Good grief, you guys. Last night’s episode of Mad Men was a little EXTRA, wasn’t it? Sleeping pills, extreme violence, feminism, racism, extortion (of Roger, natch), the mass murder of college students, Henry’s mother’s butcher knife. And that’s to say nothing of Sally and Peggy, duking it out from afar to see who would be named the episode’s HBIC. The results were so close that I think the jury’s still out, actually.
For anyone who was a little underwhelmed by all the exposition of the first two episodes, last night’s show should have been like salve on the harsh burn of narrative constraints. We got ALL OF THE PLOTS last night, so much so that I could barely go to bed. Oh, and JOANIE. How could I forget?
We should have known that everything was going to go gravely wrong (in the best way) with this episode when we started out with Don’s cold. First of all, Don Draper can catch colds? That doesn’t seem right. Unless there’s some virulent strain of syphilis that manifests itself in flulike symptoms, I still think it’s a stretch. Don’s like Chuck Norris – when he encounters a virus, IT comes down with a cold. (Did that make sense? I’m guessing no, but humor me.)
Anyway, we found out about this cold in the elevator when Don and Megan were on their way into work, and halfway up the building, some crazy-eyed hussy (heretofore known as The Elevator Harlot) hopped in and hit on him anyway, cough and all, while Megan was standing approximately 2.5 feet away. As it turns out, not only was it not the only time Don had met this particular woman, but it also wasn’t the only time such a chance encounter had taken place in Megan’s presence. Predictably, everyone’s least favorite French Canadian was displeased.
Already in the office, Joyce the Life lesbian had made her seasonal debut, this time with a different kind of dirty pictures than the ones that made such an impression on Peggy last season. These pictures were of the crime scene of 1966’s notorious Chicago nurse murders, where Richard Speck bound and murdered eight nursing students and raped one more on Chicago’s south side. Everyone gathered around to gawk at the pictures, most of them positively gleeful at the gore in front of them.
Everyone except Ginsberg, at least. His father had a very noticeable accent last week, which surely means that he had some not-insignificant brush (at the very least) with the Holocaust in the not-so-distant past. Even seeing that kind of horror secondhand through his father’s memories, Ginsberg would naturally have a better handle on exactly what it is to be bound, gagged and murdered. Not that it stopped him from pitching an idea about the almost-rape of Cinderella to some pantyhose execs later in the episode, but we’ll get to that in due time.
Ginsberg stormed straight out of the creative “lounge” and seemingly right into a pitch meeting with Don over that very same pantyhose brand. The upshot of the entire thing is that Don doesn’t like Ginsberg’s “regional accent,” which may have been one too many sets of scare quotes for this paragraph. (In case anyone was wondering, by “regional accent,” Don actually meant “unbridled jewiness.”)(Should “jewiness” be capitalized? It looks weird capitalized. Jewiness. I dunno. Not a real word!) Despite the accent, the pitch meeting with the pantyhose people would continue apace.
Afterward, we found Don in his office, fielding a phone call from one very indignant Sally Draper. It seems as though Betty and Henry have been out of town for several days and both Bobby and Eugene have been killed off, so she’s hanging out at the Francis House of Darkness and Wood Panelling all by herself under the supervision of Grandma Pauline, and the supervision was not to Sally’s liking. Grandma Pauline was apparently not respecting her vacation time, in addition to being insensitive to her daily TV needs, and Sally, throwing mad shade at grandma, was having none of it.
The phone call was the first time that Sally’s reminded me of Betty at all, but that kind of behavior on a 9-year-old (or however old Sally is, I’m hopeless confused at this point) is hilarious and ballsy, whereas from a grown woman, it’s just petulant and immature. Sally is the baddest bitch in the game, and also perhaps my spirit animal. To his credit, Don told her to go out and play, just like any disinterested 1960s dad would.
At Joan’s house, she and her mother were preparing for Gregg’s arrival home from Vietnam. Her mom wanted to take the baby out so that the first thing Gregg would do upon arriving home would be to schtup Joan, but Joan was resistant to the idea, perhaps because she doesn’t really like Gregg all that much and wanted the baby to run interference. Joan, naturally, got her way. At least for a second – her mom found a reason to leave and take the baby and Gregg and Joan found their way into the bedroom.
Back and the office, Don and Megan were set for a showdown by the water cooler while Don desperately searched for an Aspirin. Don apologized for accidentally finding a floozy in the elevator, but Megan had some larger concerns – namely, that the voracious sexual appetite Dan had both with Betty and during their divorce wouldn’t be satisfied by a single woman forever. As much as Don tried to assuage her concerns, everyone watching (and probably both Don and Megan) knew that she was right – Don will eventually cheat. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but Don Draper does not suddenly stop being Don Draper because of the transformative power of love. Ladies, if you’re out there dating your town’s version of Don Draper right now, remember those words. I won’t have time later to say “I told you so” to everyone individually.
We were then whisked back to the Francis Manor to see a Sally-Grandma showdown in person, this one concerning a tunafish sandwich that Sally didn’t plan on eating. It had relish in it, which would also stop me from eating a tunafish sandwich, but grandma smacked Sally in the hand anyway. In sharp contrast to previous Sally-beatings that we’ve witnessed, though, she managed to guilt grandma into apologizing. Sally does not like relish, she does not like arbitrary rules from people who are not her mother and she especially does not like anyone laying a hand on her, so there. She is not taking anybody’s goddamn guff.
Back at Joan’s house, she had risen from her post-sex sleep to find Gregg eating bologna and her mom feeding the baby. I was still incredibly confused about the fact that Gregg wasn’t dead as a doornail, and in fact, had returned from Vietnam without a scratch after only a year, but he soon sent Joan’s mom out for more of her “special medicine” and everything made a lot more sense. He’s going back to Vietnam, you guys! He’s going straight back in a week and a half, for another full year. Matthew Weiner might as well have played a scrolling message at the bottom that said, “Don’t worry, we were just trying to trick you guys, we’re totally going to kill him now.”
Speaking of people that are surely going to be dead before long: We cut to Ginsberg making the pitch that he and Don had discussed, this time to the pantyhose execs. He made it perfectly, word for word, and they bought every line of it. Just when he was out of the woods, though, Ginsberg decided to make yet another pitch, this time for a completely different idea that sounded like Cinderella plus implied sexual assault. They bought that too! The pantyhose people were eating out of Ginsberg’s hands, and even Don didn’t break his spine with the sheer force of his fury. Somehow, Ginsberg knew he wouldn’t.
Back at the office, Pete dropped into Roger’s office on his way home for the weekend to let him know that Mohawk wanted a quick phone run-through of the campaign on Monday. Simple enough, eh? Except Roger forgot to tell anyone to make a Mohawk campaign and it was Friday afternoon, which is why Roger can’t have nice things. After he failed to locate Ginsberg, Roger bargained with Peggy to do it over the weekend. For the privilege, he ended up spending $400 on top of last week’s $1100 for Harry’s office. Remember when I said Sally was the baddest bitch in the game? Well, it might actually be Peggy, who so clearly knew she had the upper hand during the entire interaction that I nearly got a contact high from her confidence. Required GIF of Peggy counting money to follow.
By the time Peggy had finished her work for the evening, the entire office was desolate, dark and still, except that Peggy seemed to have a strange feeling that she wasn’t alone. I wasn’t sure what I expected her to find when she burst through Don’s door, but it sure wasn’t Dawn the secretary, asleep on the couch and startled half to death. Peggy offered to pay for her cab home, but obviously cab drivers of that era weren’t going to go to Harlem if they could help it. Hell, cab drivers NOW don’t really love to go to Harlem.
Peggy, in the least helpful fit of helpfulness ever, suggested the subway, which also isn’t an option when it’s the middle of the night and everyone in your neighborhood is ready for the police beatings to begin any moment. What’s the third option? Well, staying with Peggy, of course. Peggy’s a liberal feminist! Peggy will do the right thing! Except she will screw it up, surely, because even well-meaning white people in the 1960s are not to be trusted when it comes to interracial interaction.
At Don’s house, a guest of a different kind had come to visit. When he had gotten home that afternoon, in advance of Megan, The Elevator Harlot had followed him in, apparently flashing the doorman to gain entrance. Don argued with her for a bit before sending her out the back door to exit the building via the service elevator and then got back into bed, but a couple of hours later, she “woke” Don from his fever dreams and he didn’t resist any longer. Before we knew it, he was the old Don Draper again, his hand heading swiftly up her skirt. For reasons I can’t entirely explain, it was pretty clear to me the entire time that the whole thing was a fever-induced delusion, but based on the Twitter reactions, it seems as though not everyone got that impression. The Elevator Harlot is a somewhat clunky metaphor for his nagging, ever-present past, you guys. Get in the game.
At Peggy’s apartment, things were slightly less nefarious and far, far more drunk. Peggy and Dawn were drinking beers, although it seemed like Peggy had had the majority of them, and it was like straight-up truth serum. She doesn’t know if she really wants to be a copywriter, you guys. It’s hard and stuff. The constant fighting against her own femininity in order to be taken seriously is tiring! Also, Peggy felt kinship with Dawn and she wanted Dawn to know that, because Dawn is black and oppressed! Dawn seemed a little dubious, because even though it was hard being a white woman in the business world in 1966, it was nowhere near as terrifying as being a black woman, anywhere. Dawn smiled and nodded, though, because what else do you do to the drunk white lady whose couch you’re going to sleep on, even if her attempts at feminist bonding are super awkward?
Speaking of terrifying things happening to women, Sally had somehow managed to get her hands on a newspaper, which detailed the horrific nurse murders that were mentioned throughout the episode. Naturally, she couldn’t sleep after reading all that stuff, so she went down and found grandma, who had a big knife to make everything all better. In what was perhaps the worst instance of grandparenting ever televised (or perhaps second only do the story about her father kicking her and what a good lesson it was that we heard earlier), Pauline detailed the nurse murders to Sally while clutching a butcher knife.
When it was clear that Sally was never going to go to sleep after hearing all of that, Pauline dosed her with a sleeping pill. Rich old white people always have the best drugs, FACT. My great aunt used to give my mom Valium for tummy aches when she was a kid. When Henry and Betty returned the next morning, Pauline and Sally were both dead to the world, Sally under the sofa. I don’t think either of them were ACTUALLY dead, though, but at least we know where Sally’s future drug phase will start. What, you thought that Sally was going to grow up in the 60s and with a mother like Betty and NOT end up with a small-to-medium-sized substance problem?
Elsewhere, in what was supposed to be a pleasant meal, we joined Joan and Gregg out to dinner with little Kevin and Gregg’s parents. Talk quickly turned to Gregg’s impending redeployment, and before long, the cat was out of the bag on exactly why he was going back to Vietnam for so long: Gregg had volunteered for another tour of duty because it makes him feel like more of a special snowflake than working in the ER at home. Joan was livid, and to add insult to injury, we were then reminded of the horrific scene from a few seasons ago, wherein she played the accordion in front of god and everybody. Oh, Joanie.
Back at Peggy’s house, she and Dawn were bedding down for the night when Peggy noticed that she had left her purse on the coffee table. There was a rather pregnant pause when Peggy realized that she wanted to take her purse (and her 400 Rogerbucks) in the other room with her, at which point Dawn realized the same thing – she was being sized up as a potential thief. Peggy rather awkwardly excused herself with some empty beer bottles and left her bag on the table, and in the morning, she woke up to the linens perfectly folded and a note from Dawn, thanking her for her hospitality. The look of liberal guilt on Peggy’s face will likely never wash off.
Over at Don’s house, nothing much was happening. Oh, just the usual, strangling sexual partners and hiding them under the bed, because that’s the smartest place ever to dispose of a body. I really WANTED to believe that it was all actually happening, that Mad Men was about to take a psychotic, weird turn that genuinely no one anticipated, but I didn’t buy it for a second because Weiner is never going to throw the show that far off course. Instead, Don had a terrible fever dream in which he tried to clumsily and metaphorically murder his womanizing past, and Megan was there in the morning to make it clear to him that it was all a dream by not tripping over The Elevator Harlot’s leg, which Don had left sticking out from under the bed in his mind. His mind-bed.
We finished up the episode at Joan’s house, where things were slightly less tranquil after a night’s sleep. Gregg had come home and was eating breakfast like they hadn’t had a door-slamming fight 12 hour prior, but remember how I said it was Sally and Peggy duking it out for the title of HBIC of this episode? Well, the winner is actually Joan. She calmly sat down at the kitchen table and told Gregg that she wanted him to go and never come back, and in the process, she finally called him out for raping her on the floor of the Sterling Cooper offices years ago.
It wasn’t just that Joan gave him this kiss-off, it was HOW she did it. Utterly calm, without tears or hesitation, providing him with no options but to take his coat and leave. If only we could all be so poised when we kick a man to the curb, so articulate about his failings and why it is that he has to go and never come back. That’s it, indeed.
-As much as last week and the week before were about windows and falling, this week was about being under things. The lone surviving nursing student who hid under the bed to save herself from a rampaging murderer, Sally passed out under the couch after grandma dosed her with a sleeping pill, Don’s dead dalliance under the bed in his dream. Sometimes the metaphor was clunky and sometimes it was used well, but this episode had more trapped women than just those encumbered by furniture.
-At what point does it become unprofitable for Roger to continue coming to work if all he’s going to do is pay a premium out of pocket for others to solve his own laziness for him?
-Megan’s nervousness over Don’s sexual appetite was the first time that she’s shown any real doubt about the future strength of their union.
-Joan ditching Gregg might mean that Roger will make a play for her, but I doubt that she would accept his advances in his current state of sad-sackery.
-“He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Kiss)” was perhaps the only song that could have done the ending credits of this incredibly dark episode any justice. It’s about as creepy as girl group songs from the 1960s get.
-This episode was a great argument for the theory that Mad Men is actually all about the women, at its core – almost all of this week’s action revolved around them, and by comparison, Don and his fever dream seemed kind of silly and out of place to me. As much as I love me some Mr. Draper, I find Sally, Peggy and Joan far more compelling as characters. If Fat Betty sticks around, I might even add her to that list since her weight has afforded her a bit more of a personality.
Tags: Butcher Knife, Chance Encounter, Chuck Norris, Colds, Draper, Extortion, Extreme Violence, Feminism, French Canadian, Good Grief, Hussy, Mad Men, Mass Murder, Salve, Seasonal Debut, Sleeping Pills, Syphilis, Time Don, Trotsky, Virulent Strain