"Mad Men" Recap: "Mystery Date"
Don is sick from the get-go, caught up in a coughing and hacking fit befitting a man of his lifestyle. He and Megan joke about it, standing on different sides of an elevator, but that joke quickly becomes awkward when one of Don’s former lovers comes into the scene and hits on him in front of his wife.
In the office, another type of sick behavior is on display. Joyce provides quite a stir in the office when she shows up with photos from a shocking and brutal mass rape and murder case involving 9 nurses, 8 who died and 1 who lived because she hid under the bed. The creative team all peer over the photos, but the new guy—already nicknamed “Ginzo”—has a crisis of conscious and condemns the reactions of the others.
Back at the Harris home, Joan and her mother are anxiously awaiting the arrival of her husband, who’s a “new father.” And when Greg does return, he blissfully scoops up both his supposed son and his wife—who does not seem as thrilled to see him as he is to see her. But this newfound stasis is shattered when Greg reveals that he’s not leaving for only another 40 days, as he’d said previously: He’s going back to Vietnam for an entire year.
Meanwhile, Sally’s finally getting some screen time, as she sasses off to Don over the phone about her strict step-grandmother and her life at chez Francis. She’s petulant and bored, as her new parents are delayed in coming home, and she’s dreaming of spending time with her father in the city. Don lets her down gently, but it seems pretty clear that Sally’s character is going to be dealing with a lot of adolescent anxiousness through the rest of this season.
Don then talks over the morning’s elevator scene with Megan, who’s displeased by his behavior. Don doesn’t seem to understand what’s wrong, and clearly doesn’t want to address or understand how his infidelity appears to his current wife.
His personal life frustration mixes with his workplace frustration, as a shoes pitch with Ken, Michael and Stan takes a creative turn when Michael informally pitches a Cinderella plot—which Don had dismissed earlier as cliché—to the client, who accept it. Early season Don would’ve fired the man right away; this season’s Don rolls with the punches, albeit grudgingly, and is so sick that he does the very uncharacteristic thing of taking his wife’s advice and going home to sleep his quickly worsening illness off.
Pete gets his only screen time in the episode belittling Roger, telling him that he expects Michael’s work on Mohawk over the weekend. Roger, who hadn’t even told Michael about the Mohawk pitch, is forced to work on the fly.
Peggy’s in the office, so he hands her $10 and tells her to come up with a campaign over the weekend. Peggy, in a dazzling display of both arrogance and awesomeness, gives in to his pressure but forces him to own up to her talents—“The work is $10. The lie is extra.” He ends up schilling $400, and a visibly thrilled Peggy excitedly pockets the cash.
Joan and Greg’s families get together for what’s supposed to be a happy homecoming dinner, but things get awkward quickly when Joan finds outs that Greg volunteered to go back. She confronts him about his decision, and about the fact that he didn’t consult her at all about it, but he plays her reaction down.
At SCDP, Peggy’s working on the Mohawk campaign late at night when she hears a noise in the office. Startled after hearing about the nurses case, she creeps into Don’s office—only to find Dawn, who’s too frightened by recent neighborhood-specific riots to go home. The new secretary confesses to Peggy that she’s slept in Don’s office before, so Peggy offers her home to Dawn for the night.
At Peggy’s apartment, the two hit it off because they both understand, as Peggy puts it, what it’s like to be “the only one like me there for a long time.” But as Peggy gets drunker, the conversation takes a darker turn. She’s afraid that her actions in the workplace are too masculine, and that copywriting is taking too big of a toll on her. As she leaves to go sleep for the night, she looks at Dawn, and then her own purse; the glance is relatively brief, but the camaraderie between them is broken.
Sally continues acting out against her step-grandmother, until she reads the story of the nurses. Frightened by the graphic imagery, she turns to her elder for support, only to find more scary stories and paranoia instead. Shaken, Sally is convinced she won’t be able to sleep, so she and her nana both take pills to go to sleep.
And here’s where things start going crazy. Don goes home, only to find the lover in the elevator at the door. The woman, named Andrea, hits on Don repeatedly, but in an effort to stay faithful to Megan, he sends her away and goes to lie down. However, he wakes up to find her over him, and he eventually gives into her seduction.
Afterward, Andrea teases Don about his ways, saying that he can’t get over his womanizing nature. He grins (or in his case, stares stony-faced and feverish) and bears it until she coos “You’re sick”—and then he snaps, throwing her onto the ground and choking the life out of her.
That imagery of a helpless woman, and that fear of a man’s power against a woman, then comes up again and again. Don’s murder was in the end a terrible fever dream hallucination, but his infidelity is a form of abuse, something that he’s attempting to control now but which still rears its head in his life. And when Betty and Henry finally get home, they find Henry’s mother passed out with a knife in hand, and Sally under the couch, knocked out by the pill, victims of the fear that someone in the night will come a-knocking.
And Joan, poor Joan who’s suffered so much at the hands of her husband, finally lashes out against Greg. “I want you to go and never go back,” she coldly addresses to the man who once raped her, “I’m glad the Army makes you feel like a man.” She’s waited her whole life for the life of a married woman, and every turn she’s taken in that direction has only left her more and more hurt. This blatant disregard for her opinion in his—no, their—life is the final straw, and she turns to her mother with a sad, but satisfied, “It’s over.”
“Mad Men” is indeed a show about men, and true, Don Draper plays a masculine figure who’s been idolized by the pop culture community at large. But it’s episodes like this that showcase how much “Mad Men” is about social imbalances, and about the effect of constant, institutionalized disgraces against women and minorities.
The men in “Mad Men” are often the ones who are least in touch with what’s going on, and who are afraid of losing the control they have now: from Roger paying Peggy off to Greg finding more validation with his army buddies than with his family, the influence of men becomes more and more a reactionary force. And even though there’s no actual knock on the doors of women like Peggy, Joan, and Dawn, the threat and fear that exists on the other side is still very much a real and present concern—one that does take graphic visual reality in Don’s dream.
That shot with Stan wearing the pantyhose over his head was terrifying—anyone else think of Leatherface?
Peggy and Roger’s burgeoning relationship is curious, since they’ve never really spoken together in confidence before this season, but their exchange was clear evidence of how the dynamic in SCDP has tilted from straight-laced men like Roger to more progressive folks like Peggy (“How much you got?”).
As soon as the accordion started playing in the Harris dinner scene, we viewers were instantly rocketed back to one of the show’s classic musical moments. And how awkward was that shot with the accordion man playing right between Joan and Greg?
It’s interesting that out of the relationships featured in this episode, Betty/Henry and Pete/Trudy were left out of it, probably because compared to many of the other male/female relationships on the show, theirs’ are the least abusive (at least presently—I’m looking at you, Pete).
“Mad Men” continues its trend of playing eerily accurate ending music with “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)”, which actually sent a chill down my back at the episode’s end. Talk about a closing statement.