Mad Men, "Red in the Face": three on a match [Key Series Moments]

Two men in expensive gray suits trek up many flights of stairs. They have been out having a liquid lunch replete with a bottomless fountain of martinis and platters of oysters besides. One, Roger Sterling, is a little bit older and slows down during the ascent. The younger one, Don Draper, feigns concern but is internally plotting the endgame of an exquisitely plotted revenge against his boss and friend.

roger sterling

Roger is compelled to keep going as he pants and gasps for air – Richard Nixon’s campaign staff is waiting for them up on the 23rd floor of the Sterling Cooper building along with Bert Cooper. Don makes breezy little comments such as, “Maybe we can get them to come down and have the presentation on the 8th floor landing, there’s plenty of seats,” to make it clear that he is having no trouble at all.

At Floor 20, Roger bends over and falsely claims that he needs to search for his tie clip (a terribly thin excuse for the normally resourceful Mr. Sterling), which allows Don to propel ahead and get to the office lobby first, where Bert, Pete Campbell, and the Nixon people are waiting. By the time Roger staggers in, all he can manage to do is violently throw up in front of everyone.

Game, set, and match, Mr. Draper.

It’s thrilling and wildly entertaining television, but it’s important to note the dark underbelly of motivation at work here. Roger had (very) drunkenly hit on wife Betty earlier in the episode (notice a theme?), and while Roger and Don had ostensibly patched things up, Don Draper is not one to be trifled with.

While the arrival of Adam Whitman in “5G” posed a threat to Don’s true identity (Dick Whitman), we see a metaphorical assault on Don Draper’s manhood and standing at home and office for the first time here. Don and Roger are friends and colleagues, but are also highly competitive alpha males within the executive ranks of Sterling Cooper.

And perhaps most importantly, Don’s ego – the ego of a Master of the Universe as conjured by Dick – can never allow such an emotional chink in his armor to go unchecked. In other words, if Mad Men were a 1980s political thriller, Don Draper’s DEFCON was lowered by a few levels.

While punishing Betty at home with a cold attitude (without any real cause), Don looked for the appropriate means to get back at Roger at the office. A payoff to Hollis the elevator operator, umpteen martinis, and a 23-floor schlep up the stairs later, and Don got the payback he was seeking.

In so doing, Roger was yanked back into his place (his little speech about how everyone “parks in the wrong garage” once in while didn’t go over as well as intended, it seems) and shows off a Don that’s ready to play in the big leagues, poised to do what it takes to move onto the next levels of power and influence on the professional front.

And/but it also reveals a Don Draper/Dick Whitman at his most vein, manipulative, and even cruel.

As we wait for the arrival of Season Five, currently scheduled to premiere in early 2012, stay tuned to TV Geek Army all summer long to get your Mad Men fix. Here we take a look at a key series moment from Season One, Episode Seven: “Red in the Face.”

By Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader"

About the author

Eric is the publisher and revered leader of TV Geek Army… at least in his own mind. TV Geek Army is a place for serious TV reviews and news for serious fans of great television. Contact: eric-[at] 

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