With Mad Men being set in the business world of New York City’s Madison Avenue and centering on many members of the hoity-toity, elite upper-class, the viewer rarely gets glimpses into the world of the 1960’s counter-culture. The psychedelic ‘60s rarely get showcased, along with the rest of the burgeoning drug culture, but when they do, oh boy.
Sure, our characters like to smoke a little grass now and then, and usually it makes for interesting character reactions, take for instance earlier this season when Stan and Don toke up to get the creative juices following. Sometimes the characters on Mad Men dabble with things that are a little more intense. Early last season we got to witness Roger Sterling drop acid amongst yuppie couples and then wife, Jane. The sequence in which Roger is in his trip is one of the show’s most creative and compelling. Directed by John Slattery himself, the episode uses visual tricks and flares to subtly simulate the experience of taking LSD. Sterling lights a cigarette and its gone in an instant, he looks into the mirror and simultaneously sees himself and a younger version, all while Jane fidgets and shifts her around the room in discomfort and intense curiosity.
This week, Mad Men tries to show us the realities of a different kind of drug. When Chevy rejects all of the SCDP-GCG (damn, that’s a mouthful, and even the characters themselves say so) ad ideas and continues to put the newly merged firm through the ringer, Don, Ted, and the rest of the creative department is spent. That’s when Roger Sterling’s new best friend and surrogate, Jim Cutler, offers the services of his doctor. The doctor holes up in Roger’s office for the day, doling out shots of what he calls a mixture of “complex vitamin energizers,” but what really more closely resembles speed, or other amphetamines. Don, Ken, Cutler, Stan, and another one of CGC’s copywriters all see the good doctor, and afterwards, all hell breaks loose. Without a moments notice, Cutler and Stan are racing each other around the office, Ken is telling Don off whilst tap dancing, and Don is giving incoherent motivational speeches with the pace of a Chevy going 90 down the highway. Instead of playing with visual tells, director Michael Uppendahl, who also frequently works on the trippy American Horror Story, uses sounds to showcase the manic energy floating around. Words that Don hears echo around or become distorted due to his highly acute senses. It seemingly throws Don for a loop, but the drugs aren’t the only thing different about Don Draper.
They say you should never take drugs if you’re not in a pleasant state of mind. Well, at least that’s what I think they say, I don’t really know. All I do know is that the drugs Don takes definitely intensify the other problems that he’s dealing with, mainly the breakup with his mistress, Sylvia Rosen. Before his little injection, Don’s hiding in the hallway, ear pressed against the door, just smoking and trying to listen to his unattainable object of lust. After he gets a little boost of energy, Don manically obsesses over a plan to win her back. The rest of the office thinks that Don is tirelessly working on a pitch for Chevy, but it becomes obvious to Peggy that maybe his mind is elsewhere when he starts using pronouns like “she”. Don is so franticly consumed by his yearning for Sylvia that he stairs at a secretary that resembles her with a longing, romantic stare that we’ve never seen from Don before. Normally, Don Draper doesn’t take rejection well. Remember the infamous “letter”? On drugs, he’s a complete mess desperately looking for a way to get his foot in the door.
Another product of the stimulants coursing through Don’s blood is flashbacks into Don’s, or should we say Dick’s, childhood. Every time we see the boy Dick Whitman in these fleeting but powerful flashbacks scenes we are given another piece to the mysterious Don/Dick puzzle. In this round, with small scenes intercut throughout the episode, we watch Dick struggle with illness. But this isn’t just another story about big childhood sickness, Dick Whitman’s situation is a little different. Living in a whore house, Dick’s stepmother orders Dick to sleep in the cellar so he doesn’t infect any of the girls living in the house. On the way to cellar, Dick is intercepted by Ameè, a whore who shows Dick some kindness and offers him her bed. Ameè nurses Dick, propping him up with pillows, feeding him soup, and showing him more compassion than his stepmother ever has. Then, when Dick finally seems better, she starts to seduce the boy, and eventually Dick succumbs, losing his virginity to her. Later when his stepmom finds out, she beats Dick with a wooden spoon and tells him how he is “filth”.
When Don finally sobers up after three days of incoherent mania, he finds himself right where he wants to be; alone in the elevator with Sylvia. After spending the whole episode trying to find the right way to weasel back into her life, Don says nothing, possibly trying to use the silent treatment as a ploy. Back at the office, Ted Chaough returns from a leave and wonders what the hell happened on the weekend, clearly seeing that no real work was accomplished. Don has no answers for Ted and he makes no apologies either. Instead, in typical Draper fashion, he takes the apathetic route and says, “Every time we get a car this place turns into a whorehouse.” I suppose he would know.
The Best of the Rest– In the B-plot, Sally is outsmarted by an elderly African-American thief who pretends to be her Grandmother from Don’s side of the family. Don admits to Sally it was her fault for leaving the backdoor open, but she counters by saying that the thief had an answer for everything and that to be fair, she says, “I don’t really know anything about you.”
– Stan is a riot this week, buzzing around the office and spouting of nonsensical taglines. Later in the episode, he makes a move on Peggy, sharing a passionate kiss, but is soon shot down. He then informs Peggy that his cousin, who appeared in the season five premiere, had been killed in Vietnam.– Ken Cosgrove is used as a play thing by the Chevy Execs, who force Ken to crash a car and damage his leg.– “Are we negroes?” – Bobby Draper– Gleason passes away. Obviously this wears heavy on Ted’s mind, so unlike Don, when he has things occupying his brain, he takes the weekend off to recuperate.– Cutler brings Gleason’s hippie daughter Wendy to the office, who flirts with Don, then sleeps with Stan while creepy Cutler watches.– Betty is blonde again and Henry is running for office.
Den Of Geek Score: 4.5 out of 5 Stars