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Mad Men Recap: “Mystery Date” (Season 5, Episode 4) (4/10/12)

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.

Mad Men S05E04 Don Draper

Any new copywriter who gets this look from Don ought to be shaking in his boots. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

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. Read more