Stop Writing Down What I Ask For And Start Figuring Out What I Want.
The first Howard Johnson’s restaurant, in Quincy MA, lucked out in 1929 when Strange Interlude, the Eugene O’Neill epic it’s fun to think influenced Eastbound & Down’s dialogue, was banned in Boston. The production was moved to nearby Quincy, where the dinner break meant people hung out a lot at HoJo’s.
In the eighties Howard Johnson’s had a radio jingle the hook of which was “I go HoJos”. I heard it during broadcasts of baseball games, from the iron lung where I lived. There was also a baseball player, for the Mets, named Howard Johnson. He played third base, a little shortstop, and in a terrible late-career experiment, centerfield.
It’s not surprising that something like Howard Johnson’s was the site of such conflict in this episode. From The Hitchhiker to Detour to Joyride, fleabag motels, motor lodges, and RV camps are the B movies of the American road. You can stay in a Motel 6 and be in a Dennis Cooper story. Many of Mad Men’s finest moments have been Don Draper driving, whether it’s avoiding birthday-cake detail or not getting a DUI with Mrs. Jimmy Barrett, one arm slung out the window like an extra verse to Careless Whisper. As he is wont to do, not to invoke a Girls formulation or anything, Don didn’t learn from that last one. The best car rides are taken alone.
The fight between Don and Megan was discussible every which way. The best intra-relationship altercations are the ones you can watch from either point of view, over and over again, with each party making enough salient points to at least validate a split decision. Don really doesn’t know where work stops and life begins, where the fuck do you think Peggy learned it from? Betty never seemed to mind: her note in season 1 about never seeing Don read anything that didn’t have a manila folder around it was bemused, if anything. Well, I bet Don doesn’t read in bed anymore, unless it’s Robbe-Grillet!
On the other hand Megan’s outburst was genuinely not cool. Generally you can’t follow up saying someone’s afraid you’ll embarrass them by deliberately embarrassing them, which I’m sorry, is a mistake women make more than men. Although men are pathologically afraid of embarrassment, so it’s our fault.
But the whole bit at Howard Johnson’s was marvelous, so much like The Vanishing and Lisa’s disappearance on Six Feet Under and several other things at once. The last three episodes of Mad Men are the show’s own creative revolution, filmic and migratory and magnificently baleful—I haven’t seen a show this locked-in since Test Dream-era Sopranos, which is totally no coincidence. When Matthew Weiner said he was telling a new story this season, he really meant The Sopranos, with civilians. Boardwalk Empire, that other hyperphobic spinoff, doesn’t come nearly as close in that regard.
Do you think Don and Roger each got a younger wife to actually learn something? And do you think that’s why it’s not working out like either of them planned? I don’t mean to say I think Don and Megan are fucked, in fact I think Megan’s intimidation of Don surprised Weiner and his writers so much they’ll do anything to sustain it. Look, that Don was a bottom all along is pretty much an open secret, and he was never going to get that with Betty. The twist is that he still needs to pretend he’s the dom—he’s one of those. That’s why Megan saying she wouldn’t cry after “letting” him fuck her for the first time was such a mad turn-on; it wasn’t the promised discretion, it was the peaceful transfer of power implicit in it.
Roger basically got what he deserved. Clearly he never read a Kepesh novel or saw Elegy or he’d know that getting with a woman that much younger than you is the best way to experience certain female insecurities. Who saw Jane coming though? I always thought she was an intellectual D girl but she played Roger like a turntable. Like she cares that the divorce will be “very expensive.”
The scene with Jane’s self-important faculty-type friends was such a perfect parody of tuneless italicized sixties it’d be hard to take seriously if certain kinds of people didn’t still talk exactly like that. Roger, like Ron Swanson, doesn’t hear hippies but agrees to take acid anyway, with Beach Boys on the stereo and a future quote from The Limey doing donuts in his head: “Did you ever dream about a place you never really recall being to before? A place that maybe only exists in your imagination? Some place far away, half remembered when you wake up. When you were there, though, you knew the language. You knew your way around. That was the sixties.”
Except in the movie Peter Fonda’s character amends himself: “No. It wasn’t that either. It was just ‘66 and early ‘67. That’s all there was.” Mad Men is there now, and Don and Megan, Roger and Jane, Pete and Peggy are all changing at whiplash speed. They say when you are thrown from a horse, it’s possible for your pelvis to actually separate the same way a woman’s does during pregnancy, only immediately instead of over nine months. That was the sixties, and that’s this season of Mad Men.