Monday, January 4, 2016

Mad Men Season 5, Episode 4 Recap: Mystery Date

"And I only am escaped alone to tell thee." -- Job

As if the morning wasn't already off to a bad start, with Don being sick, things immediately take a turn for the worse as an old fling of Don's runs into him in the elevator at work and starts flirting heavily before he has a chance to introduce her to his wife, Megan.  The woman, a red-head named Andrea, calls Don her bad penny, referring to the idiom about something or, usually, someone you don't want to see turns up repeatedly at the wrong time.  So, they have some history together.  Megan's face in the elevator is priceless.  This is another of the perks of marrying the infamous Don Draper.  As she say, "Incroyable!"

The creatives at SCDP are hard at work on the Topaz pantyhose account (meaning Peggy is trying to be serious while Stan wears a pair of the pantyhose over his head like a bank robber) when her friend Joyce comes in with photos of the recent murders of nursing students in Chicago.  The murder by Richard Speck of the eight young women in July 1966 captivated the nation and provides the backdrop for the rest of this episode.  Stan, of course, grabs the photos and examines them with an odd mix of horror and intrigue.  It's human nature, we slow down to look at an accident.  We can't elp ourselves, we want to look away but we can't.

Everyone takes turns looking.  Joyce's reaction is unnerving, she seems the most ghoulish, the most excited by everything - the story, the pictures, the awfulness and the reality of what everyone went through.  It's hard not to think she's enjoying sharing this and delighted by just how macabre and violent it all is.   Even Ginsberg takes a look, but he, unlike the others, immediately wishes he hadn't.  He shoves the photos back, calls Joyce, calls them all out on laughing.  This is a horrible, terrible revolting thing that happened to those poor girls and it's being used for everyone's perverse pleasure. He calls them sickos and storms off and they do feel guilty. But not guilty enough to stop reading about it.

Sally is home alone with Grandma Pauline and she's now thinking back fondly to being raised by a father whose mother was dead.  With Henry's mom in the picture, she has to deal with her rules and her nasty attitude and her musty perfume smell and she does not like it.  She calls Don to come and save her but he's at work and sick so he asks her to tough it out until her mother gets home - back to the haunted mansion as they call Casa Francis.  Later we see Sally at the kitchen table with Pauline as they parry and thrust over lunch.  Sally is no pushover and she speaks her mind, but Pauline doesn't back down either.  They are two bulls charging at each other, only one is technically in charge.  And so Sally is forced to sit at the table and eat the tuna sandwich she doesn't want while Pauline reads the newspaper story about the murders in Chicago.

Later, Sally, and we, learn more about what makes Pauline the sour old lady we now see.  She tells Sally a story of how her father hit her one day, just because, so she'd learn a lesson.  That bad things happen to you for no good reason, so you better watch out.  No wonder she is not the most pleasant person to be around.  One wonders what it must have been like for Henry to be raised by her and why Betty seemed like the epitome of maternal majesty by comparison.  Poor Sally, trying to explain that even though Pauline doesn't see it, she's really a good person.  It's sad that Sally thinks she's the problem and doesn't recognize that it's her step-grandmother who has the problem.

Sally is curious about the murders and after failing to get Pauline to give her the details, she sneaks in the trashcan to dig out the article.  She reads it late at night, in bed, using a flashlight to illuminate the awful story.  Not surprisingly, after reading about the Chicago nurse murders she can't sleep.  She goes to talk to Pauline who, for all her bluntness and lack of empathy, at least doesn't send Sally back to her dark, scary bedroom alone.  They talk and Sally does not get an explanation for the inexplicable horrors that those girls endured.  It just happened.  Unsurprisingly, that wasn't a helpful answer and so Sally ends up falling asleep on the floor, under the couch, with Pauline and her "burglar alarm" above her.

Greg is home from Vietnam and Joan is excited to have her husband home.  Her mother cautions Joan that it will be awkward for Kevin to reposition himself back in the family and that the transition to being home may be difficult.  At first, everything goes swimmingly.  Greg is enjoying being home and playing with Kevin and Joan's pretend-perfect life is back to looking like she imagined.  Until Greg drops a bomb on her - he's going back to Vietnam for another year.  While Joan is devastated at the news, Greg seems almost happy to be heading back.  His view of Vietnam is not the "war is hell" variety, he's found something there that is missing in his life back home.

Later at dinner with his parents, Joan learns for the first time that the decision to re-up for another year was not the army's - it was Greg's. He had failed to share with her that he chose to leave the comfort of home for another year of duty in Vietnam - a place that no one in their right mind would want to go.  Greg's parents were angry with their son and had blamed Joan for not talking him out of it until they learned that she was clueless about his plans.  Greg was doing what was best for him, for his ego, and not what was best for her, his son or his family.

That night they fought.  Greg told her she didn't understand, but she understood.  In Vietnam, he's a needed surgeon.  An officer, looked up to, admired and respected.  In the States, he's a failed surgeon wannabe with shaky hands and a shaky future as a doctor.  He's no one's hero here.  He can't accept his limited talent and his limited options and instead flees for the fantasy where he's the star.  They need him, he says.  But what he means is he feels needed there. The next morning, Joan has had time to think.

She tells him she wants him to go.  Greg is please to hear that she's come to her senses.  And she has, only not in the way he imagines.  Joan tells him she wants him out of her life for good.  If he doesn't want to come home now, he can stay away forever.  She doesn't need him.  She is no longer shutting her eyes about him and the man he is, the man he always has been.  He is not a good person and never has been.  And she doesn't need that in her life.  At the end, we see Joan with her family, her son and her mom.  That's how it's been and now she knows that it's how it will be, for better or worse.

Ginsberg is fitting in well at SCDP, at least creatively.  He's working on his pitch to a shoe client and he's very good, a natural salesman.  He jokes to Don about making sure when he's introduced to the clients for the pitch that the word "genius" is not used - for either of them.  So it's funny when after hearing his pitch the client uses the "g" word, saying Ken was right.  But what's not funny, at least not funny to Don, is the way Ginsberg's mind works and how hard he is to control.

When they were working up the ad for Butler shoes, the one idea that Don shut down was using the Cinderella story as part of the pitch.  He thought it was too on the nose, too obvious, and so he nixed it.  Instead, they came up with a new approach that the client loved.  After the deal was closed, the client went to congratulate Ginsberg and that's when the young ad man took a chance that could have backfired in a huge way.  He told the client about his original idea, Cinderella running from the castle, chased and then caught.  The handsome prince hands her the Butler shoe and her fear and dread of being chased is replaced by the realization that she wanted to be caught, by him.  Well, the client LOVES this story and this is the ad they want to do,

Next scene is at the bar where Don, Ken and Ginsberg should be celebrating their success.  Instead Don is furious.  Ginsberg went behind his back, ignored the fact that the client had already settled on the pitch they made, and stubbornly and passive-aggressively made the pitch he wanted to make despite what his boss wanted.  He tells him in no uncertain terms to never, ever do that again and to take very seriously just how angry Don is right now and to never, ever put him in that position again.  Don storms off and Ginsberg turns to Ken and says, basically, that went well.

At the office, Pete comes in to tell Roger that their client (i.e., Pete's client that Roger has been elbowing his way into) needs their pitch by Monday.  Roger, relaxing in his office, nary a care in the world, says, no problem.  Then the second Pete leaves, Roger goes into scramble mode.  He's dropped the ball and his team is not at all ready with a presentation for Monday.  He goes scurrying around looking for Ginsberg, but he's not at the office - he's still at the bar and it'll be a few years until a portable phone will be created that would have solved his problem.  Instead, he goes to Peggy and begs her to help.  Peggy, even a sheet or two to the wind, remembers how she was too female to work on Mohawk and that they brought a male copywriter to take on that account.

Roger is desperate and Peggy picks up on that fact very quickly.  He needs her to come up with an entire corporate image campaign over the weekend.  And he needs her to lie for him that she had been asked a week ago.  Roger does not want Pete to know he dropped the ball and couldn't even remember to get the Mohawk pitch put together.  He offers her $10 to help him out and she realizes that she has him over the barrel so she asks for everything he has in his pocket - $400.  This is not the mousy, quiet Peggy from Season One, this is a ballsy confident woman who isn't afraid to demand what she deserves.

But Peggy is not so ballsy that she's not immune from being scared when she hears a sound late at night.  She's working in the office, she thinks alone, but she hears something.  It turns out to be Don's secretary Dawn who had worked late and was now planning on crashing in Don's office for the night.  It's too late to catch a cab willing to go up to Harlem and her brother won't let her ride the subway this late at night.  Peggy - viewing the world through her own eyes - thinks that Dawn's brother is worried about murderers like the Chicago nurse killer, but Dawn's concerns are closer to home.  The riots in Harlem are more real to her than some far off killings.

Peggy invites Dawn to spend the night at her place.  Peggy drinks too much and she talks to Dawn about their similarities.  She tells Dawn she knows what it's like to be the only one of her kind - in her case, the lone female copywriter.  But does that experience correlate, can Peggy really understand what it's like for Dawn to be the only black employee at the company?  Her boyfriend may be writing about the race riots, and Peggy may be fighting against the glass ceiling (years before that phrase is used), but does - can she - understand what it means to be black in 1966?  Just before she turns in for the night, Peggy brings Dawn some linens so she can sleep on the couch.  In a brief moment, she looks at the money-laden purse on the table in front of the couch.  In that moment of concern, of fleeting distrust, any bridge that was being built between the two women has been fractured.  Peggy has to face her own biases and prejudices and it's a hard thing to have to face.  The next morning, she sees the note from Dawn thanking her for her hospitality.  But does Peggy feel hospitable or does she feel embarrassed.  

Don had gone home after chewing out Ginsberg.  He managed to take off his shoes and untuck his shirt before crashing onto the bed.  He is later awoken by the doorbell.  It's the attractive woman he ran into on the elevator earlier in the day.  She sneaked into his apartment for a little rendezvous, but Don quickly shoos her away.  He has her leave out the service elevator, lest Megan run into her.

She comes back.  He failed to lock the back door she told him.  He resists then succumbs and they have sex over his weak protestations.  She suggests they do this again sometime, elsewhere.  But he says there won't be a next time.  Don is angry, and when she playfully suggests there will be a next time he attacks her, savagely, squeezing the life out of her.  We'd seen some signs of violence and menace before.  Don's indifference to his half-brother, him pushing Betty, throwing Bobby's toy, shoving his hand into Bobbi Barrett at the restaurant.  There was a hair-trigger anger that occasionally, briefly, and non-lethally bubbled to the surface, but nothing like this.  Nothing that informed us that Don Draper could actually kill a person with his bare hands.

Megan comes in the next morning and Don is panicked, the body is under the bed.  This terrible thing that he did, that he tried to push away under the bed, will be discovered.  Yet there is no body.  Andrea, the sex, the murder, it was all part of a fever dream.  What do you dream about, your desires or your fears?  What does Don dream - that he cheats and then kills rather than let it happen again.  Is he so fearful of temptation that he has to do something so extreme or is he so loyal that he would literally kill to save his marriage?


Ginsberg: So it starts with Ken Cosgrove climbing out of the muck and walking on dry land.

Gail:  It's just the idea of coming home and finding a little hole in his life and sticking his elbow through until he can walk all the way in.

Don: I never saw boards for the Cinderella thing.
Ginsberg:  Well, you killed it, and for good reason.  Cinderella and shoes is a cliche.

Don:  It was a long time ago and I was unhappy.
Megan:  Because you were married.

Pauline:  I know your mother has other rules.
Sally: She doesn't have rules.

Joan:  Greg, if something happened over there and you feel the need to tell me, you shouldn't.
And if you do, you certainly shouldn't ask me to hold your hand.

Greg:  I know you're hearing a lot of horrible things about what's going on over there.  It couldn't be further from the truth.  You don't need to worry.

Ginsberg:  She knows she's not safe, but she doesn't care.  I guess we know in the end she wants to be caught.

Ginsberg:  In your heart you knew it was good.
Don:  In my heart I'm on the verge of throwing you in front of a cab.

Ken: You know you almost got fired just now.
Ginsberg:  I don't think you're right about that.

Roger:  Where's Ginsberg?
Stan:  He's probably everywhere after Don scattered his ashes.

Stan:  I'm going to go out there and find him.  I'm going to start with the whole world and then I'm going to eventually check my apartment.

Peggy:  So what do you want? How about something like "Mohawk, breaking the strike one flight at a time"? Or maybe "Fly over the picket line with Mohawk"?
Roger:  Hey, Trotsky, you're in advertising.

Roger:  Why are you doing this to me?
Peggy.  Because you're being very demanding for someone who has no other choice.  Dazzle me.

Don:  You can either take the steps or you can go off the balcony because if you run into my wife on the way out of here, you're going to wish you had.

Andrea:  It was just sex.  It doesn't mean anything.

Sally:  I know you don't think so, but I'm a good person.

Pauline:  I remember one time he was sleeping on the couch in the living room and I walked by.
And all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he kicked me so hard that I actually flew across the room and hit a piece of furniture.  And then he looked at me and he said, "That's for nothing, so look out."
Sally: That's not very nice.
Pauline:  No, but it was valuable advice.

Sally: Why did that man do that?
Pauline:  Well, probably because he hates his mother.

Pauline:  They didn't know it was going to be worse than that.  They didn't know what was in store for them.


The episode takes place around July 14, 1966 right after the reporting of the Richard Speck murders.  The massacre of those young student nurses was a gruesome and frightening slaughter of innocence that was not just a local tragedy, but grabbed the national spotlight.  In the pre-CNN, pre-Twitter, pre-smart phone days, it was a story that brought evil and madness into everyone's homes on the evening news and in their home paper.  It transcended its geography, spreading fear on an unprecedented level that, in some ways, has continued to today.  To read more about the Chicago nursing students killings, check out these brief articles from AMC and the Daily Mail.

The voyeuristic glee with which the SCDP staff pour over the crime scene photos is a precursor to the "if it bleeds, it leads" journalism that has swept the country for the last few decades.  The more violent, the more salacious the better.  No one turns away from an accident, we all rubberneck so as not to miss a thing.  If a video comes with a warning, you can be sure it'll get more views than if it had been cleansed of anything gory or obscene.

Joyce quotes Job - "And I only am escaped alone to tell thee" - which is the same quote used by Herman Melville in Moby Dick as Ishmael is the lone survivor of the disaster at sea.   In the present context, she is using it to describe the ninth and only surviving nursing student who was the only one alive to tell the true story of what happened during the long night of mayhem.

A lot of talk about riots - it's a year since the Watts riots and they reference that there have been at least five this summer.  But the nearly all-white employees of SCDP, as well as the Francises, seem so far removed from what is going on around them.  The civil rights movement is barely experienced by these people - it's another story on the news that they don't believe affects them in any way.  While when we look back at the 60s we see Vietnam and civil rights and the youth movement, for much of the white middle to upper class, none of that had very much impact on their daily lives.  But Greg makes a comment about the blacks he served with in Vietnam being brave and you see that when people step outside of their narrow world view they can learn a thing or two.

Mystery Date was a board game that had young girls hope to find romance and surprise.  You spin the wheel and open the door and who will you find?  Will your mystery date be a dream or a dud?   That metaphoric question is faced by many women this episode with answers from the mundane to the horrific.   Joan opened the door to find a dud - an abusive, egotistical, man with low-self esteem.  The Chicago nurses opened the door to find a murderous psychopath.  None of the girls who play the game have a choice in who they get - it's fate, luck that brings them their suitor.  But Joan is taking a step towards changing that.  She's not settling for what was behind that door and she's now taking control over the choices in her life.

Peggy mentions that she was discovered like Esther Blodgett.  That was the fictional lead in the movie "A Star is Born" about an understudy who becomes a star.  In the film, her success does not come without sacrifice and she ends up losing her husband who could not compete with living in her shadow.  Is that the future for Peggy?  Will she have success at work but not in her love life?  Can she have both?  She was concerned enough to ask Dawn if she thought Peggy was acting like a man at work.  Even Dawn thinks a woman has to if she wants to get ahead.  But Peggy isn't sure she can or that she even wants to.  It's a delicate balance and one that women were just learning to find.

Of course it will be the murders of the eight nurses, and not the riots, that makes the cover of Life Magazine that week.  Even today the more lurid and sensational, the more "newsworthy" it is deemed.  Raped and murdered coeds will always trump marches for social justice.

Ginsberg's second pitch - the one of the frightened Cinderella being chased, her hobbling like wounded prey on one shoe - had to be in Don's mind when he dreamed about killing Andrea and leaving her body (with just one shoe on) under the bed.

Joan's mother tries to break the tension at dinner by mentioning that Joan plays the accordion.  We of course remember that very awkward moment when Joan was forced to perform for Greg's boss and his wife back in Season 3, bravely overcoming her embarrassment to try and help her husband.

Compare and contrast Sally's warm, loving relationship with Grandpa Gene - who thought the six year old was plenty old enough to read about the fall of the Roman Empire - with the cold, diffident Pauline.  It does mirror the shift from the innocent '50s to the turbulent '60s, doesn't it?

The tap water in New York City was brown???  Was this how bottled water came to be a big thing?  I'm a Valley girl and in the 60s our air may have been brown but our water was clear.

Why does Pauline think watching the sunset from your bedroom window is the saddest thing in the world?

Spoilers for the Series.  DON'T read until you're completely caught up.

"I married you and I'm going to be with you until I die."  Not so fast, Don.  Your marriage to Megan is not the happily ever after you were looking for.  Don did try, for a while.  But the careless appetite that Megan referenced did come back, strong, and Don could not help himself.  He fell, hard, again and broke his wedding vows, again.

It'll be two seasons and almost four years in Mad Men time for Roger and Peggy to get another great scene together but it will be so worth it.

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