Episode 503: Strange Bedfellows, Sleepus Interruptus, and Tales of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, & Grimm!

Mad Men 5-04Wow! I thought “Mystery Date” was easily the best (if the most visceral, violent and upsetting) episode this season so far. “Haunting” just doesn’t cover it. As with the symbolic landscape in such fairy tales as Hansel & Gretel, or Little Red Riding Hood, the woods are scary, dark and deep. And Don had miles to go before he slept -- and/or strangled someone, whichever came first.

As always, MM is about identity and duality, interconnections and strange bedfellows.  In this episode, about crime and fairy tales, Don, for one, was part Sleeping Beauty, and part Beast, a sweaty, phlegmy, hairy Beast, at that.

There were beaucoup de Cinderella references, mostly made in connection to the shoe account SCDP picked up.  (Almost comically, all the decisions about the female footwear were being made by men.) More importantly, the reverse scenario resonated throughout the episode, with women giving up on the prince and standing on their own two feet.

Joan finally puts her foot down, sending her hubby with the rapist tendencies out the door once and for all. Peggy puts her feet -- her stylish, green-shod feet – up on her desk, the way Roger or Don would. And Megan tells Don to stop smoking and go home.

The use of the actual commercial for the game “Mystery Date,” (“a Milton Bradley game!”) was a killer way to set up some of the threads of the show -- waiting for rescue from Mr. Dreamy, who often turns out to be less than a prince. The other was the literal symbolism of the opening and closing of doors. The black-and-white spot opens with a jingle and a super-excited  ‘tween girl opening a door, squealing,  “He’s here, my mystery date!” Then we see whether said date is a “dream” or a “dud.”

Mad Men 5-04In a horror-movie-like moment, Peggy walks down a long, empty hallway late at night while alone in the office, and opens a scary door.  (She finds Don’s secretary Dawn, who can’t get home to Harlem, trying to sleep behind it.)   No gentleman, Joan’s officer husband Greg becomes a wolf, saying : “Open this door or I’ll kick it down!”

 Don’s literal dream date, who looks like a combination of all the past mistresses in his life mixed with Ann-Margret, just happens to show up at the front door of his swanky apartment as he’s home napping. He shows her to the back door (or rather, the service elevator, because she was there to service him.) I was so relieved to learn that it was all (or mostly) a dream, when the single red shoe was no longer next to his bed, I shrieked with relief.

But back to the basis of the episode: blood, and the scarily named Richard Speck, the crazed drifter  responsible for a “massa-cree”--  as our favorite lesbian photo editor, Joyce, (wonderfully played by Zosia Mamet) put it. On the evening of July 14, 1966,  the hideous Speck just showed up with a gun at the door of the makeshift Chicago dormitory/townhouse  in which nine young nursing students were living. He savagely attacked and raped them, and then either strangled or shot each young woman, one by one. (One survived by hiding under a bed.).

Perhaps the extent of the gruesomeness, and the way the sexual violence was methodically carried out, was impossible to process at that point, a time before “CSI” and “Law and Order/SVU.” But it was a bit of shocker that everyone in the room saw the pictures as objects of titillation to be passed around and gawked at. The excited reaction almost equated unspeakable death and violence with X-rated sex.

 Surprisingly, the voice of reason came from “Ginzy,”  the new writer who until this point seemed totally sketchy.

Mad Men
5-04“Eight girls trussed up like a side of meat. You sickos!” he said, pushing the photos away, the only person in the room to point out how offensive it was to human dignity to gape at mutilated corpses. Could it be that he is a son of a Holocaust survivor, so he is sensitized to pictures of human devastation? (And the next cut is a shot of Joan, with her malfunctioning oven!)

In the opening of the show, Don is in an elevator with Megan and runs into this previous paramour, who starts flirting and calls him “my bad penny.” Megan is fed up, and Don is guilty and scared about losing his new life, which leads to his fevered dreams.

But in reading about Richard Speck’s background, I couldn’t help but think there was a parallel to Don’s -- and maybe that’s why they gave him a dream strangulation scene.  Both grew up on farms in the Midwest, lost parents at an early age, moved around a lot and lived with abusive stepfathers.  

Don’s past as Dick Whitman is the source of his inexplicably bad, self-defeating behavior – but he made good. Whereas  Richard Speck was a brain-damaged drunk and drug addict who went from petty thief to full-blown, conscience-less monster. In the late ‘90s, a tape surfaced of him in jail. He explained that strangling someone is tough. "It's not like TV... it takes over three minutes and you have to have a lot of strength."

Considering the past that Don is up against, let’s hope that his fevered dreams scared him straight – so, as he tells Megan the next day, “You don’t have to worry about me.”

Mad Men 5-04Peggy has two wonderful scenes:  she’s now blackmailing Roger for cash in the office, and keeping up with him, joke for joke.  Roger, inexplicably, has failed to get a campaign going for his only client, Mohawk. And he lies to Pete about it. So he brings his problem to Peggy and asks her to get it done over the weekend.  He solves it the only way he knows how—by giving her cash from his pocket. But she knows how to hustle more money out of him, saying  “Work is $10. The lie is extra.”

Dawn’s visit with Peggy mirrored the time Bobbie, Don’s older woman paramour, stayed with Peggy to hide, and tried to give her advice. This time, Peggy is the older, more experienced one. And Elizabeth Moss does a great job of playing inebriated, (including the perfect little hiccup) “Y’all drink a lot,” Dawn says, smiling.

Peggy tells Dawn that she, Peggy, was also Don’s  secretary, and that they have to stick together -- she knows how hard it is. But she’s too self –absorbed and/ or drunk to notice that she’s not giving Dawn a chance to talk. And that her background is not similar to Dawn’s -- as a white woman, Peggy is much more privileged.

Meanwhile, the whole war of the sexes is getting to Peggy. She asks Dawn, “Do you think I act like a man? I don’t know if I want to. I don’t know if I have it in me. “

Preparing to go to bed, she sees her green purse (filled with Roger’s filthy lucre) out on a coffee table next to Dawn’s makeshift bed. She wants to take it, but still has that reflexive thing of not wanting to appear racist, so leaves the bag out on the table. This is the reverse of the time Lane took the wallet from the black cab driver.

Mad Men 5-04It’s interesting the way Weiner allows architecture to affect the story: when Don went out to California and stayed with the original Mrs. Draper, Anna, in her sunny, gingerbreadish bungalow, we also had a fairy tale-esque, hallucinatory scene. This time the big, dark Goth house that  the Francises bought provides lots of jokes and story lines.

Poor Sally is stuck there while her mom is away, and Bobby is away at camp (still bed-wetting, poor kid!) being babysat by Henry’s mother, who also gives those Bugles a workout.

Finally, we understand where her son’s creepy pregnant belly-rubbing comes from. Pauline is nuts. 

When Sally refuses to eat her tuna fish sandwich. (“It has relish in it!” ) Pauline’s not having any of it. She slaps Sally and tells her to sit there till she finishes the sandwich, crusts and all.

But Pauline is also devouring the newspaper, licking her chops over the salacious Speck story. Though at first she tells Sally the story isn’t for kids, eventually lovely Stepgrammy Pauline (sitting there with a giant meat cleaver in her hand) finally gives in.  “Those girls got ready for bed. There was a knock on the door, and a handsome man was watching them from afar,” she says. Mystery Date!

 “All those young, innocent nurses in their short uniforms, stirring his passions,” she says. Way to blame the victims!

“Why didn’t they run away?” Sally asks, legitimately.

Mad Men 5-04After some intelligent probing about Pauline’s background (Sally asks, “Was your mother strict?”) Henry’s mom tells her that her father once hit her so hard, he sent her flying across the living room saying “That’s for nothing -- so look out.”

Sally says that wasn’t nice. Pauline responds that it taught her a valuable lesson. Yes, how to abuse the next generation, and the next.

How much damage can Pauline do? Well, she literally shoves something down Sally’s throat --  half a Seconal. (Last week, she advised Fat Betty to go to the doctor and get diet pills, aka, speed.)

Betty and Henry come home to find Mama racked out on the couch, and Sally out underneath it. (Can she hide from harm and save herself, the way that nurse did? Doubtful. )

In the end, the thing that creeped me out, that I didn’t really understand, was Ginsberg’s unselling of his clichéd campaign to lure the clients in with a Cinderella story instead. He tells it in a hypnotic way, but it’s sinister: Cinderella is “hobbling like wounded prey. She’s scared and feels a hand on her shoulder.  She takes it. She’s knows it’s not safe but she doesn’t care. She wants to be caught.

The music over the credits is “He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss),"  a pop song written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King and recorded by The Crystals under the guidance of Phil Spector in 1962. The specter of Phil Spector rearing his freakishly bewigged head is a whole Goth story in itself! The song was yanked off the air, for obvious reasons.

But it provides the perfect ending for that inspired overhead shot of Joan’s new reality: the triumvirate of herself, her baby, and her mom all sharing a bed. Joan can’t sleep.

Tags: mad men
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9 comments about "Episode 503: Strange Bedfellows, Sleepus Interruptus, and Tales of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, & Grimm!".
  1. Kate Lafrance from Hartford Woman Online Magazine , April 10, 2012 at 7:46 p.m.
    I thought it was a very unsatisfying epi. Best scenes were Peggy and Dawn and Sally and Grandma Pauline. Would have been nice to see what old "creeps" like Pete are up to.
  2. Larry steven Londre from Londre Marketing Consultants, LLC and USC , April 10, 2012 at 8:08 p.m.
    Regarding Ginsberg’s unselling of his clichéd campaign to lure the clients in with a Cinderella story instead. It served another advertising agency lesson. An account person's (account manager/account executive) worst nightmare. After a campaign is sold, the creative team or rather the account team who is presenting talks too much and buys the vacuum cleaner back. Taken from the door to door sales person who sold vacuum cleaners in the 50's. The "sales" man after selling and getting a yes on the purchase from the housewife or husband kept talking and bought it back. Get it.
  3. John Berard from Credible Context , April 10, 2012 at 8:53 p.m.
    Draper and Ginsberg represent a stage of agency evolution that saw creatives in service to the sale of a clients' goods & services lose ground to those who were in competition with other creatives.
  4. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , April 10, 2012 at 9:09 p.m.
    This episode certainly kept me on the edge of my seat. I just wonder about the dream device. The next time something absolutely crazy happens, will it be a dream? I'm sure Weiner knows you can't go to that well more than once. Also, the dream seemed pretty easy to analyze. I expected a little more deep imagery.
  5. Rob Frydlewicz from RAF Consulting , April 11, 2012 at 12:03 a.m.
    I was riveted by the Speck storyline. I was 9 when the murders happened, but my parents couldn't shield me from it because I was the one who brought in that afternoon's paper from the front porch. I'll never forget the photos of the nurses and Speck splashed on the front page. It was a very chilling moment for me. This storyline also resonated because Speck was the subject of one the first blog posts I wrote on my history blog 3 years ago ("History as You Experienced It"). Traffic to the blog (all due to the Speck post) took a huge jump beginning at 10:15 Sunday night and it continues to be strong. The number of visits in the past 48 hours was comparable to what the blog averages in a typical month!
  6. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , April 11, 2012 at 8:15 a.m.
    @JOHN BERARD: I know what you're getting at, but would counter that creatives were always in competition with other creatives, no matter what the objective (sales, awards, fame, laughs) of their work was. In DR, they were trying to top the control; in packaged goods, beat the norm; in the office get your work produced. But Draper's name is on the door, and the CW is a significant dolt or he wants to walk with the account. But I was wrong about how Draper's relationship would develop with the guy (I saw it coming as father figure, a Bernbach kind of relationship...clearly that is wrong.) I found the pocketbook scene ridiculous, but not as ridiculous as bribing a copywriter with cash to do her work. For myself at the time, I was more riveted by the riots than Speck, and a year later read a book I have never forgotten: "Rivers of Blood, Years of Darkness" about the Watts riots and its victims and participants. The show is compelling no matter how boringly and slowly it evolves.
  7. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , April 11, 2012 at 8:43 a.m.
    @JOHN BERARD copywriters were/are always competing against other copywriters. Whether in DR to beat the control or packaged goods TV to get a better test score or within the agency to please the management or at a client organization to please the ad manager or CMO or whatever the title. Maybe more apt is the assumption that the objective in this coming era (post-1965) is more entertainment than traditional salesmanship. That Rosser Reeves giving way to Mary Wells was a recognition that maybe the repetitive empiricism of Anacin was being replaced by the dazzle of Alka-Seltzer. In any case, clearly the guy either wants to walk with the account or has no insight into himself. I was clearly wrong in thinking that Draper would be a father figure for the young writer, unless he is into patricide.
  8. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , April 11, 2012 at 9:52 a.m.
    What was with the focal point of Ginsberg's ill fitting pants shot - at the top under the belt buckle ? And Megan wants Don to meet up with her friends. That will come to no good with Don's history and he may know that. He is not comfortable out of his own bubble/shell which will be why what will happen as the agency business evolves. Maybe more flexibility will show via Sally, but otherwise he will turn himself into an antique in the business.
  9. Maria Ackley from Blue Shield of California , April 11, 2012 at 9:55 p.m.
    I was thrilled when MM returned after the very long hiatus but I have not seen the quality of writing or direction that was present in the first four seasons. The season opener was boring and unfocused and I have been exceedingly disappointed in the story lines and character development so far. I think MM may be resting on it's past glories and has lost much of the intricate plot layers that made it famous.