Mad Men

Drinking with Draper

Mad Men Episode 10: Perception is strong and sight weak.

By Jessica Voelker October 19, 2009

The perfect couple plays the part.

The title of this week’s Mad Men episode “The Color Blue” comes from a story that Suzanne Farrell, Don’s newest mistress, tells him. The young teacher describes how one of her students asked how we can know that what we see as the color blue is the same color that others see when they call something “blue.”

And how indeed? Advertising is about manipulating perceptions, of course, but it is an imperfect science since we can never be certain of one another’s perceptions of anything. Don believes he understands exactly how people see things, but you wonder if the different ways in which he and Farrell see their affair aren’t about to catch right up with him. Don is attracted to the good in Farrell, her purity, and he even goes so far as to try to help her save her epileptic brother (clearly an attempt to absolve himself from his icy treatment of his own brother, who committed suicide in season one). But there is nothing to indicate he will put her first in any significant way.

Farrell, for her part, takes the affair seriously. She sees herself as a modern thinker—someone who can see beyond marital status as a barrier to true love. But the paradox is that Don can both be married and untrustworthy. She doesn’t get that Don’s infatuation with her will in all likelihood be fleeting. What Don Draper is searching for, we the viewers well know, cannot be found in Suzanne Farrell alone—lovely chestnut curls or no lovely chestnut curls.

Meanwhile we learn that the bosses in London are planning to put Sterling Cooper on the market. We are privy to a phone call in which they order man-on-the-ground Lane Pryce to make sure everyone will be in attendance at the firm’s 40th anniversary party, which they say is an excellent opportunity to display its successes before they sell it off to the highest bidder. Again perceptions: the elegant party seems like the celebration of a long and lasting firm, in fact in may be Sterling Cooper’s funeral. Unaware of the impending sale, Bert Cooper and Roger Sterling dread the event nonetheless. Cooper feels old and irrelevant, while Sterling loathes the idea of feting Draper, who he is to present with an award. He recalls “discovering” Draper at a fur company and scoffs at too-perfect Betty. “Mona said they looked like they were on top of our wedding cake,” he says.

At the office, Peggy and Paul are at odds after Peggy smooths over Paul’s Aqua Net pitch. Paul disparages her for being Don’s favorite. “Are you kidding, he hates me!” she protests—again, different perceptions. Late that evening, Paul comes up with an idea for the Western Union campaign but, having downed an entire bottle of whiskey, he forgets to write it down. He confesses his failure to Peggy and when the two copywriters face Draper later, Peggy tells Paul to explain to Draper what happened. Paul demurs—not seeing Draper as someone who would relate to the tragedy of an unrecorded stroke of genius—but Don ends up empathizing. Then Peggy has her own stroke of genius, she remembers Paul expressing his lament over the lost idea with a quotation: "The faintest ink is better than the best memory.” The three use the line to devise a campaign for Western Union extolling the permanent virtues of a telegram over a phone call.

Back at the big house, Betty breaks into Don’s desk drawer and gets a look at his collection of Dick Whitman memorabilia. Thumbing through the dog tags and divorce papers, she sees a life of lies laid out before her. This scene is in stark contrast to an earlier one when we saw Don looking in the box. What to Betty is a lie, to Don is the truth—the only connection to his real identity. The lie, for him, is the life he’s presently leading. Betty waits up for Don into the night, growing loopy on wine, but he never comes home. The box goes back in the drawer, and the next day she plays her part as the perfect Mrs. Draper, donning a stunning dress and white gloves so that Don can “show her off” (his words) at the 40th anniversary party.

At the end of the episode we see Roger at the banquet, describing what a perfect father, husband, and colleague Draper is, and the camera pauses to give us a good look at the characters’ faces: Betty’s stony grimace, the creases of pain at the edges of Sterling’s ever-present smirk. Then Don, inscrutable Don—handsome and composed despite the dishonesty and grimness of the endeavor—gets up to make his speech. The End.

“The Color Blue” was quite a plot driver, and one of the best episodes of the season. However, not much was offered us in the way of drinking. Since this is the case, I’m going to let you in on a little research I’ve been doing surrounding the Old Fashioned, Don Draper’s drink of choice. Here are my road-tested recommendations of where you can get a good one: Spur, The Sorrento, Bathtub Gin, and Canlis. And not to be negative (but just so you can see I’m being honest) here’s a bar where you should never get an Old Fashioned: The Elite, where a horrid spray of soda water is added at the end. I would never order it again, but what does my opinion mean anyway? It’s just one person’s perception.


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