Because it's set in the past, Mad Men spends a lot of time regarding the future. And in the case of season 6, that notion seems firmly rooted in the examination of what's left for the next generation, as the end of the '60s is rapidly approaching. Specifically, the season seems interested in the fact that these young people are set to inherit a world that seems to be coming apart at the seams or has otherwise been mismanaged and fallen into disarray.
Both statements seem to be relevant and fixed in the framework of 'The Crash' – an interesting, bizarre distortion that may very well wind up being the most divisive episode of the season – if not the entire series.
The peculiar bits of the episode aren't necessarily anything new to the series; season 5 had two episodes that also played around with the notion of losing time and being out of sorts enough that differentiating reality from (fever or drug-induced) hallucination is virtually impossible in the moment. First there was 'Mystery Date,' which toyed with Don's often-knotty relationship with the concept of fidelity, as well as his incredibly vast and complicated relationship with women in general. Then there was 'Far Away Places,' a masterful episode that demonstrated the show's ability to tell several different stories from three differing perspectives simultaneously, the highlight of which was Roger Sterling's initial run-in with LSD that briefly illuminated his otherwise boozy, smoke-filled world.
The episodes in question were, in many ways, an examination of the past – especially the romantic swath Don had cut through New York before, during and immediately after his marriage to Betty – and how that past defined each character. But 'The Crash' is pointed forward, once again hinting at the idea of parents or parental figures and the relationship they have with their children, much like the season 6 premiere and 'The Flood.' This time, though, the children in question seem to be everyone in the offices formerly known as SCDP, as most are reduced to acting like unsupervised children after partaking in whatever proprietary blend of vitamins (and other drugs) Dr. Hecht had in his syringes.
While Stan is racing Jim Cutler around the office, letting Ginsberg through sharp object in his general direction or making overt passes at Peggy, Don tries to figure out a way to get Sylvia back by obsessing over an old oatmeal account with the tagline "Because you know what he needs," featuring a woman who resembles the prostitute who nursed him back to health and then promptly took his virginity. (Unfortunately, we don't get to see what effect the shot has on Roger – though chances are good that's because no one would be able to tell the difference.)
Don's obsession with winning his way back into Sylvia's good graces is mirrored by the rest of the team's desire (drug-induced or otherwise) to get the next pitch to Chevy done so that Ken can (hopefully) tap dance his way into the company's heart. The insanity of the drugs are a way to show how easily the world can spin out of control when the things a person wants or thinks he needs are kept out of reach and overwhelming desire subsequently drives them crazy and forces them to make impulsive, selfish and irrational decisions, which inevitably results in them again being told "no."
Naturally, at the heart of it is Don's sense of loss in regard the mother he never knew – but knew she was a prostitute – and how the woman who raised him wound up working in the same kind of environment. Don (Dick, at the time), was ostensibly left to fend for himself, being told to sleep down in the cellar because he might have consumption. The lack of care and supervision on behalf of his "mother" resulted in his recovering in bed of the kindly prostitute Ms. Swenson and helped forge the man that he is today.
And while the office is free of regulation all weekend, due to Ted's absence on behalf of Frank Gleason's death and the distinct lack of Joan Holloway, Sally and Bobby wind up left alone the same night a strange woman breaks into Don and Megan's apartment. After Sally confronts her, the woman claims to be her grandmother Ida, simultaneously destroying the last shred of faith Sally still has in the authority of her elders and (unbeknownst to Ida) exploiting the complete lack of knowledge Sally has about her father's history.
It all seems to come down to an impression of loss that, on the surface, has to do with Ted's mourning Frank Gleason, and Stan's cousin dying in Vietnam, but there's also an undercurrent of innocence and childhoods being lost, and, on a larger scale, the future of an entire generation. That's a lot to take in on an episode many might write off as silly or absurd, but 'The Crash' will inevitably wind up being the episode everyone is talking about because it can be easily interpreted in so many different ways.
Mad Men continues next Sunday with 'The Better Half' @10pm on AMC. Check out a preview below:
Photo: Michael Yarish/AMC