Well. Mad Men just got weird, huh? This happens about the same time every season; picture the guy who lost his foot to the lawnmower blade, or Roger Sterling tripping balls. The show’s been struggling with how to portray the transition from the 1950s toward the Summer of Love, and drugs and sex have played a large part, obviously.
I’m still running on the idea that during the show’s lengthy hiatus between seasons five and six, AMC slashed The Walking Dead‘s budget in order to cater to the demands of Weiner and his cast, but as a result the network stipulated that everything be just a tad simpler for the average viewer. It aggravates me – part of the reason Mad Men has always been good (nay, brilliant at times) TV is that you have to think. The last few seasons have basically opened each episode with a clear theme and then played it straight into the ground. Maybe it’s because I’m a total film nerd, but I love to analyze…and the writers have made thematic analysis nearly unnecessary. Womp womp.
Then, about once a season, they air an episode like Sunday’s “The Crash,” and I feel like I’ve been smacked upside the head (and I love it).
Two weeks ago, the episode began with the first day of the SCDP/CGC merger. In other words, it began in total chaos. It continued to loop back around itself, drawing comparisons to previous episodes, prior situations. Mad Men does the time warp again!
At the Drapers’ building, Sylvia is shrieking at Arnie about money, that he isn’t taking care of her, and Don shuts the elevator door on that argument. In the office, the SCDP/CGC execs are making tough decisions about how to compartmentalize the newly merged staff, both physically and mentally. Joan is truly happy to see Peggy, we notice. This scene is pretty warm and fuzzy – these women should’ve been friends for ages, but their mutual interest in power, and the vastly different ways they’ve gone about getting it, have kept them from expressing true kindness to one another.
In the morning meeting, Pete Campbell doesn’t have a seat. Ted Chaough’s secretary Moira gives up her chair, and Ted gives up his for Moira, perching uncomfortably on the radiator as Pete sits comfortably next to Moira. Oh, Pete. You’re a hot mess as always. At home (at least, in his seedy, raunchy apartment – a “pied-à-terre”), he’s wrestling with his senile mother, who doesn’t know what year it is half the time.
Just to show us what year it is, and how our characters are reacting, the SCDP/CGC team takes on an account with Fleischmann’s Margarine. “Groovy,” says Ted, and we cut to Don’s bitchface at that ridiculous slang term. Get with the times, Don. As we’re looping around, time is oddly fluid. Roger fires Bert (SCDP’s former head of accounts) again, and enjoys it just as much the second time. Unfortunately this means poor Bob Benson is in imminent danger.
A call from Sylvia tugs at Don, even in the midst of the merger. “I need you and nothing else will do,” she tells him repeatedly. He stashes her in a hotel room, much as Pete stashes his mother in his pied-à-terre. Although Sylvia clearly gets off on Don’s dominant behavior, she also resents it. “I can talk about whatever I want,” she says when he admonishes her for speaking Arnie’s name. At his command, she grabs his shoes for him and kneels to put them on his feet; a guilty Catholic doing penance. Sylvia, sweaty and tousled in bed, touches herself even as she follows Don’s orders.
When Don doesn’t show up to the Margarine meeting because he’s too busy commandeering Sylvia, Ted Chaough asks Creative to free associate. How very 1960s. Peggy, who spouts trivia about the origin of margarine, is the apple of Ted’s and Stan’s eyes. When Don shows up late, Peggy and Ted are understandably miffed. Chaough gives him a slight dressing down, and Don slams the door in his face like the child he is.
Now that Don has reasserted control over Sylvia, he reasserts it over Ted by pouring him whiskey after whiskey in the name of “camaraderie.” Ted can’t keep up with him, and Don knows it. He’s frightened and impressed by Ted’s “formula” for coming up with answers to creative quandaries, and Ted wonders why Don doesn’t have a formula aside from booze. After Don’s gets Chaough stinking drunk in the office, he feels like he’s the king again. Gross, Don.
In a brilliantly edited sequence, a knock on Sylvia’s hotel room door puts a sexy red (the color of whores in Don Draper’s mind) dress in her hands; a knock on Joan’s office door reveals her (an occasional prostitute) in a very distressed state. Bob secretly escorts her on his arm out the front door. At the ER, she tells Bob he should go home. He says, “I don’t have anywhere to go.” Cringe. However, his ingenuity saves the day – he tells the nurse she drank furniture polish (oh, stupid women, forgetting to check labels!) to get her past the waiting room. A bit later, Bob stops by Joan’s house to check on her. When her mom comments that he’s adorable, Joan says, “He’s too young…he’s worrying about his job.” Gail says, “Honestly, Joan, every good deed is not part of the plan.” It is indeed something Joanie should remember…but it’s a difficult task for someone who’s been taken advantage of. As a result of his gallantry, she tries to save his job, but doesn’t succeed. Could this lead to a romance? Now that Bob doesn’t have a job anymore, he’d be free to court Joan. And he is adorable.
Ted Chaough and Don aren’t sure what to do with one another, but they recognize each other. Peggy pops into Don’s office unannounced, and he actually knows he’s in trouble. Peggy Olson is one of the only people in Don’s life who has the power to make him feel truly badly. Don lost Peggy, and he used Chaough to get her back. She knows it. “I hoped he’d rub off on you, not the other way around.” When Don, in typical fashion, says that Ted’s an adult, Peggy speaks the words we’ve all been thinking: “So are you. Move forward.”
After Gleason advises Ted to take Don’s hit like a man, so to speak, Ted flies Don to upstate to Mohawk in his own plane, in a rainstorm. This is one of those times when the writing could’ve been a little less obvious. Ted Chaough pilots them into the sun above the clouds. He puts on his sunglasses and tells Don, “Sometimes when you’re flying, you think you’re right side up but you’re upside down. Gotta watch your instruments.” Ted is back in control – and this time, of Don’s life. Don knows it. He picks up the book he took from Sylvia before leaving her in that room by herself. “No matter what I say, you’re the guy who flew us up here in his own plane,” he says to Ted. Truth. One hopes the dick-measuring contest won’t last much longer.
When Don returns to Sylvia in her hidey-hole, she’s no longer interested in being his whore. She’s taken off the red dress, put on her sensible jewelry and old-fashioned frock, and tells him gently that it’s all over. She means it. Don, in an odd twist, begs her to stay. Back at the Draper abode, Megan is talking, but Don can’t hear it. Pete’s mom tells him about Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, but Pete says, “That was years ago, Mother.” His mother laments, “They’re shooting everybody.” Let’s do the time warp again!
Sunday’s episode opened on a startling scene of, well, “The Crash:” Kenny Cosgrove struggles with the wheel of a car with a bunch of hooligans, waving around guns and putting their hands over his eyes. Of course, they get in an accident; it’s like one of his adventure novels, without the sci-fi element (whatever happened to Cosgrove’s erstwhile writing career?). When he walks into the office, Cosgrove has a cane and a sliced up face. Everybody is tired and miserable, and they look it. It turns out the hooligans were from Chevy, and they didn’t like the latest pitch either.
At home, Don isn’t sleeping; instead he’s standing outside the Rosens’ door, chain smoking and eavesdropping. Don panics a bit when he gets a call from” Dr. Rosen.” On the other end of the line, it’s Sylvia, who tells him in no uncertain terms that he’s got to leave her alone. The two of them are stuck with each other; their lies have entangled them. It seems a situation of mutually assured destruction; however, the last time someone thought he was safe due to the fear of mutually assured destruction, Pete Campbell lost Vick’s Chemical – because of a whorehouse.
Speaking of whorehouses, this episode is punctuated with Don’s flashbacks. When, in his vaguely ill state of distress and exhaustion, he has a coughing fit, he remembers clearly a childhood illness and the whore who took care of him better than his stepmother ever could. When he awakens from a long nap, Cutler ushers him into his office, where a hack doctor is giving everyone a shot. An “energy serum,” a “complex vitamin superdose of B vitamins” and “a mild stimulant.” When Don leaves the office, Cutler and Stan are actually foot-racing manically, their eyes glittering.
Just to make the afternoon a little trippier, Ted reports that Gleason has died. On the stairs (those stairs are becoming the centerpiece of the show), Don feels the drugs kick in. He sees Peggy with Ted and loses it a little. This is a man who absolutely cannot stand being out of control – and Peggy is not under his thumb anymore. He has another flashback to Amy, the whore who cared for him when he was sick with a chest cold.
Basically, at SCDP in this episode, everybody’s out of his damn mind while Peggy and Ginsberg, the (relatively) sober ones, are trying to come up with actual ideas for Margarine. Stan comes up with 666 ideas, but Ginsberg mentions Vietnam before he can tell them about his brilliant thoughts – “You just flushed a toilet in my head!” he cries; we don’t know it yet but Stan’s cousin was recently killed in action, and he’s really in a bad place.
Like I said, everybody’s out of his mind. Gleason’s daughter, a hippie chick who’s telling fortunes and propositioning Don, brings yet another trippy element to the weekend. She asks him to think of a question; he doesn’t contradict her when she says everyone’s silent inquiry is, “Does someone love me?” She puts a stethoscope on Don’s chest, and says she can’t hear anything. “I think it’s broken,” she says, and Don asks if you can hear a broken heart. She obviously means that the stethoscope is broken…but that line of dialogue, the double entendre, certainly does make us feel like we’re on drugs.
Don, who can’t get his thoughts straight to save his life, asks Peggy to get into the archives and look back at 1958-1959 for a soup ad. She turns to Cutler and says, “Do you see the mess you’ve made?” Again, she’s one of the only women who can tell these guys what they need to hear. When Don locates the ad, he has another flashback to Amy, feeding him soup in a headscarf. “Because you know what he needs,” the ad copy reads, floating above a graphic of a woman feeding her son soup…in a headscarf.
Because everybody’s wasted, Ginsberg throws a dart at Stan, and it promptly lodges in his arm. Peggy, who’s only drunk, not speeding around on amphetamines, makes him wash it. She’s wasted, he’s wasted, they’re all wasted. Why isn’t my office like this? She’s taking care of him – much like Don is fantasizing about being taken care of. Because none of the men in this show seem able to compartmentalize, Stan leans over and kisses her. She fends off his advances quite pleasantly and with aplomb, but she kisses him back nonetheless. He reveals that his cousin was killed. So many dead boys. He unsuccessfully tries to cajole her into sleeping with him, and she picks up his hand from his kene and tells him she’s had loss (this is a direct reference to the loss of her child). “You have to let yourself feel it. You can’t dampen it with drugs and sex; it won’t get you through.” He tells her, “You’ve got a great ass.” She turns and says softly, “Thank you.” Who’d’ve thought, five seasons ago, Peggy Olson would be fending off genuinely respectful office advances (unlike that roach Pete Campbell’s initial advances in every way); who would have believed she’d be so graceful in her sexuality? It’s a little unconvincing and adds to the episode’s off-kilter feel.
At the Draper apartment, Megan tries everything to get Don home, but ends up leaving the kids alone for the evening while she pursues her career. Sally is reading Rosemary’s Baby when she hears a noise. There’s an elderly black woman in the house, looking through their belongings. She tells Sally she’s their “Grandma Ida,” who raised their daddy. Obviously she’s a con woman, but Sally, who knows nothing about her father’s upbringing, takes forever to figure it out. “He still handsome? Your momma still a piece of work?” The woman uses brilliant leading questions. Both of these things are true – and they’re true of a lot of families. Bobby tells her where to find Don’s four gold watches. Just as Sally picks up the phone to call 911, he asks excitedly, “ARE WE NEGROES?!” (I can’t even write it without giggling – and I’ve watched the episode twice and had to pause here because that question is so ridiculous and strange…and in keeping with the rest of the episode.)
Don, in his drug-fueled haze, comes up with the most brilliant idea ever…only it isn’t. No one understands what he’s trying to say – except, maybe, Ginsberg. “No, I don’t have time for art!” Don exclaims as he exits the building. In the hallway, Cutler silently draws Peggy’s attention to Wendy, who’s slowly riding Stan on his couch. Peggy makes Linemouth face and announces she’s going home. Everybody’s on drugs, people are fucking openly in the office (because that’s exactly what this is); everyone’s preoccupied with whores and death…and Peggy Olson is taking it all in stride.
Don walks into his building with some harebrained scheme about opening Sylvia’s door and telling her how he really feels, only to find his entire family, including Henry and Betty, in his apartment. Betty shoots out a bunch of stinging barbs about Henry’s future (“Did you know Henry’s running for office!?”), Megan’s irresponsibility (“She’s off on the casting couch”), and Don’s lies (“What does he tell everybody, he’s at work?”). In the face of these, the drugs, and the realization that his mistress/whore is next door while his ex-wife and wife are angry with him, Don passes out. This leads to a final flashback: Amy tells the proprietor of the whorehouse that she took Don’s/Dick’s cherry, which results in Abigail beating him with a wooden spoon, screaming that he’s trash. He was punished for losing his virginity, he was punished for his mother’s absence; he was beaten by a whore for having sex. This is how Don became Don. We didn’t really need it to be shoved in our faces, but if any episode was up to the task, it was this one.
Megan apologizes for her part in the hostage situation debacle, but it was actually Don who left the door open – quite literally, he left his family open to attack from malicious strangers because of his affair. When Sally tells him on the phone she actually doesn’t know anything about him, he reveals that it was his fault. A small bit of good parenting on the part of a man who recently admitted he doesn’t love his own children.
When Ted arrives back in the office, he wonders just wtf happened over the long weekend. “Chevy is spelled wrong!” he cries, confused. Don says he’ll remain on Chevy as a consultant, as Art Director – but nothing more. “Every time we get a car, this place turns into a whorehouse,” he says, and turns his back, leaving Cutler and Chaough to stare after him quizzically.
To Don, every woman is either a mother figure or a whore. If Don isn’t in control, no one is. He lost his virginity to a whore (no surprise), he’s sleeping with a woman now who doesn’t really want to be his whore (no surprise), and he’s got some mommy issues to work through (really no surprise). In other news, SCDP/CGC has some kinks to work out, some power struggles and dick-measuring to get beyond, and if indeed they succeed at repping the doomed Vega, they’re all headed to hell in the proverbial handbasket.
How did you feel about the last two episodes? How about Don the Dom? What about Kenny Cosgrove’s crash and literal tap dance?