Matthew Weiner dislikes episode-specific recaps. Throwing in last night’s disjointed, drug-addled Gordian knot felt like a deliberate rebuff. The Ad Men receive shots from a quack doctor to achieve creative focus, energy and confidence before a long work weekend. A world of subtlety, tact and inner turmoil becomes an overt circus of emotion, discarded time and tap dancing poetry. This felt dirtier than Roger’s LSD epsiode, by design.
Characters struggle to cope with loss, perhaps a parallel to the discarded innocence of the Summer of Love, the slow, grinding loss in Vietnam or both. Stan loses his cousin who went to war. Wendy loses her father, Frank Gleason. After Stan’s clumsy pass at Peggy, they end up numbing themselves with sex.
Don copes with his own loss, of his affair with Sylvia. His heart is “broken.” He (consciously, unconsciously, who knows here) directs his induced mania toward what’s really bothering him, Sylvia. We see him working feverishly, pulling decade old soup ads and sweating. We wait for his big reveal, the idea that will save everything. He has been conceiving a pitch to save his affair, a trite one.
Caught out at the office by the copywriters – “What have you been doing in here for three days?” – he then caught out with his family at home. Don leaves the kids at his apartment while he’s working. He leaves the back door open to pine for Sylvia outside her door. It’s his fault he gets robbed and his children get put in danger. He faces both realizations, just as he’s “crashing” from the stimulant shot. He faints.
Faced with an intractable problem, Don deploys his classic tactic. He changes the conversation. He blocks out Sylvia through a long, uncomfortable elevator ride (either ending it or regaining the upper hand?). He reframes his work relationship. After cracking his facade before his former acolytes and failing to ward off the younger, more diligent Ted. He assumes territory above them. He’s no longer doing work for the Chevy account, and will be insulated when it fails.
Had Don actually confronted Sylvia, it may have exposed everything to everyone. He didn’t get that chance and now his torture continues. Don must proceed onward and probably not upward with his lies insecurities. He can’t find peace.
Have to agree with Sepinwall that the flashback scenes are not Mad Men’s strong point. “History” is everything. It has been established Don is unconsciously recreating his past. Like “everyone” else he’s looking for love. But his perception of love is warped by his childhood into a miasma of sex, shame and abuse. Going so far as to have his prostitute cum mother care for him, fuck him and then cause him to get abused for it – not to mention having her named love in French, “Aimee” – seemed heavy-handed.
[Photo via AMC]