After finally watching the full 42 minutes of this week’s Mad Men, all we can honestly say is this: we have no idea what just happened. Talk about a Lost Weekend (the episode’s similarities to this film are striking). It all made sense in an overarching kind of way, but the minute to minutes? So surreal. And chaotic. And choppy. And yeah, we know that’s what the writers were going for. We were supposed to feel like Don felt – lurching from one moment of lucidity to the next – and to a certain extent, we did. But, mostly, we just partook in his intense confusion.
The focus of the episode was, on the surface, the Chevy account. The opening moments of Chevy reps almost killing Ken while he’s driving their Impala set the tone for the rest of it. Exasperated recklessness. As with so many of Mad Men’s episodes, much of “The Crash” was rooted in subtext. Chevy’s disapproval of Don, and his inability to get them to even see him was linked to Sylvia to such a degree that the two became inseparable in Don’s mind and the minds of the viewers.
The plot was spurred on by the appearance of a quack doctor (Jim Cutler’s) providing amphetamine injections to anyone who wanted them. That is from whence all the chaos stemmed. Obviously it prompted much hilarity, both from those that took it and their more sober companions. It also prompted some revealing moments – Peggy’s apparent reluctance to push Stan away when he started trying his luck told of a woman unhappy with her life. Suddenly, it’s no longer just that she’s attracted to Ted, it’s that she wants something, anything, different from what she has now. When she told Stan “no”, she was trying to convince herself as much as him.
The race issue reared its ugly head again this week, with the appearance of Grandma Ida. A more grossly stereotypical Mammy-type would not have strolled out of Song of the South. That paired with the criminal overtones paints a very disturbing picture of what the Mad Men writers think being African American is. However, there was one saving grace in Dawn. She’s still very much the bit player, very much the token black girl, but this week saw her develop a bit of sass. She’s becoming more a part of the MadAv world, finally in a position where she can radiate disapproving judgment on a par with Joan. Her attitude toward Don, the way she spoke to him, made us see her as a fully drawn character for the first time – and she’s a character who’s gradually becoming less afraid of angering the white bosses. She may yet become a character who we revel in, instead of cringe away from.
What struck us most about this episode was how much Don is defined by the women in his life. Megan the ingénue actress who always seems, just a little bit, to be playing at being a wife; Betty, the battleaxe ex who is always intent on showing off just how much she’s better than everyone else (her “Do you know Henry’s running for office?” comment spoke volumes); and poor Sylvia, the hard-done-by wife and mistress who just wants it all to be over. The image of false happiness, the personification of misery, and the cause of despair, respectively. All of this goes back to his youth, his first sexual encounter and his guardian’s (for want of a better word) rage at it. Where so many anti-heroes are shaped by father figures (or the absence thereof), Don has been shaped and molded into who he is by the women in his past, and his present. But perhaps it is Sylvia who has shaped (and changed) him the most.
Don’s closing allusion to the SCDPCGC whorehouse blindsided us a little. Over the last six years, we’ve learned, if nothing else, that these three days of debauchery (and days like them) are Don’s bread and butter. He lives on debauchery. Thrives on it, in fact. It’s who he is, and what drives him. He’s a philanderer, drinker, user, ad man and family man in that order. And ‘family man’ gets pushed off the table entirely (and frequently) by whatever else he decides is more important. This week, though, it felt like something finally changed. Even aside from his whorehouse comment – no doubt prompted by the flashbacks to his youth – the final moments of “The Crash” saw him being a good father, a good ex, and a mature adult. His arc this episode, while driven by his inability to let Sylvia go, was peppered with glimpses of genuine fear. Whether that was fear of who he was becoming or just fear of losing control, we can’t be sure. But if last week was rock bottom, this week is him clawing his way out of it. More than ever, we’re sure we’re about to see a whole new Don Draper. We wonder how long it will last this time. – K
Quoteworthy: “She had an answer to everything, and then I realized I don’t know anything about you.” – Sally to Don on how Grandma Ida managed to fool her