Mad Men: The Monolith review

Mad Men continues to bring in elements from the past before closing the show's account once and for all. Here's Nick's review...

Last week, Don Draper returned to the offices of Sterling Cooper & Partners ready to work, but his partners weren’t so ready for him. They really didn’t want him at all and only retained Don solely so they wouldn’t have to buy him out of his ownership of the company. They slapped him with a list of stipulations in a diminished role and stuck him in the office of a dead colleague. Layne Pryce, not only Don’s coworker but also his friend, hung himself in the same space where Don sits serving out his punishment. Don thought his work could redeem him or make him whole, but with no work to do, he retreats back into the bottle and stares at the same ceiling where he discovered Layne.

It’s almost as if they’re pushing Don to the same fate. He’s a relic of an old era, one not dominated by Jim Cutler and free of computers. It’s fitting that the office creative room in tonight’s episode is destroyed to house a new IBM computer. It’s a symbolic gesture that’s way more literal than this show usually delivers. You can interpret it as it lies on the surface, another example of the shifting times and how the old guard is becoming outdated and obsolete, but I prefer to think of the creative room being representative of Don, being removed for Lou Avery, a cold machine, but an effective tool. There’s no emotional outbursts or drunken antics with a machine.

Bert Cooper let’s Don bluntly know that he’s not going to be brought back into the fold. “You thought there would be some sort of creative crisis and we’d call you off the bench,” he coolly tells Don before telling him that things have been even better since his absence. They don’t even want Don hunting down new business, they just want him to collect his paychecks and maybe give Peggy a couple of taglines.

Peggy, taking the lead on the Burger Chef account, is given Don as a part of her creative team, and the tension couldn’t be any higher. Peggy refuses to meet Don in his office, instead calling him to hers. Don skips the meeting she calls to play solitaire. Peggy doesn’t want to work with Don, and Don couldn’t be any less thrilled to be working under his former protégé. He purposely neglects the work she assigns, and Peggy can’t even get excited about a new raise or the big new opportunity because she’s worried about the partner’s intentions behind pairing her with Don the unwanted.

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It takes Freddy Rumsen, of all people, to get Don to quit brooding and boozing over his current situation. “They want you to kill yourself,” he says of the partners. They want Don to self-destruct again or get bored and leave so it can make the office less crowded and complicated. Rumsen tells Don that if he wants to get back on top, he has to do the work, which means doing Peggy’s work. Don needs to hear this. Just like with his marriage, Don wants things to return to the status quo without doing any of the heavy lifting to get there. This might speak to the privilege that people like Don are accustomed to.

Speaking of privilege, Roger Sterling spends the episode trying to retrieve his daughter Margaret, who’s abandoned her husband and son to live in a commune. Roger, always comfortable with hip amusement, takes the opportunity to bond with his daughter and ease her into returning, but after baring some witness to her loose lifestyle, he forcibly tries to take her home, shaming her into abandoning her son. Mona, in a failed attempt, tried to do the same earlier, letting her daughter know that motherhood is difficult and often times not rewarding, but it’s her job by society’s standards. Hearing the same speech from her father doesn’t sit as well, with her taking shots at his white male privilege. She cant stand that he’s questioning her parenting skills when he got to escape everyday to his office and a life of sexy secretaries.

There’s only three episodes left of Mad Men this year and if the Don Draper Redemption Song is going to keep being sung, then he’s going to need to quit acting like a petulant child and demonstrate some real value. He needs to put his ego aside and make a real effort, at his job and in his marriage. Times are changing, but hard work and dedication will never go out of style.

The Best of the Rest

– Margaret’s issues with motherhood mirror Betty’s storyline from last week. Both are looking at society’s rules on the place of women and wondering whether motherhood is as fulfilling as they thought it would be.

– Pete lands the Burger Chef account by running into George, a former employee of Vick’s, Pete’s old account. His appearance is another example of the show offering relics of its past in its last hours.

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– Pete also learns that Tom, Trudy’s father, has had a heart attack.

– Ginsberg and Don move a couch, which made me realize that I could watch a whole episode of them moving furniture together.

– Don is seen reading Portnoy’s Complaint, a novel that definitely seems like it would speak to him.

– Lou Avery is deeply threatened by Don working on accounts, and he also gives Peggy a raise, but that still doesn’t mean that I like him.

– Don and the computer leaser Lloyd have several interesting conversations about the fear of technology, before a drunken Don accuses him of being the devil.

– Trust in Don is so low that Roger checks his attendance with his secretary daily.

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– “Meet the Mets” is sung by a sloshed Don Draper It’s truly a sight.

– Lois as Don’s secretary is incredibly hilarious. Maybe she could help he and Ginsberg with that moving.

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4 out of 5