If the stated purpose of Mad Men is to illustrate how people react to change – not only age-related changes but also cultural changes – then the April 8 episode “Mystery Date” did a better, more subtle job than the first three episodes of the season. Last night no one moaned about being old (or asked “when will it get normal again?”) and there were no cheap reminders of cultural shifts like the wild sixties outfits that the guests wore to Don’s birthday party.
Yet there is no doubt that the Mad Men of July 1966 is culturally far removed from the Mad Men of 1960, when the series opened. The backdrop to the episode is the gruesome Richard Speck murders in Chicago, where Speck tied up and murdered eight nurses – a troubling reminder (along with references to the urban riots in Watts and Chicago) that the country is beginning to go haywire.
There’s also a growing sense that the alcohol-lubricated hijinks that seemed like so much fun in 1960 are no longer so appealing. There have been no wild office parties with conga lines and lawn mowers, the office drinking seems way down, and Megan even tells Don to stop smoking, at least while he’s got the flu. Some of this is age-related (Ken Cosgrove, Pete Campbell and Harry Crane are all married now – and Don doesn’t have the same stamina that he did when he was 34) but the main reason is that all that smoking, drinking and catting around seems vaguely passé to the younger and newer characters.
Of course not all the cultural changes are necessarily bad. In 1960, Joan probably wouldn’t have had the nerve to dump her unworthy husband, but by 1966, there’s a growing sense that women should be able to exert more control over their lives. And in 1960, Sterling Cooper wouldn’t have had a black secretary or bragged about having a Jewish copywriter.
As usual, there is far too much going on in Mad Men to comment or analyze every relevant development. Here are a few random observations:
Dream On – This is the second episode in a row in which a dream sequence has revealed the anxieties of a main character. Last week it was Betty, fearful that she would die of cancer, foreseeing her bereaved family after her funeral; this week it was Don hallucinating that he strangled an ex-lover who had developed a bad case of Fatal Attraction Syndrome. Dear Matt Weiner, please knock off the dream sequences, especially ones that are not explicitly labeled as such. I was one of those who believed that Don really had (already!!) cheated on Megan and it wasn’t until he strangled her and pushed her under the bed that I began to think this might be the fever talking. Truth is: dream sequences have seemed like a cheap way out ever since Pam Ewing dreamed an entire season of Dallas.
The Valley of the Dolls – For whatever reason, “Sally Draper” was trending on Twitter throughout the show; Twitter has an extreme fascination about what happens to her; it already thinks she’s going to have an eating disorder. Now they think she’s going to end up like Judy Garland. Her scenes with Grandma Francis, Henry’s “obese” mother, were terrific. Myself, I only vaguely remember the board game “Mystery Date,” which gave a name to this episode, and I certainly don’t remember that weird commercial (which looked a little bit like Michael Ginsberg’s hosiery pitch sounded). I love how Grandma Francis turns out to be a major pusher – first she tries to get Betty to take diet pills and then she gives Sally a Seconal to get her to sleep. The scene were Betty and Henry come home and find the old bat asleep with the carving knife while Sally’s passed out under the couch was terrific in its understated creepiness.
Bye-Bye Greg – If there’s a more reviled character on Mad Men than Dr. Greg Harris, I’d like to know who it is. Of course we all hate him for forcing himself on her that time in the office and we feel tremendous satisfaction when she finally tells him, “You’re not a good man, you never were, even before we were married—and you know what I’m talking about.” We ALL know what she’s talking about. Still Joannie’s on a bit of a high horse about him making unilateral decisions considering that little Kevin is going to grow up with a shock of white hair and a fondness for Martinis. Greg is an interesting character that we don’t see a lot of on TV – he’s fundamentally weak and hasn’t quite lived up to his own expectations. No wonder he wants to go back to Vietnam, where he feels needed and competent. Oh well, good riddance, I guess. As interesting as he is, we don’t want anyone around who talks to Joan like this: “I have my orders and you have yours.”
Peggy Sue – What a great roller coaster ride Peggy had this week. Her $400 shakedown of Roger was one of her greatest moments, but then her good deed in letting the African American secretary Dawn sleep at her apartment was as cringe-worthy as anything she’s ever done. For a second I thought she was going to make a lesbian pass, but thankfully she appeared more interested in mentoring her, implying that copywriting is the most important thing a woman can ever aspire to, before then conceding she doesn’t know if she has the strength to carry on. Peggy also tried to compare her struggles as a woman to the barriers that African Americans have to overcome. She tried this last year too (just as Hillary Clinton’s supporters tried vis-avis Barak Obama). I don’t think Dawn was impressed. But the most awkward moment occurred when she wanted to remove her cash-laden pocketbook from the coffee table but didn’t want to give the impression that she didn’t trust Dawn not to steal Roger’s bribe money. That situation could have come straight out of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Roger Dodger – I was marginally sympathetic to Roger up until now but it is increasingly clear that he is a major empty suit and screw-up. The WHOLE POINT of hiring Michael Ginsburg was to have “someone with a penis” work on the Mohawk account, yet he completely neglected to give him the assignment and was forced to beg Peggy to work on it because everyone else had gone home for the weekend. Just wait Roger, if you pull this 40 years in the future you’ll be able to blackberry someone on a Friday afternoon to ruin their weekend.
Here are some predictions:
· It will transpire that Michael Ginsburg’s mother was killed violently. He didn’t react well to the gallows humor over the Richard Speck murders.
· I think we’ll see more of Dawn. Hope so, because she’s been extremely one-dimensional up till now – nice, quiet, minding her own business. She’s been like Carla, the show’s only other Black character. Clearly the opening sequence of the season, with the Black protesters on Madison Avenue, signaled a major emphasis on the civil rights movement – and at some point, the show is going to have to deliver, presumably with a major story on Dawn.
· I’m predicting that Don will not cheat on Megan, but only because Megan will not survive the season. This is too much happiness for Don and I think she will actually get the cancer that Betty avoided.
· I’m predicting we’ll see more of Bobby Draper. The little boy playing him now is the fourth Bobby Draper so far, but already this season baby Gene has had more lines than him. What is the point of casting a new kid as Bobby if he’s going to spend the whole time at bed-wetting camp?
· Roger will either learn not to carry around a lot of cash or he will go broke bribing his way through the office. He got Harry to switch offices with Pete for $1100, so I guess he made off relatively cheaply with Peggy.
This was a very good episode, but I am not sure I can continue to watch these shows live. My heart is always pounding when the show ends at 11:00 p.m. and it takes me forever to fall asleep. Maybe I should get Grandma Francis to give me the other half of Sally’s Seconal.
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