TV in Review: Mad Men, “Mystery Date”
April 9, 2012 12 Comments
Remember me saying that I love how Mad Men does awkward? Well, this episode starts off with that, with a small moment of Don meeting an ex-flirtation named Andrea, who comes on to him because it’s not obvious that the other woman in the elevator is Don’s wife, Megan. But she is. And I still love it.
(Warning: possible spoilers ahead.)
In “Mystery Date,” we get an under-the-weather Don Draper, and as usual he’s all the more interesting when his weakness are on display.
MEGAN: That kind of careless [pause] appetite — you can’t blame that on Betty.
We get some iconic moments, like a soldier’s return.
The new guy Michael Ginsberg starts to make small waves in the business world, in a way that promises for bigger waves in the future.
Assertive Peggy is back (yay!)…
…having fun with a comical Roger Sterling and forging a relationship of sorts with the new secretary, Dawn. Their exchange is very revealing, both about racial issues, and about each of them as characters. Plus, drunk Peggy is funny.
I’m still enjoying the glimpses we get of Sally Draper this year. She’s really got the tween thing down.
SALLY: Grandma Pauline is still here, and I hate her.
Indeed, Grandma Pauline is abusive, in more ways than one. Random rules, scary stories, and prescription drugs. There are moments where I like her viciousness, but mostly I don’t. Even then, though, I still like her for dramatic purposes. Pauline is fun to dislike. Oh, and before I forget, for the second episode in a row we get Bugles!
Actually, there’s a lot in this episode that’s dislikable even as it entertains. They give us sex and violence with the discussion of the gruesome rape and murder of some nurses in Chicago, but they also give us Michael questioning the ethics of eliciting excitement from the story. (It’s the Richard Speck murders, from July 14, 1966.)
Sex and violence get all mixed up in this episode, also including the manner in which Don’s past behavior comes back to haunt him, in yellow. “Haunt” is the operative word, as it is difficult to tell Don’s desires apart from his nightmares. I like that Don is struggling with demons, and that the show is willing to present him as unlikable, and although I also know that they won’t go so far as to make him a full-fledged devil, they do go pretty far in this episode. If you’ve seen it, then you definitely know what I mean.
So Mad Men appreciates complicated characters (which is not the same as excusing their bad behavior). The same guy who says this about black soldiers…
GREG: Plenty of Negroes in Saigon and they’re plenty brave.
says this about Vietnam..
GREG: I know you’re hearing a lot of horrible things about what’s going on over there. It couldn’t be further from the truth. You don’t need to worry.
But we do worry, about a lot. “Mystery Date” is a masterful episode, weaving together the multiple story lines with ease, evoking guilt, pleasure, anticipation, excitement, sickness, disgust, and more. It ain’t easy, and it’s not always pretty.
And the ending song over the credits? It’s a song that I’ve long found the absolute creepiest of all girl group songs ever, “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)” by The Crystals. Really creepy, as in it’s difficult to even listen to the whole thing.
It remains to be seen how far Mad Men will go in exploring male violence, in the news, in its characters, and in its institutions, but it’s part of what makes the show worthwhile that they’re willing to broach the subject in more complicated ways than your by-the-book Law & Order formula.
A top notch episode. Unfortunately it’s now time to put down the Bugles, set aside the kitchen knife, and go to work. Another long week until the next Mad Men fix.
AMC first broadcast Season 5, Episode 4 of Mad Men on April 8, 2012.
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