From weird Oedipal repression of aaaallll kinds to advertising blue balls, Sunday’s episode of Mad Men “The Crash” left another “huh?” taste in our mouths – but a good one. While some of the firm’s* characters who have grown up within it had startlingly clear and sensitive moments that showed them coming into their own as professionals and people (whether drug induced or not), Don was disconnected from reality and literally lost in his own childhood reverie. At this point, Don will have to confront his personal unhappiness and start living a life that makes him happy rather than playing the part of the brilliant and authoritative, if he wants to get these attributes and his professional groove back.
Peggy, Pete, and Ken are the last remnants of the original Sterling Cooper junior team, and in this episode, their loving viewers – like relatives who only visit their nieces and nephews between large windows of time – see that they’ve grown up. These characters surprised me with their wisdom and perspective and most importantly, stand in sharp contrast to Don’s regression.
This was not a Pete episode, but his one appearance was to mourn Frank Gleason and rebuke some Juniors for their “poor taste.” Here, Pete combined his authority (which he usually unconvincingly demands) with a sensitivity that he is trying oh so hard to develop. Pete, the tin man had a heart all along, we promise.
Peggy spends the episode trying to steer the ship towards some ad results, but it’s without most of her usual holier than thou air – ok well, just the right amount, given the state of things. With maternal compassion, she advises Stan “I’ve had loss in my life. You have to let yourself feel it. You can’t dampen it with drugs and sex; you have to get through it.” Dude – looks like a lady.
Ken’s song and dance was jaw dropping. Though both characters were under the influence of Dr. Feelgood’s amphetamines, the nonsense of Don’s rant – delivered with the Draper authority we’ve come to know, but none of the substance – stood out against Ken’s spoken word-esque tap dance where the truth and beauty hit you stronger because it was weaved into the moves of a pro. Ken has always battled with his role as an account man and as an artist. Here’, he’s feeling it (a la Peggy’s advice), but producing beauty from pain.
Meanwhile, Don spends the episode combing through magazines and racking his own brain trying to connect memories of growing up in a whore house to the sentimentality that has allowed him to win big in previous advertising campaigns. What this results in is sleepless nights, neglect of his children, deranged rants, and, no advertising work. If he is growing like the other characters, it is into the land of nostalgia in which he has reigned as the king pulling all the strings. Now, aging and disconnected from his staff and the work, he’s falling into his own traps of how advertisers want consumers to view products: having material pleasures promote the illusion of living a good life, but without substantive happiness. Don has it all but he still can’t articulate what this missing piece is for truly living a good life, because he just doesn’t know.
As audience members, we’re hungry for Don’s brilliance and so is he as he’s lost in his creative writing block, which seems tied to his personal life and satisfaction. Don will have to find that missing piece if he wants to live up to the image of himself he has built, and which others expect, in this changing world where people are growing up around (and without) him. For now, he seems to have surrendered – “every time we get a car, this place turns into a whorehouse” – but we look forward to seeing him find his way back.
*”What are you going to call it? SCDP CGC? That’s a mouthful.” Looks like it’s time for a good ol’ fashioned identity crisis!