Sunday night’s Mad Men episode is all about stasis, and opening with Don participating in his old favorite hookie activity – solo movie theater dates – is the perfect way to bring that point around. “Field Trip” is chock full of references to the “old” Draper world – Don smoking in the office while everyone else’s lungs seem to have moved on, Betty clinging to her antiquated female ideals during a tense chat with ole pal Francine – and, of course, the episode’s main twist: Don walking into an agency that scarcely resembles the one he was booted from. When Don shows up at Roger’s room to confront him about his neglect and insensitivity over the past year, he somehow manages to set up a meeting at SC&P – a baby step towards progress that Don takes as a leap when he assumes that the gesture indicates full re-hiring. His arrival at the office gets a pretty brutal reception that runs the range from fake smiles to outrage – but his non-compete clause, along with the danger of losing him to another company, saves his skin and secures him a “job” at the agency. It’s a censored caricature of the position Don used to hold – he’s not allowed to speak with clients alone, he has to run pitches past the others, and he can’t have a sip of booze while on the clock. There’s no way he’s going to be able to stick with those parameters, but Don recognizes that he’s strapped to a sinking ship and takes the offer.
Speaking of sinking ships, Don gets a call from Megan’s agent reporting that she’s been having emotional breakdowns and ruining her previously adequate chances at snagging roles – so Don makes the sound decision to hop on a California-bound plane to go set Mrs. Draper straight. Despite her initial joy at his arrival, it quickly comes out that Don didn’t surprise her out of the kindness of his heart. Outraged that her husband and agent have been talking behind her back, Megan brings her suspicions out into the open and lets it all fly: “Who is your new girl?” she demands of him. He’s never there when she calls the office and when he does return her messages, it’s in silence – hardly the buzz of SC&P. There’s something going on. Well done, Megan, after all this time! Don comes clean about being on leave from work and it hardly mends the situation – Megan sends him away in her frustration and betrayal and he flies back to New York.
Over in the Francis household, Betty displays uncharacteristic maternal tendencies and accompanies Bobby on a class field trip to a farm. She’s impressively chatty with her son during the bus ride, despite making a few pointed remarks about the teacher’s unsupported breasts – but for Betty, this kind of warmth is a big deal. All goes well until Bobby trades her sandwich for a bag of gumdrops and she unleashes her wrath. “Why don’t they love me?” she later asks Henry.
It’ll be interesting to see how/if Don is able to adapt to such a restricted position at the agency he used to command. Despite all the drunken misery he used to bring to the office, the SC&P era over which he presided was one of relative creativity and inspiration – a far cry from the beige work that the Lou dynasty has been producing. Poor Megan’s downward spiral is another point of interest, especially since Don’s new office is the same one in which Lane Pryce hung himself a few seasons back.