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This week’s Mad Men preyed upon themes similar to those we’ve seen before in the series, but what it did so deftly was work upon them until they were something new entirely. Whether it was Don’s vivid, shocking dreams or the image of both Aunt Geraldine and Sally passed out from downing some Seconal, there was something quite hallucinogenic about “Mystery Date”; which really centred along the disturbances of strangers into a settled group, and the primal, unspoken feelings that can surface towards women.
It was always going to be an interesting episode that centred on serial killer Richard Speck, the man who, one day in Chicago, systematically tortured, raped and murdered eight student nurses. Not quite the same as last week’s “Betty got fat” subject really, was it?! And yet, Mad Men was perversely all the better for it. Each character found themselves affected in some way from the news, either consciously or subconsciously, which meant we finally had several interesting strands in one episode, rather than the usual sub plot of “Pete Campbell feels pleased with himself”. (But seriously, when is Pete going to get more to do?! He’s being side-lined like a regular Kinsey!)
Starting off with the character most notably affected by the news, Don Draper’s literally feverish dreams of sleeping with an ex-lover he bumps into (“my bad penny!”) had me crying out for him to stop – but at the same time I wasn’t overly surprised if he had turned back to his adulterous ways. I certainly got a bit more of a shock when (still in fever mode) he appeared to strangle her to death! Of course this was just that tired old adage of “it was all a dream” (or is that nightmare?). However, what should also be remembered Don’s violent passion still had to have existed in his head somewhere, even if it only manifested itself in a dream. I’m sure Freud would have a field day with it all, but all I can say is it shows once again the side of Don we’ve known all along – he will do anything to cover up his secrets.
And then there was another Draper, this time Sally and her own stranger, Aunt Geraldine, who for most of the episode might have accidentally sat on Betty without her realising it for all we knew. Sally’s phone call to her father had all the great hallmarks of the American teen (“it makes me barf”), and her growing curiosity around the murder case her Aunt forbids her to find out about shows she’s still got that stubborn streak.
Geraldine’s mad lessons, “that’s for nothing, so look out”, along with her “burglar alarm” – a large, glinting kitchen knife – do nothing to put Sally’s mind at ease, so of course it makes sense to drug the poor child to sleep when she finally learns of the story in the newspapers.
You can see one writer’s much more humorous interpretation of Geraldine’s lasting effect on Sally here, but the taking of sedatives to fall asleep once again echoed in a much milder way Don’s story, as once more there was a need to keep emotion, this time fear, bottled up and forgotten about.
Peggy’s storyline had a slightly happier feel to it, perhaps because of all the money she managed to swipe off of Roger! Yet again our little copywriter felt it her need to teach those under her how they could aspire to be like her – this time the new secretary Dawn that SCDP had to get in because of their accidental ethicalness. But it seemed that Peggy needed to be taught a thing or two herself when she let Dawn stay over, as, glancing suddenly at her purse she had left next to her new sleepover friend, it was obvious what she was thinking. Here the unspoken actually said it all – although Peggy may be progressive in some senses, she was pretty much right when she asked Dawn whether she “acts like a man” for she does, and specifically, a white middle class one.
This episode also saw the return of Joan’s “beloved” Greg from working as a doctor in the war. We all knew it could never work for long between these two, but the surprise was that this didn’t end because Joan decided to reveal the true father (Roger) of her new born baby to her husband, but rather that he would rather be out fighting the good fight than staying at home. Well, I’m sure there’s plenty that will be happy to fill his place, so good riddance to him!
Another aspect that I loved about this episode was the references to past occurrences that Mad Men is so subtle in doing. This time Joan reminded her dearest that he wasn’t as good as he made out to be – fitting in light of this episode’s subject matter, as indeed in the past Dr Greg went down in the estimations of many when he sexually assaulted Joan in her office at work in Season Two. So the rapist came back to be a husband, but found himself leaving wifeless. Perhaps now we can finally see Joan having a bit of fun again rather than having to hold back and play the good wife.
In the spirit of holding back there almost isn’t time to mention Michael Ginsberg’s feature in the episode – apart from to question whether it’s possible we could have a new Don in our midst (probably only in the advertising side, however, we all know who’s still wearing the trousers around SCDP). A haunting episode, the credits song “He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss)” truly summed up the confusion between violence and passion that so many of our characters faced and are facing.
What I’d like to happen (but won’t) – Don’s fever continues until the season becomes so confusing it’s not sure if any of it happened at all – did Harry really just slap Megan with a fish?! Peggy starts to get confused about acting like a man and being one in the office and starts to hit on the secretaries, and Pete Campbell finally is able to say something that doesn’t contain the word “Mohawk” in it (please for next time can someone think up a drinking game revolving around this).