Joe Chiarenzelli is an editor at The Gadfly Press and wishes he was Don Draper.
Mandy Lafond is a soon-to-be graduate of St. Lawrence University, studying philosophy with a minor in Asian studies. She’s currently writing a thesis on postmodernist film theory and Jean Baudrillard. In her spare time she likes philosophizing, playing with her pet rabbit and reading Wikipedia for fun.
Dark. That's probably the word that would best describe last night's episode of Mad Men. Between Don's twisted fever dreams and the Chicago Nurse Killer (Richard Speck) plot device, the episode felt decidedly sinister. From the creepy Francis mansion to a dark SCDP lit only by Peggy's desk lamp, darkness certainly seemed to be a motif, among both the hearts and habitats of the characters.
As the episode opens, it becomes clear that Don is ill, and Megan is sick, too; sick of running into Don's ex-lovers, that is. "I'm sending you home," she tells a coughing Don, in a scene reminiscent of the couple's power dynamics in Episode 1. Nobody tells Don Draper what to do...except apparently Megan, as he agrees to go home after his meeting. Don gets into bed and soon the lines between dreams and reality begin to blur, as Don dreams of the woman he ran into in the elevator earlier. In his febrile state, Don's dream seems to reveal his unconscious desires and his struggle to remain faithful to Megan.
Meanwhile back at the Frankenstein’s, er, Francis’ place, Henry's mother Pauline is watching Sally and Gene. Hearkening back to the first episode of the season in which Don referred to Betty and Henry as Morticia and Lurch, Don tells Sally, "I don't want you to get rickets in that haunted mansion." Sally and her step-grandmother are consistently at odds, especially when Paulene refuses to show Sally the newspaper chronicling the Chicago nurse murders. This plot point carries over into the world of SCDP as Joyce brings over sensationalist photos of the crime scene, which everyone except Michael Ginsberg seems to take a strange delight in, calling them all a bunch of sickos. Michael seems to have a strong sense of right and wrong, despite his sometimes questionable behavior.
The theme of darkness continues as Peggy stays late in the office doing Roger's bidding (for a pretty sum, of course). Roger wants Peggy to come up with some new material for Mohawk airlines over the weekend and initially offers her ten dollars. Well aware that Roger needs her time and talents, Peggy drives a hard bargain, telling Roger to give her all the money he has. Much later, the office is pitch black with the exception of the dim glow of Peggy's desk light, when she hears noises from elsewhere in the office. Perhaps on edge after having viewed the murder photos earlier that day, Peggy cautiously precedes to investigate the noise. Thankfully it turns out to just be Dawn, the new African American secretary, sleeping on the couch in Don's office. Fear seems to be a recurring theme through this episode, and Dawn mentions her fear of going home late at night because of the riots. In a gesture of kindness, Peggy tells Dawn she can stay with her, and the seeds of a friendship are planted. Now that Don has Megan and no longer confides in Peggy as he once did, perhaps Peggy will replace Don with Dawn.
Megan’s disgust with Don’s seemingly encyclopedia-sized list of conquests and her quip about there being places in town where they can find some of the people she used to “work with" suggest that more than anything else, Megan and Don view each other as equals in their marriage. But, before we get into his fever dream that explores his relationship with women in general and Megan specifically let’s stop in with some of the other characters.
First we have Michael who seems to have a knack for knowing what advertising methods will appeal to women (Peggy’s turf) and how to use reverse psychology to have clients eating out of his hands. Specifically he takes the idea of Cinderella, which had been previously discarded as clichéd, and spins a yarn to the clients after the formal presentation, evoking an image of a young woman being chased down the street with one shoe on simultaneously fearing the man pursuing her and lusting after him. Of course Don doesn’t appreciate this and scolds him about going off the tracks with his ideas (reminiscent of Don’s confrontation with Pete in the pilot), when Kenny tells Michael that he almost just got fired I tend to agree with the latter when he said, “I don’t think you’re right about that.” Michael, although a new character, has some very interesting qualities that I’m already starting to see. He seems to be very adept at dealing with other people even though he seems to be awkward, whether it be Don or clients. Also, you mention that he was the one who was bothered by the voyeurism of looking at the crime scene photos, but why then does he invoke the spirit of Speck’s murders in order to sell the client’s on the idea of a Cinderella themed ad campaign? I’ve said it before, but something about how Michael seems to willfully modulate his personality in different contexts concerns and off puts me.
Of course Don is not the only person stuck in a nightmare in this episode, albeit Joan’s is waking. With Greg back from Vietnam, Joan finally has her husband back and a fully formed family. However, as we’ve seen before, Greg is a real asshole. In an excruciating sequence of scenes Greg explains to Joan that he has to go back to Vietnam for another year and he will only be home for ten days. Joan doesn’t like this, but has to except the government’s dictation. But of course, Greg being an insufferable bastard, we find out at an unbearably tense dinner with Greg’s parents that he had in fact volunteered to go back for another year, mostly in order to feed his own ego in regards to his importance. This is all punctuated by the approach and serenade of an accordion player, a scene recalling the equally cringe worthy (although beautiful) accordion played by Joan in “My Old Kentucky Home”. This all comes to a head at the Harris’s apartment when Joan brings up the infamous rape scene in Don’s office and Greg leaves his fledgling family.
I’m curious what you think of Michael’s personality and how you would rate Greg on a scale from 1 to Santorum in terms of assholosity?
On a scale of 1 to Santorum, Greg is approximately 3 Santorums (a unit of assholery). I never liked him from the beginning, even before the rape scene. He always struck me as a self-important asshole and I never quite understood what Joan saw in him. Her relationship with Greg always seemed to me to be a distraction from Roger, and I have to wonder what will happen once a newly-divorced Joan returns to SCDP. I saw this episode as very transformative for Joan. While Joan has always been the queen bee of the office, she's always defined herself in terms of the men in her life. This is in contrast to Peggy who wants to be like one of the men, while Joan seems very comfortable in her role of attractive female counterpart. Furthermore, although Joan has often been somewhat bitchy to the females she interacts with, she always seems to be calm and collected around men, so it was a huge surprise to see her screaming at Greg. Rarely have we seen Joan lose her cool, and she really lets Greg have it. When she tells Greg "I want you to go and never come back," there seems to be a double meaning, that not only would she not like him to come back home to her, she also seems to imply that she wouldn't mind if he dropped dead. And really, who wouldn't mind at this point? Greg has no redeeming qualities. He's a self-important rapist that cares more about inflating his ego than being with his new family. Ah, well, not like Kevin was his kid anyways.
Back to Michael, though. I can see how you would be disconcerted by his ability to change his behavior to suit his environment, but I honestly don't think that's necessarily a bad trait for him to have in the business world. When he first appeared on the show, I wasn't sure what to make of him, but I do like him as a character, and I think he will become increasingly important to the show. I'm sure he will continue to conflict with Don for his behavior in the boardroom, but he does seem to have a natural gift for advertising. I like that you mentioned how Michael is beginning to infringe on Peggy's territory, as he really seems to know what will appeal to women, as I can definitely see things coming to a head with Peggy and Michael if this continues to happen. I think we can continue to expect great things from Michael, but that he'll end up stepping on more than a few toes.
And finally, I'd like to end with my favorite Roger quote from the season thus far, from Roger's discussion of the airline mechanic strikes. "Boohoo! They need more wrenches or something!"
Certainly Joan has a transformative episode, from lifting her back leg as she kisses Greg as he walks through the door to icily dismissing him at the end of the episode. Don, however, does not. In fact, Don seems to have lived out his once a season “I’m going to force myself to change but it probably won’t work” mental strife through his feverish dream.
I think it was quite important that the dream sequence was telegraphed by the oblique camera angles, otherwise the whole dream sequence would have come off very badly as a bait and switch. But, having seen it coming, we can better understand that what we are watching is going to speak in symbols and not literal events. For me, what really tipped the dream sequence detector is Don having Andrea go down the service elevator, which I’m pretty sure doesn’t exist and I’m also pretty sure if it does exist it doesn’t have the same interior decoration as the rest of the Drapers' apartment. What really comes out of these sequences and Don’s eventual dream strangulation is Don’s fear of his own urges. When he cheated on Betty it was because their marriage was already decaying at its core, but with Megan it seems to be all bliss at the moment. So why is it that his subconscious is reminding him of his past marital indiscretions? I would posit its because he knows that he still has the part in him that makes him sabotage himself. His eventual strangulation of Andrea is him wrestling with that part of himself and trying to excise it. He wants to honor his commitment to Megan and respect her as a woman, but something inside him won’t let him. And, if it seems like I’m overstretching my interpretation here, I direct you to the shot of Andrea’s feet, with one red slipper, an echo of Michael’s weird predatory advertisement featuring Cinderella.
As a final note, I’d like to point out two things about Sally Draper that worried me this episode and in this season overall. We keep seeing her refusing to eat, the ice cream last episode and the sandwich in this one. I’m also pretty sure that she rejected part of her breakfast in the pilot after Megan did the same. Is this a sign of her anxiety manifesting in some sort of eating disorder (something that would be overwrought and obnoxious on another show but I think Weiner could pull it off) or will we see a digression into her anxiety causing her to be medicated, like her taking Seconal to fall asleep at the end of the episode. Barbiturates are nasty stuff and historically it was right around this time that they gained widespread use as “Mommy’s little helper”.
This was a weird episode of Mad Men, with the dark elements taking a prominent role. But, if the show can pull off episodes like this and also tip in the other direction and provide us with the lighter more jovial Mad Men of Harry Crane eating a bag of hamburgers stoned, I think we are in store for a wild ride this season.
Could you tell that Don was dreaming? What clued you in? Did you miss fat Betty this week? How many times do you think Roger will give out wads of cash this season? Let us know in the comments.