Although this week’s episode is called “Mystery Date”, the timing of the events can be placed as mid-July 1966, with the news headlines covering the massacre of eight nurses in Chicago. The story of the mass murder by Richard Speck leaves many of the characters wanting more titillating details, be it the creative team in the agency looking at the photos that Peggy’s friend Joyce has, or Grandma Pauline scouring the newspaper report right in front of Sally Draper. Only last week’s new hire, Michael Ginsberg, finds the whole thing repulsive and labels his colleagues as sickos.
Don Draper is actually sick – coughing up parts of his lung for most of the first half of the episode and, shockingly, his continuous smoking of cigarettes does nothing to alleviate his symptoms. His illness is made worse by Megan’s annoyance with him after they run into a woman, Andrea, he had an affair with while he was married to Betty. Megan’s unhappiness stems from the regularity with which such encounters happen, believing that, as his new wife, it inherently casts a doubt on his commitment to her. After Don has ripped into Ginsberg for an impromptu pitch to a client – after they had already said they were sold on the original campaign that had been presented – he goes home to rest up until his wife can return. Unfortunately, his sleep is disturbed by a doorbell and, much to his chagrin, it is Andrea who wants to reignite their old passion. Don shows that he is a new man by offering her the use of the stairs, or a flight from his balcony, to get out of his apartment before Megan gets home – yet the woman will not be deterred. She reappears while Don is asleep and woos him by reminiscing about the time he took her back to the loading dock of the Lincoln Center – which I think she meant literally and not as a euphemism – and he succumbs to her advances. Next time he awakens, Andrea is still there and tells him that they will do this again because he is “sick” – so Don takes the rather drastic step of strangling her and “hiding” her body under the bed – at which point it could not have been any more obvious that we were watching a hallucination if a dead fish had started talking like Pussy Bonpensiero. Having said that, when Megan comes in with orange juice and breakfast reassuring her husband everything is okay, I did consider that there is about a 5% chance that she had spent the previous two hours disposing of the body and preparing for them to go on the run, with Don returning to his original alias, Dick Whitman.
The other main storyline of the episode was the return of Joan’s husband, Greg, from Vietnam. For a doctor, he is not too good with the developmental rates of infants, as he does not spot that the amount of time he has been absent does not add up to the length of a pregnancy plus the current age of his “son”, Kevin. Once Greg has briefly held Roger’s baby, he sends Joan’s mother out on an errand so he and his wife can have…a reunion. However, the happy couple act lasts only as long as Joan’s nap, as she then learns that Greg is returning to Vietnam and at his own volition. Having been told that she should follow her orders, and having spent the last few months being ordered around by her mother, Joan finally takes control of her life and tells Greg that he is leaving, not just for the year, but forever. She reminds him that, despite the army making him feel otherwise, he is not a good man and that he knows what she is talking about. As do we.
Pete Campbell continued in his season long efforts to get one over on Roger Sterling, this time he tells his senior partner on a Friday afternoon that Mohawk Airlines want to go over their campaign first thing on Monday. Roger is forced to bribe Peggy to do the work for him, since he cannot find Ginsberg, who was hired specifically as the copywriter for this client. The once powerful Roger Sterling is held hostage for $400 for the Peggy’s work and promise to lie to Pete about when she was asked, but this plot line is more about setting up Peggy to be working late in the office. By doing so, she discovers that Dawn – Don’s African-American secretary – is sleeping in the couch in his office. Peggy considers herself to be an enlightened and empathetic person, but she does not comprehend the issues that Dawn faces. With race riots happening around the country, Dawn is afraid of going back to Harlem late at night, and Peggy’s suggestion of a taxi fails to grasp that it was highly unlikely a cab would stop for a black person in 1966. When Dawn talks about the events in Chicago, Peggy assumes she is talking about the nurse killings rather than the riots, perhaps because the coverage had waned – Joyce had said that Time would not be running with that story as there had already been several similar reports that summer*. Having insisted that Dawn stay with her, Peggy again shows her ignorance by assuming that Dawn would want to follow in her footsteps and be a copywriter, and then has second thoughts about leaving her handbag stuffed with Roger’s cash in the room with the secretary overnight. Clearly someone who can read people well – she has already recognised that Don and Peggy talk more openly together than with others – Dawn has disappeared by the morning with just a note of thanks an apology for inconveniencing Peggy. Peggy may desire to be a pioneering example that other women want to follow, but often she is blighted with the same prejudices and ignorances of her male colleagues.
*This ennui of horrific events because of their irregularity has not gone away – it happened with police officers being killed during the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland, or the suicide bombings that occurred on an almost daily basis for several years in Baghdad – if either had taken place at the same time in a different location, it would have dominated the news.
Sally Draper had to spend the episode in the care of someone whose parenting skills may actually be worse than her Betty’s – Grandma Pauline, Henry Francis’ mother. The parenting “skills” that Pauline displayed included: hitting Sally on the hand; threatening to send her to bed while it was still light if she did not take out the trash; reading about the nurse killings in front of Sally, then heightening her curiosity by not allowing her to know what happened; scaring Sally by then telling her far too much after she had read the newspaper she retrieved from the trash; and giving her a sleeping tablet to help her overcome her fears. Luckily, Betty – although hardly Mother-of-the-year – returned to the haunted mansion before Grandma Pauline could use the kitchen knife on anybody.
Next week: if the time gap between the episodes is the same as the last couple, we may get Lane Pryce celebrating England’s World Cup victory, which occurred on July 30th, 1966.