Some people say that in order to fully appreciate the music of Bob Dylan, you have to be stoned when you listen to it; or that LSD is necessary to enjoy Dark Side of the Moon or to understand the White Album. I cannot attest to the validity of those claims – though I do think Blood on the Tracks is a great album without any herbal accompaniment and am not sure if anyone will fully comprehend Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da no matter what chemicals they ingest – but I do believe that tonight’s episode of Mad Men may well only make sense with a complex vitamin super-dose half of the creative staff of SCDPCGC (seriously, even the doctor thinks that is a mouthful and wants to know the new name…) received to help them work. Like last season’s episode, Far Away Places – which featured Roger Sterling taking LSD – there was an element of the timeline being warped but in this instance it was not parallel narratives, rather an entire day passing when it seemed to Don Draper to be no more than a few minutes.
The hour started with a strange scene showing Ken Cosgrove driving an Impala at high-speed with Chevy executives who were taunting him and firing a gun out of the window, ultimately ending in a crash that leaves the accounts man needing a cane. The manic nature of that opening continues throughout the episode, as most of the agency are stressing out about how they can satisfy their high revenue car client and the administering of the aforementioned stimulant shot – which appears to be methamphetamine – is supposed to help them be inspired over the weekend. In the creative team, Peggy and Ginsberg are the only two who are on the Chevy campaign but did not receive the vitamin boost – and the former is not sober as she is drinking – while Ted Chaough is unable to concentrate on work as he is too distraught over the death of his partner, Frank Gleason, who succumbed to the cancer we discovered he had two weeks ago. In the end, much of what the group come up with is dismissed as being gibberish, but during the course of the episode, Stan and Peggy kiss, with Olson only pulling away in the end because she has a boyfriend, rather than through lack of desire.
For much of the time, it appears that Don Draper is also frantically working to find a solution to the Chevy problem, as he desperately seeks an old campaign he worked on at Sterling Cooper that he believes was about soup – but in fact was about oatmeal – and in which lies the answer to his conundrum. However, it turns out what he seeks is not the perfect pitch for the car company, but a way of convincing Sylvia that their affair should not end. Don’s behavior has become problematic for Mrs. Rosen, as he pines at the back door of her apartment smoking cigarettes and leaving butts that Arnold finds; and for himself, as he spends the entire weekend working on the pitch to aid his love-life, in the process ignoring both his commitment to Chevy and his children.
Draper does not return to his apartment when Megan tells him she has to leave and thus Sally is left in charge of her two younger brothers, Bobby and Genie, but at just 14 years old, she is unable to deal with the arrival of a woman claiming to be her Grandma Ida, but who turns out to be a thief. In the course of Sally’s attempts to ascertain if the intruder is who she claims to be, Ida asks her “Is your Daddy Mr. Donald Draper or not”, an interesting question in an episode that included several flashbacks to Dick Whitman’s stay in a brothel and him losing his virginity to one of the prostitutes who worked there. The woman also searches for a gold watch, perhaps just chancing that someone who lived in such an apartment would have such an item, but that called back to the premiere of this season, when Don was on the beach in Hawaii and his timepiece had stopped working. Is it possible that time is being called on the mask that Dick Whitman has worn for so long and that the facade of Don Draper is set to meet its end? He is finding it much harder now to keep his act up – the end of an affair has left him heart-broken, something that he admits to Wendy Gleason, who is in the office following her Dad’s funeral; and he only avoids going down and making a scene at the Rosen’s apartment when he comes home to discover the police are there, along with Betty, who revels in the opportunity to castigate her ex-husband for his negligence.
Earlier in the episode, Sylvia had told Don that he should be happy that he had gotten away with the affair without being caught and at the end of the hour, it appears he has been shocked into realising this for himself. Draper ignores Mrs. Rosen in the elevator; finds a way to semi-apologize to Sally by admitting he had been the one to leave the backdoor open, allowing Ida easy access to the apartment; and tells Ted that he will not be able to do any more for Chevy other than evaluate other people’s work in his role as Creative Director. In his rant to Chaough and Culter, Don also tells them to call him in 1970 when Chevy are ready to make an ad – again a hint towards the end of this character, as the whole series is designed to encompass just the 1960s – and that every time the agency gets a car company, the place turns into a whorehouse, a cruel jib that thankfully Joan was not on hand to hear.
Overall, it was a very strange episode of Mad Men and the mania that the characters felt was also experienced by the audience due to the manner in which the story was told. It is hard to determine exactly where this leaves Don – he appears to be back to his measured self who can enforce his own will at the agency and is not emotionally attached to anybody else, least of all a woman with whom he had an affair. Nevertheless, we have seen this facade come crashing down several times already and it would seem to be only a matter of time before – as he said in the opening episode of this season during a pitch for Sheraton that made others think of suicide – Dick Whitman sheds his skin, not by taking his own life, but by no longer hiding behind the mask of Don Draper.
Either that, or the whole hour was merely constructed as a way to get Ken Cosgrove to display his amazing tap dancing skills…