This is a good episode to base my defence of the guy on because we rarely see Roger behaving worse than he does here. That, I suspect, is because the scriptwriters were against him. John Slattery was only a "special guest" in Season One and not a full cast member. This episode with his heart attack is a fairly obvious bid to begin writing him out of the show.
The sheer vulgarity of Roger's pursuit of two models should be off-putting except that it isn't. I think the writers blew it by having the two women be so acquiescent. They behave more like 1970s rock groupies than 1950s models. And Roger behaves more like Bill Wyman or Jon Bonham keen to see how far the groupies were willing to degrade themselves to get some action with the band than with any Roger Sterling we have seen so far. I kept waiting for Roger to announce he had a shark ready for some action.
A general comment about the series is that the sex is too frequent and too easy. That some Madison Avenue ad men were less than 100 percent faithful to their wives is easy to accept, that sex was this easy to get and this depraved is a bit more of a stretch. To paraphrase Raymond Chandler, these things certainly may have happened but not to such a small group of people in such a narrow time frame.
It is more of a criticism of our era than the one portrayed really, They would have been contented with a show that left the details to the imagination.
The fight club interpretation
I was reading someone yesterday on the fight club interpretation of Ferris Bueller's Day Off in which Ferris turns out to be a projection of Cameron's imagination. You could almost read Roger Sterling as a projection of Don Draper's imagination this episode. As the guy who goes too far only to create an opportunity for self-revelation for Don.
We start off drenched in cynicism. A client is lost and Don Draper says to Pete, "The day you sign a client is the day you start losing one." Then Don goes up to Roger's office and tells him about the loss and Roger says the same thing and Don incredulously replies, "You don't really believe that."
And we get enough cynical use and abuse of power to lat all season leading up to Roger scooping up two models from the casting department for a "party" up in Don's (not Roger's) office.
Father's and daughters
Roger finding himself in the middle of sex with a woman only a little older than his daughter, decides to speak about his daughter and how unhappy she is. He is in full confessional mode when the young woman ruins it all by brushing it all off by trying to minimize the problem.
The thing to notice, however, is that for all his coolness, John Slattery as Roger manages to achieve an emotional directness here that we have not seen from any of the other characters. In just a few lines he gives us an entire picture of a marriage, a family and a life. Even a line as simple as his saying he wanted to name his daughter "Margaux after the wine," fills in a huge amount of backstory that writers wil be able to build on in future episodes.
This is a vulnerable, caring man for all his excess. He is lovable and admirable even a convincing role model.
Yes, he says things such as, "Remember Don, when God closes a door, he opens a dress." But that's pretty good don't you think. It's just the sort of thing I imagine a lot of the 20-somethings who watch the show wish they had the freedom to say.
Do you believe in energy?
He means does Don believe in a human soul. Slattery's acting is the best in the series and nowhere does that shine out quite as strongly as in the hospital scene after Roger's heart attack. The look of fear and resentment in his eyes are searing. The way he delivers his lines—the same sort of lines he would have delivered if it had been someone else's heart attack only with a completely different sense—is very moving.
And we get one of the tiny number of religious moments in the show. "I wished I was going somewhere."
Watch it, that's all I can say.
All through this, Don comes off as empty and hollow. Even in a crisis, he is cool and collected and remembers to keep up the secrecy. But confronted by a little religious questioning by Roger and he is and he is lost.
Don calls Betty and she is so wrapped up in her childish concerns about her father's new "friend" that she moves on from what Don has been telling her in a flash. There is an interesting contrast between Roger who begins professing his love to Mona and Don and Betty. Roger's marriage is unhappy because it is sexless. Don's is unhappy because he married a child. Betty is in her thirties but she is still Lolita.
At the end of the conversation, Betty says, "Do you want me to come up there?" Don says, "No, there is nothing you can do." Exactly. Bloody useless she is.
An existential crisis
They do give her one very good one line though, "Everyone tells you life goes on, no one tells you that is not a good thing."
That's nonsense, of course, but it is the sort of nonsense someone in a crisis would believe. Don appears to be in one and he goes rushing to Rachel to tell her all about it.
The biblical name here is no accident. Rachel is figuratively one of Don's people just as the biblical Rachel was one of Jacob's. Don goes to Rachel because of something she said in the very first episode:
"Mr. Draper, I don't know what it is you really believe in, but I do know what it feels like to be out of place, to be disconnected, to see the whole world laid out in front of you the way other people live it. There is something about you that tells me that you know it too."Don himself doesn't know what he believes in but here he has an opportunity to connect and that is what he needs.
Of course, he won't get it.
The day you sign a client, is the day you begin losing them. Don is already losing Rachel. Unlike the biblical Jacob, he already has a new name and a new life. He tells Rachel about his old life though. He tells her the secrets he has not told anyone else. We don't know how much because we ourselves haven't been told the whole story yet.
If you are joining me here, this series starts here.
The next post in the series is here.