If you were watching this week’s episode of AMC’s Mad Men and thought you might be tripping major balls, don’t worry you aren’t alone. The three story arc that covered a 24 hour period in the lives of three characters was as weird as it gets. Mad Men is pretty straight forward in plot, but if there is something creepy happening, you can bet your sweet ass there is a reason for it. The explanations may be long winded, but the writers really gave us a chunk of material to analyze, so hold onto your hats.
Peggy wakes up post-sex and is running off to the office. Her boyfriend Abe feels used. But if he is such a beat-nick-forward-thinker than why is he fighting a working woman trying to make her way in the business world? Chill out bro and stop whining.
When Peggy arrives at work, Megan is set to be her backup on the Heinz account, but she bails to have a weekend fling with Don. Peggy recognizes a need for Megan’s pretty face and Don’s old boys club sales technique. So she slaps on some horrible blue eye shadow and red lipstick, smokes a cigarette and presents Heinz with a young, hip, bon-fire with beans. Heinz isn’t into it and so when Peggy realizes her sweet talking and good looks didn’t do the trick, she goes straight up Don Draper on his ass. But gender dynamics suck in 1966 and Heinz says the only reason why he is putting up with her is because he has a daughter. Her little tantrum leads to her getting kicked off the account.
To celebrate this epic fail, she goes to the movie Abe wanted to see earlier called ‘The Naked Prey’. The story is about a group on safari that are hunted down by a tribe and give the last survivor the chance to live by fighting their way through deserted Africa with the tribesmen on their heals. Talk about a metaphor for Peggy’s constant need to survive in a man’s world. She is offered a joint from a strange man and when he tries to feel her up in the theater, she takes control of the situation and commands him to watch the movie while she pleasures him. Gross.
She comes back to Don’s office, passes out, and wakes up around 8:30pm to receive a phone call from a frantic and disheveled Don Draper. She assumes he is freaking out about her goof with Heinz and the conversation is cut short. The next day, she talks to Ginsberg who reveals that he was born on a concentration camp and adopted from a Swedish orphanage. He feels like a ‘Martian’ and an outsider, reflecting that Peggy feels the same.
Flashback to the beginning of the same day, only this time it’s Roger’s turn. He wants to have a fling at the Howard Johnson in upstate New York, but Don doesn’t want to be his pervy wing man. As we learned from two weeks ago, Don is frantically clinging to Megan in a desperate attempt to avoid himself and then he showed Pete that it pays to appreciate what you have. So he ditches Roger for Megan.
Roger ends up attending a dinner party with Jane, who is looking absolutely stunning in gaudy jewelry, a cut out midriff and a cream colored coolot jumpsuit. After having an intellectual convo, the guests decide to do LSD. Jane’s therapist may or may not be Timothy Leary or a copy of the famous psychologist. He talks about a book that was inspired by the ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’, which is a book Leary wrote dealing with space-time dimensions, the ego and identity. Roger proceeds as skeptical as ever.
There are a few things to note about Roger’s LSD trip. First, he hears music when he opens a bottle of alcohol, no surprise there. He thinks he is smarter and better equipped to handle the trip than the bourgeois intellectuals he is with. He sees a magazine add with half gray hair and half black, then sees himself with this half and half hair combo in the mirror. Then he sees Don. This reflection can mean a few things and since we see Don’s story arc later on in the episode, it points to Roger’s desire to keep up with youth and his realization that it’s not his cup of tea. Besides, he looks better as a white haired older gent and he knows it.
Another notable cinematic shifts throughout this episode was the use of French New Wave film or sound effects and imagery. This style of film was ground breaking in the 60′s because it forced film goers to let go of the suburban clichéd 50′s perfection and face some bleak existentialism. When Roger smokes his cigarette down in a second, you half expected Jean Paul Belmondo to bang his head into a wall or have Jane look into the camera and wink like Anna Karina. Then the party hostess put on The Beach Boys‘ song ‘I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’ and later on, Roger was laughing his ass off in the bathtub as he hallucinated the 1919 World Series and remarked on the Model A and Model T cars parked around the baseball field.
By the end of the night, Roger knew he wasn’t meant to be with Jane and that he was living a charade. It’s something he has avoided for awhile. Roger is a man who values the past and the old way of doing business. The next day he is chipper charlie as he makes his way to the office accepting his pending divorce.
That brings us to Don and Megan, who show up to the Howard Johnson hotel chain with its vividly severe color scheme. Megan is wearing a coral orange dress. Notice how the costume department has patterned Megan’s hair, clothing style, and lavender blue eye color after Liz Taylor in the 60′s, whose role in the 1966 film ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ landed her the best actress Oscar and focused on the destruction of a marriage in the face of a woman’s newfound realization of her husband’s controlling nature.
The hotel cafe is decorated in teal and orange, not to mention that their trademark is orange sorbet ice cream. Megan feels guilty for bailing on Peggy and when she orders pie, Don tells her to eat sorbet instead. She hates it. Don says he is embarrassed and so she shoves spoonfuls into her mouth before commenting about Don’s dead mother. He walks out and leaves her standing in the parking lot. When he returns she is no where to be found. Don loses his shit and starts frantically calling Peggy, his sidekick and then Megan’s mother trying to locate her.
When he finally gives up and goes home, Megan is waiting behind a locked door. After kicking the door open and chasing her around the apartment, they fall to the floor in a similar fashion of Roger and Jane on LSD. Then Megan tells him that these fights diminish their love more and more. Don clings onto her and says, “I thought I had lost you”.
Whereas Roger is a man of nostalgia, Don is always trying to reinvent himself and be one step ahead of the game. Don realizes that Megan is able to anchor him in the present and he desperately avoids letting her be free because he doesn’t want whatever shit storm will come when she is gone. Think about how they work together every waking minute and how he makes sure she is involved in his kids life, not to mention that he has divulged everything about his past to her. Even during his flashback to the Disneyland road trip he is whistling a Beatles song that he used to hate, but ends up loving because Megan got it into his head.
Don doesn’t want dwell on the past anymore than Roger wants to adhere to future changes in the world. Betty was the traditional archetype of a trophy wife, a trophy household, and perfect mother. Megan is willing to support Don, but is constantly challenging him and making him face himself. Betty wasn’t psychologically able to deal with Don’s problems any more than she could deal with her own. Don’s identity doesn’t even belong to him, yet all characters seem to gravitate towards this ideal and are guided by it subconsciously. Mad Men should never be judged on first glance and neither should the people in its storyline.