BY EMILY VIVIANI
I understood by 11 p.m. on Sunday why Matthew Weiner chose to title this week’s “Mad Men” episode “Mystery Date.” But I think a more appropriate title for the better part of the hour, at least for me, would have been: “Wait, what?”
The historical events that Weiner selects to unify episodes generally are poignant in contrast to the drama and artifice of the fabricated plotline. This week’s episode was oriented around Richard Speck’s murder of eight student nurses in Chicago, whom he brutally raped and killed in the summer of 1966.
The event was horrific, but unlike the presidential elections, civil rights movement or Vietnam War, it had little effect on the masses. Instead of using the news to illustrate change, it seems Weiner intended, in this episode, to use an isolated and sensational event to investigate fear, and all the violent, psychosexual stuff that comes along with it.
Don has always had affairs. Even his marriage to Megan began as an affair, when he was in a relationship with Faye Miller. (This makes all of Megan’s embarrassment blah blah during this episode a little tough to take.) Most of Don’s extramarital relationships were glamorized and somewhat justified through his penchant for escape.* They were illicit, yet intriguing.
But in Season 2, Don’s affair with Bobbie Barrett – which marked the beginning of the end for Don and Betty – was different. Don’s relationship with the strong, sexually aggressive Bobbie is the first time Don displays misogynistic tendencies (at least to the viewers). There is nothing romantic about their affair: it is crude, indulgent and, from a relational-development standpoint, inexplicable. It’s understandable that Don, now happily married to the understanding Megan, would no longer need to “escape.” But indulge (as he did with Bobbie)? That’s another story.
It probably isn’t a coincidence that Andrea – Don’s former freelance mistress whom we meet during an awkward elevator encounter – vaguely resembles Bobbie. Don feels guilty when Megan becomes upset after running into yet another of his former flames. “That kind of careless [sexual] appetite—you can’t blame it all on Betty,” Megan says.
This guilt is brought to a head when Don leaves work early with a pounding headache and aggravated cough. Back at his apartment, Don has a lucid fever dream in which Andrea comes to his apartment and seduces him. “It was just sex, it doesn’t mean anything,” she tells him. As she’s leaving, he tells her it was a one-time thing, but she tells him it will never be over, “because [he] is a sick, sick, [man].” At this, Don leaps up and strangles her to death, Speck-style, then pushes her corpse beneath the bed, one stiletto peeping out from beneath the frame. This visceral dream, I would guess, is Don’s subconscious, metaphorically attempting to expunge the dirty, adulterous bits from his psyche.
This brings us to copywriting boy wonder Michael Ginsberg. In a telling opening scene, Ginsberg is disgusted when his copywriting co-workers ogle at the not-suitable-for-publication photographs of Speck’s mangled corpses, which Peggy’s friend from Life magazine brings to SCDP for show and tell. “Why are you laughing?” Ginsberg asks Megan as she garishly gawks over the dirty little thumbnails. “You’re excited by it,” he says. “Some girl thrust up like a cut of meat…You’re all a bunch of sick-os!”
However sick and sadistic, Ginsberg recognizes the potency of their attraction to morbidity, and like any good adman, he puts this observation to good use. In his pitch to Butler shoes, Ginsberg butters up the client with a playful pitch centered on the charm of feminine mystique (“You’ll never tell; They’ll never be able to.”) The client is sold, even going as far as to suggest that the girl casted be French. (Megan! Megan!) But in closing handshakes, Ginsberg, inspired by his coworkers twisted delight, suggests a darker approach – Cinderella Noire.
In his first great creative monologue, Ginsberg illustrates a creepy interpretation of the shoe-centric fairytale, in which Cinderella is cast as “wounded prey.” He paints an image of her hobbling down cobblestone streets in the shadows of a castle, with the measured footsteps of her pursuer approaching behind her. “She knows she’s not safe, but she doesn’t care,” he says. “I guess we know in the end, she wants to be caught.”
Back at the Francis’ haunted mansion, Sally Draper is having trouble digesting all the discipline and tuna that babysitter for the week, Grandma Pauline, has been shoving down her throat. In fact, the only thing that Sally has no trouble swallowing is the Secanol that Pauline gives her after she’s frightened upon reading about the Speck murders. Pauline’s explanation to Sally: they were raped and murdered because their skirts were too short. Bring back Carla, please!
Perhaps the only silver lining in this dark thundercloud of an hour is the delicious vindication we feel for Joan at the end. This week, her husband, Army surgeon Greg Harris, has returned fromVietnam. To celebrate his return, Joan makes steak, attempts a cake, buys some new lingerie and ensures her mother is on hand to babysit newborn Kevin.
Greg, who we’ve hated since he raped Joan in Don’s office at the end of Season 2, tells Joan that unlike they had anticipated, he must return to Vietnam. When Joan discovers later in the episode that Greg has in fact volunteered to go back, because the Army makes him feel “needed” and like a “good man.” Joan tells him to go back and stay there. “I’m glad the Army makes you feel like a man, because I’m sick of trying to do it,” she says. “You’re not a good man. You never were.” The episode closes with an overhead shot of Joan lying in her bed looking at the ceiling and wearing pants as the the Crystals’ “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)” appropriately opens to the credits.
Like any good horror flick, this episode was strung together with several of “those things I wish I didn’t see” moments. As the series continues, it will be interesting to watch how the characters cope with these fears, since “murder” and pill-popping are really only temporary fixes. After all, everybody is bound to look under the bed at some point.
*Season 1: Don wanted to run away with Rachel Menken.
Season 2: Don runs away toLos Angelesand meets elusive Joy.
Season 3: Don plans to run away with Sally’s teacher, Suzanne.
Season 4: Divorced Don runs away from Dr. Faye Miller with Megan.