Mad Men S5E03: “Mystery Date” [IB]
April 10th, 2012 by Dan

You know what’s my favorite thing about Mad Men? Even when it’s dead serious or surreal it’s not above brilliant jokes. I want to hit on the lighter moments first, because this episode was very dark and violent.

Moment numero uno has to be the scene with Peggy and Sterling. It’s just perfect to see how far Sterling has fallen that he can threaten to fire all he wants, but he can’t intimidate Peggy (or Harry, for that matter). She has his number and she gets her reward while being super cheeky and super funny. I could watch her count cash for hours.

What else? Well, Ginsberg was particularly hilarious in the post-meeting bar. I think it’s telling that I agree with him when he asserted that he wasn’t as close to being fired as Ken thinks he was. Yes, Don means what he says, but I still think Ginsberg’s confidence is well-placed.

Speaking of Ginsberg (and segueing into more serious topics), I think it’s telling that his reluctance to be a crime voyeur and his shaming of his peers was very interestingly juxtaposed with his pitch. I mean, the Speck murders were lurid, violent, sick, twisted, and meaningless, but his pitch…that was stalking and sexual violence, but presented in the sanitized way that horror movies are. I know it’s ridiculous to call a horror movie sanitized, but they are clearly about sexual violence a lot of the time. There’s that erotic tension in there that is personified by your virginal main character trope, for example, or the fact that most protagonists are female while the monsters are male. It’s what makes Alien so subversive.

While we’re on the subject of sexual violence, how about that (kind of annoying) fever dream that Don had? Look, we all knew it was a dream and that it was a little cheesy, but for it to incorporate elements of the Speck murder (women under the bed) and the almost horror-movie ability that Andrea had to appear back in Don’s bedroom…I mean it’s clearly intentional. Like I said, I knew it was a dream, but there was a part of me that was worried that Mad Men might go the way of Friday Night Lights Season 2 until it was officially confirmed a dream. While the symbolism was a little clumsy and obvious, it was an interesting moment to see Don symbolically murdering his adulterous nature. Will it stay dead? It was gone in the morning, but was it because it had survived? Whatever the case, Matt Weiner is doing a stand-up job proving to us that Don and Megan truly care for each other and that Don is at least mostly invested in the relationship. If his adultery count stays at 0 + i (as in one imaginary fling) I wouldn’t be surprised, based on the way he’s being characterized this season.

Peggy and Dawn got to interact after Peggy discovered that Dawn was stuck in the office because she’s black (subways are too dangerous, cops around everywhere, cabbies refuse to take her past 96th…). I thought it was a very telling line that what Peggy was most worried about was the “white person problem” (not really a WPP, but it was also not the racially charged problem) of the Speck murder while Dawn is clearly referencing the race riots erupting in various parts of the country. Despite how much Peggy wants to connect the dots between the feminist and race movements, she ultimately commits a faux pas with the purse gaff at the end of the night and she feels terrible for it. It was a very awkward moment that I thought was beautifully shot and captured. It’s funny how a whole night of, well, one-sided drunken sharing can be erased by a lingering glance.

Sally and Pauline’s scenes together were all captivating as well. I mean, how much sense does it make that Pauline’s father just kicked her to put the fear of him into her. That kind of random violence is precisely in line with the violence of the Speck murders and the terror that women on the whole must feel. There’s a strong undercurrent of fear that men don’t really understand. We tend to be physically larger and we are most commonly the aggressors in society so we don’t understand what it’s like to watch your back or feel threatened when alone among men, but Pauline doesn’t know which direction to take it with Sally. She repeatedly chastises her and treats her like a child while simultaneously asking why she doesn’t act more like a grown-up. Pauline wants Sally to understand what it is to be a woman and she overshares details about the murders and the psychological fear of men with her, but then she grants her the power of temporary ignorance with sleeping pills. Of all the characters on the show, Sally is the one who I fear for the most. What is her life going to be like?

Best thing about the night might have to be Joan finally acknowledging that evil that Pauline alludes to in Greg and his rape of Joan in S2. When she finally says out loud what she already knows, that Greg is a nobody who needs to assert his power to feel strong. That he is a bad man…that is the big moment we’ve all been waiting for since that ugly moment in Season 2. Joan’s scenes play out predictably and I’m glad that the show never let Greg off the hook by killing him off in Vietnam. It was a powerful scene and a powerful moment for Joan who, one would hope, will not rekindle her relationship with Roger, but move on to something healthier. I mean, who doesn’t love Joan? She’s among the most tragic of a cast of many tragic cases and we all want to see better things come to her.

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