The Hobo Code

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"The Hobo Code"
Mad Men episode
Episode no.Season 1
Episode 8
Directed byPhil Abraham
Written byChris Provenzano
Original air dateSeptember 6, 2007
Running time47 minutes
Episode chronology
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"Red in the Face"
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"The Hobo Code" is the eighth episode of the first season of the American television drama series Mad Men. It was written by Chris Provenzano and directed by Phil Abraham. The episode originally aired on September 6, 2007 on the AMC channel in the United States.


Peggy and Pete arrive early to work one day—Pete has arrived early because he's moving into his new apartment later that day, and Peggy arrives early because she is nervous about the Belle Jolie meeting. In the office, Pete seduces Peggy and they have sex on the sofa in his office, then complains to her that his wife doesn't understand him. He also confesses that he never read the Belle Jolie copy he had asked her to give him. She is relieved as she thought he gave no feedback because he didn't like it. When Trudy unexpectedly visits Pete later that day with a bottle of champagne, a drunken Pete is flustered and argues with her for showing up in his office, while hurriedly turning over his soiled couch cushion where he has just had sex with Peggy.

Out of the blue, Bert gives Don a check for $2,500, telling him that his talent is appreciated, and then he urges Don to read Atlas Shrugged.

Later that day, Don presents Peggy's campaign ideas to the executives from the makeup company Belle Jolie. The pitch emphasizes that a woman wants to "mark her man" with her unique lipstick, and show the world she owns him. After some manipulations by Don, who has decided that "seduction is over and force is being requested", the pitch is accepted. Peggy is invited into Don's office to have a drink with the creative team to celebrate her success. The other "girls" in the office are excited at Peggy's success, except for Joan, who makes belittling remarks about her copywriting success, implying that Peggy should focus less on what she has "upstairs" because at Sterling Cooper it's "downstairs" that will lead to success. Nevertheless, they all go to a bar to celebrate and are joined by the junior execs.

At Peggy's celebration, she's very vivacious, dancing and smiling, while Pete glares at her. When she asks him to dance, Pete rejects her, saying "I don't like you like this." He leaves the party, while Peggy tearfully dances to the twist. Meanwhile, Sal meets up with Belle Jolie executive Elliott at a bar and restaurant, and the two men connect with each other. However, when Elliott invites Sal back to his room, Sal reacts in shock upon realizing that Elliot is propositioning him. He denies any attraction and quickly leaves in a huff.

That night, Don arrives at Midge's apartment, intending to take her on a trip to Paris with his bonus. However, he finds her with an assortment of her beatnik friends, preparing to smoke marijuana. She declines the Paris trip so he agrees to stay with them, despite antagonism from some of Midge's friends. After getting high, Don retreats to the bathroom, where he stares at his reflection in the mirror.

Don flashes back to his childhood as Dick Whitman, spent on a farm during the Great Depression. A transient approaches his family, asking for food in exchange for work. Don's father Archie tells the man to move on, because the family are no longer Christians. Dick's very religious stepmother Abigail refutes this claim and invites the man to stay for dinner.

Over dinner, the hobo is revealed to have good manners and comes from New York. Abigail offers the man money, but Archie takes it back, telling him that he will get paid the next day, after doing some work.

That night, Dick approaches the transient because his stepmother told Dick to remind the transient to say his prayers, and Dick stays to ask the man about his life. The man tells him that he once had a family and responsibilities, but he gave it all up in exchange for the freedom of the road. Dick tells the man that Abigail is not his real mother, and that he is a "whore-child." The man shows Dick the "hobo code," a system of symbols used to communicate with other drifters. One symbol he shows Dick is used to communicate that the owner of a house is a "dishonest man." The next day, the stranger completes his work, but Archie refuses to pay him as promised. As the hobo leaves the farm, Dick finds the symbol for "a dishonest man" carved into a fence post in front of their home, giving outside confirmation about what Dick suspects about his father.

In the present, Don takes a Polaroid photo of Midge and her friend Roy, and, looking at the photo, realizes the two of them are in love. The beatniks criticize Don for what he does—lying and worrying about trivialities while people die. He invites Midge to Paris again, and when she turns his offer down, he gives her his $2,500 check, suggests she buy herself a car with the money and leaves the apartment.

Upon returning home, Don wakes Bobby while his sister is asleep nearby and tells him that he can ask him anything he wants. Don expects his son to ask him something about him but he's disappointed when his son asks "why do lightning bugs glow at night?" Don tells him that he doesn't know why and promises never to lie to him.

The next day Peggy again arrives early to the office and searches for Pete but he isn't there so she begins her work at the typewriter. Later, Pete arrives but doesn't even glance at Peggy to say hello like he usually does, leaving her hurt.

Cultural references[edit]

The employees of Sterling Cooper dance the cha-cha and the twist at the party, held at P. J. Clarke's. Bert champions the philosophy of Ayn Rand, telling Don to read the novel Atlas Shrugged. A telephone operator worries about putting her name on a list due to McCarthyism. The beatniks listen to the album Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis while getting high. Sal is compared with Ernest Borgnine's character in Marty. Elliott claims to have met Robert Mitchum at the bar in his hotel. Don compares getting high to feeling like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, saying "everything just turned to color." Don tells Midge that he "called Idlewild", the name of JFK Airport at the time. Midge's friend wearing a Fez mentions "ten dead kids in Biloxi." This is a reference to the "Bloody Wade-In", a series of attempts from 1959 to 1963 to desegregate the Biloxi public beaches. At one such event, on April 24, 1960, ten black people were shot (though none were killed) and numerous others were seriously injured, which The New York Times reported on the next day.

Among the guest-stars in this episode are Barry Livingston, who played Ernie on My Three Sons, and Stephanie Courtney, who plays Flo in the insurance commercials for the Progressive Corporation. They dance together at an after-hours party among the coworkers.


The episode was received very positively by critics. Alan Sepinwall, writing for New Jersey's The Star-Ledger, praised the episode, specifically the subplot about Sal and Elliott, writing that the scene was "superb."[1] Andrew Johnston, writing for Slant Magazine, called the episode "the most polished and, to my mind, the most moving episode of Mad Men yet."[2]


  1. ^ Sepinwall, Alan (September 6, 2007). "Mad Men: Trapped in the Closet". The Star Ledger. Retrieved June 4, 2014.
  2. ^ Johnston, Andrew (September 7, 2007). "Mad Men Fridays: Season 1, Episode 8 "The Hobo Code"". The Star Ledger. Retrieved June 4, 2014.

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