[This is a review of Mad Men season 7, episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]
Last week Mad Men brought Don Draper back to the offices of SC&P, effectively putting an end to his boozy days spent watching TV, eating Ritz crackers, and waiting for Dawn to show up with the latest news from inside the office. After Don’s thrown on Peggy’s team in an act of cowardice on behalf of Lou, Don’s response to the unfamiliar arrangement shows that, as far as how he’s spent his days these last few months, not much has changed.
There have been low points in Don’s life before, but there’s not been anything quite like this and it’s exhilarating to watch. Don finds himself inhabiting a dead man’s office, while a computer prone to making people contemplate their finite existence is moving in across the hall. There’s a “cosmic disturbance” all right, and it only partially pertains to Lloyd Hawley and the god-like mastery of the infinite (and ability to make Harry Crane look smart) the IBM 360 brings to the office. For one thing, ‘The Monolith’ has taken over the creative lounge, enraging an already rage-prone Ginsberg who protests by claiming “they’re erasing us.” And to a certain extent, Ginsberg is right; his fears and anger aren’t completely unfounded. For one thing, moving a computer into the creative lounge is a demonstration of Jim Cutler’s authority at SC&P – one he attempts to wield again, though to no avail, by ordering Ted home to work on Burger Chef.
Certainly it’s not entirely a fear of being replaced by a piece of hardware (that feeling of obsolescence will come soon enough), as it is the unpleasant reminder that nothing remains fixed; things simply change and when they do there’s resistance. More importantly, with that change there are those stuck holding onto the past, those who are inevitably left behind. Ginsberg may be mourning the loss of the creative lounge and he definitely has concerns that his department’s profile is evaporating like Marty McFly at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, but Don’s entire existence is wrapped up somewhere in 1968 (if not much earlier), just before he screwed things up with Hershey’s by telling the truth.
As per usual Mad Men is at its best when focusing on things like mortality, modernity, and the endless pursuit of meaning, and ‘The Monotlith’ has plenty to feast on. For all the existential anxiety the IBM represents – which is naturally compounded by the fact that Don has been banished to the part of the office everyone wishes didn’t exist – the disturbance is also a constant reminder that the future, possibly a brighter future, is just around the corner. Lloyd touts how many stars his machine can tabulate, prompting Don to ask: “What man laid on his back counting stars and thought about a number? He probably thought about going to the moon.”
That’s not the only allusion to the upcoming moon-landing writer Erin Levy’s script brings to the proceedings. While Roger is upstate trying to bring Margaret (Marigold) home from the hippie commune she’s committed herself to, they lie on their backs and look at the stars, contemplating the moon, while Roger admits: “Every boy wants to be an astronaut.” The thing is: Don used to be an astronaut; there was nothing he couldn’t accomplish, and no boundary he seemingly could not overcome. And now he’s a tired drunk in a fight to remain relevant to the company he helped create. In a way, Roger and Margaret’s tattered relationship is a reflection of Don and SC&P’s, and, certainly, Don and Peggy’s: they are mostly-absent father-figures who didn’t put the time in and now have to deal with their progeny doing whatever they want without them.
‘The Monolith’ ends with The Hollies singing ‘On a Carousel,’ a pointed reminder to another bit of technology that helped define Mad Men as much as it did Don Draper. As Don stated in that pitch to Kodak: “This is not a spaceship; it’s a time machine. It goes backwards and forwards, and it takes us to a place where we ache to go again.” And what does a person ache for more than the time when he was most relevant?
Mad Men continues next Sunday with ‘The Runaways’ @10pm on AMC. Check out a preview below:
Photos: Justina Mintz & Michael Yarish/AMC