Change is in the air at SC&P, and Mad Men‘s “The Monolith” was all about subversion. Don asks Lloyd, the supervising engineer from Lease Tech, about who’s in control: man or machine? At SC&P, it’s the machine, which literally boots Creative out of their collaborative space, and causes a number of office upheavals that leave Don with a choice. Naturally, he moves backwards. But an unexpected helper comes to propel him forward, towards the new trajectory for his, and Mad Men‘s, story. Hit the jump for why “Harry crane took a huge dump, and we got flushed down the toilet.”
There are many aspects of Mad Men‘s seventh season so far that feel like a bizarro version of things. The opening scene with Pete and Bonnie was reminiscent of Don and Betty in Italy, when they played the elaborate foreplay game. But Pete, always being a lesser-than when it comes to Don, had a much less sexy (and less interesting) encounter with an old acquaintance from Vick’s, the company where his ex-father-in-law Tom worked, and helped Pete get business from. Hearing of Tom’s heart attack gave Pete pause, but not for long. Like George, he’s moved on: from Trudy, from New York, from Vick’s. He and George moved forward together even, by linking up regarding his Burger Chef account. With that, “The Monolith” began its trajectory of forward progress.
The majority of the hour though was devoted to Don’s struggle to move forward. It’s understandable — seeing him return to SC&P with a muzzle is as heartbreaking as it is deserved. There are certain things he accepted when he returned, those conditions that were set to keep him in line. But to have Peggy giving him assignments was the first thing that niggled him beyond reason. His response was predictably petulant, and he refused not only to do the work, but to be called into Peggy’s office. The snub was one that existed on many levels, but Peggy was more focused on the meaning behind being given troublemaker Don as part of her team (and also given a raise in the process). Was she being hired as a babysitter, or was this all just an elaborate game or test? Joan, at the close of the episode, put it all in perspective: “they didn’t think about it at all.” The machine rolls on.
Don accepted his terms with SC&P without, seemingly, really thinking about it or understanding what it would mean for him. And while him feeling patronized by Peggy’s dominance over him was one thing (and not particularly defensible), his explosion after Bert Cooper gave him the business felt right. As everyone can admit, Don is a brilliant mind. It’s almost unbelievable to think that Bert would shut him down over the Lease Tech idea (the first time we’ve seen Don looking like he was back in his old creative trance) just as revenge because of how things were left. But it just goes to show how badly scorched the Earth behind Don is. Bert puts it to him clearly and cruelly. To the assertion that the reason why he’s fighting to stay at SC&P is because he started it, Bert spits back, “along with a dead man, whose office you now inhabit.”
Lane’s desperate spirit haunted Don for the rest of the episode, as he stole liquor from Roger, hid it in his Coke can, and stared at Lane’s old Mets pennant before calling up Freddie Rumsen for an afternoon off. Freddie knows an alcoholic’s cry for help when he hears one, though, and rushed to Don’s aid. In the spirit of Lane’s ghost and that infamous falling man from the show’s credits, he asks Don point-blank: “are you going to kill yourself? Are you going to give the what they want?”
The reality shakes Don. This season has been about him crawling back from rock bottom, and not particularly successfully. The Draper charm and ability to get out of just about anything is no longer working. He’s older, and things have changed. Peggy is giving him orders, Bert is turning down business, and Freddie Rumsen is telling him not to drink. Don has been “good” this season (until his drunken afternoon), and it hasn’t really gotten him anywhere. Is it because it’s too late, or because it never mattered? His existential crisis as he drank himself to oblivion and confronted Lloyd, essentially calling him the devil, mainly showed how topsy turvy his life has become. It was a minor setback amongst a major one, but the end of the episode concluding with him typing up his ideas for Peggy, fully committed to starting over, was a triumph.
As Margaret abandoned herself to commune living, connecting with a stripped-down version of herself, so too does Don reconnect with his inner Dick Whitman. His hubris and ego are being stripped away, along with his sins. It’s taken six seasons to build them up. The transformation was always going to be painful. But it’s only just begun.
Episode Rating: A Coke can full of vodka.
Musings and Miscellanea:
– Mad Men always saves itself from being an incredibly depressing show with bizarre, funny little moments. My favorite here might have been Harry and Jim with their hard hats on.
– “The other to one is full of farts!” – Ginsberg, starting a revolution to keep a couch.
– “They’ll want a woman’s point of view … Or whatever Peggy counts as” – Pete (still competing with Bob Benson!)
– Don seeing the value in old IBM machines instead of new ones spoke of his own situation. Like Lloyd said, the machines act as a metaphor to whatever is going on in the office.
– I don’t think Margaret/Marigold is in a dangerous cult, just a hippie commune, although she does seem totally zonked out. I really love Mona and Roger’s interactions though, and their conversation in the car was particularly good.
– Another subversion: Roger in his suit trying to pull his daughter away from the commune. This, from a man who has a communal bed!!
– “These people are lost, and on drugs, and have venereal diseases” – Mona.
– “You talk like a friend, but you’re not. I know your name. You go by many names” – Don to Lloyd, i.e. Satan apparently.
– “To cowardice” – Joan.