Analyzing Mad Men is simultaneously the hardest, and easiest writing gig in town. The show’s refusal to sacrifice artistry for clarity, and say what it’s really thinking, means you can forget the particulars of a scene or episode very quickly, especially if there’s a lot of agency business acronyms and numbers being thrown around. But so long as you have some sense of what’s going on, there’s nothing stopping you from spinning out your reading of events into an interpretation of the show’s deeper mysteries, so long as there’s a shred of logic to it.
Mad Men has even poked fun at its knack for being so inviting to consider, yet so hard to pin down: in season two’s “The Gold Violin,” office workers trying to express their thoughts on Burt Cooper’s new painting played like a mini-Rorshach test, but all the meditations were turned into a punchline when Burt’s real reason for the purchase is revealed. “That thing should double in value by next Christmas,” he explains with a chortle, and while no one was able to guess why Burt really wanted the painting, that doesn’t necessarily diminish what everyone’s interpretation of the art, and its purpose was.
That being said – guys, I don’t even know where to begin with Mad Men this week, because “The Crash” was a three course meal of nutso, with a side order of eggs served crazy side up. I’m basically a kid in a candy store right now, because not only has the episode given me more jumping off points than the Grand Canyon, but also because measured, beard-stroking analysis is actually less useful than me asking you to answer the question we’re all asking: what the *&^% did we just watch? Seeing as it’s kinda an unwritten rule of TV recapping that your sanity levels are allowed to drop along with that of an episode’s, I’m basically within my rights to tap-dance around any discussion of theme, plot, or character this week, because Weiner went full Twin Peaks-era David Lynch on everyone this week, and it was awesomely terrible, and terribly awesome.
This being Mad Men, there’s still plenty to talk about in terms of what “The Crash” is actually trying to say, but it’s pretty easy to ignore the message when the medium it’s being told through has started hanging out with the bats in the belfry. It’s possible the craziness of this episode was so potent, it somehow created another episode of the show to air before it, because these kinds of “unconventional” antics are usually saved for the seventh episode of every season, and while the Don-minatrix subplot was a little risky last week, it’s textbook Mad Men compared to what we got tonight. Subtext literally became text! Entire acts of the episode could have been written off as a dream sequence! Stan and Peggy made out! Ken turned into the Michigan frog after spending too much time with Chevy!
It sounds like the only logical way we could have gotten to this point is if someone secretly spiked Don’s morning coffee with a couple Guatemalan insanity peppers, but the real answer isn’t all the far off. Cutler brings his doctor into the office, who proceeds to shoot a “complex vitamin superdose” into every other ass cheek in the building, causing all recipients to have a lost weekend of working on new pitches for Chevy. Peggy and Ginsberg are just about the only two people in the office to think getting shot up with an energy serum while on the clock isn’t such a hot idea, which leaves them responsible for putting down on paper all the creative mojo the speed-like snake oil is supposed to inspire. Good thing Don’s there to lend a steady hand…
Oh, wait, sorry, Don’s a little busy tripping balls in the copy room, searching for old ads, and flashbacking hard to his boyhood of eating soup, and making soup while bedbound in his caretaker’s whorehouse. Not one to take losing lightly, Don has been stalking Sylvia, and after a phone call in which she reasserts her unwillingness to be with him, Don’s a bloody wreck. “I’m feeling a lot of emotions too,” he says with all the actual emotion of the cold fish Bert compared him to last week, but after getting rejected again, he starts losing balance of his humors, both emotional and physical. A wheezing, familiar cough gives Don extra incentive to indulge in some peppy tonics, as the passing of Frank Gleeson has many in the office feeling particularly mortal.
Ken, even more so than Don, has every excuse to feel like he wants a little artificial zip added to his life, seeing as, you know, he almost dies in the first minute of the episode. Turns out, the boys over at Chevy really like using their own products when painting the town red, as an unreleased action scene from the game Aaron Staton starred in smash cuts to a frustrated meeting among the CGCSCDP (still no new name) higher-ups, who berate Ken for not convincing Chevy to commit to a campaign the moment he hobbles through the door. Ken is among the few genuinely likeable employees at the agency, so being destroyed by it seems well in line with Mad Men’s general attitude towards earnest optimism and general decency in corporate America (which is a huge reason why it’s so easy to be distrustful of Bob Benson. Speaking of, where was he tonight?).
But at least Ken will always have his backup career as a tap-dancer, in case the whole Chevy thing doesn’t workout. Oh, you didn’t know Ken could bust out some Gene Kelly moves even while relying on a cane? Well, neither did Don, or Peggy, or anyone really, until Matt Weiner thought, “f*ck it, let’s put on a show.” And, boy, do they ever, as the Ken Cosgrove dance line of one adds some Old Hollywood showmanship to a shouting match that would probably get him fired any day his boss wasn’t also hopped up on proto-energy drink. “It’s my job, to be their toy,” Ken lays out for Don, as his little routine is warming up, before launching into a laundry list of humiliations he has to suffer as an accounts man, all while his feet light the linoleum on fire.
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