“MAD MEN” Observations: (3.07) “Seven Twenty-Three”

After a recent re-watch of the “MAD MEN” Season Three episode, (3.07) “Seven Twenty-Three”, I found myself compelled to post several observations about it: 

“MAD MEN” OBSERVATIONS: (3.07) “Seven Twenty-Three”

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*Don Draper

In “Seven Twenty-Three”, famous hotelier Conrad Hilton, whom advertisement executive Don Draper had first met in (3.03) “My Old Kentucky Home”, paid a visit to the latter’s office and revealed his intent to hire Sterling Cooper to handle the promotion of his New York hotels. This piece of good news turned sour when Lane Pryce, Roger Sterling and Bert Cooper revealed that Hilton’s attorneys refused to go ahead with the deal unless Don sign an official contract with his employers. Naturally, Don was reluctant to sign one. He had been living under an assumed name for the past thirteen years, when he switched identities with his Army commanding officer (the real Don Draper). Nor did he want to be bound or obliged to anyone without having the power and opportunity to walk away whenever the opportunity might arise. After Don had a confrontation with wife Betty over his refusal to sign a contract, he left the house to go joyriding in the countryside. There, he picked up a young couple, who claimed they were on their way to get married at Niagara Falls. As it turned out, they were a pair of scam artists who fed Don some pills, took him to a cheap motel, knocked him out and stole his money.

I never understood this need of the series’ fans to divide the main character into two personas. There was only one Dick Whitman, after all. He was both the rural-born offspring of a dead prostitute and a crude farmer . . . and the brilliant creative advertising executive. The reason why Dick (or should I say Don) could emotionally connect with some people and barely at all with others may have been due to the fact that he had assumed another man’s name by fraudulent means. It is not surprising that he has only been willing to reveal some of his true nature to those he believe he may never see again – or in the case of Rachel Mencken and schoolteacher Suzanne Farrell – someone with whom he thought he could connect. It also seemed natural to me that Don had never bothered to sign an official contract with Sterling Cooper. No contract had allowed him to be a free agent even though he has decided to remain at Sterling Cooper. It also meant that Don would be able to bolt without any legal redress, if needed. Well, Don’s years as a free agent at Sterling Cooper ended in ”Seven Twenty-Three”. Especially since by the end of the season, he became one of the owners of a new firm – Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (SCDP).

Oddly enough, Don’s encounter with another self-made man – Conrad Hilton – had led him to being finally bound to a contract. This led to a temporary breach with his boss and future partner, Roger Sterling. It also temporarily damaged his close relationship with copywriter and protégée Peggy Olson. The new contract made Don realize – and not for the last time – that wife Betty might be a lot more formidable than he had probably imagined. Don’s argument with Betty led him to commit one of his more destructive maneuvers when things got rough . . . he took off. Unlike his trip to California in Season Two, Don did not go very far. Instead, he picked up a hitchhiking couple claiming to be on their way to Niagara Falls in order to elope. But instead of eloping, they fed Don some pills and later clocked and robbed him inside a cheap motel. As his dad, Archie Whitman, had indicated in his hallucination, Don had become slightly soft. This seemed even more apparent when senior partner Bert Cooper blackmailed him into finally signing a contract.

When Cooper had dismissed Pete Campbell’s exposure of Don as a fraud and identity thief back in Season One’s (1.12) “Nixon vs. Kennedy”, I bet Don never thought the old man would eventually use those allegations against him. And yet . . . while signing that contract, Don demanded that Roger Sterling stay away from him. How interesting. Roger tried to use Betty to coerce him into signing the contract. Cooper sunk even lower and used Don’s secrets to blackmail him and succeed. Perhaps Don realized that Roger (given his questionable standing in the firm with the British owners) made an easier target for his wrath than two powerful men like Conrad Hilton and Bert Cooper. If so, it did not say very much about Don.

Some fans had believed that Don’s new contract was a sign of his eventual downfall. I cannot say that I agree with this. In fact, this downfall never really materialized. Every time Don faced a personal crisis in the past – Pete Campbell and Bert Cooper’s discovery of his secret in Season One, his late Season Two estrangement from Betty, and Duck’s takeover plans – he managed to survive or come on top, as the formation of SCDP proved.

*Betty Draper

The episode also featured a subplot for Betty Draper. After joining the Tarrytown, New York chapter of Junior League, she received a request to find someone with political ties to prevent the construction of a giant water tank that they feared would ruin the scenic view. Betty contacted Henry Francis, one of Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s aides that she had first met in “My Old Kentucky Home”. The two met at a local bakery in Ossing for drinks and pastries. And although Francis hinted that he might not be able to help the Junior League prevent the water tank’s construction, he made it obvious that he was just as attracted to Betty, as she was to him. Francis had also pointed out a chaise lounge that Betty later purchased for her living room. A chaise lounge that her decorator obviously disliked.

Betty’s story arc did not provide any jaw dropping moments for me. But I did notice a few things. One, she must have been seriously attracted to Henry Francis. I never realized it when Season Three first aired. I found it interesting that not only did she remember Henry from Roger’s Kentucky Derby garden party, she also seemed to be in a slight state of heat whenever she around him. This especially seemed obvious when Henry shielded her eyes from the sun during an eclipse. But more importantly, she went ahead and purchased the Victorian chaise lounge that Henry had earlier pointed out to her when they passed an antique store. Many saw the chaise lounge as an example of Betty’s desire to be some “helpless damsel in distress” that occasionally fainted. I found that image hard to accept. Despite the ladylike persona that Betty tended to project, she never struck me as that kind of woman. However, I had noticed how she caressed her body in a suggestive manner – especially in the very spot where Henry had touched her, when she was still pregnant with Eugene. So . . . yeah, she was very attracted to him. In fact, Henry ended up becoming her second husband. I should have known.

I also noticed that by Season Three, Betty had become more assertive in her attitude toward Don. After all, audiences first received a whiff of this trait back in Season Two’s (2.04) “Three Sundays”, when she ordered Don to take Sally to work with him during their son Bobby’s small medical emergency. Yet, Betty’s assertiveness became increasingly obvious in Season Three. This was certainly apparent in her refusal to cave in to Don’s disapproval over their new son’s name in (3.06) “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency”; and in their confrontation over Don’s refusal to sign a contract with Sterling Cooper. I had always suspected that underneath the girlish and shallow exterior lurked a formidable woman. This was verified when Betty finally learned about Don’s true identity later in the season.

*Peggy Olson

Peggy Olson’s storyline in this episode began in (3.05) “The Fog”, in which she was contacted by former Sterling Cooper employee, Duck Phillips. In that episode, he had tried to recruit both Peggy and accounts executive Pete Campbell to the agency he now works for – Gray. Peggy had contemplated his offer, but refused. When Peggy asked Don for a raise in the same episode, the latter refused her request. In “Seven Twenty-Three”, Duck continued his wooing of Peggy and Pete with gifts. When Pete pointed out that Duck’s wooing might be an attempt for the older man to get back at Don for snowballing him in the Season Two finale, (2.13) “Mediations in an Emergency”, Peggy became determined to return the gift. Which she did after leaving work. However, her visit to Duck’s hotel suite also led to an evening of some very enjoyable sex for them both.

I found it interesting that Peggy thought she knew a lot about Don. She knew that he was an adulterer, thanks to her rescue of both him and Bobbie Barrett in Season Two’s (2.05) “The New Girl”. In “Seven Twenty-Three”, she first discovered that he could be incredibly cruel. And it would not be the last time. Season Three had not been particularly kind to Peggy. Following her revelation to Peter Campbell about their illegitimate child, he became hostile toward her. And despite being the first copywriter to acquire a private office following Freddie Rumsen’s departure, the respect that she deserved continued to evade her. Don had ignored her misgivings about the Patio commercial in (3.02) “Love Among the Ruins”. In (3.05) “The Fog”, Peggy asked for a raise after discovering that she was the firm’s lowest paid copywriter and Don rejected her request. And when she asked to work on the Hilton account, Don (who was already in a foul mood after learning that Sterling Cooper wants him to sign a contract) rejected her request in the cruelest manner possible. He accused Peggy of using his coattails to rise in Sterling Cooper’s Creative ranks. His accusation and manner left Peggy shocked and speechless.

When Peggy appeared at Duck’s hotel room to return his gift, I doubt that she had any intention of having sex with him. Did Duck plan to sexually seduce Peggy? I do not know. And since I have no idea of Duck’s intention, I am not going to pretend that I do or speculate. I do have to wonder if the prevalent negative attitude toward Duck has led many fans to believe that he had intended to seduce her. I do recall Peggy complimenting Duck’s turtleneck sweater when they first met in “The Fog”. I also noticed something else. Once Peggy and Duck were in bed together, they seemed turned on by each other.

A good number of viewers had expressed disgust at Peggy’s sexual tryst with Duck, using their 20-something age difference as an excuse. But Joan Harris and Roger Sterling were (and still are) roughly fifteen years apart in age during their affair. Even back then, Joan was slightly older and more experienced during her affair with Roger. But Peggy is not some blushing virgin. She was already sexually experienced and had given birth to Pete’s son in (1.13) “The Wheel”. She even managed to seduce some college kid in “Love Among the Ruins” as a test of her sexuality. Yet, many fans expressed disgust at her tryst with Duck. Even worse, they labeled her as some sexually naïve woman who found herself seduced and manipulated by an older man. I must be honest. I found that perception of Peggy rather offensive. At age 24, Peggy was young and probably upset over Don’s outburst. But as I had stated earlier, she was not naïve by this time in the series. I suspect that Peggy had simply used Duck’s offer of great sex to derive some kind of pleasure following her disastrous meeting with Don. Many fans had also predicted disastrous consequences from Peggy and Duck’s tryst. Not really. Peggy had quietly distanced herself from Duck by Season Four, despite his drunken reaction at the time. But I do believe that she paid an emotional consequence for rejecting Duck’s offer at Gray’s. At least for a few years.

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