Mad Men has never been about happy endings. Or even happy lives. Things are shit all around. Either you have to deal with it or pretend that everything is rosy. A lot of people prefer the latter, which is pretty much leads us to Don Draper (Jon Hamm), The King of Illusions. In “Mystery Date”, his illusions crash into his reality and things think a dark, nasty turn. And though it may have been (SPOILER ALERT!) completely fake, we finally get to see his inner monologue, courtesy of a Sopranos-like fever dream.
One of the biggest illusions during the Mad Men-set era — and in every era — is the illusion that violence solves everything. Particularly violence committed by men. It’s a means to an end that never gets the full results one is looking for. Does it actually do away with a perceived threat? Does it make a man more of a man? It’s not Liberal, hippie mumbo jumbo in the guise of questions (by the way, I’m a Liberal). There is ample proof around us that violence, though a temporary solution, doesn’t really solve the major problems at hand. Case in point: Don Draper.
A sick Don tries to go about his day like his body isn’t giving out, first by heading into the office, where he has an awkward encounter with Andrea (Madchen Amick), a former conquest, in front of Megan (Jessica Pare) in the elevator, and then attending a pitch meeting with a very chatty Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) and Stan (Jay R. Ferguson). But things get a little crazy when he takes Megan’s advice and goes home after the meeting to rest.
During a sequence in which director Matt Shakman (The Good Guys, It’s Always Sunny….) never for a moment let us viewers believe it was real, Andrea makes her way into the Draper residence, beds Don, and insists that they continue the affair behind Megan’s back. So far, Don hasn’t cheated on Megan (yet) so the offer to have a prolonged affair riles him up to the point that he strangles the life out of Andrea. Frantically, Don hides her body underneath the bed and goes back to sleep, like a child who made a mistake, hoping that the dawn of the new day can change what he’d done. It’s a crazy dream, one where Don feels the need to violently snuff out his Lothario past. It’s an interesting turn since we’ve seen Don be less than manly (i.e. cowardly) in two instances:
-As Dick Whitman during The Korean War (he pissed his pants)
-Failing to land a punch during a drunken confrontation with Duck Phillips in the Season 4 episode “The Suitcase”
The only times when Don was a “man” was when he confronted women: Betty, Bobbie, multiple exes. Never with a man of equal or supposed equal power. Don, despite the illusion of being cool or manly or whatever it is that attracts strange women, and Mad Men fans, is pretty much a pussy. But it’s not that he’s also is a sociopath. Many of the men of Don’s generation did the same thing, including the real life serial killer Richard Speck, who murdered eight female nursing students in Chicago in the summer of 1966, which has both Sally (Kiernan Shipka) and Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) on edge in “Mystery Date”: pick on those who they perceived as “weak”.
The news of those murders force Sally and Peggy to form unlikely alliances with Pauline Francis (Pamela Dunlap) and Dawn (Teyonah Parris), respectfully. For Sally and Pauline, it’s a contemptuous relationship at the start (the old lady is strict, in a traditionalist sense, much to Sally’s chagrin) but it soon becomes a beneficial one after Sally takes a sneak peak at the day’s newspaper and fears going to sleep. The girl sees Pauline going through the same motions — but with a large carving knife by her side — and slowly realizes that the old lady is only human. (That and the awful story Pauline tells her about how her father kicked her across the room for no reason as a life lesson. Male-on-female violence rears its ugly head again.) Their plot ends with Sally hiding underneath Pauline’s couch, knocked out by Pauline’s sleeping medicine — very much like Andrea’s body underneath Don’s bed in his dream and how the only surviving victim of Speck’s rampage was found.
For Peggy and Dawn, it’s a completely different story. Peggy stays late at the agency, completing work on the Mohawk Airlines campaign that Roger (John Slattery) neglected to assign to Ginsberg. She thinks she’s alone until she hears noise coming from Don’s office. In a well-shot sequence akin to a horror movie, Peggy slowly makes her way to the boss’ den and makes a discovery — though luckily not a tragic one. It turns out that Dawn has been crashing on Don’s couch. Peggy thinks it’s because of the murders. Dawn reveals that her brother fears for her safety because of the riots that have been popping up all across the country (a much more pressing news story than a mass murder that occurred a thousand miles away), so he refuses to let her take the subway at night (another example of male dominance). And because of those riots, she can’t get a cabbie to drive her back to Harlem. So Peggy, being the Liberal she thinks she is, offers Dawn her couch back at her apartment. Dawn accepts and Peggy takes the opportunity to have some girl time.
For as much as Peggy wants to think that she’s not a racist, it turns out that she’s not completely removed from that White working class mentality that was prevalent in 1966. She first offers to take Dawn under her wing as a copywriter, even though Dawn has no interest in it, because they’re really not that different, then catches herself watching her purse (filled with the bribe money Roger gave her for the Mohawk campaign) before wishing Dawn a good night. It comes back to sting her the next morning when she sees the thank you note Dawn leaves for her on that very purse.
The twist in both of these plots is that male-on-female violence inadvertently brought these two pairs of disparate women together. These four characters, on the surface, have nothing in common except for men dominating their lives, whether they be immediate family members or a random stranger in a town they have never set foot in.
And that brings us to Joan (Christina Hendricks). She’s character who comes closest to being the female Don Draper since she presents herself as a brash, independent woman who in actuality is dominated by a man. A man who far less worthy of her. And that’s Greg (Samuel Page). For as much as Joan would like to live the illusion of the “perfect” marriage to the “perfect” man, nothing of that is remotely true. Let’s list the ways, shall we:
-Greg is a shit-heel who has been a failure at everything he has ever attempted. He was a shit doctor and would have been a shit therapist
-Baby Kevin isn’t Greg’s, it’s Roger’s
-And let’s not forget that Greg raped Joan in Don’s office way back in Season 2 (see a pattern regarding male-on-female violence?)
Greg thinks being a doctor in the Army makes him a better man. Instead, the uniform makes him even a bigger dick (as evident in the restaurant scene when he chews out the unsuspecting waiter). On what was suppose to be a year’s leave, Greg soon reveals that he had volunteered to go back to Vietnam, where he feels important, in ten days. Upon hearing this, Joan becomes enraged and throws him out of the house, citing the rape without mentioning it out loud. Turns out, Greg wanted a sham marriage as well. To return to the battlefield where he can pretend to be a war hero and tell all of his Army buddies that he has a wife waiting for him back home. And to do none of the work to actually keep the marriage in tact. It’s a stupid, selfish plan but one that the show’s fans will be grateful for because it led to Joan finally getting rid of him.
The chickens are coming home to roost for the men on Mad Men. For as much as they like to think they’re in charge, the times they are a-changing. For Don, for Greg, and for scumbag lady-killers. The impact of that change is still yet to be felt by the female characters on the show but we’re slowly seeing the benefits — and the bumps in the road — for them.