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Worldly Distractions: Mad Men 6.8 - The Crash





Ooh, scary title. Is this going to be exactly like Signal 30 last season, where we all thought someone was going to die and it turned out Pete was just learning to drive? STOP DOING THAT TO US, WEINER.

Previously on reminds us that: Don and Sylvia shagged in the hotel room, they then broke up, Megan is famous, Frank Gleason’s dying, the merger happened, Peggy’s hot for Chaough. Opening credits. Weiner co-writes (awesome!), Michael Uppendahl directs.

Surrounded by what looks like a bunch of drunken executives, Ken Cosgroves drives a speeding car down a crowded road. Though he’s clearly terrified, the guys egg him on to go faster. One of them holds a gun to Ken’s head. Suddenly, hands come up and cover Ken’s eyes. It’s all a laugh, to them. Ken lets go of the steering wheel. Tires screech. That’s the crash, I presume?

Don stands in the hallway outside the Rosens’ apartment. Sylvia’s talking inside. After a moment, Don walks away. We catch up with him, Ted, Cutler (?) and Roger at work. Everybody’s exhausted. They eat sandwiches and discuss business. Ken stumbles in with a cane and bruised-up face, apologizing for being late and letting them know that “there’s no newsâ€. Sounds like one of the execs got badly banged up or something. Anyway, the Chevy guys didn’t like the presentation (this was before they almost got Ken killed). They’re screwed. Don’s super pissed off with Ken, Roger tries to calm everyone down. From what it sounds like, Chevy has been running the creative department ragged for weeks. Furthermore, as Ken shows them, they’ve given him three years’ worth of deadlines planned for the future. It’s going to be an unholy mess from now on. Don says they can’t possibly live like that for the duration.

Just then, Ted gets an important phone call that sounds really secret. Ooooh. The actor who plays Ted does a great job of looking tired. Dawn comes in. After Don tells her to get the materials ready for working all weekend, she manages to let him know that Dr. Rosen is on the phone. Don decides to take the call, officially making himself fucked. However, it’s Sylvia, telling him not to hang out in the hallway eavesdropping on her anymore like a creeper. Arnold thinks Don’s cigarette butts are hers, though she doesn’t smoke. He says he wants to see her again. Real smooth, buddy. She’s scared she’ll spill the beans, and wants Don out – they got away with it, it’s done, bye. He doesn’t get it. She wonders how she ever trusted him. Don’t we all, Sylvia, don’t we all. Don assures her he’s “feeling a lot of emotionsâ€. So unconvincing. Sylvia hangs up and he is left spluttering. One reaps what one sows, I guess.

He goes into a tantrum and knocks things off his desk. Dawn buzzes him to asks if everything’s okay, which he assures her it is. DO NOT SHAG HER DON, SHE IS THE ONLY NICE PERSON ON THIS SHOW. He then tells her that he’s taking a nap. For a second it looks like he’s going to cry, but no, he’s coughing. Could the famed Lung Cancer be finally catching up with him?

This prompts a Dick Whitman Flashback, where we notice him coughing in the whorehouse. Abigail tells the hookers to back away, then puts Dick in the cellar where he won’t infect the entire place. We are introduced to a prostitute named Aimee, who appears to have taken a liking to Dick.

The memory is interrupted by Dawn buzzing for Mr. Draper to ask if he needs water. Seriously, don’t let this one go, Don.

Sally gets her brothers ready to go somewhere. Bobby is being uncooperative and won’t help Gene (a ginormous five-year-old, by the way) pack up. Betty, who appears to have abandoned the “Governor’s Wife†look for something more modern – she is rocking that red-and-white number – comes in to take the kids to their dad’s. She notices Sally’s short skirt and quickly figures out that it came from Megan – or rather, the babysitting money that Sally gets paid when she has to watch her brothers. She’s not thrilled about her daughter being “a hired handâ€. Kiernan Shipka has had the most dramatic change between seasons five and six, I think. She is truly a teenager now. Remember little Thally of Season 1? Not a trace of her remains. It’s so weird to watch a child star grow up. But better than the eight dozen Bobbys, I guess.

Back at the office, Dawn interrupts Don’s nap to tell him Mr. Cutler is waiting. She also cleans up his trashed office. Draper, you are so so lucky here. He leaves his office to find Cutler talking about a funeral. Old Gleason has kicked the bucket, and SCDPCGC or whatever it’s called is now in mourning. The execs now won’t be available because they have to be tied up with arrangements. Peggy’s left to help the creatives, though she also wants to attend the funeral. At Don’s condolences, Ted says that Gleason cannot be replaced, kind of pointedly or is that just my imagination? Cutler, who is cute and energetic and Harry Hamlin and ohmigod let’s keep him on the show, mentions that he has brought his doctor in (presumably to look at Ken, which he mentioned before) and now wants Don to have a checkup. Oh, boy. “Don, you are suffering from severe bigheadedness and a general lack of talent at happy existence.†Stan and Roger, who are also lined up for the doctor, offer their condolences. Stan comments that he doesn’t feel a thing and Ken, exiting the office, says it takes a minute. Did everyone get exposed to the same STD or something?

Don goes in and meets Dr. Hecht, who is giving the entire crew his “energy serum†(translation: speed) to relieve their exhaustion. Great. Well, know we know why Cutler was so hyperactive. Madison Avenue too tough for you? Drug yourself up for maximum effect! He calls it some kind of combination of vitamins with “a mild stimulantâ€. Bull-SHIT. This attitude is confirmed when the doctor has to make sure that Don has no heart problems, and furthermore when he explains that the drug will give him 24-72 hours of “uninterrupted creative focusâ€. So that’s what they’re calling it now? With some hesitation, Don drops his pants and takes the shot. Sadly, we only get to see the front view as he bends over his desk. Come on, Weiner, you know what we want. While Don is getting injected, the doctor wonders what they’re going to call the agency. FINALLY, someone attends to this very important question. He jokingly suggests SCDPCGC. What? I think it’s a great name. Don merely looks pensive in his best Don Draper fashion.

He exits the doctor’s office to find Cutler and Stan running around like five-year-olds after a few Pixie Sticks, jumping furniture and challenging each other to races. Man, if this is what Don’s going to be like in a few minutes, that will be awesome. (By the way – where the hell are Joan and Pete and why aren’t they invited to Speedfest?) Roger, who has had umpteen heart attacks, tries to tell the doctor about this but instead gets a “Don’t worry about it†and a shot to the rear. Normally I would be pretty worried, except for this sneaking suspicion I have that Roger Sterling is actually immortal. Increasingly manic, the executives and creatives split up to begin their Excellent Adventures.

On the stairs, as the speed is beginning to hit, Don starts coughing so hard that he looks like he might keel over. He catches a glimpse of Peggy comforting Chaough through an office door. It’s kind of sweet.

We flash back to Dick walking through the whorehouse with his bedroll, about to be exiled to the Quarantine Basement. Aimee the Hooker takes pity on him and invites him into her room. She asks him to sit down and breathe deep. He notices a picture of a baby, and when she says it isn’t her, we are left to guess that it’s an illegitimate child. She tells him that he has a chest cold – she’s seen too many cases of consumption to mistake it for anything else. Since his “mother†is a lousy parent, Aimee gives him a place to recover in her bed.

Cut back to Don in 1968, watching Peggy and Ted. Ted’s secretary closes the door and gives him a pointed glare. She asks “Can I help you?†His response is “Do we know each other?†Since they run into each other every day, she is really confused. She repeats her question. He clarifies that he meant from somewhere else, which she denies. The camera emphasizes her lips here. Presumably they look like Aimee’s? Anyway, Don is now in a condition known as “high off his titsâ€, wearing that crooked smile he only gets after some substance abuse, so he gives her one last look and hightails it to his office. Probably your best bet, son.

Peggy and Ginsberg try to run a brainstorming session, but as Stan and one of the CGC copywriters are off in another world, it keeps getting interrupted. We learn Cutler has been taken to hospital for some sort of heart issue. Like we didn’t see that one coming. As they talk about car slogans, the CGC copywriter wonders what kind of family would just up and buy their son a car. Pete walks through at that moment (ha ha) and mentions Gleason. When one of the copywriters says something flippant, he gets right back on the high horse. That’s the Pete we know! “I hate how dying makes saints out of people,†says the copywriter, along with some other evidence that perhaps Gleason wasn’t the nicest boss. Pete remarks that he’s certainly gone to a better place. Meanwhile, Stan keeps spouting silly taglines (which he trades off with the CGC guy) and dissing Ginsberg’s. Of course sober people can’t write copy.

Late that night, Don shuffles through magazines at hyperspeed, scattering paper everywhere. Dawn lets him know that Ken’s waiting. They engage in speed-talk, raving about their new abilities and going on about how amazing the campaigns are going to be. Hey, Ken’s foot even feels better! In fact, he’s tap-dancing and waving his cane. He rants about the unique demands of advertising in a scene that appears reminiscent of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. He then tapdances away, leaving Don and Dawn stunned. I’m sure the GIF will be on Tumblr in thirty seconds flat.

Meanwhile, Stan and CGC-guy are engaging in stoner talk themselves, much to the mixed amusement and horror of Peggy and Ginsberg. They try to get things on topic, but Don and Ken keep running by and interrupting them. Man, this agency hasn’t had as much fun since Ida Blankenship keeled over at her phone. Don comes in, asks how they’re doing, and tells them that they’re all feeling the darkness within. Peggy’s eyes get so big I think they might fall out. Stan seems to understand him perfectly, though. Peggy asks if he actually has an idea. Nope, but there’s more than enough going on to keep them busy.

Don runs off and we go to Flashback Time. Dick coughs up a lung, practically. Aimee cares for him with great diligence - she feeds him broth and gives him a chance to stare at her ample bosom. What a good nurse. Back in the present, Don gets a grin on his face that lets us know they totally ended up shagging. And then – he gets the idea. Three cheers for speed!

He goes back to the copywriters’ room – only to find out that it’s the next day. In fact, the funeral’s over (Peggy’s in black), so it might be more than that. Keep in mind he didn’t move in the hallway. He didn’t sleep for so much as four seconds. Some hippie chick named Wendy has joined the copywriters, where she is predicting their futures by flipping a set of special coins. (Harry knows her. Let’s not think about that.) We see a book labelled I Ching. She prompts Don to ask a question, though it can be in his mind if he wants. That’s just what he does. He asks Peggy, who looks a lot like Jackie Kennedy in her mourning outfit, if she knows where he can find soup. I love the way they framed Elizabeth Moss in this shot, though I’m not sure how to describe it. One copywriter suggests that he go to a deli. Ginsberg thinks he’s talking about an account that doesn’t exist. Apparently he’s been bothering them throughout the high about a soup account from pre-Peggy Sterling Cooper days. Stan comes in to tell them he’s found 666 taglines. We then establish that it’s Saturday, Don has missed several days, and Peggy really thinks he should lie down. He sends her on a mission to look through the 58/59 archives for soup, claiming that it will “crack this thing openâ€. “You see the mess you made?†Peggy angrily asks Cutler once Don leaves. Now to hear from the non-lunatics in the gallery (are there any?).

Don comes back to his office, only to find that Dawn isn’t there, presumably because it’s some ungodly hour. Wendy the hippie is sitting on his couch, as he has apparently promised her a drink (we all know what that means). She casts the coins again. When he asks her to stop, she calls him uptight, to which he says he’s just “on a deadlineâ€. Because, you know, he hasn’t wasted several days being ridiculously high. Wendy has poached a stethoscope from one of the offices, and she approaches him with it suggesting that they “get it onâ€. I just love this show’s surreal episodes. The one where Roger took LSD, the one where Betty was high off childbirth anesthetic, the one where Don got whisked away by the Jet Set...ah, what a weird and wonderful world you’ve created, Weiner. Anyway, Don says he’s on a deadline, which prompts her to say that his question was “Does someone love me?†He asks how she knows. She claims it’s what everyone asks. Upon listening to his heart, she claims it’s broken. “You can hear that?†he asks, suddenly highly vulnerable. Perfect delivery from Hamm. No, turns out the stethoscope’s broken – she can’t hear anything. Oops. He begs her to go, which she does, then stares off into space.

The Draper kids sit at home watching TV. The phone rings. It’s Don demanding to talk to Megan. I wonder what they’ve seen in the past few days? It’s a tribute to Don’s – er – excellent parenting that none of the kids seem perturbed in the slightest. Megan asks him where he’s been. She has to leave. Don claims he still needs to work.  She imagines that he must be exhausted from his long hours. Oh, if you only knew. Desperate, Megan suggests that Sally “earn some boots to go with that skirtâ€. Bobby protests, but the decision is made.  She’s off to an important meeting with some producers at a play. Sally can just make them spaghetti or something. You can see Megan learned parenting at the School of Don.

Ginsberg, CGC guy, Peggy (who is wasted) and another creative have lined up to throw X-acto knives at a picture of an apple taped over Stan’s head, William Tell-style. This is just – a really, really fabulous idea, guys, especially in your present condition. Have I stumbled into a Dali and Bunuel film by mistake? Because this episode makes no flippin’ sense, and I LOVE it. Ginsberg takes the first throw. Unfortunately, Stan throws up his arm to protect his face at exactly the wrong moment, and ends up with the X-acto embedded to the hilt halfway up his forearm. Ladies and gentlemen, Darwin in action. Stan’s bleeding all over the place, Peggy is grossed out. She wraps the cut in newspaper and drags him off to wash it. The creatives continue the knife-throwing, proving that Ginsberg is more of a menace sober than the rest of them are drunk.

Don lingers outside the Rosens’ door, knocking gently. He is immediately entranced by the music on the radio inside. No one answers.

In her office, Peggy bandages Stan. He compliments her on her bedside manner. He winds up kissing her a couple of times. She asks him to stop, protesting that she has a boyfriend. They kiss again anyway – and she doesn’t appear to be complaining. Soon she goes back for more – but changes her mind and stops. Stan complains that he “needs thisâ€, then confesses that his cousin was recently killed in action at the age of twenty. They sit on the desk and talk about what happened. He says his aunt sent sixteen letters his cousin never saw. Peggy offers her condolences. He puts his hand on her knee – and she places hers on top. She says “I’ve had loss in my life. You have to let yourself feel it.†Everyone knows exactly what she’s talking about. Drugs and sex won’t get him through, she tells him. He claims they’re different.  Peggy suggests that they go, and turns to leave – upon which he tells her that she has a great ass. She takes it seriously, though, and thanks him. She walks away. All in all, a much more powerful moment than the one I describe here, just the way Mad Men always manages to transform the banal. Well, between Ted and Stan, it looks like Abe is soon to be toast. Sorry, buddy, you were too nice to stay on this show. Maybe you should hook up with Dawn?

Sally lies in bed reading Rosemary’s Baby when she hears a strange sound. Getting up to investigate, she finds an unfamiliar woman rummaging through the apartment. She tries to get Sally to go back to bed, but the kid demands to know why she’s there. The woman claims she’s Grandma Ida, visiting – but since she’s African-American, Sally does not buy this. Grandma Ida claims she raised Sally’s dad, which isn’t so far-fetched since half of Pennsylvania appears to have raised Don at some point, but still, chances she’s some kind of weird burglar? About 99.9%. She claims she was a surprise visitor. Sally is way smarter than this and doesn’t believe her at all. The old lady invites Sally to give her a hug, and gets mad when Sally hesitates. She then suggests that she fix Sally some eggs, but not before Sally tells her who else is in the house. However, when Grandma Ida says that the apartment is owned by Mr. Donald Draper (courtesy of the Manhattan phone book?), Sally’s defenses are breached. She goes up and reluctantly hugs Crazy Lady. As she goes to make eggs, Crazy Lady collects dirt on the Draper family. Sally’s dad is still handsome, her mom is still a piece of work, and only the little brothers are home. You know, information that could apply to about a million families. Sally even gives her name. Don, Betty, you need to go through Stranger Danger with this kid.

Back at the office, Don rummages through years of work, including the Hilton ad and Heinz beans. He finds one for Granger’s Oatmeal, which looks pretty old – and the lady looks rather like Aimee. Flashback time! “Dream a Little Dream of Me†plays while Aimee does her makeup and Dick lies in bed. The fever has broken, and they start chatting. The chatting quickly becomes flirting, and before we know it she’s climbed into bed with him. He protests a little, but is a) physically weak and B) a heterosexual teenaged boy, so it’s not really very effective. She asks if wants to know what the fuss is all about. There goes the short-lived Virginity of Draper – the kid is, like, thirteen or fourteen. Suddenly that oatmeal ad looks about a hundred times creepier. Back in 1968, Don looks at the ad fondly.

Grandma Ida is rummaging through the apartment, claiming she needs to hide all the presents she bought for the kids. Riiiight. Sally’s alarms are raised. Bobby wakes up and wants to know what the hell’s going on. Sally tells him that it’s Grandma Ida. To recount, the Draper kids’ grandmothers are a) dead prostitutes, B) dead Mainline women, c) dead Pennsylvania housewives, and d) very much alive French-Canadian faculty wives. So naturally the kid’s a tad confused. Grandma Ida asks where the gold watch is that she totally gave Don years and years ago. Sally’s not that stupid, but I’m a little more doubtful about Bobby. Sure enough, he immediately pipes up that Don keeps his watches in the drawer by the bed. THANK YOU, Bobby, you should guide her to Megan’s jewelry while you’re at it. While Bobby asks “Are we Negroes?†(such a bright and inquisitive child), Sally sensibly calls the police. Unfortunately, Grandma Ida grabs the phone from her and claims she was playing a joke. Since nobody believes a child, Sally’s call gets nowhere. And then Grandma Ida gets angry. She says that they should go to bed or else while she goes out to “get some airâ€. As soon as she’s gone, Sally leaves the room while Bobby shows a keen survival instinct by turning on the TV. Okay, WTF?

Don is still at work and presumably still high, banging away at his typewriter. He thinks he’s hit on the idea (which mostly sounds like gibberish) and shouts for Peggy. Er, it’s the middle of the night. Nonetheless, his loyal copywriter minions are still there. Don orders Peggy and Ginsberg to gather everyone together, but changes his mind and shows off to the two of them instead. He presents the oatmeal ad to a confused Peggy, then launches into the pitch. Blathering on about the history that holds people together, a sort of collective consciousness that will apparently revolutionize advertising, he succeeds only in getting weird looks from his underlings. He elaborates. Ads are composed of entertainment and a message, and in order to hold the audience, they have to get their foot in the door. Ginsberg starts with the prospect of solving all of life’s problems, and triumphantly concludes that the answer is a Chevy. Don disagrees with the last part, saying that the answer is something else. Peggy asks if he’s worked on Chevy at all in the past three days. Don dodges the question and leaves. If you guys are confused reading this, well, I’m confused too. As are Peggy and Ginsberg.

Fortunately, Peggy pulls herself together and follows Don, showing the same instinct that she had back in “The Suitcase†(which for my money is still the show’s best episode). However, she is interrupted on the way by Cutler, who points into an office. Through the open door, they can see Stan and Wendy the Hippie going at it like rabbits. Charming. Peggy looks more exasperated than anything else. She declares that she’s going home. Hey, Pegs, you chose this profession, don’t look at us.

Don goes back to his apartment, where he tells himself to convince Megan he’s going for cigarettes, then knock on Sylvia’s door. Will he find Grandma Ida or Megan? Either way this should be interesting. He also repeats the pitch to himself incessantly. Want to bet he just finds sleeping kids?

And the answer is Door #2, with the bonus of Henry, Betty and two police officers. The Drapers have been robbed, the kids are scared, and Betty is pissed off. Don, of course, is fucked once again. Apparently the woman managed to rob several apartments, and the police have recovered some of the items. Betty condemns them for leaving the kids, basically calling Megan an actress whore and Don an irresponsible liar masquerading as a workaholic. Well, one of those is right. Henry tries to calm the situation down like the admirable guy he is. Oh, Henry, when will you realize that making sense of Drapertopia is utterly futile? Betty yells, the police assure her it could have happened to anyone, Megan apologizes, and Sally says she wants to go home – whereupon Don passes out.

Back at the whorehouse, Aimee is fighting with Uncle Mack because she’s been holding out on her favours. She ends up kicked out of the house, whereupon she offers five dollars for taking Dick Whitman’s cherry. Uh-oh. Immediately Abigail starts beating her errant son with a wooden spoon, Aimee is tossed onto the street, and the other prostitutes look on in horror. Abigail shrieks about trash and how she gave this boy a home and disgrace.

Don wakes up with a start. Someone has put him to bed. Faithful Megan is next to him. She says that the situation would have been enough to make anyone faint. No suspicion of drugs? Megan, did you even grow up in Montreal? She says she overburdened Sally and apologizes for what happened. Don stares into space, looking like he’s going to cry.

Dressed for work, he gets into the elevator. A few floors down, Sylvia joins him. She can’t fault him for taking the elevator in his own building – this is what you signed up for when you had the affair, lady. She gets on without a word and asks how he is, to which he replies “Busy.†An awkward elevator ride ensues. It drags out in the most excellent manner. At work, he calls Sally, who is reluctant to get on the phone. Good old Henry makes sure she does. He tells her he’s okay. Sally tells him she’s embarrassed, to which he replies that the woman must have fooled many adults. Sally’s response is that she doesn’t know anything about him, which brings on the famous Don Draper Impassive Stare. He should trademark that thing. As she’s about to hang up, he confesses he left the door open – a revelation and apology all in one. It’s his fault – not hers. She accepts this. Don stares.

Don and Cutler walk into Ted’s office, where the latter berates them for bringing “Frank’s little girl†to the office. Yup, Wendy the Hippie is Wendy Gleason, daughter of the recently deceased ad exec. Whoops. Cutler protests that he saved her from the Big Bad Village. No dice. Mrs Gleason is pissed and Ted wants to know what the hell happened this weekend, especially since there’s a pile of gibberish work on his desk. Heh, Ted, you’ll love this story. Don apologizes and says he’ll continue on Chevy as creative director. “Call me in 1970 when they’re ready to make an ad,†he says. Ted flips out, Don sticks to his guns. “Every time we get a car this place turns into a whorehouse.†BOOM. Wow, that basically sums up the series right there. He drops the figurative mic and walks out, looking like a Western hero and leaving Ted and Cutler terribly confused. Up with the end credits.

This was one of the richest episodes of the season, even if not much happened. The speed trip was absolutely inspired, treading new ground even as we’ve experienced drugs several times. Mad Men has done some of its strongest work probing the weird. This time, they’ve topped themselves. I think this episode will go down as one of the season’s best. Familiar ground taken to new heights – truly the mark of a television series that keeps getting better. Next week – “The Better Half.†Until then, I’ve got to go – gibberish work calls me. Tune in next time for more insane yet profound adventures.

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