After making a “big” comeback in last week’s episode, Betty is nowhere to be seen in this instalment of the Mad Men‘s fifth season. Instead, Joan takes the centre stage for the majority of the episode as her useless husband, Greg, returns from Vietnam. Plus, there are entertaining interludes which make ‘Mystery Date’, directed by somewhat veteran Matt Shakman, one of the most unique episodes of the series so far.
It is the heat of the 1966 Summer, the newspapers and news stations are rife with stories of the Richard Speck murders in Chicago, where 8 nurses were brutally murdered. Don is sick and slightly delirious but continues to work, though illness is not the only thing trying to upset the balance in Don’s life. In the morning, he and Megan bump into Andrea, a freelancer who Don previously slept with a couple of seasons back. She greets him provocatively and raises Megan’s eyebrows, leaving Don with his tail between his legs.
Even though he is clearly unfit for work, Don insists he stays and attends the Butler pitch with Stan and the unruly Ginsberg. It goes well and Ginsberg’s idea sells, but then he proceeds to undermine Don by pitching an alternate idea along the lines of Cinderella, which the Butler executive prefers. This puts Ginsberg in an incredibly dangerous position. He gets sternly told off later despite being the only character this season to make a successful advertising pitch. His power as a copy writer is something to look out for this season.
After this triumph Don returns home but is bothered by Andrea who turns up at his door and then again as he sleeps turns up in his bed. For the first time since his marriage to Megan we think we see Don engage in sex with another woman. Then we get one of the strangest scenes ever in Mad Men history, we engage with the dark side of Don’s psyche where after having sex, a naked Don strangles Andrea to death after she threatens to disturb his marriage further. This turns out to a delirious hallucination but it doesn’t make it any less important. Is this how far Don will go to convince everyone of this marriage?
In the office Peggy is put onto Mohawk by Roger due to his on going power struggle with Pete, she has to write a campaign over a matter of days and that comes at a hefty price. She takes all the money Roger has on him and gets to work. Staying late she discovers Don’s new secretary Dawn sleeping in Don’s office, afeared that something might happen following the Speck murders. So she spends the night on Peggy’s sofa, despite some apprehension on both their parts.
Dawn and Peggy aren’t the only people who are in fear over the murders. In the Francis household, Sally is being babysat by Henry’s domineering and stern mother who refuses to let her see any of the news about it. That doesn’t stop the impetuous Sally though as she finds out for herself, leaving her terrified. But its nothing her step-grandmother’s prescription pills won’t solve.
All that being said, the episode is all about Joan and her relationship with her vile, useless-as-an-asshole-on-your-elbow husband. He has returned from war but his delusions of his own importance (which we as an audience know has been grossly over exaggerated by no one more than himself) lead him to believe that he needs to go back for another year despite his promise that he wouldn’t. Of course we look on what we know now with the Vietnam War, the reaction of the public and look at his insistence on the importance of the war and know he is a fool.
This becomes so much for Joan that she finally comes round to the fact that she can’t deal with all the false promises and a husband who seemingly only cares for his own needs rather than hers and more specifically his baby’s. Of course the baby isn’t his, but he doesn’t know that and he doesn’t care. So after years of us all wishing it, ever since the horrific scene on the office floor in Season 2, Joan moves on and kicks Greg out.
While none of the events of this episode may take us much further it was nonetheless an interesting one, certainly the most bizarre. The dream sequence where Don murders someone is truly disturbing and it takes the show into territory it hasn’t really gone before. As always though the characters are strong and that is what makes Mad Men the best show on television. Each new episode gives us additional dimensions to these already incredibly deep characters and despite a slow start, Mad Men season five already has me gripped.