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Episode 12: Nixon vs. Kennedy

Mad Men episode 112 main

On election night, the Sterling Cooper staff pulls a rowdy all-nighter while watching the returns. Pete's ambitions cause him to directly challenge Don. Read more...

It's election day, and Cooper turns off his TV, cutting off a news segment on how Americans are rushing to the polls. Don enters with Herman "Duck" Phillips, who had been in London with Y&R, a bigger agency. He, however, is eager to return to New York and even more eager to take the open job -- Head of Account Services -- at Sterling Cooper.

After Cooper finishes grilling the candidate, Duck and Don walk by the other ad men, who've been chatting about who might be president by the end of the night. "He's the best one Draper's paraded around," Ken says, regarding Duck. "Let's see if Cooper is smart enough to know that."

Pete then goes into Don's office to make his case for why he should get the position. "I have the loyalty of our most important clients," he says, mentioning Calvin Highland and Lee Garner. "These men trust me." Don suggests that Pete, who's been with the company for two and a half years, be patient because he's still at the point where someone will always be his senior.

When Don heads home for the night, he notices Paul, Harry, Joan, Ken, Hildy and some others standing around quietly. As soon as the elevator doors close behind him, the group squeals with laughter. Drinks are passed around and a TV is wheeled out into the bullpen. They flip it on to an anchor reporting that Senator Kennedy's odds for victory are a grim 22 to 1. They applaud. Paul pours scotch until the bottle is empty. They are going to need more liquor.

As the night goes on and the numbers get closer, the group gets friskier. Allison walks by and Ken starts to chase her as Paul and Harry shout colors. Ken pulls Allison to the ground and hikes up her skirt to reveal her panties. "Who had blue?" he shouts back. As everyone laughs, Peggy and Marge stand expressionless. "I used to think I'd find a husband here," Marge says. Peggy just leaves.

Pete, sitting in the dark living room of his apartment, leafs through Adam's shoebox. In it, he peers at dog tags, letters and photographs, one of which shows a young Don and Adam riding horses. He flips it to see "Dick and Adam, 1944" written.

Just then, Trudy walks in. She's noticed him sneaking around with that box and wonders why he won't return it.

Back at Sterling Cooper, Ken comes out of Paul's office with a stack of papers. "Death is My Client -- a play in one act by Paul Kinsey," he reads. Paul, embarrassed, tries to get it back. It's not long, however, before he's instead positioning "actors" around the room and directing the ad hoc production. Joan holds the script as Salvatore, playing Tolefson -- the hero -- reads lines over her shoulder. As he scrolls down the page, he notices a gripping scene. He and Joan look at each other, and Sal pulls in for a dramatic kiss. The audience cheers as they kiss.

Just then, the TV turns up to show that Nixon took Ohio, a pivotal victory. They cheer, dance and embrace. Harry plants a kiss on Hildy, who returns the gesture. Shocked by his own action, Harry retreats to his office. She follows, and they kiss again.

The next morning, Peggy arrives to see the office in shambles and people, coffee in hand, walking around painfully in last night's clothes. She smells something pungent at her desk -- her trashcan is filled with vomit.

Don enters Cooper's office, confused by three different newspapers with three different results. A recount of the election means 30 days without a president, which is no way to win, according to Cooper. "If Kennedy is willing to buy an election, he's probably willing to play ball with us."

Then, Pete brings Adam's box to Don in his office, and when he makes no more progress with the promotion, Pete reveals that he knows Don's past. According to his friend at the defense department, Dick Whitman died in Korea 10 years ago. A man named Donald Draper dropped off the map although he's 43 years old.

Don recognizes the attempt at blackmail but doesn't back down. "If your information is powerful enough to make them do what you want, what else can it make them do?" he says, fuming. Pete leaves, and Don rips open the box.

He flashes back to a dirt road in Korea in 1950. A lieutenant watches as Dick jumps out of the back of an army truck and is disappointed to see that only one soldier -- he needed 20 for his mission to build a field hospital. Dick introduces himself. The lieutenant follows suit. "Draper. It's Lieutenant Don Draper."

Back in his office, Don puts the shoebox in the same drawer as the Purple Heart.

He goes to Rachel Menken's office with a sudden desire to go to Los Angeles with her for good. Although he piques her interest, she reasons that she has a store to run and he has a family. They fight, and she realizes that he doesn't want to run away with her. He just wants to run away.

Don returns to the office and approaches Pete, passing a TV with Kennedy's face. "I thought about what you said, and then I thought about you and what a deep lack of character you have," he says, adding that he will hire Duck. Pete threatens to go to Cooper, but Don calls his bluff and walks out to give Cooper the news. Confused at how Don would rather lose it all than see him succeed, Pete follows Don into Cooper's office with him. Don tells Cooper he's hiring Duck, then looks to Pete. Pete returns the glance and tells Cooper how Don is really Dick Whitman, a deserter and criminal.

"Who cares?" Cooper replies as Don calmly lights another cigarette. "This country was built and run by men with worse stories than whatever you've imagined here."

Don flashes back to Korea. Dick stands in a trench when Lt. Draper storms out of his tent. Thunderous mortar explosions get closer until gunfire erupts and bullets zoom by their heads. As quickly as the attack began, it ends. The two light cigarettes when they notice a stream of liquid at their feet. Lt. Draper thinks Dick wet himself, but when Dick drops his cigarette, they realize it's gasoline.

They run as a fireball drops them to the dirt. Moments later, Dick wakes up and struggles to lift his body, with his arm and ribs broken. He sees what's left of Lt. Don -- guts open, intestines strewn on the ground, flesh charred. He finds Don's dog tags and pulls them from the body. He rips his own off before dangling Don's around his neck.

The next day at the military hospital, Don receives his Purple Heart and news that he's going home -- with the task of returning "Dick" to his family. When Don and an army chaplain arrive at the rural Pennsylvania train station where the Whitmans stand waiting, he tells the chaplain he can't do it. He watches from a distance as the casket is set near 10-year-old Adam. Just then Adam looks toward the train and makes eye contact with Don. As the train pulls away, Adam shouts, "There he is, I see him!"

Don, back to reality and at home, turns on his television and watches a replay of Nixon's concession speech.

Mad Men Season 1

View photos from Episode 112, "Nixon vs. Kennedy"

Guest stars:
Trudy Campbell - Alison Brie
Bertram Cooper - Robert Morse
Herman "Duck" Phillips - Mark Moses
Lieutenant - Troy Ruptash
Allison - Alexa Alemanni
Hildy - Julie McNiven
Marge - Stephanie Courtney
Mack Johnson - Morgan Rusler
Mae - Heather Seiffert
Abigail Whitman - Brynn Horrocks
Sally Draper - Kiernan Shipka
Sergeant - Cassius Willis
Doctor - Kevin Symons
Colonel - Stewart Skelton
Young Adam - David Kronenberg
Army Chaplain Lt. Mitchell - Dared Wright

Writer: Lisa Albert, Andre & Maria Jacquemetton

Director: Alan Taylor

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Next Episode: The Wheel

Mad Men episode 113 main

As Thanksgiving approaches, Don's work responsibilities interfere with his domestic life. Peggy is given a new opportunity, provoking the ire of some of her colleagues. Betty makes a startling discovery.

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