Well, this week’s Mad Men kicked everything into a higher, more sinister gear, didn’t it? We had hallucinations (I think), ghosts of indiscretions past, the Richard Speck nurse murders, bribery, morbidity, and a relationship disaster. Compared to this season’s mostly mellow reintroduction to our characters, this episode was a slap in the face.
In the opening minutes, we know a few things: that Don is extremely ill – he’s sweaty, red-faced, and hacking like an old man – and that Don and Megan’s relationship is going to continue to surprise us. Despite his horrid cough and apparent fever, Don boards the elevator and stumbles around at work all day in a haze. In that morning elevator, Megan meets Don’s former flame Andrea (Madchen Amick, whom you’ll recognize – and I assume this was purposeful – from Twin Peaks). Megan, nonplussed, starts a dialogue the two of them have evidently had before. Don, of course, doesn’t understand that his prior indiscretions, when thrown in his new wife’s face, are equally embarrassing for Megan. While talking through her feelings on the subject in the SCDP kitchen, she mentions Alison and Faye Miller and “who knows how many more.” Once again, we’re struck by the fact that secretive, damaged Don has opened himself to Megan, that it could be she knows him almost as well as Peggy does or Anna did – and maybe better. He tells her, “I’m going to be with you until I die.” It’s hard to imagine the old Don ever uttering those words, let alone meaning them. But it appears he does mean them.
We are hovering in miserable, sweltering midsummer in New York City, 1966. On July 14 of that year, Richard Speck brutally raped and murdered eight student nurses in Chicago. The whole country was morbidly obsessed with the case – and no one in this episode can back away from the murders. This episode features the return of Joyce (!), Peggy’s photographer friend and the only lesbian we’ve yet met on the series. Joyce brings crime scene photos to the art department. Stan, Peggy, and Megan leer at the photos, magnifying them under a glass. It’s human nature, of course; rubbernecking, curiosity, an obsession with the ghastly. “One survived,” Peggy says gleefully, “because she hid under the bed.” Michael, in an odd, probably important outburst, storms out of the room. “You’re all sickos!” he cries.
What’s odd, then, is that Michael ducks under Don at a pitch to a shoe company later, describing in detail the scene of a hunted woman. Terrified, hobbling in one heel down a dark alley away from a masked pursuer, this woman is Cinderella, and the hunter is Prince Charming, replete with apologies and a glass heel. “She wants to be caught,” Ginsberg says lovingly; his vivid imagination isn’t immune to the morbid, either. The kid is kind of a genius, we’ll give him that. Unfortunately, Don’s not willing to do anything for him except threaten (rather impotently, for Don) to throw him in front of a taxi. No one manipulates Don and gets away with it – except Michael Ginsberg, apparently.
Meanwhile, good old Greg Harris is back from Vietnam to meet “his” son Kevin – who is, of course, really Roger Sterling’s son Kevin. Joan and her mother Gail prepare for his arrival with all the excitement and nerves of two women before their first dates. Gail, always the good wife, warns Joan that Greg will have been through hell over there, that he’s probably done things he shouldn’t have, and that all he’s interested in is “finding a little hole in his life and sticking his elbow through until he can walk all the way in.” An interesting way to put it, particularly coming from someone whose husband was the same way (it doesn’t escape Joan that her mother’s warnings are “all about Daddy”).
Things are marvelous for a bit after Greg’s arrival. There’s even a foot pop when the couple share their first kiss. Gail finds a reason to get out of the house with the baby (after Greg has held him for all of three minutes) so Joan and Greg can share an intimate bedroom visit – and then again the next morning. Things don’t truly hit the fan until Greg tells Joan he’s going back overseas for another year. “They need me,” he tells her. “I need to store up as much of you as possible,” he tells her. News flash, buddy: women are not objects to be stored in pieces. (Though this line fits perfectly the morbid motif of this episode.) Joan deals with the information she’ll be left alone for another year as stoically as Joan can (which is not very), until she discovers (via Greg’s mother) that Greg volunteered to return. He volunteered to leave her and a newborn baby behind for a year. It’s notable that when Joan gets this information, a gentleman sidles up between her and Greg to serenade the couple with an accordion. The last time we saw an accordion on this show, Joan was playing it:
Greg forced her to perform a humiliating number in front of his horrid colleagues. Well, he’ll never force anything on her again.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: despite her thinly veiled bitchery toward other women and the way she uses her curves to manipulate, Joan Holloway/Harris is probably the strongest female character on this show. She gets in a few really brutal jabs at Greg in this episode: “I’m glad they make you feel like a man,” she sneers. “They make me feel like a good man,” Greg answers. “You aren’t a good man, never were – not even before we were married,” Joan snarls, yanking her arm away from him. Those of us who wondered if her rape would ever be remarked upon again can now rest easy. This woman deserves a round of applause – and now that she’s kicked Greg out of her heart and home altogether, she’ll have every reason to return to work at SCDP.
Peggy Olsen is also feeling rather sassy this episode. She taunts Michael early on, and when Roger walks into her office she leaves her feet (clad in fantastic green pumps) on the table and nurses her glass of bourbon. When he offers her ten dollars to work up something for Mohawk Airlines, she answers, “Your quote man is Ginsberg.” She finagles Roger out of $410, saying “The lie is extra.” (And why, one might wonder, is Roger throwing around so much cash this season? I’m mad with curiosity.) Roger and Peggy interact now like old colleagues – she appears to have officially made it into the boys’ club.
After Peggy is finished with her work, she discovers Dawn asleep on the couch in Don’s office. With the murders frightening everyone, Dawn isn’t allowed to ride the subway and no taxi will take her past 96th Street. Peggy takes her home, and the two share a drunken exchange that makes them exactly no closer than before. “Do I act like a man?” Peggy asks Dawn. “I don’t know if I want to.” She sees a kindred spirit in the only other “different” person in the office. Peggy tries to compare her own Otherness – as the sole woman in an old boys’ club – to Dawn’s – as the only dark-skinned person in the office. What she doesn’t realize is just how different things really are for Dawn. It’s cringeworthy, really. Peggy’s trying to be good, trying to be kind, but she just can’t quite make it. When she leaves the room to go to bed, she casts a meaningful glance at the purse lying between the two women on the coffee table – the purse containing $410 in cash. She chooses, though suspicious, to leave the purse on the table. Dawn catches Peggy’s internal struggle and leaves before Peggy awakens, leaving a sad, metaphorical slap of a note directly atop the purse. “Thanks for the hospitality. I’m sorry to put you out.”
January Jones has mentioned that there won’t be as much Betty in this season, not only because she’s no longer married to Don, but because Jones herself just had a baby. Some of us wondered what that meant for Sally. Actress Kiernan Shipka is too incredible to let pass you by, writers! In this episode, Henry and Betty are stuck somewhere because most of the US airline mechanics are on strike. Sally is stuck with Henry’s nag of a mother, Pauline. Sally’s truly growing into petulant preteen behavior (can’t expect much else – she is her mother’s daughter), and calls Don to complain that Pauline smells bad and won’t let her watch as much TV as she wants. Further, Sally cons Pauline into telling her about the murders and then freaks herself out. Pauline takes a Seconal and then gives Sally one too – great grandmothering, lady. When Betty and Henry walk through the door in the morning, Sally’s nowhere to be found – until the camera pans away, showing that she’s passed out under the couch. This is a direct reference to the nurse who escaped Speck – she hid under the bed.
Speaking of hiding under the bed! After Megan sends Don home in a feverish stupor, his ex Andrea appears randomly at the apartment. She entices him into bed, reminding him of how he took her on a loading dock while Betty waited outside (oh, Don, you truly were a scumbag). When Andrea threatens to tell Megan, Don leaps on her, strangling her and shoving her body under the bed. WHAT?! Did Don Draper really just kill his ex girlfriend?
The next time he awakens, it’s bright and sunshiney outside and Megan is there with him. I was worried he’d accidentally strangled Megan thinking in his fever dreams that she was Andrea. It’s possible Megan disposed of the body and he really did strangle Andrea, but frankly I think he hallucinated it, that he has now finally killed his last demon. Andrea was a walking, talking reminder of who he used to be, and he brutally murdered her in his head. Shocking, certainly – but also well done.
If this one didn’t wake you up and remind you of the way this show can surprise the hell out of you – remember Joan and the vase? Or the lawnmower incident? – you’re not meant to be watching.
How did you feel? What do you think of Don’s murderous turn? Do you think Peggy acts like a man? Do you think Joan’s more independent/strong/feminist than other ladies on the show? Share in the comments!