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Monday, April 9, 2012

Mad Men: "Mystery Date"

"Mystery Date" is one of those episodes of television that prove to be divisive because what some people will regard as brilliant and clever others will regard as over-written, on-the-nose and trite. For the most part I found the episode enthralling, but even I thought there where a few moments when the show strained too far to make one more connection between its interwoven themes. But how can you not marvel at the minds which made all those connections between sex, violence and fear, and all through a few ordinary symbols like women's shoes and the area under the bed. Under the bed is where the lone survivor of nurse-killer Richard Speck hid while he brutally murdered eight of her colleagues. The horrors those women experienced are the backbone of "Mystery Date", first as office gossip (do we think Ginsberg's over-reaction will be explained at a later date?) and then chillingly and inappropriately retold to Sally Draper when she can't sleep. (Poor Sally, so headstrong and inquisitive, but without a single stable figure to serve as a guide. I fear she has many more pills to take and meals to reject.) Of course, under the bed is also where Don stuffs Andrea after brutally strangling her in his fever-dream, with one red shoe sticking out, presumably as some sort of sign that Don can never really hide who he truly is. (A touch obvious, but still nicely rendered.) I was fairly sure as Don was strangling Andrea that it was all a dream (a. Don really looked horribly sick b. how would that women have known his address?) but I must admit that in the moment I wasn't totally sure. It's definitely for the best that Don woke up without that woman's shoe sticking out from under his bed, but I would have admired the boldness of such a plot twist. Now I suppose the next question is how much Megan might have either overheard of Don's dream-state. The aura of fear also paid off in the scene where a late-working Peggy becomes concerned by a noise in the halls of the deserted SCDP offices, only to find Dawn sleeping on her boss's couch, afraid to take the subway to Harlem this late at night. Some aspects of this scene bothered me, as I felt they were hitting the idea of Peggy as oblivious to racial tension too hard, but Elisabeth Moss acted the hell out of her conversation with Dawn back the apartment. Her asking Dawn if she thought that Peggy acted like too much of a man at work was a great moment (am I nuts, or was there sexual tension there? The show has sort of teased the idea of Peggy as repressed.), and Moss really acted the hell out of the awkward bit with the purse. I do think it's a little annoying that so far Dawn has been used more as a prop than as a person, but it's still early on in her career, so perhaps with time the show will open her up a little. If there was one area of the episode that went a little too far toward achieving thematic unity, it was Ginsberg's Cinderella speech, which felt over-written as it was happening, and extremely implausible, especially in how quickly the client bought into it. The new man at SCDP is lucky that Don was not in top shape, or that warning would have been a lot worse. The Joan and Dr. Rape plot seemed a little disconnected from the rest of the show (although I'm not as much of a genius for connecting plots as Matthew Weiner) but it still worked for me. Greg really did seem like the kind of man who would flourish in the army and flounder outside it, and it was obvious from the get-go that he had volunteered to return. It was almost cathartic to see Joan kick him out, even bringing up the rape in Season 2 to point out that he's not a good person, even if he is going off to war. All in all a fascinating hour of Mad Men, even if there weren't any dead bodies under the bed.

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