May 20, 2013
Well, I feel like I just came out of a fever dream. What the hell was that?
This week on Mad Men, everything was warped and creepy. At the office, the entire team spent the weekend hopped up on speed, spewing nonsense and nearly destroying each other. At the Draper apartment, Sally had to protect her little brothers from a breaking and entering. In flashback, we saw more of Don’s childhood, and tellingly we learned how he lost his virginity.
“Every time we get a car, this place turns into a whorehouse,” Don says at the end of the episode, as he storms out of Ted’s office. And whores are everywhere this week: Betty accuses both Megan and Sally of whore-ish behavior (she says Megan is always on the casting couch, and asks Sally on which street corner she’s earned her short skirt). Kenny is essentially being whored out to the Chevy people, who use him for dangerous sport. Stan tries to use Peggy to distract himself from pain. “Does someone love me?” says Wendy, the weird hippy chick who’s throwing I Ching coins for the addled office staff (and who, in a creepy twist, turns out to be the now-deceased Gleason’s daughter); “That’s everyone’s question.”
And then, of course, there’s the actual whorehouse – that is, Don’s childhood home. After last week’s disgusting Don behavior, this week we are fed more of the reasons for it. How can he know if he’s loved if his first sexual experience was with a prostitute? How could he have turned away if the woman who served as his mother believed him to be a devil child? How could he not be vengeful if he was punished for being taken advantage of? How could he not desperately want a real mother, a woman to love him and take care of him?
Not that he can take care of his own children. After the ordeal with the thieving “Grandma Ida,” he calls Sally to apologize and tell her that it’s not her fault. She says that the woman seemed to have answers to all of her questions about Don – “But then I realized I don’t know anything about you.” He hasn’t shown anything of himself to his kids. It’s only to Sylvia, whose door he presses against night after night, that he haltingly admits to having “a lot of emotions.”
It’s all heartbreaking, as Wendy so aptly says when she tries to seduce Don by listening to his heart (“I think it’s broken”). Everyone is trying to escape from pain. The only people who seem to be able to face anything with a level head are Peggy – who turns down Stan, and offers him sage advice – and Ted. The two of them as a prospective couple is making more and more sense.
We learn from Cutler’s doctor that the new agency doesn’t have a name yet, and it’s a fitting symbol of the chaos in this episode. Although the outside world isn’t mentioned – except that Stan’s cousin has been killed in action in Vietnam – the out-of-control sensation that was sweeping the country is on full display within the walls of this microcosm; in the office, in the Draper apartment, in Don’s mind.
This was definitely a very weird and hard to swallow episode, and part of me feels frustrated by it – I miss the Mad Men of days gone by! Give me clearly cut and defined sexism, excessive drinking, plain old affairs; that stuff was much easier to process. But perhaps (or probably), this is exactly the point: things are changing, and they are all messed up, and no one has any idea what to do, and haze is more attractive than reality. In that light, the shape of the episode makes a lot of sense.
VIP line of the week goes to Bobby Draper (who is really killing it this season): “Are we negroes?” he asks, after he meets Grandma Ida. I get it, Bobby – nothing is making sense anymore. Who knows what’s real.
A few things to note:
– When she hears Grandma Ida come in, Sally is reading “Rosemary’s Baby,” the story of a child possessed by the devil – a nice match for the experiences of young Don.
– Matt Weiner LOVES the elevator metaphor (assuming that’s what it is? Maybe he just finds elevators soothing).
– Cutler is a REAL creep, turns out. His behavior also resonates with young Don, peering through a crack in the door at disturbing sexual acts.
– Peggy alludes to the loss in her life, which is the first we’ve heard in a long time of the Olsen/Campbell child.
– I still love Ginsberg, and the way he just keeps throwing out guesses. “What’s the answer to life’s problems? A Chevy? Then it’s oatmeal?”
– Sylvia reminds Don that he loved Megan once. It’s another indication of how entirely derailed he has become.
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