Mad Men recap: The Monolith
Don finally sees the writing on the wall, while Roger's sins come back to haunt him
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
Peggy’s rather pleased with herself — especially that big raise — and she’s not above playing power politics. She resists the temptation to meet with Don in his office about Burger Chef. Instead, she calls him (and Mathis) to her turf to welcome them to her team and give them marching orders. 25 tags by Monday, fellas. Don takes the news as well as Lou and Cutler had hoped. Oblivious Mathis delivers the unintentional shiv, telling Don he’ll “get used to it” after Peggy explains that Lou likes to work backwards. Don looks at Peggy with utter disdain and quickly retreats to his office, where he tries to throw his typewriter through the window. No one hears a thing, what with all the construction surrounding the computer installation.
Don Draper never seemed like the naive type — but this episode seemed to indicate that he had few suspicions about his new arrangement with SC&P. Last week, he had to swallow his pride and agree to several stipulations that clearly were intended to offend him. When he accepted them with a simple “Okay,” I just assumed he had already shifted into zero-sum strategy mode. But clearly, he’s yet to grasp the magnitude of his isolation. Later, when he gets a nibble on new business from Lloyd, he brings it to Cooper immediately. Cooper had been an ally for much of Don’s professional life, but at this point the old man has clearly had enough. Don is tainted. It was okay when only Cooper knew about Don’s secret shame. It’s another for Cooper when all of Madison Avenue knows his golden boy is an orphan bastard. Cooper rebukes Don for flirting with new clients, and when Don angrily asks why he’s even here, Cooper bats him away: ” Why are you here? “Because I founded this agency!” shouts Don. “Along with a dead man, whose office you now inhabit.” Bert Cooper: master of the last word.
Don needs a drink. (Did you notice that both Roger and Peggy had both offered one already? I suppose that’s just Peggy being cordial, but what was Roger thinking?) He raids some Smirnoff from Roger’s supply and proceeds to unravel behind his office door.
Roger is elsewhere, attending to a family emergency. Remember during the season premiere, when his daughter Margaret had a hippy-dippy brunch with him that gave rise to suspicions that she’d joined a cult? Well, she’s joined a cult. Or at least a commune of sorts in upstate New York. She’s been gone for 10 days, abandoning her son Ellory and husband Brooks for some peace, love, and understanding. “She is a perverse child who only thinks of herself,” says Mona, Roger’s ex, who wants to go after her. Instead, Brooks heads north to bring her back — but he fails in every way. Not only does he leave the commune empty-handed, but he also gets in a bar scrap with some rough locals that lands him in jail.
Roger and Mona are forced into action, to bring their daughter to her senses and back home. They’re dressed like they’re going to visit her at college, and the road trip even has a playful weekend-away vibe. But this is a fool’s errand. Margaret is now Marigold, living with people who, as her mother says, “are lost and on drugs and have venereal diseases.” Audiences have been waiting to see Sally Draper at Woodstock, but it’s clearly Marigold who will be the voice of this generation. She no longer speaks the same language as her parents. She’s tired of accepting society’s definition of her! She was always a petulant child, and all the pain she feels her parents have inflicted upon her now gives her license to dismiss Mona’s appeal to be an adult and a responsible mother: “I think of [Ellory] all the time, but he can’t be happy if I’m not happy.”
Mona heads back to take care of Ellory, but Roger hangs around the farm to see if he can get through to his daughter. After all, Hip Dad Roger isn’t exactly a virgin to this lifestyle. They smoke some grass, and sleep in the dilapidated barn, staring up at the stars, talking about reading Jules Verne. She remembers Roger reading her From the Earth to the Moon, but he says that it must’ve been Mona who read her that story. It’s a sweet moment, sealed with a paternal kiss on her forehead… and then Marigold leaves the barn in the middle of the night to have free love with some groovy dude.
The next morning, Roger’s permissive attitude has changed. The blue suit is back on, and he forcibly tries to take his daughter home. “It’s time to leave Shangri-la, baby,” he says, an echo reference to Lost Horizon from the season premiere. The irony is that Margaret has simply come to the same crisis point in her life that Roger did — just at an age 30 years earlier. The only difference between their two circumstances is a 4-year-old son. But hearing Margaret/Marigold whine about the slights she endured as a child, perhaps that’s no difference at all.
NEXT: Fight or flight, Don?
Don’s setback with the bottle is another put-up or shut-up test, following his plane ride with Lee Cabot and his recent heart-to-heart with Sally. This time, he flunked — but fortunately, Freddie is there to catch him before Don ruins his life. Freddie responds like a dedicated AA sponsor, shepherds Don out the office — ostensibly to see a Mets game — and gets him home safely. (Cue the internet’s “Meet the Mets” Don Draper meme!)
Before Don and Freddie exit the office, Don’s face darkens as he sees Lloyd the computer guy. “You talk like a friend but you’re not,” says Don, breathing heavy vodka into the man’s face. “You go by many names but I know who you are. You don’t need a campaign. You’ve got the best campaign since the dawn of time.”
Is he the Devil incarnate? Is that what Don means? Or is he something worse: Progress, Technology, the sound of table-saws and the instrument that will make men and women like Don obsolete?
The next morning, Freddie gives Don some honest, pants-pissing truth, the truth we thought Don understood when he said “Okay” last week. After all, Freddie had warned Don about this exact professional scenario at the end of the season premiere. No doubt Freddie would’ve taken the job offer from Mary Wells. But now Don has to decide who he is: “Are you just going to kill yourself? Give them what they wanted?” says Freddie. “Or go in your bedroom, get in uniform, fix your bayonet, and hit the parade? Do the work, Don.”
Get busy living, or get busy dying, Freddie seems to be saying. Damn right.
We get an answer the next morning. Which will it be: defiance or submission? Don’s appearance is all business, and his typewriter has recovered. With Peggy standing in his doorway, he tells her, “You’ll have your tags by lunch.”
I don’t think he’s chosen submission.
Just Spitballin’ Here…
– Harry Crane clearly wasn’t a casualty of Don’s return, as Roger had hinted last week. In fact, he’s more prominent than ever, now that he has the computer at his disposal. Tonight’s episode seemed to pit Don against Harry in a more existential struggle than Don’s tensions with Peggy or Lou. Harry is the Future: he is television and computers. We might have to think more about this is the next three episodes.
– That television show that Harry and Lloyd were talking about was Turn-On, which was actually canceled before its first episode concluded.
– For all his failed, pathetic efforts to be like Don Draper, Peter is doing a pretty good Don-light impression in L.A., especially with Ms. Bonnie Whiteside on his arm.
– The show faded out to the Hollies “On a Carousel,” which features these lyrics: “Now’s my chance and I must take it / A case of do-or-die / On a carousel, on a carousel.”
– There were at least two references to man’s landing on the moon, an event that is just two months away on the show. How much would you like to bet the seventh episode, the cliffhanger before the show’s mid-season hiatus, will include Neil Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind?