Remember Roger’s acid trip in “Far Away Places” last season on Mad Men? This week’s episode makes that one seem straightforward and elementary – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As half of the office staff spins in a drug-induced mania, we get clear glimpses of what’s really going on in the mad men and woman’s heads. I’ve got a feeling you either loved this episode or hated it – and I know you want to talk about it – so let’s review what happened in “The Crash.”
THE KEN IS ALL RIGHT | The episode opens on a scene that can only end badly: Ken behind the wheel of a car filled with drunken Chevy execs brandishing weapons, goading him to drive faster and covering his eyes so he can’t see where he’s going. We hear a crash sound and I’m bummed for Aaron Staton… until a moment later when we see him limp into a meeting at the firm the next day. He didn’t die! There was a car accident, we learn, but the Impala joyride was just the latest in the long list of indignities he’s had to endure as the firm’s account man for the car company. Oh, and Chevy has hated everything SCDPCGC (that’s how I’ll refer to the merged company until its partners get around to naming it) has produced so far. Don’s outraged – all he wants is to get in a room with them so he can work his magic – and everyone agrees that they’re going to have to work the weekend to make Chevy’s next deadline. Ted and Don both get calls that pull them out of the meeting: Ted’s is the news that CGC partner Frank Gleason has died, and Don’s is from Dr. Rosen. Dum-dum-DUUUUUM!
Just kidding – Don’s call is from Sylvia, but “I wanted to let you know that’s what that would feel like,” she tells him before ordering him to quit hanging out by her apartment’s service entrance; Arnold found the butts of the cigarettes Don smoked while he stalked, and she’s afraid that he’s going to figure out something is up. He begs for a chance to talk to her, but she’s closed off; she’s afraid that he has so little to lose, he won’t hesitate to ruin her life with the good doctor. As she cries, Don says, “I’m feeling a lot of emotions, too,” and the incredibly flat delivery Jon Hamm uses makes me laugh out loud. When she hangs up on him, Don throws the phone into the bar cart – when he harms innocent booze, you know he’s really upset. (Well, that and he’s crying a little.) As he coughs into a handkerchief, he flashes back to when he had a chest cold in the whorehouse and one of the prostitutes showed more compassion for him than his stepmother ever did. (That story unfolds over a bunch of memories, but we’ve got a lot of drug-induced weirdness to get through, so I’m condensing. Spoiler alert: That hooker was also Don’s first woman, and when his stepmom found out, she beat him with a wooden spoon.)
Don naps and wakes to find that Jim Cutler has called a physician into the office to see anyone who needs a little pick-me-up. Don, Ken, Stan and a few others submit themselves for a syringe full of the doc’s proprietary “energy serum” – and then the real fun begins.
ALTERED STATES | Peggy and Ginsberg are not impressed by Stan’s stream-of-consciousness Chevy taglines or Don’s stirring – though ultimately empty – declaration about his ultimate idea. “That was very inspiring. Do you have any idea what the idea is?” Peggy says with the weariness of a woman who’s probably thinking, “At least he’s not puking all over his shirt and then falling asleep in my lap this time.”
Later, Don and Ken have a fairly awesome interaction in which Don speechifies about needing the client (or, as we later find out, someone else) to hear the “timbre of my voice,” and an equally high Ken breaks into a full-on tap dance. That’s not a metaphor. Staton kick-ball-changes his way through a monologue, complete with cane flourishes. “Where did you learn that?” Don asks, impressed. “BroadWAY!” I shout at my TV in my best Jenna Maroney, remembering when I’d walk by Times Square’s Winter Garden Theater and see Staton’s mug grinning out from the Mamma Mia! cast photos. (Side note: Please rewatch this scene and focus on Dawn’s face. Priceless.)
By the way, Don has absolutely no idea what to do for Chevy and instead strides around the office with an old campaign idea in his head. When he finally finds it in the archives, it’s for oatmeal – not soup, like he thought – and it shows a woman (who’s very reminiscent of his friendly childhood prostitute) with a young boy and the tagline “Because you know what he needs.” Don hollers for Peggy to hear his new thoughts, but they’re unfocused and mainly have to do with how he can “get in the door” to let Sylvia know what he’s thinking and feeling. Bummer – I thought for a moment he was going all Jerry Maguire on us, and I was kind of looking forward to the “Who’s with me? Who’s with me?” that would follow. Turns out, any kind of corporate advertising is the farthest thing from his addled mind. “What have you been working on for the past three days?” an irritated Peggy calls after him as he leaves for home. (We’ll pick up with the drugged-up Mr. Draper later.)
TURN ON, TUNE IN, DROP OUT | After Frank’s funeral, which Peggy attends with Ted, Ms. Olsen is drunk. So she does nothing to stop the creative team’s new game of throwing exacto knives at a drawing of an apple that’s pinned to a corkboard over Stan’s head. Michael – the self-proclaimed “only person in the Time-Life Building who’s not out of his mind” — takes the first toss… and lobs a knife right into Stan’s forearm. Eek. Peggy leads the Bearded One away to patch him up, and he takes the opportunity to kiss her. She has objections (she doesn’t like beards, he’s like her brother, she has a boyfriend) but she kisses him back for a minute before pulling away.
He confesses that his 20-year-old cousin was killed in action in the Navy in March, and she takes great care to counsel him not to dampen his pain with drugs and sex. As she walks away, he compliments her tush. “Thank you,” she replies kindly. Please, Mad Men, don’t let this be the only payoff for all of the Stan-Peggy build-up. Please revisit them in the future. But first, please let her forget about watching him get it on with hippie Wendy – who we later learn is Frank’s daughter – on an office couch later in the hour while Jim Cutler pervs out beside her. (Beside Peggy, not Wendy. Even in this oddball episode, that would’ve been a little too weird. Also, kudos to Harry Hamlin for continuing to find these strange little roles that really play to his strengths. I never would’ve thought about him for the Cutler part, and now I can’t think of anyone else who would do it better.)
“GRANDMA” INVADES | While Don’s hearing colors at work and Megan is out at a play with her agent, Sally’s watching Bobby and Gene at the apartment. She’s surprised to find an old black woman in the place late at night; the woman claims she’s Grandma Ida and she raised Don as a child. Sally’s no idiot – she’s never heard of the woman, and the fact that she says things like, “That TV’s in there good!” as she tries to pry it from the wall point toward her being a burglar. Bobby wakes up and only cares about two things: whether he can watch TV and “Are we negroes?” Heh. When Sally tries to call the cops, the woman stops her and beats a hasty exit.
Don arrives home all ready to make his case to Sylvia, but he’s met at his own apartment by Betty, Henry, Megan, the kids and two cops. Ida was a robber who hit several spots in the building. Betty — who’s blonde and svelte again, by the way — makes sure Don knows she doesn’t believe he was at work and that Henry is running for public office. (Side note: You’ve gotta admire that woman’s ability to stuff bragging and scolding into the same breath.) Don does the only thing I can think of that won’t end in him getting yelled at any more: He passes out.
THE HARSH LIGHT OF DAY | Monday morning, a clearheaded Don gets the very thing he lusted after: a few minutes alone with Sylvia in the lift. And though this is his chance to make a literal elevator pitch, he says next to nothing to her. At work, he calls Sally to tell her he’s ok and to confess that he left the service entrance open, allowing the woman to break in. Sally says that as she asked the woman questions about Don, she realized she didn’t know much about her dad. Ouch.
Ted returns to the office and demands to know why the Chevy work is gibberish. “What the hell went on here this weekend?” Chaough asks. Don has no answers, and he’s not interested in making Ted feel any better. “Every time we get a car, this place turns into a whorehouse,” he says nastily, stalking back to his office.
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode — in particular, Wendy’s “It’s broken” when listening to Don’s heart? Sound off in the comments!