves this room and hearing the sound of his own voice … it will take a second to find a kid who can write a prose poem to a potato chip") Don simply recites his M.O., which has made him a success: "I sell products not advertising," leaving the men to think things over for the weekend and promising to talk with them if the world is still there on Monday. Just as Pete hinted that the Russians were reconsidering their threat of nuclear war "now that we made a stand," Don shut down Duck's assault by simply saying his piece and walking out the door, not even bothering to take his bag with him. And Duck, who's "never been able to hold his liquor," bangs away on the table and laments the fact that the effort he put into climbing the ladder again has landed him back at the bottom.

And finally Pete and Peggy, the two other ladder climbers who have been circling each other for weeks, collide again, with even more devastating results than the last time. Their actions are influenced by the impending end of the world perhaps more than everyone else. Peggy, who advised Pete to tell the truth about Clearasil pulling out ("people respect that," she says) was again pressured to follow her own advice by Father Gill. His fire and brimstone approach, however, doesn't settle well with Peggy, who refuses to accept that God (who she does believe in) is as eager to condemn her to hell as the good priest is. But Peggy does confess, if not by the church's standards, to Pete after he makes a confession of his own: "I think you're perfect. I wish I'd picked you then. I love you, and I want to be with you. What, didn't you know that?"

Yes, Pete has grown up. A year ago the weasel made Peggy feel guilty for being happy, but now he wants to share her happiness. But Peggy isn't interested. But rather than just telling Pete no thank you, Peggy drops the baby bombshell we've waited for all season. "I could have had you in my life forever if I'd wanted to. I could have shamed you into being with me, but I didn't want to … I had your baby, and I gave it away." But the most chilling moment of the conversation comes from Peggy's real motivation behind her decision. "I wanted other things," she says. Her desire to succeed and advance and have a career in the man's world came with a price. Don Draper's protege again does him proud by moving forward at all costs. Sadly, it seems the Don/Dick walking the halls today wouldn't repeat that advice if given a second chance at it.

And while Harry Crane, Kenneth Cosgrove, Paul Kinsey, Salvatore Romano and even Joan Holloway ran around nervously against the backdrop of international and business crises, we feel their angst, even with the luxury of knowing 40 years later that their world didn't come to its end. (Though to be fair, my angst was mostly in knowing that I will soon be without my current TV addiction for a long, cold winter). But again, this episode's doomsday mentality didn't end with despair. While Pete sits in pain with his rifle from Season 1 in his office, Peggy crosses herself, settling into a sleep of peace. And Don and Betty, circumstances aside, sit together in their home, committed for now, it seems, to make their marriage work.

A few other thoughts and questions:
• Peggy and Pete's final scene was Emmy-reel perfection. Elisabeth Moss and Vincent Kartheiser and their characters have always connected with me (I root for Peggy and love to hate Pete) and it was wonderful to see them in this powerful scene together. Pete's watery-eyed look and disbelief was just heartbreaking, even though the guy is usually just despicable.

• Peggy's speech was also mysterious. "Well, one day you're there, and then all of a sudden, there's less of you, and you wonder where that part went, if it's living somewhere outside of you, and you keep thinking maybe you'll get it back, and then you realize it's just gone." Talking about the baby? Sure, but I think she's also second-guessing what's she's given up to get the "other things" she wanted. I think she regrets giving up a part of her own humanity to achieve this success she craves, and I can only hope the realization now keeps her from becoming the shell of a human being Don became before realizing the need to turn back.

• From their nervous ruminations about Don's disappearance to the West coast, to their fidgeting with the TV and sniffing out the news about the merger, the boys were the perfect amount of levity in tonight's episode. Though they got a little help from switchboard Lois, who has been MIA since getting booted from Draper's desk. I laughed each time I watched at her delivery of "redundancies."

• I think, as I predicted for much of the season, we have seen the last of Duck Phillips. Though I can hardly say this was how I envisioned his last scene, alcohol was his undoing, as expected. Where does that leave the new Sterling Cooper? I don't think Don will be president (or that he would ever want to be), but I am sure he will be perhaps a little more powerful than he already is.

• Roger Sterling, the most lovable scumbag on Earth. His lovely one-liners almost blind us to the fact that he's a stone-cold liar. While dazzling Don with figures of the half million dollars heading his way, he coolly pretends that he simply didn't fight Bert and Alice Cooper's decision to pursue the merger, when he was, in fact, championing it. It's ok, Sterling can do no wrong.

• Do you think Peggy goofed by telling Pete the truth? I think it's fair to say that she could have dodged his advances, if she wanted, without spilling the beans. But, of course, the weight that was lifted by the confession can't be discounted. As my colleague Matt Roush said to me, "It may be a mistake personally, but dramatically, not at all."

• So, is Betty letting Don back in just because she's pregnant? When her attempts to talk abortion were thwarted and her riding against doctor's orders and her barroom fling didn't solve her problems, then she takes Don back. True, she does reconsider after his sincere letter, but I doubt we've seen the end of this conflict. The real question is, where (and when!) will this relationship be when the show returns for Season 3?

• Jon Hamm was brilliant, as always. My only hope is that we get to see more of Mr. Draper in the boardroom again next season. I loved this diversion into his back story, but he seems for now to have set himself on a path that works for him, somewhere between his two halves. But as he said last week, "People don't change." Maybe Dick Whitman and Don Draper can't change, but count me as one of those who hopes the hybrid version of them corrects the wrongs of both.

So what did you think of the finale? I liked that there were several small cliff-hangers throughout the episode, rather than one big revealing twist. (Note how the two finales are linked by pregnancies, as well.) What did you think of Peggy's revelation? Are you satisfied with the answer to Peggy's baby mystery, or do you believe there is still more to be revealed by Peggy's sister? Do you think Don and Betty will make it after all? How do you think Pete will react to Peggy's news? Happy/sad to see Duck meet his demise? Share all your thoughts on the episode and season in the comments below!

Finally, thanks to all of you for reading and commenting each week. I truly adore this show, and writing this recap is a labor of love. But interacting with you guys and reading your unique thoughts and theories each week make it all the more enjoyable. Enjoy your winter and spring — I'll see you back here next summer!

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As Mad Men drew its riveting second season to a close, the world as these characters knew it was coming to an end — both inside and outside of Sterling Cooper. The fears and uncertainties caused by the Cuban missile crisis gave rise to folks getting their lives in order, either by correcting the wrongs of their pasts, growing into the adult they have been pretending to be or confessing a secret and releasing the hidden burden they have been carrying. As death loomed, so did the promise of new life. As confession healed, it also tormented. As power was attained, it was also lost. And the man we've known as Don Draper has accepted that he and Dick Whitman are two sides of the same coin, realizing that his hope (and the hope for the rest of these characters) to see tomorrow rests on finding that comfortable middle ground between the two extremes.

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Premiered: July 19, 2007, on AMC
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