Mad Men s5e4: Mystery Date

“You know, there are some parts of town where we can run into some people I worked with.”

Hello, dark-ass episode! This episode is filled with nightmares, fever dreams, literal murder, shame, but not without a tinge of light at the end of the tunnel.

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As we all know, Don’s a guy with a whole lotta hangups. Even with our initial glimpses of Don on the show, he’s ~an adulterer~ though of course, we don’t know it just yet. You see him banging Midge in the pilot and hanging around at her Village digs, and that’s what we know of him. They have a chat like a couple would, he frets about work and being a fraud while she soothes and reassures during their pillow talk. Then as Caravan pipes up, he boards the train home to his idyllic suburban home in Ossining at the very end.. revealing his picture-perfect wife and 2 kids.

quelle surprise.. || image courtesy of Giphy

What starts to come into focus as Mystery Date unfolds is just how deeply ashamed Don is of his past fucking around, how intrinsically broken he is inside. This show has never really presented Don’s philandering in a good way, but there’s a pretty harsh fluorescent DMV floodlight blasting directly upon his bullshit here. Here’s a guy who hates himself, deep down.

Banging around with Midge, Rachel Menken, Bobbi Barrett, that annoying Palm Springs teenager Joy, the incredibly irritating Miss Farrell, tons of other randos like the remarkably uncomfortable elevator encounter Andrea.. he’s looking for someone or something to fix whatever the hell is wrong with him, and he plunges in hardon first. We know he’s never had a loving mother figure in his life which certainly doesn’t help.

That feeling of isolation and shame eats away at him, and he’s terrified that it’s some keystone part of his personality he can’t move past; marrying Megan was maybe a move to convince himself that it’ll be better this time around. He was unhappy while married to Betty, and you never know.. perhaps he’s right, Megan will save the day with her sunny bubbliness and her love for him. Maybe she’ll coax him and love him into fixing that part of himself. But hey, Don.. we create our own demons.

Ginsberg knocks a presentation out of the park for Butler Shoes Footwear, and natch, rattles off like a maniac about the idea of Cinderella being inherently dark; and it does make sense. Think about it– a woman with only one shoe desperately running, hobbling, to get the fuck away from a dark, imposing figure of a man. Ginzo describes the ad’s moneyshot with the chase, Cinderella’s shoe, as we see Andrea’s limp leg from under Don’s bed later.. juxtaposed against that sumptuous white carpet after he strangled her to death in his fever hallucination.

And Don frantically shoving Andrea’s body under the bed is the inverse of the oft-discussed Speck murders in this episode; instead, it’s a dead girl under the bed versus a frightened live one.

Because of Speck looming over everyone, there’s talk of people popping up at your door and what might happen. The soldier who crosses Joan’s threshold should theoretically be fulfilling a dream for her; Greg, her husband, back from Vietnam on leave, with less than a few months to go before he’s back home for good and they can be a family again.

But we all know Greg is more of a shit nightmare creep than a daydreamer’s hero. We know that he raped Joan on the floor of Don’s office. We know that he’s a wildly insecure manbaby, whom Joan married more for the expectation of a lady of her time than true love. We know that they’ve tried to make things work, with some nice moments here and there, but at the end of the day Greg is just the handsome face she settled for. Either way he’s her husband, and she’s relying on him to be home soonish and help her day to day make sense; instead, he volunteered to stay in Vietnam for another year because he feels “needed” over there. Fucking hell.

The surprise news is dumped on Joan at a classy Italian dinner with her mother and Greg’s distraught parents, immediately followed by some bro blaring an accordion to ease the tension. Last time an accordion made an appearance on this show was when Joan had to serenade a similarly uncomfortable trash dinner!

image courtesy of The New Yorker

So, Joan ditches said shitbag husband once and for all, thank fucking Christ. She has reached her limit of bullshit, and Greg and his microscopic dick can go and be Very Important(TM) in Vietnam. Good riddance, dead weight.

As the dawn of the next day arrives, it seems everyone’s waking from their nightmares, and probably none more than Joan. Don’s shit fever dream only lasts that night, whereas Joan is breaking out of one she had been living for years.

And while Don is left feeling wary of his wandering eye in the harsh light of day, Peggy is consumed with guilt and embarrassment over a split-second moment with Dawn and her cash-addled purse. And in fairness to Pegs, I feel like she was more worried about having a relative stranger in her house when she’d swindled Roger for so much cash that day (roughly $2600 in 2017 dollars!) rather than a race thing. Either way, that split second moment of hesitation with her purse on the coffee table as they said goodnight is something she can’t really bounce back from.. awkward.

image courtesy of Crasstalk

Joan lies on her bed next to her tiny baby and her mother, mulling everything over and wide awake. This isn’t the life she thought she’d have, and it’s certainly not the one she was sold, but at least she doesn’t have to worry about Greg and his bullshit Fragile Man Feelings(TM) anymore.

Can everyone break out of their bullshit? Can we ever really do that? Guess we’ll have to see.

“I mean, she’s running down this dark side street. And it’s outside a castle, so it’s got those walls and the cobblestones. And she’s running, but she’s only got this one incredible shoe for her incredible gown, so she’s hobbling, wounded prey. She can hear him behind her, his measured footsteps catching up.. she turns a corner; those big shadows.. And she’s scared. And then she feels a hand on her shoulder and she turns around. And it doesn’t matter what he looks like, he’s handsome at that moment offering her her shoe. She takes it. She knows she’s not safe, but she doesn’t care. I guess we know in the end she wants to be caught.

….See? It’s too dark.”

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Mad Men s5e3: Tea Leaves

“They know I’m going to the doctor a lot, and they know I’m sick, but I’ve always been in a bad mood, so I joke with Hank.. he should just tell them I got hit by a car. It’d be easier to deal with than saying goodbye.”

Ahhh, the old looming threat of being replaced, that static humming fear inside all of us. This episode has Betty and her health scare, Roger vs. Pete, the generation gap with Don and a Rolling Stones groupie, and Peggy with new hire Michael Ginsberg.

Apparently, so much of Betty’s past energy was expended pushing and pulling at Don’s inexorable mystery that when she lets go of that rope.. she really lets it all go to hell. And though she may look different from season 4 (mainly to work around January Jones’ pregnancy), she’s still herself; habitually negative, insecure, and indelibly myopic. She’s just as unhappy and unfulfilled with her housewife life, even though she’s married to faithful Henry. Don’t forget that emotionally, Don let Betty stay a little girl; he let her have her temper tantrums and get her way, since he was getting his way too. It’ll take some time for her to acclimatise and work through those literal years of garbage treatment.

On the quest for diet pills, she has a legit health scare; some sort of node on her thyroid that could be cancer, and everything in her world understandably screeches to a halt. What would happen to the kids? How would they remember her? God forbid her dinosaur mother in law and ‘teenager’ Megan raise them.. ay yi yi, Bets.

I know everyone reacts differently when they’re faced with something frightening, but she’s still so threatened by Megan that she refers to her as Don’s girlfriend instead of his wife.. not a good look. And it ends up that Don is the one to remind her of how the kids might react to the news. The fact that Don is her first call is pretty telling; she knows he’ll tell her what she wants (and needs) to hear, that everything is going to be OK.

It’s not all bad, and she does come back down to earth for a bit; the way Betty cuddles with Gene as she and Henry look on at Bobby and Sally running around with sparklers is a very Norman Rockwell moment in time.

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When she heads to another doctor for a biopsy, she runs into an old friend on her way out; turns out she’s going through cancer treatments, and Betty is morbidly curious about what it’s really like to be that sick.

“I’m sorry, but I have to ask you.. what is it like?”

“Well, it’s like you’re way out in the ocean, alone, and you’re paddling.. and you see people on the shore, but they’re getting farther and farther away. And you struggle because it’s natural. Then your mind wanders back to everything normal.. What am I gonna fix for dinner? Did I lock the back door? And then you just get so tired, you just give in and hope you go straight down.”

“.. That’s horrible..”

“No one’s ever asked.”

Pretty terrifying, honesty. How’s that for some light fucking afternoon tea conversation?

image courtesy of MadMenWiki

But even when Betty receives the good news that she’s out of the woods with a clean bill of health, she manages to twist it into putting herself down as “just fat” .. instead of being clear of fucking cancer. And here’s Henry, intensely relieved that he will get more time with his wife; he truly loves that difficult woman. Time to gain a little more perspective, Bets.

When it comes to Roger, he’s pretty much already been replaced by Pete in most ways (save for the name in the lobby). Despite that reality, he still resents Pete.. and Pete’s Mohawk Airlines lobby antics don’t help that shit. Roger has the inherent natural charms of an account man, whereas it’s a little obvious that Pete has to work a lot harder for it. Just a little kick in the teeth there.

image courtesy of Screenrant

And let’s face it, Roger practically coaxed Pete to step up because he became so goddamned complacent in the first place with Lucky Strike.

“Your plate is full, and, frankly, Mohawk is going to insist on a regular copywriter. Someone with a penis.”

“..I’ll work on that.”

In a similar vein, Roger pushes Pegs to hire the whacked out Michael Ginsberg (whom Stan prophesies will surpass her in the talent department) mostly due to the fact that he’s a guy, which suits Mohawk’s oldtimey copywriter needs. Though Roger knows that the times are changing, he doesn’t necessarily dig it.

Back in the 1960-set pilot, it was a joke to Roger that the agency might have a Jewish person in a meaningful role– and now in 1966, he acknowledges to Peggy that having a guy like Ginsberg on board “makes the agency more modern”. Ginzo himself is a transitional figure as well, more adapted to the current times; for example, Michael is leagues apart from Rachel Menken’s immigrant father, or even his own father, who reacts to news of his new job by reciting a blessing in Hebrew.

(And suggesting they get hookers, but that’s beside the point..)

No matter which way you slice it, Ginsberg is a talented guy, and Peggy feels good about hiring him because she wants to work with talented people; shit’s inspirational. She saw a little beyond his encyclopedic eccentricities, and his portfolio is one of the only solid ones that were sent in. Mentioning The Letter to Don certainly didn’t hurt his chances at the job.

image courtesy of Recapguide

Turns out Don is much more at home charming an older lady like Heinz guy’s wife than he is at chatting with Bonnie backstage waiting for the Rolling Stones; but Don also zeroes in and hits a nerve in a way that she feels the need to step away from him for a moment, transparently asking to give his business card a whirl on the bouncer. At the end of their interaction, you can tell that the new generation doesn’t necessarily understand the people they will eventually replace either. She complains that older guys like Don don’t want her to have fun “just because you never did”, to which he quips, “No. We’re worried about you”.

The way Don handles Megan re:Betty being sick is pretty fascinating as well. Apparently, at the age of 26 she can’t understand how death works, and what that would mean to him? Try again, Don. He wields it when he’s conveniently too consumed by the idea of meeting up with Megan’s friends and she sees through it immediately; a different gal than Betty, for sure.

“You know, back in Pittsburgh, everybody is pretty much who you expect them to be.”