MAD MEN Recap: “The Crash”

     May 19, 2013


Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner doesn’t like TV critics, and while most show runners probably have the same perspective, I don’t know why Weiner in particular has such a bee in his bonnet.  Mad Men does get criticized and unravelled, and has for the last seven years, but it’s with genuine love and a desire to understand a complicated show.  TV criticism is often, to me at least (and I’m biased, of course), a great form of flattery: if your show is worth talking about and dissecting, it’s because it’s a great show.  That doesn’t mean it’s infallible, though.  But back to my original point, I’m pretty sure that “The Crash” was created just to get TV critics weeping softly at having to review this episode so quickly, because it was so deep and layered.  On the other hand, maybe it was created just to mess with all of us.  Hit the jump to see which.

mad-men-season-6-poster“The Crash” is probably going to be a very divisive episode, and I would genuinely like to read your takes in the comments.  On first impression: it was weird, but I liked it.  I liked it a whole lot better than last week’s weird 50 Shades of Midlife Crisis, anyway.  Don is still in crisis because of course he is.  And as such, we were treated to a number of whorehouse flashbacks, Weiner’s favorite Dick Whitman resting ground.  Don has unresolved issues from his childhood, we get it.  It’s fucked up, and it always has been.  It really sucks for the guy, to the point where he’s frantically hunting down soup (in fact oatmeal) art from ten years before because the woman looks like a prostitute who was nice to him once (and took his virginity).

But everything about “The Crash” was bizarre from start to finish: we got see Ken Cosgrove’s joyride to the kick things off, in a frantic scene that lead to a literal crash off screen.  Later Kenny appears with a cane, but thanks to Jim Cutler (Harry Hamlin)’s probably unlicensed doctor friend and a few shots in the ass of what may have been some kind of speedball, Kenny was tap-dancing.  What the actual hell?

And yet … it was great.  It had shades of that marvelous episode last year that featured Roger’s drug trip.  In fact, Mad Men‘s greatest achievement both with that and in “The Crash” might be in making people on drugs interesting to people who aren’t on drugs.  Though Peggy and Ginsberg were taxed by their coworker’s drug trips, our witnessing of them was pretty hilarious (particularly Stan).

The drug trip at the office and the brothel flashbacks felt familiar, like a lot of this season, but it was Grandma Ida who really took things to a surreal level.  Clearly, “Ida” was casing the joint from the beginning, but Sally eventually goes along with things because she’s a little scared (and should be).  It all felt like a dream sequence, and it had that surreal / nightmarish quality that a lot of last season had, particularly the episode where Megan disappeared.  Though Grandma Ida didn’t seem like a huge threat, the simple suggestion of child endangerment and what she might be capable of was unsettling.

The most interesting thing about “The Crash” though was a theme that has been playing out a lot this season: Don hasn’t had his brilliant breakthroughs like in the past.  There was no Kodak Carousel moment at the end the episode, even though it was teased a few times (as it has been in other episodes, where Don sounds like Old Don, but is now bordering on Crazy Don, like his ad that everyone read as suicide).  His three day drug trip resulted in nothing except the idea that he’s not sure if anyone loves him, and that the key to life is not a Chevy.

Stan was a really interesting case this week, because when he reveals to Peggy about the pain he feels having lost his cousin months back in combat, Peggy tells him to let himself feel that pain, and not to dampen it with drugs and sex.  And yet, near the end of the episode that’s exactly what Stan does.  It’s also exactly what Don has always does.  Like the advice he gave to Peggy long ago, repression and denial are the weapons Don uses, but he can’t escape, no matter how many Sylvias he beds or how many shots he gets.  The pain and confusion and sadness of his early life will always haunt him.  Don Draper can never outrun Dick Whitman.

mad-men-the-crash-kevin-rahmStill, Don has to be held accountable for the present, something that he never is.  Sylvia says he’s lucky to have escaped Arnold finding out about him, yet Don is still moping in the hallway, completely self-serving.  He leaves his kids alone, and a woman breaks into the house.  He has a wonderful marriage, and he spurns her for the comforts of anyone else.  But after his binge that ended in fainting, he was back to old Don: crisp, cold, and snarling at the office being like a whorehouse.  Hmmm.  Yep.

“The Crash” was a dreamlike episode with tinges of nightmare, and it was almost a wholly Don-centric episode which tends to get mixed results from fans (particularly this year).  But if the point of Mad Men is a character study of Don Draper, then “The Crash” may prove to be one of the most important episodes of that journey, because Don was forced to face some of Dick Whitman demons.  Where that leads, if anywhere, we can’t yet say.

Episode Rating: B+

Musings and Miscellanea:

– You’d better BELIEVE there are already GIFs of Cosgove dancing!  Here’s one and another. Dawn’s face cracks me up, as does the line “I learned it from my mother.  No … my first girlfriend.”

– Jim Cutler watching Stan and Wendy have sex, particularly because it’s the daughter of his deceased friend and business partner, was highly creepy.

mad-men-season-6-jon-hamm-january-jones– Sometimes Mad Men almost has supernatural elements, like Wendy the hippie and her I Ching reading of Don.  How did she know?

– Betty: “Where did you get the money for that skirt?”  Sally: “I earned it.”  Betty: “On what street corner?”

– Betty is nearly back to fighting weight, looks like, as well as being back to blonde and her snappy ways with Don (deserved).

– Ginsberg accidentally stabbing Stan was nuts.

– Sally, Rosemary’s Baby is not bedtime material!  Especially when women are breaking into your house, lord.

– In a lot of ways this episode felt like free form jazz.

– Line of the Year goes to Bobby: “Are we negroes?”


  • Trader Mick

    Sucked… And “Negroes” is upper case “N”.

  • Trader Mick

    Sucked… And “Negroes” is upper case “N”.

    • lindro88


  • Leave Comments

    I am with you Allison, I liked it. It was weird and trippy and so stuffed full of information on the characters. I felt a little lightheaded when it ended it was so strange. But then I laughed and replayed the tap dancing!

  • redebeth

    This felt SOOO Twin Peaksy to me. I loved it! I think when people gripe about how much better they liked the show in seasons 1-3 and complain about how much it’s changed… guess what!! that’s the point peeps! the WHOLE WORLD changed and became darker and weirder and more unsettling. That’s why the show is too! Derrr.

    • Allison Keene

      Glad you mentioned Twin Peaks, my tired brain forgot. It was VERY Twin Peaksy, particularly Ida’s appearance.

      • redebeth

        Right? I could not read that whole Ida scene until the 911 call.

  • redebeth

    Oh and I am not sure Ginz “accidentally” stabbed Stan. He didn’t flinch or miss a beat when he said “Whose next?” lol. Seemed kinda on purpose. It was hilarious though.

    • grabthar

      Another reason to fear exacto knives….

  • AJ

    It wasn’t enjoyable in an uplifting sense and definitely super out there as far as tv episodes go, but it was really dark and poignant. We spend most of the episode trying to build a structure out of an episode that was clearly becoming harder and harder to define. The drug inducement, the flashbacks, the ida robbery – the whole thing screamed of chaos and anarchy that we, the viewers, were struggling so hard to make sense of. And in the end, i think our reactions to this episode perfectly reflect exactly what don’s state of mind was. Discombobulated as it was, this episode was very dark and really left you wanting for happier moment afterwards.

  • Lance

    I liked the episode too, or at least I was fascinated by it.

    Kept rooting for Don to make his breakthrough, too — because it wasn’t going to be about the perfect ad for a car. His time with that whore was probably the closest thing to maternal love he ever experienced, although that experience then got wrapped up in sex and then went terribly wrong with him getting beaten with a wooden spoon. I felt that maybe he was on the verge of realizing you could separate love from sex and that love could be a giving, generous act, not a possessive or manipulative one. But he couldn’t get there.

    • Allison Keene

      Great point, and I think that’s where a lot of the frustration comes with his character (at least for me), but also what makes Don feel so real. Typical Weiner subversion, too — we WANTED that resolution, but he wouldn’t give it to us. ::shakes fist at sky::

    • redebeth

      I posted this earlier but it never came up – young Dick did not get ‘wrapped up in sex’ he was assaulted and humiliated by Amee, the woman who he thought cared about him. Then she narced him out, as if it were his fault, so he got the spoon. That was a very disturbing sequence, esp. for anyone who has been in that type of situation.

  • Daniel O’Reilly

    I’d say it was very David Lynchian, except that’s kind of a disservice to Matthew Weiner who’s been doing weird just as well as Lynch ever since last the couple seasons of the Sopranos.

    Another great line: “Everytime we get a car, this place turns into a whorehouse.” Exactly the kind of envrionment Don would want to escape from.

    • Allison Keene

      Definitely, that line really sealed the episode for me. Great stuff.

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  • Brett

    The kids were watching an episode of the wonderfully strange tv show The Prisoner.

    • Allison Keene

      Ahhh! thanks for that.

  • JCF

    I kept waiting for the episode to have a “key” (in the Roman a Clef sense), and it never did. A lot of it felt like last year’s ep, where Don has a Fever Dream (and clearly, a good deal of it was from Don’s POV, *stoned*). But then reality (?) would intrude (esp Grandma Ida. Also, Dawn’s reaction to Dancing Ken: I was convinced it was all Don’s delusion until then).

    I always like to see Peggy, but she felt oddly floating (floating, when she was one of the few NOT high!) through this ep. Missed Joan.

    Mainly, the ep left me quite uncomfortable. I’ve always been OK w/ MM have all kinds of moral ambiguities, but the narrative ambiguities here were a bridge too far, IMO.

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  • Charlee Potts

    “Dawn”, really?

    • Allison Keene

      Dawn the secretary, not Don the Draper — her expression during Ken’s dance had me in stitches.

      • redebeth

        lol Don “the Draper” I love it.

  • Alan Burnett

    Maybe Weiner doesn’t care for TV critics because he doesn’t respect what they do? Unlike film critics, they review material in increments, one episode at a time. Film critics don’t review the first ten minutes of a film, suggest a filmmaker doesn’t know where he is going for the rest of the story, then review the next ten minutes, try to guess what happens next and then get annoyed when their pre-conception isn’t affirmed. And most TV critics are former journalist students or bloggers who don’t know how a TV show is made or the tropes/archetypes of story structure or even how to construct a piece of criticism, simply listing plot points from the previous episode. What about theme or structure? It’s well beyond the understanding of most TV critics. Film critics shit all over TV critics, and – considering the quality of film criticism right now – that isn’t admirable. You are one of the better TV critics, but write less about YOU and more about the SUBJECT.

  • HomoViper

    “Don hasn’t had his brilliant breakthroughs like in the past.”

    Exactly this, and what I loved so much was when Don walked into the room with all the creatives and gave one of his inspirational blahblah speeches, only to have Peggy probe him: “That was very inspiring, but do you have an idea?” And he says: “No.” (I realize I’m probably not getting the wording exact there.) Don’s brilliance is an illusion (at least some of the time), and his protege — who used to be so in awe of his alleged brilliance and the way he works — is now the one unmasking him as a fraud.

  • Matt

    I loved how in that one “sequence”, between I think the first commercial and the second, they were spitting philosophy right and left. First you have Peggy literally saying, “The child is the father of the man”, for the copy they’re trying to write but in an episode where we are seeing perhaps how much that is true of Don. It’s brilliant writing and subtle self-awareness is just the best. Because while it’s always been clear he had an unhappy childhood, the literal links from his past to the present haven’t always cropped up as viscerally as they did this past episode.

    Then you also have Ken’s tap dancing, which finally provided a rival to Roger for humor, and he ends it with the quote you pulled out, “I learned it from my mother…no my first girlfriend”.

    It’s writing like this that has really elevated the show to probably being my favorite ever. Loved Mad Men from the first season, but the demands of making new plot driven arcs all the time is really what can kill the realism and quality of most shows. Mad Men has its slow burn plots and then in between we can get episodes like this that completely defy what television was supposed to be.

    Mad Men is also the only show where I could literally watch the episode again right when it’s finished.

  • mh

    I thought the most perfect line showing a true drug induced, self absorbed (what other way could you be… or could Don be) state was when, she (the girl I thought was a hallucination for the first scenes!) went to listen to his heart, and said “it’s broken” and Don, with that pure, innocent amazement said, “you can hear that?”…

    why I have such empathy for this self serving person, whom most dislike, I do not know.

  • rosie1843

    [" He has a wonderful marriage, and he spurns her for the comforts of anyone else."]
    What wonderful marriage?

  • -

    Wow. That was easily the weirdest episode of Mad Men I’ve ever seen. Heck, it makes that episode of The Sopranos with the 30 minute dream sequence seem mundane.
    I’m definitely going to need to watch it again to try to wrap my head around it.

  • junierizzle

    I thought it was okay. I just hate weird and trippy stuff in general.

  • Celtica

    Major turning point, Don slaps himself silly, leaves the demons behind and finally starts living in the present, recognizing his own strength and reshaping his future destiny. It was his inferno. Or I could be wrong.

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  • Travis Vang

    Mad Men has had a rough season so far I think, but it seems to be turning around now. The Chevrolet account is looking like more trouble than it’s worth to me, and I wonder what’s going to happen next with it. I’ve not been able to watch this week’s episode yet though because I usually have to work late at DISH when Mad Men airs. Thankfully be able to have a mini-marathon this afternoon and catch up by watching my DISH Hopper. It has been recording the season for me, and since it can record up to six shows at once during primetime; I don’t have to worry about missing an episode due to DVR conflicts with my family’s shows.

  • Mike

    Don’s got a “great” idea or strategy while working on weekend.

    Can you clarify what is this idea / strategy about?

    What does it has to do with “soup ad”?

    Is he actually talking about him and Silvia?

    Or was this idea worth nothing?


    He types on a typewritter:

    - “This may be hard to believe, but the history can’t be ignored.
    - The history should not be ignored.

    - Look, I don’t want to waste your time, with…”
    - “I don’t want you to shut this door.
    - Just let me say a few things.
    - You and I both know–”

    … and later explains to Ginsberg and Peggy:

    Don: Remember this [soup ad] work?

    Peggy: I’ve never seen it before.

    Don: Well, it says it all. It really does.
    Okay, I’ve got this great message and it has to do with what holds people together.
    What is that thing that draws them? It’s a history.
    And it may not even be with that person, but it’s…
    it’s like a… well, it’s bigger than that.

    Peggy: And that makes them buy a car?

    Don: If this strategy is successful, it’s way bigger than a car.
    It’s everything.
    I keep thinking about the basic principle of advertising.
    There’s entertainment and you stick the ad in the middle of the entertainment like a little respite.
    It’s a bargain.
    They’re getting the entertainment for free.
    All they have to do is listen to the message.
    But what if they don’t take the bargain at all?
    What if they’re suddenly bored of the entertainment?
    What if they don’t–
    what if they turn off the TV?

    Ginsberg: – You gotta get your foot in the door.

    Don: – Exactly!
    So, how do I do that?
    Let’s say I get her face to face.
    How do I capture her imagination?
    I have a sentence, maybe two.

    Peggy: Who’s “her”?

    Ginsberg: Promise them everything. You know, you’re gonna change their life.
    “- You’re gonna take away their pain.”

    Don: – That’s good.

    Ginsberg: Then you hit ‘em with the one-two punch. What’s the answer to all of life’s problems? A Chevy.

    Don: No, it’s not.

    Ginsberg: Then it’s oatmeal?

    Don: No.


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