In Sunday's all-new "Mad Men" episode, anticipation and fear reigned. As did two of Alfred Hitchcock's favorite fixations: Murders and mothers. Spoilers ahead!
Don is fighting a cold, and repressed desires. After running into an ex-fling, Andrea, he holes up at home to nurse himself back to health. But no rest for the wicked. In an elaborate, ongoing fever dream, Andrea comes unannounced to Don's apartment and seduces him. Don's dialogue during this sequence is terrific — he's speaking to his addiction when he pants, "Why can't you leave me alone?" When Andrea doesn't leave him alone, he strangles her to death on his beautiful white carpet, and then sloppily pushes the body under the bed. Megan comes in later, and Don's fever has broken, but he can't help checking for the tell-tale ankle and red high heel. Neither were ever really there, but the sense of relief is palpable.
Does Megan know about Don's infidelities during his marriage to Betty? She specifically mentions the women he slept with since his divorce, but how many secrets is Don still harboring? Importantly, she does know about Dick Whitman.
Peggy is bribed by Roger to re-work the Mohawk Airlines campaign at the last minute. After weaseling more than four-hundred dollars out of him, she stays late in the office, and discovers Don's new secretary, Dawn, sleeping on Don's couch for the night. "Cabs won't go past 96th street," Dawn says, and she's afraid of taking the subway because of the charged atmosphere due to the Chicago riots. Peggy makes a telling gaffe here, assuming Dawn is spooked by the student nurse murders.
Dawn spends the night at Peggy's apartment, and Peggy gets drunk. This scene efficiently picks up on a theme grazed in earlier seasons, of Peggy's perceived parallels between the women's movement and the black movement. On the one hand, her eagerness to forge a sort of sisterhood with Dawn is moving, and she has a point about Sterling Cooper Draper Price: "I was the only one like me there for a long time." On the other hand, her clean-cut comparison between her situation and Dawn's situation reeks of entitlement. For her part, Dawn looks uncomfortable. The night ends poorly, with Peggy almost retrieving her purse from the coffee table, not wanting it left alone in the room with Dawn.
Greg returns home to Joan and baby Kevin for a few days. This goes disastrously — Joan learns over an Italian dinner that Greg has volunteered to stay on in Vietnam for an additional year. This isn't surprising. Service is giving Greg a sense of authority he never felt when at home, where he was emasculated by a string of failures as a surgeon and other men's transparent lust for Joan. The shot in which Joan learns the truth is perfect: She, Greg and an accordion player are all squashed in the frame together, like something out of a messed-up version of "Lady and the Tramp."
After a fight, Joan tells Greg: "I want you to go, and don't come back. You're not a good man, even before we were married, and you know what I'm talking about." If Joan calling Greg on rape isn't the best moment from this season, I'll be surprised.
Mothers and grandmothers figure with Hitchcockian prominence in this episode. Sally Draper is stuck alone in the house with stepdad Henry's awesomely morbid mother, who pores over the student nurse murders as if it were a cheap erotic novel. When Sally has a nightmare about the murders (cleverly intercut with Don's fever dream), step-Granny bites a sleeping pill in half for her. She also reveals her personal protective weapon of choice: A carving knife!
Meanwhile, Joan's mother is surprisingly admirable. She scurries out of the house with baby Kevin to give Joan and Greg intimate time, and then is Joan's rock when Greg gets the boot.
Murder, my sweet:
Murder and titillation are the other major themes of this episode. At SCDP, Megan and Peggy ravenously look at the photos of the women killed by Richard Speck, while Henry's mother treats every ounce of sordid information about the case like foreplay. Don's hallucination of killing Andrea is sexually charged, as he's just fantasized about sleeping with her. Much like Michael Ginsburg's "dark" Cinderella ad idea mischievously pitched to the shoe clients, the episode plays like a lurid fairytale.
Another issue is morbid titillation as a form of white privilege — all of the white characters are considerably more interested in the student nurse murders than they are the Division Street Riots in Chicago. Serial killings prove a better distraction than social unrest.
"Mad Men" episode titles always have multifaceted meanings. "Mystery Date" is literally referenced as Sally watches a TV commercial for the same-titled Milton Bradley board game. The game's theme song asks, "Open the door to your mystery date… Is he a dream or a dud?" This speaks to Joan's storyline, but I brainstormed other strange "dates" the title could allude to: Don and Andrea's dream tryst, Henry's mother and Sally meeting on the couch in the dead of night, and even Peggy and Dawn's bizarre evening together. Any other ideas or interpretations?