Mad Men: Mystery Dates
Last night's Mad Men episode has us on the edge of our seats! (Or, more accurately, hiding under them.)
Don might look bad now, but things are about to get a whole lot worse.
Since we assume you watched the show too, instead of a straight recap we're the parts we found most interesting to talk about each week. Be sure to join in in the comments, and cast your vote in our Mad Men Hunger Games!
Beware, girl. You'll be a woman soon.
This had to have been one of the eeriest Mad Men episodes to date. It opened with (unseen) photos of the eight Chicago nursing students killed by Richard Speck, with details of their harrowing murder pervading the rest of the episode, hitting a fever pitch when Pauline Francis described the incident in the middle of the night to Sally. This week's theme of the vulnerabilities of women, materializing as both the fear of and actual violence against women, infused everything from Michael Ginsberg's interpretation of the Cinderella story (relating her to wounded prey that wants to be caught), to Don's mind (where he fatally strangled a former flame). And it wouldn't be a Mad Men episode without a wink of a musical choice at the end—"Mystery Date" logically closed with "He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)" by The Crystals.
The episode cleverly utilized Sally, Peggy, and Joan to chronologically chart the conflicted relationship women have with femininity and the ensuing perception of vulnerability. Sally's snippy behavior, while extra hilarious this week (who didn't love it when Don was horrified to learn that Sally watched TV all day and she responded, "I'm on vacation!"), clearly planted her in the "I'm a girl, not yet a woman" camp. Though, I guess one could argue that her petulant attitude wasn't too far from her mother's? As Sally is older and more body/beauty conscious, we also caught a glimpse of a possible side effect of having Betty Draper as a mother. Was Sally's refusal to eat the sandwich part of her general dislike of Pauline Francis, or was it evidence of an eating disorder, a rumored plot point inspired by last week's ice cream power play between Betty and Sally?
Other than being ushered into body dysmorphia, Sally was taught an important and truly effed up lesson regarding the dangers of Living While Female. In Pauline's late night murder chat with Sally, she outlined how a lady must always be on her guard (cue big, honking kitchen knife!), how men, without you even knowing, will watch you from afar, and how those same men will sexualize you based on your innocence and the shortness of your skirt. Sally is being intro'ed into life as a potential victim, entirely based on her burgeoning womanhood. To tie together the theme of threat against women and to end on an exceptionally creepy note, in her last scene, Sally physically mimicked the dead woman under Don's bed, who in turn mimicked both the lone surviving nurse who had to witness her friends' gruesome rapes and murders and the willing, one-shoed prey in Ginsberg's Cinderella pitch. Clearly, Sally is learning the many ways in which women are forced and shaped into vulnerability.
Traveling a little further down the age spectrum, over a one-sidedly drunken heart-to-heart, Peggy admitted to Dawn that she doesn't want to have to act like a man in the office. After having been told last week that Mohawk Air was looking for someone with a penis to write copy, Peggy knows all too well that doors are shut to her because of her gender. The humor is that not only did she end up being "assigned" to the account (but not before taking $400 out of Roger's wallet), but that Michael Ginsberg impressed a client from Peggy's industry of specialization (LADIES) and was praised for his knowledge of women. While not as obvious of a portrayal of vulnerability as Sally or Joan, Peggy is attempting to appear strong and in control, but struggling with the prejudices against her sex and gender. The conflict between wanting to present as feminine but also wanting to be taken seriously (and even be perceived as powerful) is depressingly still an issue for women today, so I can't say that I predict Peggy will strike that balance successfully in the near future. Additionally, Peggy's suppression of femininity even manifested sartorially. Did anyone else notice her tie earlier in the episode?
Joanie plays the accordion!
Moving further down the spectrum yet again, we arrive at Joan. Our first scene with her is another wisdom-dispensing moment, with Joan's mother telling her that she needs to make room for Greg and make him feel like he has a place at home (if this is a point that needs stating, clearly Greg's presence as a man isn't missed). The audience doesn't really know what Joan's attitudes are on this intentional subservience until the end of the episode, as she plays along convincingly, like the charming Joan we all know and love. However, after learning that Greg lied to her and is willingly going back into service, she kicks him out and more or less tells him that she has been and will always be fine without him. Not only is Joan reclaiming her dominance over her own situation, but she's also standing up to an incredibly flawed marriage (with her rapist, nonetheless). During the dinner-with-the-folks outing of Greg's return to service, Weiner cleverly used an accordion to evoke another tension-filled Harris get together in season three. Considering that it was Joan hitting Greg over the head with a vase that sparked him to seek out an army surgeon job in the first place, it's too bad that that imagery couldn't have made a reappearance as well (I'm sure there was a floral arrangement nearby).
Pauline Francis's mention of Seconal sent me rushing to my nearest copy of The Wikipedia. What a robust "Famous deaths related to use" section! Judy Garland! Tennessee Williams! Jimi Hendrix! Dinah Washington! To make it an even juicier reference, the title Valley of the Dolls was partly due to the main character's recreational use of the drug. Pauline doling out something so notorious to Sally only reiterated the general morbid and threatening tone of the episode. Being a faithful watcher of AMC's full Sunday night lineup, and I can confidently say that there's yet to be an episode of The Killing or The Walking Dead that had me as on edge as Weiner & co.'s efforts last night.
Hide and Seek
What an episode! If the title of last night's thrillfest was in reference to anything other than a popular board game (and hello, this is Mad Men, so we know it was) it evoked the interesting pairings we saw among last night's characters, most of them resulting in the discovery of something hidden. Take mystery dates Peggy and Dawn, for example. Peggy discovered Dawn hiding in Don's office, and later in the evening—after a nuanced portrayal of liberal white feminist privilege—Dawn discovered Peggy's not-so-hidden ignorance of race issues and her discomfort at leaving her (Sterling's cash-filled) purse on the table with her black houseguest.
We're not so different, you and I. Well, actually we are.
Our next set of mystery dates were Don and Andrea (kudos, Matthew Weiner, for adding extra creepiness by casting Twin Peaks alum Mädchen Amick to play Don's former flame). While Don's sweaty brow and fevered looks made it clear he was hallucinating, seeing him choke Andrea and stuff her under the bed was a reminder that This Guy Has Issues. Yes, he and Megan are happy together for now, but swimming barely below his smiling husband surface is the Don Draper we know from past seasons—the one who'll bang anything that moves. Don is obviously so worried about this latent part of himself that he murdered a manifestation of it in a dream—I'll bet you my Twin Peaks box set that we see more of the ol' cheating, brooding Don in the weeks to come.
Speaking of Don's fever dream, two things: First, it was telling that a detail from Ginzo's (to use Joyce's nickname for him) pitch played such a pivotal role—was Andrea's one red shoe a sign that the new hire is getting under Don's skin? Second, there are some rumors swirling online that Don actually did murder Andrea and that Megan came home, buried the body, and is pretending nothing happened. Sorry Megan conspiracy theorists, but there's no way Mme. Draper could have pulled something like that off. Plus, you know she only does chores in her lingerie, which makes burying a body close to impossible.
Peggy and Dawn, Don and Andrea, Joan and Greg (good riddance, Dr. Harris!), but the Mystery Date of the night was Pauline and Sally. Seconal! Knives! Tuna salad! This party had it all. And it ended with the literal hide-and-seek moment of Sally sleeping under the sofa. (Was anyone else worried that she might have OD'ed on Pauline's little helpers? Those rumors that a main character will die this season have me constantly thinking the worst.)
Worst babysitter ever.
Assorted thoughts: Though this episode was fraught with peril as can be, it was also full of hilarious moments. A few of my favorites were Don telling Sally to go play outside ("I don't want you to get rickets in that haunted mansion"), and just about every word uttered in that solid gold scene between Roger and Peggy ("Hey Trotsky, you're in advertising"). As a bonus, that interaction inspired this amazing gif:
"Mystery Date" has to be one of my top three favorite Mad Mens of all time. The balance of tension, humor, character/plot development, and history was pitch perfect; the stakes were high; there were plenty of payoffs for loyal fans of the show; and there was just enough campiness thrown in to keep things moving. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to hide under my bed until next Sunday.
Notable Historical/Cultural References: The Hough Riots, Mystery Date, the 1966 airline strike, Richard Speck.
Inappropriate Office Behavior: Since we can hardly blame Dawn for sleeping at the office, the leaders this week are Peggy (nice try getting Roger's watch along with all of his cash, Pegasus), and, once again, Roger Sterling. How many more SCDP employees can he bribe before he goes broke?
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