|Posted by Frederick Floss on June 3, 2013 at 1:00 PM|
It’s weird that the episode where Don Draper has a near death experience using Hashish and Daniel returns to punch Roger in the testicles is one of the more staid episodes of Mad Men this season. The gang has been to California before, but this particular journey left me feeling a little underwhelmed. Don, Roger and Harry head over to the Garden state to peddle their services to a menagerie of food companies, are too caught off guard to make an impression, then head to a party found by Harry. The party happens to be filled to the brim with hippies, or pseudo-hippies, or whatever the actual ‘hippies’ of the day actually consisted of. The episode opens up with the democratic convention on television, and its interlude focuses on the riots that would give Nixon the election. As such there’s plenty of background interplay on the rising hostility between the extreme left and the old guard of the political right, with Don Draper caught between the two.
Yet the episode executed this all in a fashion that left me feeling unsatisfied. The best episodes of Mad Men have the changing forces of American society subtly propel the ensemble cast into each other just when it matters most for them personally. This episode…..didn’t really do that. It wanted to establish that America was changing into a more hysterical, volatile place. The fashion in which it did so was simply have our characters head to a new place for some rather unimportant accounts and listen to unimportant characters espouse extreme political ideologies for no real reason. All of the characters of Mad Men are in a constant state of reaction to the world around them, especially this season. But the fashion in which the writers tried to get the time period across last night struck me as rather uncreative and unfocused, at least relative to other episodes this year.
Don himself really isn’t given much development, and what development he does receive in this episode is simply broad reiteration about what we already have guessed about him. He wants a new family, but he doesn’t want a monogamous relationship with his wife. He feels like his true self died in the war. He’s self-destructive. Stop me if you are feeling a sense of déjà vu. When Mad Men finds new places to take Draper, it soars. In episodes like these, you can’t help but feel that the writers are kind of spinning their wheels a bit.
Not helping matters are the “B plots” which look like they could fit in any other episode except this one. Joan is trying to move up in the office by having lunch with a Marketing executive from Avon Cosmetics. Problem is its Pete who was scheduled by Ted to take him to lunch. Peggy saves the day by faking a call from the Avon executive in question just as Joan is being called out by Pete and Ted. As much as I would love to see further development of the classic Peggy-Joan relationship, this plot didn’t sit well for me either. For starters, how disorganized and chaotic is the firm that these kinds of oversights are noticed long after they happen? I know the place is still fresh from the surprise merger, but surely given how quickly word gets around the office (especially about Joan) someone would take notice of her mysterious absence. Secondly, I know Pete Campbell is the sad clown of SCDP, but surely Ted, having been established as a sensitive peacemaker and foil to Don, would want to give the guy a break at this point of the game. Sure he’s loathsome, but how many times has he been foiled by his compatriots this season alone? Is everyone that callous to him that they don’t remember what happened to Lane Pryce? Most troubling about this sub-plot is the lack of cohesion with or reflection of the events in the episode’s central storyline.
Aside from that, the episode dealt with the increasing tension between the original members of SCDP and the newcomers from Ted’s old firm. Ginsberg and Jim in particular have a pretty epic if exaggerated shouting match that suggests trouble has been brewing for longer than we were lead to believe. This all comes to a head in the decision to decide what new name the firm will use when it goes public. Whose name stays in the title will of course offend one or more of the team, since not everyone is happy with the merger. In the end, Bert Cooper comes up with a name that is sure to tick off everyone in either Team Don or Team Ted: Sterling Cooper and partners. A classy resolution, but it does little more than close one interesting plot thread in lieu of opening a rather boring one, Bob joining the Chevy team because Jim approves of his putting the firm in review behind Sterling’s back. Sure, Bob’s becoming a more interesting character, but with three episodes to go I don’t see how this will build into anything too groundbreaking.
What did you guys think of this episode? Of Don doing drugs? Of Pete doing drugs? Of Roger getting punched in the nuts and possibly giving CPR to Don? Sound off below!
Food For Thought: Did anyone with an eye for fashion think that Hashish-Megan dressed better than Real-Megan?