Need to backtrack? The primer is here. Remember there are many spoilers, so if you're still catching up on older episodes, you might want to skip this.
It's Don Draper's birthday. Or, rather, it's Dick Whitman's birthday, but since as far as the world is concerned Dick is long gone, presumably the only people who now know, or will know by the end of the day, his true birthday are a drunk stewardess in Baltimore and himself. He begins it by reliving the tale of his conception and birth - the unwanted child of a prostitute who died while giving birth left with his father and his father's bitter wife - as he warms milk for a pregnant Betty Draper.
It's spring of 1963, only a few months after the Sterling Cooper buyout, and while the newest member of the Draper family has yet to arrive, back at the office the birth pangs of the merger between the American office and the British agency Putnam Powell & Lowe haven't quite subsided. Between the explosive firing of head of accounts Bert Petersen (his parting shot: "Drop dead, you limey vulture!"), the deliberately antagonizing promotion of easy-going Ken Cosgrove and the violently insecure Pete Campbell to share responsibility of the accounts department, and the new British superior Lane Price's right-hand man, John Hooker, who is doing his best to condescend, flirt and annoy all at the same time, the SC atmosphere is definitely less comfortable than in previous years.
Tip for Mr. Hooker: annoying Joan Holloway is not a good idea. Just don't do it.
After this encounter, and after Joan secured a spare office for him and promised him his own typist, he describes Sterling Cooper as a "gynocracy."
This would be news to Peggy Olson, who, as a freshly-minted copywriter with her own office - the only woman in SC with that distinction - is running into some trouble keeping her new secretary in line. The way that Lola is unafraid to neglect her work to flirt with Mr. Hooker, and then remark conspiratorially to Peggy that she has to admit she likes the Brit's accent, is completely unlike the behavior secretaries routinely show their male bosses, and it's obvious Lola doesn't quite view Peggy as a superior yet. How many others, male or female, share that opinion remains to be seen, although it's probably a safe bet the number is high.
Pete Campbell, who was on the verge of several breakthroughs last year, appears to have settled back into old habits. His relationship with his wife Trudy has stabilized, he's still in contact with his poisonous mother, and his petulance and thwarted ambition is as sharp as ever. His glee over being named head of accounts swiftly turns to smoldering rage when he learns Ken is sharing the role. Even more troubling for Pete is that Price expects one of them to outperform the other and make the other unnecessary. If he lets his resentment interfere, he could end up leaving Sterling Cooper altogether. Also telling is his bitterness at learning that the majority of his accounts are handled by Peggy - obviously her confession about their child was not taken well (rightly so, however), and their working relationship, not yet displayed, looks to be nothing but trouble.
Office manager Joan is beginning to show signs of frustration, which doesn't match up with the cool, collected and equal-to-any-situation character she's established herself as. The apparent reason seems to be the ordeals of the office, and she specifically mentions that she is "so glad I'm going to be out of here soon." Her planned Christmas wedding to her doctor fiance (the one who raped her several months previously) has presumably already taken place, and also presumably she'll soon be leaving the office for full-time housewifery. It's worth asking whether or not her frustration is really with the office or a cover for her anxiety of leaving it for her new husband.
Away from the office, on a business trip to Baltimore, Don and art director Salvatore Romano, indulge in the freedoms that typically come with such a trip. Sal, who has been denying his homosexuality pretty much since the beginning, has an unexpected opportunity with an eager bellhop. Unfortunately, a fire alarm at the hotel cuts it short, and, even more unfortunately, Don, in the midst of the evacuation, witnesses the two and puts the pieces together. Later, on the flight home, his coded message to Sal warns to "limit his exposure," and tacitly promises not to reveal the secret. But it likely will be difficult for Sal to return back to full-fledged denial after finally crossing the line.
Despite the fact he came back from California to re-dedicate himself to his wife and family, Don's experiences in Baltimore reveals his issues are hardly resolved. An overzealous stewardess named Shelly is all it takes to again cheat on Betty. However, there's something different about this affair - one gets the sense Don doesn't consider it cheating at all. Compared to his earlier women - Midge, for whom he had a genuine affection; Bobbie, with whom he had a good understanding; Joy, whom he at least treated as an person; and Rachel, whom he arguably truly loved - this clearly isolated, drunken encounter in an entirely different town is a change of pace, as is his obvious detachment from the woman involved. While she is a willing, even inciting, participant, there's an eerie similarity to the scenes Don imagined earlier of his conception as a result of prostitution, and he gives the impression that he's simply going through motions, living out the fate he thinks he has. As he said to Shelly earlier, "I keep going to a lot of places and ending up somewhere I've already been." Don seems resigned to his situation, not because he likes where he is but because he has relinquished his belief he can get ever get somewhere else. Now the question has become whether or not his resignation will hold.
Season Three Episode One Video Recap