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Mad Men recap: The Monolith

Don finally sees the writing on the wall, while Roger’s sins come back to haunt him

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Mad Men

Mad Men

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
run date:
Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Elisabeth Moss

In Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a group of prehistoric neanderthals discover a sleek monolith and are mysteriously propelled to evolve, making a leap in their mastery of technology. In the spring of 1969, one year after that film premiered, the monolith in the midtown offices of SC&P is a new IBM 360. It’s the hulking computer that clients assume the agency already has, one that Harry Crane has been harping about and Jim Cutler has finally made a reality. What does it do, exactly? Mostly, it just looks impressive — at least, to the clients who will see it humming and blinking as they walk down the hallway to meet SC&P’s executives. “That computer is the Mona Lisa,” Stan explains, a shiny bauble that gets clients in the door.

It’s much more than that, as Lloyd the computer guy explains to Don later. It’s a cosmic disturbance, “a metaphor for whatever’s on peoples’ minds.” Don’t be afraid, though — computers have mastered the infinite, giving mankind a glimpse at God. Cue the 2001 music! But who cares if a computer can count all the stars, responds Don. After all, no man has ever stared at the heavens with mere numbers in his head. How misguided. Cue the close-up of the 360’s red eye

To make room for the Future, the creative lounge is being leveled, along with its fart-dusted sofa and kiddie furniture. “Trust me,” Lou says, after overhearing Peggy bad-mouth him to the troops, “You’re going to use that computer more than you use that lounge.” Of course Lou wants the computer. Then again, he’s also the kind of ad man who likes to work backwards, finding the tagline first and then making up the big-picture strategy that supports it. Not just style over substance — because isn’t that the very definition of advertising? — but a complete dismissal of the notion that there’s anything different between selling aspirin and hamburgers.

Selling hamburgers, as everyone knows, requires “a woman’s point of view — or whatever Peggy counts as,” says Pete, after he negotiates some possible new business with Burger Chef, a $3 million account for the growing chain of fast-food restaurants. (Ouch, Pete.) Cutler wants Ted to handle the creative account, which would require his returning to New York. Ted demurs, because he is a shell of a man who just wants to crawl into the fetal position as soon as this call is over, and suggests Peggy instead. Lou gives his blessing, perhaps a surprise considering Peggy’s recent careless comment and their disagreeable rapport. But this is all about Don and Lou, not Peggy and Lou. Pete, who sees this account as his way to redemption after Chevy, wants the best people on it, so he at least asks if Don is available. Well, sure. Um. Yes. I guess. What is Don doing anyway? Let’s put him to work. Not cool, says Lou to Cutler afterwards: “I thought we had an understanding about Don.” He’s using the same voice Warden Norton used when he asked Andy Dufresne if he was being obtuse.

Lou is no dummy, but he’s also extremely predictable. He gives the account to Peggy — who was expecting the stick, not a carrot — and sweetens the deal by giving her a $100 per week raise. Oh, by the way, Peggy, says Lou, Don’s on your team. Why don’t you let him know?

Don has been back at work for three weeks, and so far, he hasn’t violated his rules of probation. That said, he hasn’t done anything productive either. In fact, it seems like he was working harder when he was playing Cyrano for Freddie Rumsen than he is now. Now he’s just camping out in Lane Pryce’s old office — apparently not included on the partners’ calls — playing solitaire and reading Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, a book he can likely relate to in every perverse way. (Although perhaps miserable Valentine’s Day Peggy should give it a read, too.)

Reaching under an old office cabinet, searching for his cigarette, Don fishes out Lane’s old Mets pennant. He tosses it in the trash at first, but next time we see Don in the office, it’s hanging proudly on the wall, in the same place where Lane had it, and right near where he hanged himself. If it were 1964 or 1965, I might think that is rather morbid foreshadowing. But this is May 1969, the opening stanzas of the Miracle Mets, who go on to win the World Series. The Mets began that season poorly, winning only 18 of their first 40 — so there’s hope for Don as well.

NEXT: Peggy’s really wearing the pants now