Sunday’s episode of Mad Men was maybe one of the most polarizing episodes in the history of the series. You could compare it to Roger’s LSD trip but you’d have to give it a shot of speed in its left butt cheek for it to even come close. There was also a very prominent (almost overdone) theme of motherhood throughout the episode. From Don’s recurring daydreams of being mothered by a prostitute, to the burglar making Sally eggs, there was an obvious undertone that the writers were trying to get through to the viewers. Phil Abraham, who directed this episode, clearly wanted the viewer to feel that they were experiencing the effects of the drugs with the characters, rather than watching from afar the way Peggy was. I found this episode to be confusing and oddly obvious at the same time. Where Mad Men would typically take a more subtle approach, this episode was very “in your face” with its hidden meanings.
In the start of the episode we are dropped in a speeding, out of control car being driven by Ken. He’s with a group of strange men who are clearly drunk and completely out of control. They are forcing Ken to drive recklessly and are covering his eyes as he begs them to stop. As one of the men screams “Go faster, I wanna shoot that sign” the car spirals out of control. Nothing is explained, and the scene ends in a very old hollywood style crash. We later learn that the group of executives worked for Chevy and the whole point of the joyride was for Ken to present them with the 7th idea they’ve come up with for their campaign. The executives ended up not liking the concept, and sent Ken back with the bad news. Not many people in the office seem to care that he was almost killed, and he even gets scolded for not completing the task. The overall mood of everyone in the office is exhaust. They’ve all hit the same brick wall when it comes to ideas for Chevy.
We also learn in the beginning of the episode that Frank Gleason has died of cancer. This is obviously very hard for Ted to deal with. Frank was the person Ted was able to vent to about Don, and really played the role of confidant in Ted’s life. He takes the weekend off from work to attend the funeral.
It’s made clear very early on that Don is anything but over his relationship with Sylvia. In his first appearance in the episode he’s seen standing outside the door to her apartment, listening to her debate over dinner options with her husband. This is definitely not the first time he’s done this, which we can tell by the pile of cigarette butts left behind as he walks away. He can’t seem to grasp the fact that not only is he not getting Sylvia back, but he is also not getting his way in this situation, which is something Mr. Draper is simply not used too. The idea of being with her seems to be more powerful for Don than the actual relationship itself, which makes us wonder what exactly is behind the attachment. What makes her any different from the other woman he’s slept with? What about her drives him to be so obsessive? As the episode progresses we learn that it has much to do with the time he spent living in the now infamous brothel he was raised in.
A quarter of the way through the episode we learn that a doctor is visiting the office and giving “energy serum” shots to anyone willing. The executives are seen going into the office, and exiting with their pants undone. We later learn that the serum is nothing more than a pure form of speed, being injected into their butts. Those effected by the serum begin to hallucinate and lose track of very large chunks of time. The one good thing about the shot is that it gives an immediate burst of creativity, which seems like the end all be all for a group of executives on their 7th attempt at the same campaign. The only problem is that the ideas are completely unfocused and literally make no sense. Don is typically on to something good when he begins a grand speech that calls for silence. In this case he sounds more like a crazy person with a mega phone than anything
Don spends 3 days zipping around the office, having no idea that so much times has passed. He’s completely covered in sweat, his hair is a greasy mess and his shirt becomes more and more wrinkled as the days progress. Peggy is one of the few people in the office who has decided to not take the shot. She is, however, the only drunk one. Which is ironic seeing as how Peggy typically doesn’t like to drink while working. As drunk as she is, her mind is still a thousand times more clear than anyone around her. They’ve all gone from bags under their eyes exhausted to Willy Wonka insane in the span of a weekend.
During Don’s 3 day stint in la-la land, he is having reoccurring daydreams and hallucinations of his days as a pre-pubescent boy living in the brothel. The combination of the serum and his break up with Sylvia has stirred something up inside of him that he spends the entire weekend trying to figure out. His emotional junk drawer is fully opened and things are spilling out all over the place without his control. He’s having flashbacks of a particular woman who lived in the house named Aimee. While suffering from a chest cold, she nursed him back to health and even invited him to sleep in her bed. Ironically, she was also responsible for taking his virginity. This season has been jam-packed with whore house flashbacks, but this particular one is by far the most telling. The only woman to every play any sort of motherly role in Don’s life, even if it was for just a few days, was also responsible for molesting him. This gives us a tiny bit of insight Into Don’s strange relationship with sex.
In Don’s delusional mind, he’s convinced himself that he is on the verge of a groundbreaking discovery for Chevy. In reality he sounds like a cattle auctioneer speaking in tongues. It takes him 3 drug induced days to realize that he is actually on track to discovering something about himself. Something that he has been repressing since childhood. It has nothing to do with Chevy and everything to do with Aimee, the hooker who stole his virginity. He is completely fixated on an old soup campaign from more than 10 years ago, telling everyone that it holds the key to Chevy. When he finally discovers the ad in the storage room he realizes that the woman in the picture looks almost identical to his last image of Aimee. She wears the same scarf around her head, and she is serving children at a kitchen table. Through all his years of sleeping around, cheating on his wives and forcing women to crawl towards him like dogs, all he’s ever wanted was for a woman to take care of him the way a mother would. The way Aimee did when he was sick. Don’s physical adaptation of a “mother” is a woman who fed him soup and raped him as a pre-teen. The irony in the fact that Don drew Aimee into this ad more than 10 years ago without even knowing it is what ties us to this character. His complexities make it hard for us to stay mad at him.
While Don and his colleagues are trapped in Pee Wee’s Playhouse, his children are at his apartment alone, as usual. These children are basically raising themselves. Megan is a great step mom, but her acting career is her main priority at this point in her life. Betty is cold and lacks the emotionally capability to give her children what they want, and not just what they need. Don has never been secretive about the fact that his children are his last priority. Though he’s realized in recent episodes that he needs to play a bigger role in raising them, it will take some time before we see any results. And their stepfather is too busy being mayor to be there for them as much as they may need. In the middle of the night an older black woman named Ida breaks into Don’s apartment while the children are there alone. She is able to convince Sally and Bobby that she is their long-lost grandmother and that she was invited by Don to pay them a visit. Don’s own children know so little about him that they actually believe that a strange black woman could possibly be their grandmother. The mothering theme is revisited when Ida demands Sally to get comfortable so that she can make her a plate of scrambled eggs. Sally goes back and forth on whether or not she can trust the strange woman. She allows her to make the eggs, and even chats with her for a bit in the kitchen, but then immediately calls the police when Ida turns her back. Sally is wise (sometimes a little too wise) beyond her years because she’s been forced to grow up much faster than she maybe should have. You watch her go from 40-year-old woman to 14-year-old girl in a single conversation.
After a long weekend of talking really fast and forgetting what day it is, Don finally returns home. He is greeted by both his wife and ex-wife, children, stepfather to his children and a group of police men as well. This is the first time we’ve ever seen them all in the same room together. They are all standing in the living room, waiting for him to arrive. Megan is apologizing profusely for selfishly leaving the kids alone, and Betty is berating them both for not being there. Betty seems especially excited to be in the position to throw digs at Megan. She even makes a comment about Megan being too busy on the “casting couch” to be at home with the children. Betty has never been one to turn down an opportunity to release some pent-up aggression. While all of this is going on Don is staring at them blankly, seemingly unmoved by the news of a thief making a late night snack for his children. The amount of sweat on his forehead has reached an all time high and his shirt looks like an old dish rag. His body has reached its peak level of exhaustion, and plummets to the ground. An appropriate scene, especially with the episode being titles “crash”. There is a scene of Don sitting on the edge of his bed as he often does near the closing of an episode. Megan reaches around him and wraps her arms around his chest. What could be a perfect opportunity for Megan to console Don the way he would like for her to, she does the complete oposite. She apologises to him again for the burgaler insicent and acts like a wife. The seperation between Don and Megan is that he’s looking for a woman to feed him a bottle and swattle him in a blanket. Unfortunatly, Megan is simply not that person.
The executives and creatives return to work the next morning like a group of frat men waking up after a crazy party. Their 3 days of working on Chevy presents itself as nothing more than a few pieces of paper with chicken scratch all over them. Ted is shocked by the state the office is in, and how little work was accomplished. There is also a very awkward scene of Sylvia and Don riding together in the elevator. It features about 25 seconds of complete silence and uncomfortable glances up at the ceiling. Sylvia asks Don how he’s been and he responds with “busy”. It’s clear in that moment that Don is officially over Sylvia. He’s worked out whatever issue he had within himself causing him to not let go of her, and his focus has returned to work. Don also calls Sally to let her know that he is feeling okay after fainting. He lets her know that it was his fault the door was left open, and that she is not to blame.
This episode ends with a song by The Mama’s And The Papa’s called Words Of Love. The lyrics of the song relate to Don and Sylvia’s relationship, in that simply saying the right thing to the woman you love won’t win her heart. When talking about the Chevy campaign Don tells Peggy that the amber of his voice is just as important as the ad itself. In the case of Sylvia, that is not the case…
“Words of love, so soft and tender, won’t win a girl’s heart anymore. If you love her then you must send her somewhere where she’s never been before. Worn out phrases and longing gazes won’t get you where you want to go. Words of love, soft and tender, Won’t win her…”
Photos courtesy AMC.com