Mad Men, Season 5

Don's Mystery Date Goes Bad
Talking television.
April 9 2012 12:49 AM

Mad Men, Season 5

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Don's mystery date with his own sex drive.

Mad Men (Season 5)
Dinner with Joan and Greg

Michael Yarish

Hello, gentlemen. Have you met my Mystery Date? You can't tell from his outfit whether he’s going to take me bowling, skiing, or to the beach—or whether he’s a “dud.” The classic board game was featured in tonight’s episode, when Sally and Grandma Pauline saw a (real) commercial for it on TV in the spooky Francis mansion, terrified because they’ve been reading too much about the Richard Speck murders.

Julia Turner Julia Turner

Julia Turner is the editor in chief of Slate and a regular on Slate's Culture Gabfest podcast.

The episode—called “Mystery Date,” and fraught with menace, mutilated nurses, and bodies under beds—was full of unlikely duos. Apart from Sally and Pauline (who needle each other marvelously and are able to get along only when knocked out by Seconal), we had Don and the lusty freelance writer (her name is Andrea, but let’s just call her Hallucinated Libido in Yellow Dress); Peggy and Dawn, who have a very awkward slumber party; and, finally, Joan and her homecoming husband, Greg.

In that last duo, at least, it’s easy to tell who’s the dud. Greg is home from Vietnam for a visit, and at first, the reunion is rosy—until Greg tells Joan he must go back for another year, and Greg’s parents reveal he volunteered for the extra duty. Joan is enraged, and the pair finally have the fight we’ve been waiting for since he raped her in Don’s office years ago. “You can’t make a decision like that without talking to me, and you’ve never understood that,” Joan says. “I’ve got my orders, and you’ve got yours,” Greg retorts. Eventually, she tells him to leave, for good. “You’re not a good man, you never were, even before we were married—and you know what I’m talking about.” Finally, Joan stands up for herself, acknowledging that Greg’s assault—and his general disregard for her desires in all realms—are unacceptable. The episode closes on Joan in bed with her dates for the foreseeable future—baby Kevin and her mom. This was satisfying, no?

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Don ends up on a mystery date with his own sex drive. The episode opens with an awkward encounter—Don and Megan meet an old Don paramour in the elevator. (Not hard to figure out what he did to earn the nickname “my bad penny.”) Megan handles the run-in with her usual perceptive self-assurance. She’s not ruffled or naïve about his conquests; she merely rolls her eyes, says “Incroyable!,” and notes, with a bit of sexual swagger, “You know there are some parts of town where we can run into some people I  'worked with.' " But she also presses Don about his sexual past. “That kind of careless appetite, you can’t blame that on Betty,” Megan asserts. Her comment seems to awaken in Don a fear of his own desires. Feverish, he imagines that Ms. Bad Penny turns up in his apartment, and then that he cheats on Megan, throttles the dame, and stows her body—all but one red stiletto—under the bed.

Were you guys fooled by this plot line? It was unspooled with some ambiguity, but Don’s brow was so feverish—and the likelihood of this random woman tracking down Don’s new address so slight—that it seemed clearly to be a hallucination throughout, which sapped it of suspense. If “it was all a dream” is how the show plans to get around the fact that Don can’t tomcat around anymore, I’ll be disappointed. Mad Men should not be Dallas. But I liked how much it revealed about the Don/Megan dynamic. And his uncertainty the next morning—about where Megan had been the night before, and, perhaps, what he’d said to her in his feverish state—rendered the unease you feel after a nightmare beautifully.

I’ll leave it to you two to discuss Peggy’s bad date with Dawn. In this one, I’m afraid, Peggy was the dud; although she makes a few bumbling efforts at solidarity, she also thinks twice about leaving her purse—with Roger’s bribe in it—out on the coffee table by Dawn’s makeshift bed, and Dawn catches the awful moment of hesitation. I was struck, though, earlier in their chat, by Peggy’s ambivalence about her job. “I try,” she says, “but I don’t know if I have it in me. I don’t know if I want to.”

A few other ongoing trends worth watching: Sally refusing that sandwich; Roger paying people to get his way at work (that $400 for Peggy would be something north of $2,600 today); further indignities (bedwetting!) for Bobby Draper; and, finally, Michael Ginsburg being the only one at SCDP who’s bringing the hustle. What did you guys make of his dark Cinderella pitch?

Don’t get rickets in that haunted mansion,

Julia


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