"Mad Men" Nixon vs. Kennedy (TV Episode 2007) Poster

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The truth about Don Draper
Max_cinefilo8928 August 2010
Over the course of one season, Mad Men has proved to be particularly good at mixing bits of American history with the characters' private tragedies. This aspect comes to head in the penultimate episode, Nixon vs. Kennedy, which trumps The Hobo Code as the essential chapter of the season for the importance of the major revelation it contains.

As the title suggests, the big event of the episode is Election Night, which the men at Sterling Cooper are watching in the office while throwing a party. Don, now a senior partner, also has to worry about finding a new head of the accounts department, and chooses his old acquaintance Herman "Duck" Phillips (former Desperate Housewives regular Mark Moses) for the job, which Pete Campbell is after as well. Using information he has gathered thanks to a letter he stole from the office, he confronts Don and threatens to blackmail him with a piece of information that is shown to the viewer through flashbacks: a battle in the Korean war which killed one Donald Draper, whose identity was then taken over by one of his soldiers, Dick Whitman.

The Korea flashback is one of the episode's strongest points, using the show's trademark visual flair to frame a couple of scenes that are brutally intense, deliberately clashing with the superficial cool of the '60s. On a narrative level, praise is due for the long awaited final reveal concerning the Dick/Don mystery, the answer proving to be as riveting and thoughtful as all the clues seemed to indicate.

Back in the present, the Nixon/Kennedy "war" is a great way to ground the plot in historic reality, providing ample ground for another conflict, that between Don and Pete, acted out with gusto by Hamm and Kartheiser. Also noteworthy is the addition of Moses to the cast, a cool and charismatic contrast to his creepy Desperate Housewives character. In short, a great foreshadowing of the season finale.
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jotix10013 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Don Draper has decided to give the vacant post of head account services to "Duck" Phillips, a man with a lot of experience and class. Pete Campbell is intent in getting the job. Since Don's mind is made up, Pete has to use his knowledge about Don Draper's past, something he learned when he stole the package that came to the office. The package contained photographs of Don Draper's previous life.

In flashbacks we are taken to the Korean War conflict in which a private, Richard Whitman is seen arriving at the front. As the position Pvt. Whitman is attacked, his superior, Lt. Donald Draper, is caught with Whitman in a place where they can't move. After the fire stops, Whitman accidentally drops his Zippo lighter, provoking an explosion where Lt. Draper dies. Richard takes the opportunity to get the dead man's identification and exchanges his own. At a hospital, later on, a purple heart is given to Lt. Donald Draper, who is asked to accompany the fallen soldier home. At the station, the lieutenant sees the coffin as it's being unloaded and watches the family that has come to meet the wrong man's remains while Adam Whitman spots his own brother inside the car.

The election night is celebrated at the office with a party in which all hell breaks loose. The junior executives try to make out with all the willing secretaries. Peggy is horrified and decides to go home. When she returns the following morning to a messy place, she reports to security what she feels is a break and has a few men fired because of her actions.

Don Draper visits Rachel Menken at her office. Suddenly, he is scared because of the ramifications his secret will have. He stands to lose everything. Don suggests Rachel leaves with him to California. She lets him know she has no intentions of going away and suggests he is not thinking about the dire consequences he faces.

At the office Pete Campbell comes to tell Don Draper how he wants to be named for the position he intends to give to Phillips. When Don refuses, Pete goes to mention what he has learned about his secret past. Don decides to call his bluff and goes to see Bertram Cooper. Pete follows Don inside. Don announces he has decided to bring "Duck" Phillips to the firm. Pete, furiously, reveals what he knows about Don, but Bert couldn't care less. After all, Bertram reflects, America is made of self-invented men and they have gone to make the country great.

Alan Taylor directed the episode which was written by Lisa Albert, Andre and Maria Jaquemetton. This is an amazing chapter in the series that brings to a head the confrontation between the sneaky Pete Campbell who's ambition is to get ahead, not because of being smart, but by blackmailing, backstabbing, and subterfuge.

Excellent acting Mr. Taylor gets from all the principals and guest stars. "Mad Men" shows why it one of the best television series in the last few years because it captures the essence of the era in which the action takes place with an eye to detail and a true account of the typical intrigues in that milieu.
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If only Television was this good all the time...
Red_Identity16 September 2010
Mad Men is by now, in it's fourth season, one of the best television shows of all time. It cannot be denied of the power and talent it holds, and episode 12 of the first season reinforces that idea completely.

The episode on one hand is light, and focuses on a lot of characters that are usually in the background for the most part. The office holds a party for the Nixon/Kennedy election, not knowing that the final outcome will not be favorable to what they want. There is a brief scene where Joan and Salvatore are acting out a play that after a kiss between both, there is a very subtle expression on Joan's face... could this mean she suspects something?

The episode also shows just how much Peggy's sense of character and the way others see her has changed since the beginning of the season. It shows how much Moss shines, especially in a particular scene. Of course, we also continue the story of Pete finding Don's old belongings. Pete Campbell is the most unlikeable character on the show, and the nerve that he has to impose such an action on part of Don's behalf in this episode is ruthless, although not completely shocking. We always knew Pete was this type of character. We also see the truth to Dick Whitman's final fate in some amazing scenes.

Overall, this episode is so far the best o the first season, and having seen the four seasons of Mad Men, one of the best of the entire series. Films rarely get this good, not to mention even in the category of television, this series is going to go down in history.
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First Season Ends Quietly
DKosty12329 May 2011
Warning: Spoilers
While Pete fails to blackmail Don Draper, Drapers past is out here to come back and bite him. He avoids the bite here. There is a great sequence with Robert Morse shooting down Pete in very great fashion here. The cliff hanger is where will Don's past lead us.

As for Nixon-Kennedy, the main summary of the election is that Illinois is stolen from Nixon by the Kennedy machine. While there is some truth to that, the weak point of this is that the typical household with a husband and wife voting in this election voted 50-50, one for Nixon and one for Kennedy.

This was a very close election, and this series fails to mention the way the television image that made Nixon look bad on the television debates gets no play here. There were several things that made this election close. Another thing not mentioned is Ike Eisenhowers late campaign stump for Nixon in the final days which almost swung the election.

Nixon-Kennedy is one of the very few times this series fall a little short. I think it is writing paying so much attention to the plot line of Draper, that they go a little short on Nixon-Kennedy. Still, this series even when it falls short is better than many other series.
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The Greatest Episode Yet
borowiecsminus11 July 2016
Warning: Spoilers
I said that about "Long Weekend." I'm changing my mind to this penultimate episode of the first season. Nixon vs. Kennedy is a truly fantastic showcase of the talent that Mad Men and the people working on the show possess.

The episode takes place within the span of only forty-eight hours. It goes from election day to the post-election day. Within the course of those forty-eight hours, all hell breaks loose for Don Draper. From PTSD, to blackmail, to a loss of an affair, to an unsuccessful election, the only problem with the episode is that you can't possibly imagine how the season finale could be better.

This is without a doubt the best episode Mad Men has given television so far. The writing is still wonderfully subtle. The direction is fantastic. The realism is uncanny, and the acting is absolutely brilliant.

One of my few complaints is the lack of screen-time that is given to Betty and Peggy, both played by phenomenal actresses.

In the Top Twenty best episodes of TV ever.
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