Mad Men s7 Ep 4: The Monolith
It’s three weeks since Don has returned from his forced sabbatical and he is very much still out in the wilderness at SC&P.
Central to this episode isDon’s struggle with his disempowerment. The partners remain uneasy about putting him back on full duties. They reluctantly agree to put him on the new Burger’s Chef account, to be led by Peggy. Don for his part, has been struggling to keep his cool in the face of his irrelevance at the firm but this decision shatters his fragile sense of composure.
At this point it is important to acknowledge the monumental significance in Don having to submit to Peggy’s office power. Don, who in season one hired Peggy and defiantly made her a copywriter, Don who mentored, championed and sporadically gave his copywriting wunderkind a brutal kicking back in her place, has been reduced to handing tag lines to his protégé. The awkwardness of this moment is beautifully realised, as Peggy struggles to retain her composure while Don watches her with an indignant glare. Feeling the weight of his continued emasculation, Don finally cracks – throwing his computer against the window.
His first response is to goad and defy Peggy. Then, he tries with trademark Draper aplomb, to turn his chance conversation with an improbably philosophical computer salesman into new business for the firm. It’s classic Don: spontaneous, industrious and mercurial – but he is sharply put down by Bert Cooper for trying to connive his way out of purgatory.
Feeling the full weight of his powerlessness, Don steals a bottle of vodka from Roger and checks out for the rest of the day, before calling Freddy Rumson (who seems to become a spiritual mentor/AA sponsor for Don) – who, after watching him pass out in his apartment, implores Don to stop drinking and to get back to the office. Don coolly returns to SC&P and gets on with work assigned to him by Peggy.
This week felt like a turning point for Don (Doesn’t it always). In typical Mad Men fashion, (with it’s fidelity to the stilted rhythms of life), Don felt some pain and fell into old habits before accepting his new situation at work. And although I am sure there is more awkwardness still in store (working under Lou Avery promises to be very tricky) week by week, Don inches closer toward the light.
Roger’s daughter has abandoned her family and run off to live in a hippie commune in upstate New York. As Roger and ex-wife Mona travel up to retrieve her, they are confronted with the cultural upheaval of the ‘60’s and feel the full cosmic weight over their lifestyle and decisions as parents.
Margaret (or Marigold, as she is now called) has taken up with a commune of anti-materialist hippies and dropped out of society. When they try to bring her back, she calmly explains her decision as a form of personal liberation from the corrosive expectations of conventional society on women. In speaking so honestly she expressly exposes and rejects the assumptions and illusions that her parents have lived by all their lives.
For a while, Roger is willing to indulge Margaret (Marigold) in her experiment, taking it with an attitude of wry bemusement. But once he sees his daughter causally being shared amongst men in the commune the grottiness becomes too much for him and he demands that they leave. They fight and Roger, for the first time, gets his hands (and three piece suit) dirty as Margaret calls him out for a lifetime of recklessness and absentee parenting, poignantly remarking on all of the secretaries that have had to remember her birthdays over the years.
Until now, being wealthy has been a cocoon from the painful truths and the problems of society, but now his own daughter has violently rejected his way of life. The cultural revolution of the late ‘60’s is upending the very foundations of his life.
There is a serious Machiavellian, Game of Thrones-ian tone to Jim Cutler and Lou Avery’s conversations about Don, ‘He’ll implode’ – perhaps the implications to be felt in weeks to come – could the merger be dissolved somehow?
Peggy and Joan catching up to bitch about Don and the men at the firm was excellent.
Cutler and Harry Crane with the hard hats!
Don is reading Portnoy’s Complaint by Phillip Roth, which was a literary sensation when it was released in 1969. One of the first major cultural artefacts referenced this season.
Pete Campbell – ‘they’ll want a woman or whatever Peggy is.’
Bert Cooper with what is surely the nastiest line he has ever uttered, “I started this firm” – “Along with a dead man, whose office you now inhabit.” – Yikes!