Every week, Aaron Cohen (@UnlikelyWords) writes a recap of Mad Men for his blog Unlikely Words, and I illustrate something from the episode to go with it. Here’s Aaron’s recap for season 6 episode 8: (Still working on a different recap structure with David Jacobs. Some thoughts then a discussion.)
This was a weird one. The first 40 minutes were drug trips and flashbacks, and then we started getting to the meat of the episode. There were some funny moments, and pithy moments, but overall, I think this was a gimmick episode. It’s a good thing the series is ending next year, otherwise we’d probably be headed for a clips show soon.
-The episode title is “The Crash” referencing Ken’s car crash with drunken Chevy execs, the crash that comes after the agency’s 3 day speed binge, and possibly some darker themes as well.
-Finally Dr. Hex(?) asks what we’ve all been thinking, “What are you going to call this place?”
-”I hate how dying makes saints out of people.” Kind of a throw away line from one of the no name CGC creatives, but valid.
-”Do what you have to.” I liked this line, but can’t remember what it referenced.
-Stan tried to get with Peggy and she seemed to be willing to try it out, but it didn’t stick. Things could be going much better for Abe.
-Sally was reading ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ at Megan and Don’s house. It’s a book about someone who makes a deal with the devil to further their acting career.
-Why is teenage Don Draper such a dork?
-”I’m your grandma.” Sally got social engineered by a burglar who made her eggs. What!? It ends up being doubly Don’s fault because he left the backdoor open, likely after visiting Sylvia’s door, and because, “Then I realized I don’t know anything about you.” Sally was rightly suspicious they were being robbed, but couldn’t be sure because she doesn’t know anything about Don. I imagine this will come up again this season.
David: Hi Aaron, nice use of “lugubrious” last week!
Aaron: I do what I can. Let’s get right into it. What the actual fuck?
David: So this week I’ve been thinking (and talking with friends) about how Weiner actually spends most of the show creating a mood. Obviously, the technical execution of the show, especially the set and costumes, are exceptional. But the show runners aren’t trying to make things happen, they’re trying to make you feel a certain way. We had the wonderful payoff of the merger and the Chevy merger, and then last weeks’ setback for Don – but this week threw me for another loop. I kept going back to Dawn’s comments a few episodes ago about how SCDP was a miserable place – now it’s even more miserable. Have we seen SCDP’s peak? I think so, and I have to say I hope so.
Aaron: Starting out with an easy one, huh? Did SCDP ever peak? It seems like they were on the verge of bankruptcy for a while and then they got their footing and rented an extra floor for appearances. Workwise, what have the highlights been? Beans? (David: LOVED the cameo of the beans artwork this week!) Your instinct is to ask these broad questions about the show as a whole, but our responsibility is recap the episode, so I ask again, What the actual fuck?
David: I know! It’s because we’ve been trained by these plot-driven shows to recap what happened. But I think we’ve been outflanked. There’s nothing but mood. In any case, you were right about Sylvia. Don is shattered, and it’s brought his life as a functioning adult to a halt. I didn’t see that coming.
Aaron: Is that a question?
David: I’m getting there! Last week Done was the master of the universe, getting Sylvia off on an unanswered phone call, and drinking Ted under the table. This week Cutler brings in a doctor to give them all a “boost” and he find himself incapacitated (“Even Chevy is misspelled”). Last week Ken Cosgrove was a “six foot Alan Ladd, this week he’s tap dancing on a broken foot. (Obligatory GIF.) We are all chasing the weekly plot summary, but the scene that most represents this season is Ted flying Don up through the clouds last week. Rain and turbulence, but even above the clouds Don looked like he was ready to retch. He’s lost control of his house, Megan is going to find out about the affair, he’s lost his ability to contribute to the Chevy account, and he even left Sally, Bobby, and Gene alone while a robber visited the apartment. Without reading the tea-leaves too deeply, this doesn’t end well for any of them. Two of the seven initials in SCDP CGC are already dead – I’m guessing we lose one more this year. I know you thought it may be Roger, but do you think there could be a season 7 without Don?
Aaron: No. If the series wasn’t going to end next series, then possibly. It’d be like when Dr. Doug Ross left ER and they’d groom other characters to take his place.
David: I don’t really think he’ll die (until the end of next season). I just want him too. He just writes himself out of everything, and he’s a burden on everyone who surrounds him. There’s still no Chevy in the Chevy pitch. And I don’t think this is coincidental anymore, because not only is the product not mentioned in the ad for Chevy (or “oatmeal?”), the product doesn’t exist! When Peggy calls him out, he rushes to Sylvia’s apartment.
Aaron: That was the drugs. I think he thought he was solving the Chevy issue, too, but you know how you can get hyperfocused on one thing when a sketchy doctor stabs you in the ass with speed? Here’s my question: Did you like this episode?
David: I haven’t liked any of the episodes this year, until I rewatch them (and yes, I know this sounds just like the http://video.wired.com/watch/angry-nerd-new-trek?c=series angry nerd star trek videos). But I have to say, I loved it. The business is built on fiction, just like Don Draper’s existence. We’re seeing the fracturing of that. I’m guessing you loved Betty’s return?
Aaron: Betty is back on blonde, and also mean. Of her 10 or so lines this episode, two of them were inappropriately sexual. Commenting to Sally about her skirt “I earned it.” “On what street corner.” and saying Megan was working the casting couch. So why’s Betty getting smaller as a person?
David: I don’t know why she has to be so mean! Although I’m struck that perhaps Henry Francis is going to get killed, just as Bobby feared. OK, so other quick notes! I was disappointed there was no follow-up to the Rosen’s son in France. Presumably his life was in danger? It would be remarked upon. I would have liked more Ted this week, I thought he had some nice momentum going last week. And I missed Bob Benson too. I would have loved to see him on that speed cocktail. What would have happened to him? Back to this week, what did you make of Gleason’s daughter, Wendy, turning the office into a “whorehouse,” in the words of Don?
Aaron: I’m actually not sure Don was referring to Wendy when he made the “Every time we get a car this place turns into a whorehouse.” comment. He was definitely talking about Joan and Jaguar, but maybe he was talking about clients in general. More and more, Don feels put upon when the clients don’t like his work. Along those lines, he ends up having to do something he doesn’t want to do, he ends up feeling like he’s working for his money. So as Don’s ideas become less appealing to the clients, as he’s less able to sell the ideas to the clients, he thinks of what he’s doing as prostitution. On Wendy, though, the teenage daughter of a dead advertising exec? That was a pretty vivid foreshadowing of a road Sally could go down in a few years.
David: I think that Don used to feel like his work was meaningful, but he is losing it. Don is recognizing that his work and life are meaningless. I’m not sure there’s a deep meaning to the flashbacks – the point of the flashback was that Don grew up in a whorehouse. And now Don finds himself still in a whorehouse. This may be why he misses Sylvia so much – and as you note why he is so upset about Wendy. He believed that he was selling (and, in a way, producing) happiness. That’s over for good now, there won’t be another “Carousel” episode, I think that Don is gone. Did you miss Bob Benson? I missed Bob Benson.
Aaron: Nah. There are so many characters these days, Bob’s on the team that gets to be in 8 episodes with a small story arc in 3 of them. He’s a glorified Roger, Pete, Joan, Betty, Ted… I wonder if there will be some problem with him and Pete over Joan.
Aaron: I’m surprised you didn’t key more on Wendy’s line, “Does someone love me?” “That’s everyone’s question.” That’s pretty much the best way to describe the Don you see, right?
David: Yes, exactly. Everyone else is surrounded by real loss – the death of a partner or father – and Don is mourning an affair. I do worry there’s going to be a problem with Pete & Joan. They’ve been trading meaningful glances all season – but Joan is not getting what Pete thinks he’s sending. Hey, how much time passed between these episodes? Wasn’t Megan going to take a couple weeks off?
Aaron: Damn it. I usually try to keep track of that stuff pretty closely. I’m not sure if there were any clues at all. Interesting how they completely skipped over the RFK assassination, huh? Tell me what else you want to mention about this episode.
David: I’m just uncomfortably drawn to Don. He’s Tony Soprano: if you just step back and look at what he does, he is horrible. But he’s surrounded by all these people we want to root for. Both Twin Peaks and the Sopranos (the two series I feel are closest to Mad Men in tone) had these dark, ambiguous endings, and I think we’re in for that with Don too. Can we go back to the spot that’s ostensibly about Sylvia? Did you like the episode? I forgot to ask you earlier.
Aaron: I liked parts of it. I laughed uncontrollably when Zac Galifinakis, I mean Stan, got stabbed in the arm. I didn’t like it as a whole, I thought it was gimmicky. Did you like it? It was weird, when Don called Peggy and Ginsberg in to talk about his breakthrough. He said it was bigger than selling cars, but… it’s not really clear what “it” is/was. Did he actually have an idea? Or was it just a script to get Sylvia to listen to him? I wasn’t really clear on that.
Aaron: I’ve been annoyed by Don the last two weeks about how he’s taking Sylvia dumping him. He’s Don freaking Draper. There wasn’t really anything in the previous episodes indicating he had such deep feelings for her, so… what’s the deal? I feel manipulated by the writers because they portrayed this as another of his affairs, but when it ended he’s suddenly crushed. If they wanted us to see it differently, they should have treated it differently. Maybe she’s representative of how out of control Don feels in the rest of his life (which is another season!). That is, the one thing he did have control over (for a couple days in a hotel) he doesn’t control anymore. “I want you to try to be happy.” “I’m feeling a lot of emotions, too.” And then, Don snaps out of it after the robbery. It’s like the crash after the weekend of working and the danger he put his kids in by leaving the door open snapped him out of it. This is Rock Bottom Don. Maybe we can expect big things from him the rest of the season.
David: I also thought it was odd how shook up he was, they didn’t quite pull that off (last week, I even denied he was). But I think you are right – although I also think the damage has been done – I don’t think they’ll lose Chevy, but we’re still not sure how they are replacing Vick’s/Clearasil, and other products. And what happened to the Joe Namath special? Surely that was a disaster in waiting.
Aaron: My sense is that they don’t need to replace Vick’s/Clearasil because they have Chevy. Cutler said Chevy was paying for all those weekend workathons.
David: I wish I’d been on record earlier about the Twin Peaks -> Sopranos (David Chase) -> Mad Men lineage. We’ve talked about i over IM. but this was obviously a Twin Peaks/Sopranos dream sequence episode. It’s a particular genre, a sort of lazy (but fun) way to make sure that the characters that need to have epiphanies. In fact, we can call this genre of episode “the epiphanator.” Anyway, Aaron, “are we negroes?” Why even have Bobby on the show if we’re just going to destroy him? Is the point that children of the sixties are idiots?
Aaron: I love Bobby. All he cares about is hair grease and watching TV.