Taking a cue from a singular, horrific event that captivated the country in 1966, Mad Men threads the murder of eight student nurses in Chicago into the overall narrative of ‘Mystery Date,’ and creates an undercurrent of paranoia throughout the episode.
As Pauline Francis (Pamela Dunlap) describes her upbringing to Sally (Kiernan Shipka), in which she was kicked across the room by her father and later told, “That was for nothing, so look out,” it largely sums up the feeling that part of being an adult is waiting for horrible things to happen, and having a certain amount of preparedness to combat them. But the horrible things don’t just come in the form of mass murder; they come as any number of grievances issued from one person to another. Which is why when a sick and feverish Don (Jon Hamm) is reluctantly forced to introduce his new wife Megan (Jessica Paré), to a woman named Andrea – whom Don had an affair with while married to Betty – that Megan begins to fear she married a man who is a slave to his urges.
The parallels between Don and a psychopath aside, ‘Mystery Date’ also plays on the idea that people can dehumanize an event long enough to satiate their curiosity about it, and then return to the fear that something similar would happen to them. This is evident when Joyce Ramsey (Zosia Mamet) shows up with unpublished photos from the grisly crime scene, Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), Stan (Jay R. Ferguson) and new hire Michael Ginsburg (Ben Feldman) all take a salacious peek, but only Michael later objects on what seems to be moral grounds.
And later, when Sally is unable to sleep after having learned the gruesome details of the crime, Pauline, scared enough to armed herself with a butcher knife, seems to want to use the event as an example for Sally to learn by. However, when pressed for answers as to why the murdered women didn’t fight back, Pauline simply insinuates the victims had settled for one awful fate, not thinking it would end much, much worse. Since Pauline’s handling of situation is already epically bad, she tops it off by giving Sally a Seconal to help her sleep.
Earlier, Don, Michael and Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton) are making a pitch to some pantyhose reps and they seem to like the idea, until Michael pitches them the notion of “Cinderella,” but really its of a woman being stalked down a dark street by a stranger – an idea the pantyhose guys seem to really be interested in. Afterwards, Don has some harsh words for Michael, which he takes to be some kind of guidance by Don, and even pooh-poohs Ken’s assertion that the newbie copywriter very nearly lost his job. What that says about Michael is unclear, but it reiterates a common thread that everyone is, in someway or another, fascinated by victimization.
Even Peggy’s not immune to its effects. After bilking Roger out of $400 to come up with some material for Mohawk – who avoided the ongoing mechanics strike – she finds herself alone in the SCDP offices; only this time – spurred on by the news – Peggy goes through a mini strange-noise-in-the-office horror film sequence that results in Don’s new secretary Dawn (Marie Anderson) crashing on Peggy’s couch for the night. At first, Peggy scoffs at Dawn’s unwillingness to go home, telling her she needn’t worry because she’s not a nurse, but immediately realizes the problem doesn’t stem from the hot-topic of the day, but rather the less sensationalized civil rights violence popping up near Manhattan.
Peggy opens up to Dawn after finding out she doesn’t want to be a copywriter like her or Megan, and drunkenly forces her doubts and concerns over how she’s perceived on the temporarily displaced young woman. Then later, Peggy awkwardly tries to mask concern over leaving her purse in the same room as Dawn overnight by cleaning up her empties.
Meanwhile, Joan (Christina Hendricks) nervously welcomes her husband Greg (Sam Page) home from Vietnam with the expectation that their life together will basically start over since he’s now the proud father of Roger Sterling’s child. After being home for just a little while, Greg informs Joan he’s going back to the war for another year, but conveniently leaves out the part where he volunteered to do so. When Joan finally picks up that fact, it happens to play out during a gloriously awkward in-law-filled dinner at an Italian restaurant – complete with an annoying tableside accordionist. Having considered Greg’s reenlistment, and considering some of his past misdeeds, Joan throws him out, and apparently ends their marriage.
Finally, flipping the theme of invasion and victimization a bit, Don, wracked with fever, is visited by Andrea, who is certain Don is still the man he once was and all but insists the two pick up where they left off. Fearing Megan’s discovery of the aggressive intruder, Don ushers her out the service entrance, and returns to bed. Later, Andrea wakes Don, and after a brief trip down memory lane, manages to get him into the sack. Later, Don’s guilt, compounded by Andrea’s insistence this not be a one-time thing, forces him to strangle her and haphazardly push her underneath the bed.
Of course, it’s all just a fever dream and, perhaps, a showing that Don Draper has finally killed off his urges – or at least succeeded in pushing them haphazardly under the bed.
Mad Men returns next Sunday with ‘Signal 30’ @10pm on AMC.