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.
“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.
Still, 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:
— Jim Cutler watching Stan and Wendy have sex, particularly because it’s the daughter of his deceased friend and business partner, was highly creepy.
— 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?”