One week after the heights of “The Hobo Code”, we’re back to the sterile, un-affecting, version of Mad Men. I might even go a step further than that and say that not only does “Shoot” fail to capitalize in the good work done in “The Hobo Code,” it undermines it by letting Don find some measure of integrity in his life at Sterling Cooper. Don, like most characters, is most interesting when he’s conflicted and giving him such a clear victory over an even slimier businessman provides a moral certitude we didn’t need. The journey there isn’t even particularly interesting as “will he or won’t he” is never in any real doubt. The “real” drama may be in the fact that Betty’s ambitions are also hanging in the balance but her domestic angst just isn’t resonating with me.
Coming at Don through Betty is certainly a dick move and it should be enough to tip anyone off that Mr. Draper’s not going to be making any career changes; not that we needed the assurance. We should already know that Don’s not going to leave the Sterling Cooper after 8 episodes (those sets cost money), but leaving to work for a guy like this just isn’t in the cards. It makes the rest of the episode feel like it’s just going through the motions. Club memberships, golf clubs, and a job he doesn’t actually want his wife to take; none of this seems like enough to tempt Don to work for a jackass like Jim Hobart.
With one half of our story a foregone conclusion, we’re left with watching Betty’s foray into modeling. Actually, this is a foregone conclusion too as there’s no chance she’s going to get to keep the job, but we can’t be entirely certain how she’ll react. We get some good insight into her character as she discusses modeling with her friend and her upbringing with her therapist. It seems she’s living the life her mother wanted for her and isn’t too pleased about that fact. It’s nice that we’re finally getting some clues as to her psychological problems, but it feels a bit like revisiting a story from six episodes ago rather than continuing it. That may be why I’m so uninterested, it’s hard to care about a character that’s only developed in fits and starts.
I’d ordinarily be more forgiving of Mad Men’s emotional monotone, but this episode even lacked that trademark technical brilliance I appreciate. Using Betty’s advertising shoot as hostage photos was a bit too clever for the show’s own good; inventive, yes, but none too subtle. Don’s “I like the way you do business” explanation to Roger is also a little on the nose and the claim that he’ll eventually want to do “something else” provides unwanted assurance that Don’s really a good guy underneath it all. He may well be, but without him being conflicted there’s no real narrative and the series is nothing more than an indulgence in imagery.
Pete is bafflingly redeemable in this episode, not only coming up with an idea that’s praiseworthy, but having the guts to own it when it seems not to be. Add to that a bizarre defense of Peggy’s honor and I’m more confused than ever by his character.
Peggy has a nice moment in rebuffing Joan’s “helpful” advice.
“They think you want a husband and that you’re fun. And not in that order.”