The not-so-subtle unifying theme of the episode was authority—the pleasures of wielding it and of resisting it.
Lou, author of a comic strip about the Good War, whines that the “flag-burning snots” at SC&P are mocking the “very fabric” of Scout’s Honor. Over in Westchester, Betty’s neighbors extrapolate from streetlight vandalism on Peck Avenue to “a national disease—wildness in the kids.” Betty’s chafing at Henry’s controlling attitude, Sally’s warning Bobby that “they’ll never let you out.” Peggy’s trying on her managerial voice as she informs Don that she’s pleased to have him on the team—with her in charge, of course.
Meanwhile, Megan and Don take turns treating Stephanie like a helpless subordinate. Don seems to revel in the opportunity for paternalistic benevolence. I haven’t seen him look happier this season than when he’s reassuring Stephanie that everything will be OK if she just waits for him to take care of it. Don may still be a “member of the faculty” to the stoner creatives around the office (which makes them student protesters?), but his control over his work life is nil—as evidenced by Lou’s near-parental promise to “tuck him in” instead of letting him leave at night. Authority and potency are what Don craves for himself. He’s so obviously pleased to be the dad with pipe and slippers when he tells Megan that he’d “rather keep this a family matter.”
For Megan, down-and-out Stephanie is somehow a threat—but I don’t think she’s a sexual threat, exactly, Willa. When Stephanie waddles out of the bathtub in Megan’s robe, glowing like a “Madonna,” round with fertility, it highlights everything that Megan isn’t—maternal, vulnerable, in need of someone to shield her from the world. I got the sense that Megan took a look at that vision of Stephanie and realized she was exactly the sort of woman that Don, in his heart, most wants to minister to. Thus Megan snapped into manipulative mode, bemoaning the “disorganization” of the situation, pushing Stephanie out of the house and, perhaps, back out of Don’s life.
Julia, I wasn’t disappointed in the plot action this episode. Crikey, there was a severed nipple in a box! But some of the execution in Mad Men lately has, to my eyes, fallen short of its high standards. There was the ham-handed symbolism of the computer crowding out the creatives last week. This episode, Weiner and co. bludgeoned us with the theme of authority. Betty, Don, and Lou all make direct reference to rising insubordination? Stan smokes a joint as he chuckles smugly at a cartoon about the Army? That’s the kind of overkill that would get edited out of Ken Cosgrove’s “Tapping a Maple on a Cold Vermont Morning” before it ever saw print.
A few other moments also left me cold. That was without doubt the most rote threesome I’ve ever seen, complete with “sexy” caravan drumbeat music. I didn’t think the Ginsberg freak-out was set up fantastically—I would have preferred a few more telling bits of foreshadowing that things in his noggin were not at all well. (By the way, do we think the whole incident alluded to Ginsberg’s past as a Holocaust survivor, as some readers have suggested? He’s suspicious of machines that “came for us,” and later Harry Crane makes mention of “the final solution.”)
But most disappointing was Stephanie the runaway flower child. Really, she used a payphone perfectly backgrounded by the iconic Capitol Records building? (Oh, I guess she’s in L.A.!) Really, she said “I’m running out of bread” and ”out of sight” and referred to her “old man”? (Oh, I guess she’s one of those “hippies”!)
Gripes aside, I’m hugely excited to see how this half-season ends. The first LOL of the spring for me came when Lou asked, “You know who had a ridiculous dream and people laughed at him?” and Stan answered, innocently, “You?” Also, Don is making strategic moves again and I couldn’t be more pleased to see him relocate his inner corporate assassin. Lou better watch his back. Finally, poor Bobby is due to catch a break—he seems in danger of reaching nipple-cutting levels of anxiety.
I have a stomachache all the time,
Read all of Slate’s coverage of Mad Men.
TODAY IN SLATE
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How our minds build narratives out of disaster.
The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola
PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer
The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics
A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers
Welcome to 13th Grade!
Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.
The Actual World
“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.