“Boring” is a strong word, so let’s just say last night’s Mad Men was no fun. This entire season has been devoid of joy. Where is the Rolling-Stones-backed cool guy sequence of “The Summer Man”? Where’s the grinning Glen driving Don’s car back to school? Where’s the “Zou Bisou Bisou”? Where’s acid?
With only three episodes left this year, it feels like things may never pick up — especially in light of SC&P’s continued shabby treatment of Don. As long as he’s stuck writing tags for Peggy, Mad Men is going to be kind of a snooze.
The episode, “The Monolith,” had the same format as last week’s “Field Trip.” The action was divided between the office and a pastoral space, but last week’s mother-son farm excursion is replaced by a father-daughter face-off at a commune upstate.
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In both episodes, trips to the country are not the cleansing, purifying experience one might expect. Instead, they bring relationship problems to the surface. One character even ends up in jail. And just like previous episodes this season, kids are schooling their parents left and right — even metaphorical kids, like Don’s work-daughter, Peggy.
Mad Men is doing a great job demonstrating the 1960s youthquake on an interpersonal level. But, guys, we get it — the older characters are miserable and stuck in their ways. Can’t we see someone having fun now? Don’s couch-bound blackouts don’t count.
DON’S EXISTENTIAL DISSATISFACTION INDEX: 8
Self-awareness has never been Don Draper’s strong suit. But in this episode, you might start to think he’s downright delusional about where he stands at SC&P.
Despite the airtight restrictions surrounding his return — and his colleagues’ constant implications that they don’t want him there — Don was gobsmacked when he received marching orders from Peggy this week.
One wonders what else he really expected. By his own admission, he hadn’t done any work for three weeks. Anyone else in Don’s situation would have jumped at the chance to finally get some work done. But Don reacts with a glare the likes of which we haven’t seen since the days of Jimmy and Bobbie Barrett.
We can’t help but feel for Peggy, who, despite being totally miserable this season, is only in this situation because Lou Avery is too much of a chicken to deal with Don himself. Being Don, he probably would have slacked off no matter who was left with the task of ordering him around, but it probably stings him even more that his former protégé is now acting like his boss.
Don also has a few interactions with Lloyd, the LeaseTech executive who’s overseeing the installation of a computer at SC&P. In fact, Lloyd seems like the only person besides Roger who will talk to Don.
Lloyd and Don rap about technology — Lloyd calls the computer a “cosmic disturbance” and says humans are “godlike” for having mastered information. He says the computer can count more stars in a day than a human could count in a week, or something to that effect, and Don points out that most humans aren’t counting stars. Instead, they’re thinking about going to the moon.
Later, Don’s the only SC&P worker who hasn’t left the office, a few hours after Dawn announced, “Anything left behind at noon today will be assumed garbage.” Lloyd asks him if his company should start advertising. Don takes this as an invitation, and tells Bert Cooper he thinks they should make a presentation.
“Did you not understand the stipulations?” an aggravated Bert asks, proving he’d rather Don twiddle his thumbs all day. “You have a fundamental misunderstanding of what went wrong here. You thought there was going to be a big creative crisis and we’d pull you off the bench, but in fact, we’ve been doing just fine. Why are you here?”
“I started this agency,” Don protests.
“Along with the dead man whose office you now inhabit.”
Bert implying that Don is as useful to SC&P as a dead man is pretty rich — have we ever seen Bert do any actual work?
Still, it’s enough to make Don swipe a bottle of vodka from Roger’s office, pour it into a Coke can, and straight up black out at work. We’ve never seen Don this drunk before — he calls Freddy Rumsen and asks him to a Mets game, and cheerily tells Peggy they’re going to a baseball game on the way out, apparently having forgotten that he’s mad at her.
Also, on the way out, Don has an odd exchange with Lloyd, who he appears to have momentarily conflated with either his partners, or the devil himself.
Don insists that Lloyd talks “like a friend” but isn’t one, and that Lloyd doesn’t need SC&P because he’s had “the best campaign since the dawn of time.”
“You go by many names,” Don adds, before Freddy urges him to pull himself together. It’s tough to tell what Don is so angry about here. He could be, like the rest of creative, pissed off about the computer, which they fear will replace them, or he’s just misdirecting general anger at him.
Freddy deposits Don — who still thinks he’s headed to a Mets game — onto the couch at his apartment. When Don wakes up the next morning, Freddy’s there, imploring him to quit drinking. The jury’s still out on whether that Coke can of vodka was Don’s last drink ever, although it doesn’t seem likely.
But Freddy’s pep talk — “do the work, Don” — inspires him to finally get cracking on those 25 taglines when he gets to the office.
The episode closes with a shot of Don looking out the window — but not the way characters are usually pictured doing so. Usually, when someone’s gazing out a window, they mirror the cool, relaxed pose that Don has in the opening credits. Their entire body faces outward and they’re in control, like the partners upstairs at the end of season five, Peggy in Don’s office at the end of season six, and Lou before he gives Peggy her marching orders at the beginning of the episode.
Instead, Don sits parallel to the window, staring at his typewriter while he works. He takes one furtive glance to his left, taking in the view of the outside for a moment, then turns back to work. He can’t strike the pose of a confident, virile executive again until he graduates from writing taglines.
ROGER’S EXISTENTIAL DISSATISFACTION INDEX: 9
Roger and Margaret’s subplot in this episode is a welcome break from Don’s continuous trudge back into office life. To be honest, any subplot that takes us out of that cluttered hellscape of an office is a treat at this point.
But the Sterlings are always fun to watch anyway. Margaret, now known as Marigold, actually makes us long for the days when she was a spoiled brat sobbing on the floor because John F. Kennedy had the gall to get shot on her wedding day. At least she was entertaining then. Now, she’s joined a commune and is shtupping its leader, Clay. And like so many hippies throughout history, she’s now spacey, boring and sanctimonious
That is, until she epically tells her dad off toward the end of the episode.
Since Margaret has deserted her four-year-old son, Ellory, who now looks eerily like Danny from The Shining, her parents try to retrieve her from the commune upstate. Mona freaks out almost immediately after Margaret accuses her of “disappearing into the bathroom with a bottle of gin” throughout her entire childhood.
Roger decides to stay and make nice with the natives, gamely peeling potatoes and smoking “dynamite grass” with his daughter’s new friends. He and Margaret share a nice moment while looking at the stars and sleeping on the hay. They talk about whether man will ever land on the moon, hearkening back to Don’s conversation with Lloyd.
But then, in the middle of the night, Clay whisks a giggling Margaret away from Roger. He hears her leave. When he sees her emerge from the house looking rumpled with Clay the next morning, he’s had about enough. He announces, “It’s time to leave Shangri-La, baby. Say bye to your friends.”
“No one’s going to help you take me away from here,” Margaret insists, reminding Roger that Margaret took the car and Clay is his only ride back into town.
Roger tells Margaret she can’t stay because she’s a mother. “I’m sorry, but you don’t get to do this.” He picks her up and tries to carry her into the truck, but they slip in a puddle of mud. Seeing Roger hoist himself up with mud all over his suit is one of the saddest moments in this show’s history.
“How could you just leave him?” he implores her. “He’s your baby.”
Margaret responds the same way she did with Mona earlier, trying to make Roger feel bad about his own parenting choices: “How did you feel when you went away to work, Daddy? Your conscience must have been eating you alive. Calling your secretary from a hotel at lunch to pick out a birthday present for me… It’s not that hard, Daddy. He’ll be fine.”
Beaten, Roger finally walks away from the commune, making his way back to the city. Margaret clearly sees herself as making a choice similar to the one her father made when he focused on work instead of his family. The crucial difference is that Roger still came home to his daughter every night and provided for her — but to Margaret, the absence of an emotional connection to her father is all that matters. Because of this, and maybe also because of her “forgiveness” of Roger earlier this season, Margaret is able to justify her own abandonment of her son.
Roger’s dealing with his daughter acting like him, while Peggy is acting the way Don used to act. Both men fight it at first, then relent after they’re beaten down.
BROOKS: What a galoot. I wonder if anybody ever picked him up from the police station.
BOB BENSON: He continues to be a spectre haunting Pete Campbell. One wonders if Bob ever even thinks of Pete. He’s probably moved on to his next victim by now.
GINSBERG and STAN: Hopefully, they’ll get a legitimate arc of their own before this half of the season ends.
JOAN: She didn’t get much play in this episode, but still wins the Best Dressed award. Will she ever forgive Don for ruining the Jaguar account? Hopefully; they were such a fun duo.
PEGGY: We saw her smile for maybe the first time all season when Lou gave her a raise — only because she didn’t realize Lou was using her to avoid having to deal with Don directly. She actually did earn some sympathy points this episode for doing her best with an impossible assignment.
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