723 is probably my favorite Mad Men episode so far this season (and it’s been a pretty good season). I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say that it blew me away.
In the “Inside Episode” video that appears on the AMC website (which happens to be sponsored by Clorox, Peggy’s code word to reach Duck), Matt Weiner explains that Episode 3.07 was intended to have a film noir feeling. Working as a mystery story with a narrative thread that cuts back and forward in time, Seven Twenty Three achieves exactly that. Don, Betty and Peggy all somehow end up in the dark as they embark on three different journeys. The occurrence of a solar eclipse is a major motif running through the episode as well as many references to the book “Confession of an Advertising Man” by David Ogilvy (who is often called “The Father of Advertising”).
It’s daylight. Peggy awakes beside a sleeping man. Elsewhere, Betty reclines on a plush red couch. Don, his nose caked with blood, rises groggily from a motel room floor.
Don, whose actions in 723 impacts the other two, suffers a literal black out. Betty realizes that she’s being kept in the dark about Don’s life. And Peggy is blindsided by Don’s angry reaction to her questions about the Hilton account. That all three stories are linked is reinforced at the end when the tune “Three Blind Mice” can be heard playing in the background on a TV set at the Draper house.
On another morning, Betty and her decorator show Don the Drapers’ living room makeover. When Betty asks what they should place in front of the fireplace, the decorator tells her it must remain empty as the “soul of your home.”
Notice the difference in Don’s attitude while looking in a mirror while getting ready for work and later when he wakes up in hotel room.
Betty is wearing her usual blue outfit. The color blue will once again be used to symbolize the restrictive nature of “traditional” relationships. Betty asks Don for his opinion of the new room. Just as he was in his last meeting with Conrad Hilton, Don is more interested in the “price tag” for the work rather then the work itself. Previously he used a night light to solve Sally’s fear of the dark. Likewise, his only suggestion here is to move a lamp. The “incorrectly” placed lamp plays into the idea of a sort of darkness that will befall the characters. The decorator seems to have the same sensibilities as an advertising profession as she readily gives into Don’s suggestion (the client is the boss).
Betty doesn’t seem to like the decorator’s suggestion that the “soul” of her home must remain empty. This may be hitting too close to home.
At work that day, Roger grumbles to Don about competitor David Ogilvy’s Confessions of an Advertising Man. “It’s the book everybody writes,” Roger says. “It should be called A Thousand Reasons I’m so Great.”
This establishes the book motif that will come up a number of times. Roger’s attitude to the book suggests that it shines a very negative light on the advertising profession. Roger complains that ad men are reviled as much as lawyers. Lawyers will also play a somewhat major role in 723. Roger also seems to be non-plused by a sunrise that he watched that morning. Staring at the sun will come up again.
Don is intrigued by the title “Confession of an Advertising Man” (as he has much to confess himself). In the background an office conversation can be heard where a woman explains that she is unable to admit to something.
Conrad Hilton pays Don an unscheduled visit. Connie describes himself as having a “wandering eye” despite having his needs met. The upshot: He wants Don to handle Hilton’s three New York City properties.
Connie, wearing a red tie, sits in Don’s chair. Later Bert will be sitting in Don’s chair. Likewise, Don will have an hallucination of his abusive step-father where he is seated in a chair. These men seem to represent figures of authority which, to varying degrees, make Don resentful.
In a theme that will come up again, Hilton remarks negatively on the work ethic of advertising execs.
Connie also comments on the lack of family photos on Don’s desk. This coincides with the empty “soul” of the Draper home. Hilton brings up lawyers who will have to oversee the details of the relationship with Sterling Cooper. Thus, lawyers are cast as antagonists in 723. Finally, Connie welcomes Don to share in his dreams. Later, under the influence of “reds” (the same color as Connie’s tie) Don will dream about his overbearing stepfather. Hilton also remarks that “young people” give him energy. The young people Don will meet later do exactly the opposite.
Betty hosts Francine and two other members of the Junior League, which is campaigning to prevent the installation of a huge water tank that will drain the scenic local reservoir and mar the landscape. Betty says that she knows someone in the governor’s office — Henry Francis, the man she met at Roger and Jane’s party — who might have influence.
The water tank issue is reminiscent of Madison Square Garden’s efforts to replace Penn Station (it is reinforced when Duck Phillips later mentions the austere restrooms of the old railroad station). However, in this case, Betty is on the opposite side of the issue as Don.
In My Old Kentucky Home, Betty has a less than innocent flirtation with Henry Francis at Roger’s club. A wedding reception is also taking place at the club and the flirtation is abruptly halted when two bridesmaids in blue dresses walk by. This demonstrates the constrictive nature of marriage for Betty.
Pete congratulates Don for the Hilton deal and expresses interest in the account. Don shifts the conversation to Pete’s sales prospects: With conflict likely in Vietnam, Pete says that he’s close to landing American Aviation.
In The Arrangements, S-C took on a wealthy client, Horace (who, incidentally, claimed to have read Ogilvy’s book), to promote the sport of jai alai even though no one at the agency expects it to succeed. By taking on this venture the advertising execs are breaking a number of rules established in Ogilvy’s book for selecting new clients. Such as:
Only advertise products which you are proud to be associated with, never advertise a product that you don’t respect and don’t like.
Never advertise for a product that is not yet on the market.
One of the hitchhikers Don picks up later accuses him of being a “spook” (slang for CIA agent). Of course, Don denies this. But his efforts to assist American Aviation land Pentagon contracts for the conflict in Vietnam make him just as morally culpable.
Don displays a veneer of cockiness in this scene that will be stripped away at the end of the episode.
Betty calls Henry. He agrees to meet about the reservoir on Saturday afternoon.
In addition to the arousing nature of the meeting she is setting up, Betty is also attempting to operate in Don’s world of sales (she wants to sell Francis on the idea of NOT building the new water tank). As she talks on the phone, clearly visible in the background is a book. It isn’t Ogilvy’s book. Instead, it is a blue cookbook. Meanwhile, her children are interfering with Betty’s plans. Meanwhile, the color scheme of Henry’s office is green.
Roger, Cooper, and Lane congratulate Don for the Hilton coup, but say that there’s a hitch. Connie’s lawyers want Don under contract to Sterling Cooper to ensure continuity. Lane hands Don a three-year contract. Connie will “enjoy something he can’t have,” the reluctant Don contends.
Lawyers are again brought up during this meeting. Curtains prominently seen in the background are blue. Likewise, the contract Don is given to sign is blue. For Don, it represents a loss of freedom.
Betty and Henry meet at a local bakery, both making excuses for arriving alone.
In entering the bakery, Betty (wearing sunglasses) goes through a blue colored door (and closes it behind her). She is wearing a floral pattern dress with mix of red, green and blue patterns. This would indicate her conflicted feelings about this meeting. This may be too fine a reading, but, as shown in the photo above, the colors of her dress match the gumballs in the glass dispenser next to her. Which may further reflect her feelings of being constrained and wanting to break free. The interior of the bakery initially seems to have a muted green hue to it. The duplicitous Henry admits to being a lawyer. In concluding the business portion of the meeting, Henry references RCA’s famous marketing campaign, “His Master Voice.” Once again, Betty demonstrates that she is well out of her element by not grasping this reference. Blue colors (waitress uniforms, chairs in the bakery) are more prominent as it become clears to Betty that nothing (in a business or romantic sense) will come of her meeting with Henry.
In a park, Sally’s teacher – Miss Farrell – helps her students make camera obscuras to view a solar eclipse. The kids’ dads, including Don, assist.
The plot involving the solar eclipse gives the film noir (“dark film”) feel Weiner references a literal element of the episode. Don is wearing sunglasses. He has a conversation with his neighbor Carlton (an unfaithful husband) who will comment that “being alone is hard to come by.” Don is wearing blue while Carlton is wearing green. Carlton mentions that like Miss Farrell (a homonym for “feral”), his wife was also once a teacher.
The eclipse occurs as Henry and Betty leave the bakery. Henry shields her eyes when she gazes at the sun. “I feel a little dizzy,” Betty says. Henry notices a pink fainting couch in a nearby antiques store. “That’s what you need,” he says, explaining that Victorian ladies would use them whenever they felt “overwhelmed.”
As they talk, the shot of Francis is staged so that green trees are visible behind him. The attempt to venture out of her cloistered life and into Don’s world (like her attempts to look at the eclipse) has proven too much for Betty. Mad Men often uses sofas and couches to symbolize characters in distress. Betty lays on a couch both for her psychiatric sessions and during a tryst in with a stranger. Overwhelmed again, Betty now has need for another one.
Back in the park, Miss Farrell interprets Don’s small talk as a come-on. “We’re just talking,” Don says.
Interestingly, Don also had trouble talking to Conrad Hilton earlier.
The free-spirited Miss Farrell is wearing green. As with her phone call to Don in The Fog, there is a sense that for all of its attractiveness, this new, less restrictive worldview, also has a dark side. While Don is not completely innocent, Miss Farrell’s impatience with him is overblown. In fact, she seems to be projecting her own frustrations onto Don as she’s been pushing the relationship more than he has. Don will project his frustrations onto Peggy when he yells at her later. The book motif is again brought up as Don suggests to Farrell that she shouldn’t “judge a book by it’s cover.”
Miss Farrell and Sally watch the eclipse under the shield of the camera obscura. Don watches without such protection.
“You think you’re more dangerous without a contract?” Roger asks Don later that day. It’s affecting business, he adds, because Don is Sterling Cooper’s David Ogilvy — though Roger is not convinced that Don even wants to be an ad man anymore.
Roger describes Don as S-C’s Ogilvy. During the conversation, an unengaged Don adds fluid to his lighter. One could say that in his attitude Don is playing with fire (not unlike the Vietnamese protester monk shown in The Arrangements who famously commits suicide by immolating himself).
Peggy drops by Don’s office, fishing for the Hilton assignment. “You have an office and a job that a lot of full grown men would kill for,” Don fires back. “Stop asking for things.”
Don angrily chastises Peggy for her lack of gratitude after Roger has just chastised him.
Roger calls Betty and encourages her to persuade Don to sign the contract. It’s the first she’s heard of it.
As mentioned before, Betty, her family in the background, is blindsided by this.
Peggy visits Duck’s suite. She indicates what she might want from his agency to leave Sterling Cooper, but quickly decides she can’t jump ship. Duck holds her hand, then kisses her. “What do you want from me?” she asks. To “give you a go around like you’ve never had,” he replies. The two begin a passionate kiss.
Like the pills Don will take later, the dominant color in this scene (the gift, Peggy’s outfit, the room décor) is red.
That night, Betty and Don argue about the contract. “No contract means I have all the power,” he says. “What’s the matter?” Betty asks. “You don’t know where you’re going to be in three years?”
As mentioned earlier, the tune “Three Blind Mice” can be clearly heard playing in the background. Betty gets out a particularly cutting line about knowing what it’s like to want Don but not being able to have him.
Drink in hand, Don leaves the house and drives away. He picks up a young couple hitchhiking to Niagra Falls. They say that they’re eloping so the man can avoid being sent to Vietnam. The man says that they haven’t any money but can get Don high. Don swallows two of their phenobarbital pills.
The driving scene takes place in the dark (like under an eclipse). There’s a cut to Duck and Peggy in bed where Duck remarks that he loves the smell of liquor on Peggy’s breath. The scene quickly cuts back to Don taking a swig of his drink. This links Don and Peggy’s reckless actions. They will both awake the next morning face down in a hotel room.
When Don sees the couple, Doug and Sandy, Doug is wearing green. They admit to have been smoking marijuana. Don brags about having inside information about Vietnam. While not a CIA agent, Don admits to being in advertising. The couple concedes that Don is “okay” anyway. Like Miss Farrell, the couple exhibit a dark side when they turn out to be grifters. They deridingly refer to Don as “Cadillac” (a reference to his automobile).
Later in a motel room, Don dances with the young woman until the man cuts in. Don, his eyes glazed, has a vision of his father, Archie Whitman. “Look at you,” Archie reproaches. “Up to your old tricks.” Moments later, the young man punches Don in the back of the head.
The dominant color in the motel room is red. Archie rebukes Don for being in a disreputable profession such as advertising. As stated earlier, Archie’s appearance seated in a chair (like Hilton) surprises Don.
The next morning Don, his nose bloody, reads a note from the couple. They’ve stolen his money but left his car.
The note written by the couple who eschew formal education has a misspelling (“your welcome” instead of “you’re welcome”). Also, leaving him the Cadillac seems more of a rejection of Don’s materialistic lifestyle than an act of kindness on their part. This is could also be a sarcastic comment on the rude “welcome” Don has recieved in his first actual foray into the new “green” worldview that he was made aware of in Love Among the Ruins (and part of the reason he returns to the more constraining, yet safer, “blue” existence).
At the Draper residence, Betty’s decorator scolds her for buying the fainting couch and blocking the fireplace with it.
The decorator adheres more to Ogilvy’s rules than S-C. In this case, she does not want to be associated with the finished product (a product she doesn’t have faith in) after it has been altered by Betty. Later, lying on the red Wentworth, a frustrated Betty seems to drift away to a by-gone age (this may tie in to her mentioning to Henry that she was an anthropology major in college).
In Don’s office, Cooper insists he sign the contract. “Would you say I know something about you, Don?” Cooper asks. “I would,” Don agrees. “Then sign,” Cooper says. “After all, when it comes down to it, who’s really signing this contract anyway?” Don acquiesces, but demands that all contact with Roger cease.
In a neat resolution to the contract dilemma, Cooper, knowing Don’s real identity is Dick Whitman, is able to sell the idea that Don is really giving up nothing by signing the contract. There’s also a thinly veiled hint of blackmail in that Cooper may force Don (like Ogilvy) to confess who he really is. Cooper may not live up to the standards set by Ogilvy, but he is an excellent ad man.
As foreshadowed in Guy Walks into ad Advertising Agency, Roger and Don are no longer the “(Dean) Martin and (Jerry) Lewis” of S-C. In that episode a picture of Jerry (the mouse) WITHOUT Tom (the cat) is shown.