Last night, everyone at SCDPCGC was on drugs. Salon suggests it was acid, but I’ve never heard of injecting acid intravenously before. However, judging by the shenanigans everyone got up to, it appears I’ve been missing out. Nonetheless, whatever the questionable concoction stewed up by Jim Cutler’s shady Dr. Feelgood, the result was Mad Men‘s most frenetic episode to date.
There are two concepts I’d like to talk about here that were at play in “The Crash.” First, is the doorway. Season six continues to play with the symbol of the door in interesting ways, though it also insists on erring on the side of browbeating the audience. Don is afraid Sylvia will “shut the door” on him, and tells Sally that “he left the door unlocked” and it was his fault Grandma Ida got in.
My favorite instance was Don standing outside Sylvia’s door in the hallway. I loved how they set up the scene of Don listening in, smoking a cigarette next to a pile of ash and butts. I also wonder if the show is stretching this affair a bit too far. Why has Sylvia damaged Don so deeply? Don’s been rejected before, and he’s had more significant secret loves, so what makes Sylvia so special? I wonder if it’s because she was the most maternal of all his mistresses.
After Don takes his “medicine,” he’s lead down the feverish rabbit hole of his memory, retracing the sequence that led to his popped cherry. A young Dick Whitman is suffering from a flu, and his step-mother sends him to the cellar of the whorehouse. Aimee, a prostitute rescues him from his fate and nurses him back to health.
Aimee is thus the Beatrice that saves Don from the underworld. She feeds him soup and takes his v-card. We learn that this moment inspired Don to later create an ad for oatmeal at Sterling Cooper with a mother looking eerily like Aimee feeding a boy soup with a slogan, “Because you know what he needs.” However, when Don’s step-mother finds out, she beats him with a wooden spoon. What sort of sexual persona have these invents conspired to create? Don Draper, of course.
Recall, the similarity between the room wherein Aimee nurses Don and the maid’s room where Sylvia prays for Don. Recall also that Don wanted to shut Sylvia up in a hotel room ala Christian Gery’s “Red Room of Pain.” This use of rooms and doors, and sin and redemption are congruous with Dante’s Inferno, with its many layers and nether regions. Of course, Dante eventually travels through hell up to heaven. Can Don look forward to such a redemption? He did tell Ginsberg and Peggy that he had invented something that transcended advertising.
(This is your office on drugs. Source)
This bleeds into the second concept I wanted to talk about: the duality of intimate care. We see this multiple times through out the episode. As I mentioned earlier, there is Don and Aimee. Also, when Frank Gleason’s hippy daughter puts a stethoscope to Don’s heart, she tries to seduce, but shockingly to no avail. Later, when Peggy nurses Stan’s X-Acto knife injury, he puts the moves to her, also shockingly to no avail (seriously, this is like the first pass since Harry Crane that Peggy has rejected. Stan is at least better than Pete Campbell or Duck Phillips). Luckily for Stan and Wendy, they find each other.
When caring for someone, there is an intimate bond that is formed. Both the giver and receiver are vulnerable in this relationship. It creates a doorway, which can be exploited.
Consider the scenes with Grandma Ida, which I thought were the episode’s most successful. In something out of the brothers Grimm, an intruder invades Don’s apartment to find the Draper children unattended. Sally discovers her looting, but Ida disarms Sally by posing as a maternal figure, there to look out for them.
There’s something so menacing about Ida. You were never quite sure if she was just a smooth talking robber or a psychopath about to cook Sally’s eyeballs with the scrambled eggs. Moreover, within the context of the episode’s drug usage, the whole sequence felt very surreal. It didn’t feel real until Don came home to find the police with Betty, who is now skinny and blond again.
Nonetheless, “The Crash” was a step-backwards from “Man with a Plan,” or “For Immediate Release” for that matter. The plot was moved ahead incrementally and we got some more illumination regarding Don’s history and sexuality, but nothing earth shattering. There were some great moments, like Don standing outside Sylvia’s door, Ken tap-dancing, and the depiction of the liquidity of time while on drugs; but I still feel like this is all familiar territory, just more ham fisted than the more subtle examples we’ve seen in past Mad Men episodes.
I guess what I take away most from this episode is that Don is more lost than ever. He has alienated everyone from Sylvia, Megan, his son, and now Sally after the confrontation with Ida made her realize she knows nothing about her father. Furthermore, when Don comes down from his high, he tells Ted that he’s done with Chevy, because whenever the agency gets a car the “place turns into a whorehouse,” thus alienating his office, too.
What’s Don’s endgame? He continues to back himself into a corner. With only five episodes left, I don’t think there’s enough time for a redemption following a bottoming out. I wonder if this season will conclude with Don’s downfall, and the seventh and final season resulting with him finding some sort of peace.