Red in the Face

MAD MEN Saison 1

Season 1, Episode 7: “Red in the Face”

The opening shot of the very first episode of Mad Men consisted of a zoom on Don Draper, whose back was turned to the camera. And much of the half-season that has followed the pilot’s introductory scene has carried forward that theme: Draper is an intriguing man, seemingly larger than life, but he maintains that aura of mystery entirely by being aloof. We’ve seen him rattled, and we’ve seen glimpses of his humble past. He keeps those things under close wraps around his business associates, never giving them a proper glimpse of his human flaws and weaknesses. For the viewer, though, Mad Men has slowly been revealing the truth of the man almost from the start, contrasting his peers’ reverence for him with the reality of internal flashbacks of his past and the uncanny ability of certain women in his life to cut through his façade of indifference and self-confidence.

“Red in the Face” doesn’t use flashbacks or cutting remarks for its characterization, yet it may be the most telling look into Don Draper so far. This episode relies on actor Jon Hamm’s body language and subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) facial expressions to give us a look at the ugliness that Don can sometimes be capable of. There are probably as many reaction shots focusing on Don’s face in this one episode as in all the previous episodes of the show combined. Don, it turns out, is a jealous and vindictive man.

The payoff for this episode is Chekhov’s gunned in its first few moments. “Red in the Face” begins with Don spying on his wife: He places a call to her therapist to get the doctor’s assessment of her couch sessions. Neither man seems really capable of understanding Betty’s ennui; her doctor describes her as “consumed with petty jealousies,” while Don seems exasperated at her mysterious condition. “She didn’t used to be like this,” he laments. He secretly struggling to maintain rigid control over her life even as he juggles one extramarital affair and pursues a second.

The second gun comes moments later as Burt Cooper admonishes Roger Sterling for smoking, calling it a sign of weakness.

These two unrelated facts eventually collide. But first, everyone takes a turn at being red in the face.

Red is the flush of frustration at a marital dispute — Don calling home to announce he’ll be bringing his boss home for dinner, even though Betty only has food enough for the two of them. It’s the warmth of tipsiness leading to inappropriate behavior. It’s the heat of Don’s anger at being pressured into inviting his superior into his home only to watch him flirt with Betty — and watch her flirt back — even as Roger makes disparaging (and cuttingly accurate) remarks about Don’s upbringing.

Don doesn’t take well to Roger imposing himself on him home life or being cuckolded in his own home, but his response paints a picture for us of exactly where he draws the line at being nasty. He’s jealous and, as we’ll see, petty to a fault — but when Betty defiantly asks if he’s going to “bounce her off the walls,” we at least see that for all his faults he’s not a wife-beater. Instead, he hurts her with words, parroting her therapist’s remarks about her supposed emotional immaturity, and making snide remarks about dinner the following evening.

Red is also the sense of humiliation Pete Campbell feels when he’s mocked by old ladies for running an errand for his wife, only to be emasculated moments later by a former classmate. It’s his stewing in resentment as his wife berates him for spending their wedding money on a gun. And it’s Peggy Olson’s inexplicable arousal over Pete’s bizarre hunting fantasy.

Red is Don’s resentment as Roger tries to smooth things over the next day without actually saying the words “I’m sorry.” [1] It’s the mark Betty’s hand leaves when she slaps her neighbor Helen Bishop after Helen shames Betty for giving a lock of hair to her weird son Glen. It’s a tingle of illicit thrill as Betty admits savoring the attentions of men other than her husband. And it’s the bloom on Roger’s cheeks from a hard-drinking liquid lunch that serves as the basis for Don’s revenge.

After suffering Roger’s disparaging remarks about their respective differences in age, Don decides to use his relative youth to his superior’s detriment. His plan is simple: Invite Roger to lunch under a guise of cordiality, pressure him into drinking a ridiculous number of martinis and suck down raw oysters by the dozen, then return to work having previously paid their office’s doorman to pretend the elevator is out of service. The two men have no choice but to hurry up 20-odd flights of stairs to make a meeting in the Sterling-Cooper offices — and while Don definitely feels the effects of the climb (taking a moment to wheeze and cough before regaining his composure and walking through the front doors), Roger barely makes it at all; his hardened lungs and run-down liver have suffered a good 15-20 years of abuse over Don’s — something he normally revels in [2]. When he finally reaches the office, he pants wearily before opening wide and unleashing a geyser of boozy, oystery vomit in front of none other than Richard Nixon’s representatives.

Don feigns concern for his shaky boss, but as he strides away we see the hint of a smile play at the corners of his mouth. Meanwhile, Roger, red in the face from exertion and humiliation, watches Don’s departure with an obvious look of suspicion but no way to reasonably prove his underling had just taken a very nasty form of revenge against him. The viewer, however, has seen clear proof that beneath the mysterious exterior of Don Draper lurks a decidedly vindictive streak… though he plays it with such elegance it’s hard to think too poorly of him.

[1] Instead of an actual apology, he offers a bottle of rye whisky. “That’s the good stuff,” he says, even though he’s holding a bottle of Canadian Club. No wonder Don’s pissed.

[2] Amusingly claiming his medals in WWII were won for drinking, for example.

2 thoughts on “Red in the Face

  1. When I initially watched this episode several years ago, I somehow missed Don bribing the elevator operator. I decided to rewatch the series from the beginning recently, and I caught it the second time around. Definitely puts a different spin on everything that follows in this episode.

  2. Petty and vindictive, sure, but I liked this episode for showing that Mad Men had a comical side. Don’s revenge on Roger seemed more played for laughs than anything, which is something that only happens rarely on the show. The more amusing side of the show never feels out of place whenever it comes up, which is a great sign of great writing

    But that jealous Don Draper, though. Whew. A trait that stays with him through Megan’s acting career

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