Mad Men took a surreal turn this week as Jim Cutler reveals that he has more in common with Roger than just their silver fox looks. Cutler brings in his own personal doctor and gives half the office an ‘energy boosting’ injection that is meant to provide inspiration for a weekend of working on the Chevy account. Instead it sends the office into chaos and gives another glimpse at Don’s past as Dick Whitman.
The injection contains some kind of amphetamine that propels an already distracted Don further down a path of introspection. Before he has even taken an illicit substance he is showing some bizarre behavior; standing in the hallway listening in on Sylvia and Arnold while smoking like a creep. Don is delusional when he talks to her on the phone, claiming that he knows that she wants to see him too. In reality Sylvia is freaking out about Don’s state of mind and what he might do, at this moment they have gotten away with this affair but if he carries on like this then all will be revealed. Don does go to see Sylvia when he is high: it appears that no one is home even though the radio is playing. On the second occasion he is saved by the woman who has robbed his apartment as he doesn’t get the chance to go to Sylvia with his grand pitch.
For Don, Chevy is Sylvia and he wants to do anything to win her back. Don hasn’t been rejected before and he is normally the one to end an affair. The only person who we have seen break things off with Don is Betty and there was nothing he could do in this situation to change her mind, plus she had his Dick Whitman secret as leverage. Don tells Ken that he needs to be in a room with the Chevy people so they can hear his voice, but all he wants to do is be in a room with Sylvia. When he finally does get some face time with Sylvia in the elevator (Mad Men has started using this location as much as The Good Wife), he doesn’t even look at her. Sylvia asks how he is and he replies with a curt “Busy,” it’s as if with the drugs wearing off and the reality of what happened in his apartment the Sylvia spell has broken. Or he might go back to smoking in her hallway again.
Earlier in this season we got to see a young Dick Whitman moving into a brothel with his step-mother and “The Crash” continued this story; this wasn’t a side effect of the injection and is something that is clearly on Don’s mind. He talks about going back to the beginning for the pitch but really he wants to go back to the beginning of why he behaves this way with women. These scenes feel like a way to justify Don’s constant cheating, to show that his issues with women have been there since a young age and while I understand this I don’t think Don should be given a free pass.
The scenes also heavily underline the Madonna/Whore complex that has been previously hinted at; the first woman to truly take care of him is a prostitute called Aimee and she is also the first person Don sleeps with. After his step-mother finds out about this interaction she beats him with a wooden spoon, forever associating sex with shame. Don’s relationships swing between the Madonna/Whore idea quite frequently and he uses sex to assert power when he feels like his dominance is weakening. Sylvia reminds Don that he loved Megan once as this is the only way to get through to him. The only face to face interaction that Megan and Don share in this episode is in the dark and once again he doesn’t utter a single word to her; Megan is the one apologizing for leaving the kids unattended when really he is the one who should have been at home.
This brings me to one of the most surreal aspects of the episode and one that didn’t involve any drugs and that is Sally and Bobby’s conversations with Ida, the woman who robbed the apartment. There was a menacing tone to this whole sequence as it was clear that this woman was not who she said she is. Sally plays along and later feels foolish for her actions. As Megan points out Sally seems so grown up but she is still a child; this is shown earlier when she organizes her brothers so well but then also snarks her mother like any petulant teen. Megan is in the awkward step-mother role where she is still trying to be their friend rather than disciplinarian and it allows Betty to play the superiority card with digs about casting couches. It also doesn’t seem all that relevant to the conversation but Betty mentions that Henry is running for office right after referring to New York as “This disgusting city.” Betty already has the moral high ground; she just wants to hammer it home.
One person who has spent most of this season high is Stan and for most of the episode he responds to the injection with gleeful exuberance (he comes up with 666 ideas). An attempt to have a William Tell moment involving a drawing of an apple and pens instead of an arrow results in Ginsberg throwing a pen into Stan’s arm it gives him a moment of honest reflection with Peggy. This is after Stan has kissed Peggy and she has rebuffed his advance reminding Stan that she has a boyfriend. Stan tells Peggy about his 20-year old cousin who was killed in Vietnam three months ago and she advises that he can’t use sex and drugs to cover up the pain; advice that he doesn’t take as we see him sleeping with Jim Gleason’s daughter Wendy later in the episode (with Jim Cutler creepily watching through the gap in the door).
This is a frenetic episode which works with the drugs theme and while we are given more reasons to understand Don’s behavior, I also don’t think it can excuse his actions. Don’s downward spiral continues and the merger isn’t making him any happier, in fact he’s probably even more distracted. This episode is called “The Crash” but it seems like Don still has much further to fall as we head into the last third of the season. This might be a divisive episode thanks to some on the nose themes, but I always enjoy the slightly more surreal ‘out there’ adventures of Don Draper that tend to occur when he is feeling mental anguish.
- Ginsberg mentions that he is the only sober one in the office and considering how much Ginsberg shares when he is nervous this probably a good thing that he refrains from the drug taking.
- Ted isn’t present for the weekend bender as he deals with the death of Frank Gleason.
- Stan tells Peggy that she’s got a great ass which is his way of saying thank you for their heart to heart. Peggy says thanks for the compliment and I think I’m probably not alone in wanting something more for these two together. Even if Peggy says she doesn’t like beards (and Stan’s is the best beard of them all).
- Megan has been paying Sally in clothes for babysitting, much to Betty’s chagrin. Will Sally get those boots to go with her skirt?
- Betty has returned to her blonde locks and looks slimmer than when we last saw her, this is definitely a reaction to Henry running for office.
- Mad Men book club time: Sally is reading Rosemary’s Baby in bed.
- Poor Ken, he is Chevy’s “favorite toy” as he shows in a manic tap dance to Don. The opening of the episode sets off the menacing tone as Ken is driving in a car of drunken men who are putting his life in danger. This scene is shot in a different way and it looks like it could be a dream sequence, but one that we learn is very real when Ken comes into work with a walking. When Don asks who taught him to dance like that he replies “My mother. No! My first girlfriend.” Further underlying the Madonna/Whore complex.
- Sadly there isn’t much Roger in this episode, but he does tell Don that his face looks like a bag of walnuts.
- Dawn is back! And she spends the episode tidying up after Don and asking if he is ok.
- Bobby and Sally don’t understand why Megan wants to be in a play when she is on TV every day.
- Bobby Draper questions Ida’s grandmother statement and then proceeds with turning the TV on. This kid has priorities and TV always comes first.
- Other references to prostitutes to hammer home this idea; Betty asking Sally about her short skirt and how she paid for it “On which street corner?” Don then later mentions that the office turns into a whorehouse whenever they get a car account.
- They don’t even mention Bobby Kennedy’s assassination that ended last week’s episode. Don’s quest for a simpler time could be in reference to the national turmoil as well as his personal one.