Monday, May 5, 2014


Mad Men, Season Seven, Episode Four, "The Monolith"

Jim Crane--with hard hat planted on head--can cheer on about how "this agency is entering the future" because construction is about to begin on 'the monolith' of a computer in a space that used to belong to the creative team, but the main story lines of this episode feature characters riding The Hollies' "Carousel," going "round and round and round and round and round and round." This includes Don and, even more so, Margaret Sterling and her parents.

Don was trying to live up to the stipulations the partners gave for his return: showing up to work every day, staying in his office, not drinking, but being made to work for Peggy on a campaign with no strategy is too much for him. Throwing his typewriter at the wall and storming out on a Friday, he comes back on Monday without his homework done and sits at his desk playing Solitaire. Lou told Cutler that he thought Don would "implode," but it's not until his confrontation with Bert that he almost does. Bert confirms for Don that the partners see him with no purpose to the firm. "We've been doing fine," he says. When Don asks why he's there, Bert throws back at him "Why are you here?" "Because I started this agency!" Bert's "along with a dead man whose office you now inhabit" sends Don into Roger's office to steal a bottle of liquor and drink himself silly back on his own couch. In his conversation with Lloyd, the computer man, Don snarkily asks him about how many people he's replaced that day, but Don is getting replaced not by a computer, but by other people. He's been put out to pasture in the office where people go to die. Fortunately for Don, though, he has his own AA sponsor without ever going through the 12 step program. After calling Freddy Rumsfeld about a Mets game, Freddy comes to rescue him and take him home to pass out. The next morning, with a cup of strong coffee, Freddy dishes it to Don straight and--because he's been there and Don knows it--Don listens. "Do the work, Don," Freddy presses and the next thing we see is a cleaned-up Don entering his office, pulling the cover off the typewriter and tapping out Peggy's twenty-five tags, which he tells her she'll have by noon. The Hollies' song in the background reminded me of another low point in Don's life--but not a low point in his career. He'd just pitched the brilliant Carousel campaign to Kodak. While his career was soaring then, he created the ad out of a false nostalgia for a family past that didn't really exist. This time, Don's career is in shambles and he's riding the carousel right around to his early days as a fledgling copywriter, but he's more honest. We'll see where this carousel ride takes him.

Meantime, there's Margaret Sterling and her parents, going round and round and round in the never-ending dysfunctional family blame game carousel. As funny as Roger is--and he was given some really good lines tonight (the computer's "going to do lots of magical things, like make Harry Crane seem important")--it cannot have been easy being his daughter. Margaret blames him for having his secretary order birthday presents for her when she was a child and blames her mother for regularly locking herself in the bathroom with a bottle of gin, but uses those reasonable complaints as justification for abandoning her own son. I have a lot of sympathy for the need to find oneself and for women who are "tired of accepting society's definitions of who [they] are." I've been there. But Margaret still seems like the same spoiled child who railed against Roger for not giving Brooks money to start a business. This time she's just railing against him for not accepting her choice to live in a filthy commune, but it still all seems designed to punish him for his bad parenting rather than figure out her own path--or maybe I'm just too biased against privileged spoiled rich kids. It's hard to say if Roger is just being a hypocrite, given his current situation living in a tawdry hotel room commune of his own, or if he really has figured out there's something wrong with the way both he and Margaret are trying to find meaning. He admits to her that he's not as open-minded as he'd thought and that while he can understand the temptation, she can't do this because she's a mother. Is that just sexism or has her message about his and Mona's parenting started to sink in? By the end of his time with her, the mud has been literally as well as figuratively slung and he leaves far from the dapper figure he cut when they pulled in.

A couple of final thoughts:

--interesting talk about the symbolism of the computer between Don and Lloyd. Lloyd says that the computer is frightening but it's made by people. "People aren't frightening?" Don tosses back. Don here is the older generation, wanting to focus on people and their experiences. The IBM 360, Lloyd tells Don, "can count more stars in a day than we can count in a lifetime." But, a man lying on his back counting stars isn't thinking of numbers, Don retorts. No, "he probably thought about going to the moon" (Lloyd's response) is just one foreshadowing of the upcoming moon walk in this episode (Margaret and Roger talked about astronauts and the moon too). Science that can send humans to the moon versus the science of human communication and advertising that Lloyd goes into Don's office to ask him about. The dance goes on between these generations and fields.

--it also continues to go on between the genders in the office. I loved Joan's response to Peggy's complaint about them giving her Don on her team so that one of them will fail:
"If it makes you feel better, Peggy, I don't think they thought about it at all."

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