Happy Father's Day Don Draper! You're a monster! During the penultimate episode of Mad Men's sixth season, Don celebrated the joys of parenting by curling up in the fetal position as often as he could get away with. I might do a supercut of this episode that's just 50 minutes of Don lying in the fetal position interspersed with the part where he pretends to be a crying baby. WAHHHHH! WAHHHHH! I WANT A SUNKIST WITH VODKA! Just like a baby. Don's schedule is always jam-packed with drinks and naps, broken up by the occasional window-rattling tantrum.
"Thought I knew where I stood with you, I was mistaken. I thought I knew where your head was, I was wrong. I do all of the giving, you're just taking. And a one-way conversation can't last long. Communication, baby, what went wrong?" —Paul Revere & The Raiders, 1968 ("Communication Part 1 & 2")
Well, now we finally have the answer to this season's big mystery; Sally is an ass man! Don Draper's daughter has inherited both his eye for detail and his awesome coping skills, which involve dealing with trauma by lying face-down and feebly trying to block out the world. Not all surprises are bad, but tragedy usually happens unexpectedly. Things were going almost swimmingly until the episode's life-altering last few moments, which somehow didn't culminate in one of Mad Men's patented stress vomits, although Sylvia Rosen's punching the bed came close. Megan's chipper demeanor after the irrevocably disturbing incident made it all the more surreal as Sally found herself with a flash understanding of why Betty was so miserable in her marriage to Don.
"If any of you are secret poets, the best way to break into print is to run for the presidency."
—Eugene McCarthy, 1968
The late ’60s weren't all assassinations, bad trips, and riots. Some of the trips were actually pretty great. Don's occasional trips to Los Angeles are a fan favorite, usually serving as a broadening respite from the chaos of his New York life. Compared to the depressing, dread-soaked tone of the rest of Season 6, this episode was positively uplifting. Sure, Don almost drowned and the California business trip was a bust, but Peggy helped Joan and Pete Campbell got high!
If Don Draper were alive today, he’d be 87 years old. Roger Sterling would be 96. Pete would be 79, Peggy would be 74, Joan would be 82, and Megan would be 73, but the likelihood that all of them would have survived after years in the smoky, boozy pressure cooker of SCDP (and its permutations) is slim. A show with so many characters, spanning such a broad swath of past decades, is bound to incur some casualties. There’s something ominous about Mad Men and its internal clock: Even without the jumping-off point, there’s nothing like children zooming past puberty, peeling mod wallpaper, and fringe characters battling cancer to remind you that we all must die. The question isn’t if, it’s how, and whether or not we’ll be there when it happens. Sneakily secretive Matthew Weiner loves leading us down false paths (remember when we all thought Pete Campbell was a goner in Season 5?), but in this Room 237 world in which we live in, the Internet is now convinced that Megan Draper is Sharon Tate, a fellow actress and wife of a philanderer, and she’s fixin’ to get murdered.
It started out with the best of intentions, and ended with a stabbing. I'm talking about the '60s, of course, but also Peggy's relationship with Abe. The merger is looking increasingly like a war over Peggy of Troy, but Peggy recognizes that no war is worth its weight in bloodshed. The chaos at SCDPCGC benefits neither Don nor Ted. It really only hurts the company. Peggy wasn't just trying to be diplomatic telling Ted and Don their ideas are equivalent. It was a no-win situation. No matter who she backs, it will piss off her other father figure. She can't please one without angering the other, and she can't possibly satisfy them both. Ted greases her up while Don dresses her down, but neither one of them talks to her on her actual level. They tell her they care what she thinks, but they won't show her they believe that.
"This is no dream! This is really happening!"
— Rosemary Woodhouse, Rosemary's Baby, 1968
Speed is no joke. I should know, I get spracked on green tea and Coca-Cola every Sunday night to stay up and write these recaps until dawn. Sometimes I find myself staring in the mirror at my sweaty reflection, unable to recognize my own face, muttering to myself "Who is Dick Whitman anyway? Why is he such a controlling pervert? Does Ken Cosgrove know how to tap dance? How dangerous is it exactly to play William Tell with X-Acto knives?" Lately I've been fantasizing about setting Don up with Julia Louis-Dreyfus's Veep character, Selina Meyer. It would be a fair fight. We now know that Don's fetish for loudmouth brunettes who put him in his place was probably implanted in his cortex by the hooker with a heart of gold who relieved him of his virginity without his consent at The House of the Rising Backstory.
“Is growin' up always miserable?" Sonny asked. "Nobody seems to enjoy it much."
"Oh, it ain't necessarily miserable," Sam replied. "About 80 percent of the time, I guess."
— Larry McMurtry, The Last Picture Show
Everyone is mysterious when you're first getting to know them. You have to peel back layer after layer of false front before you hit any oil. Social personalities are mostly misdirection. It takes forever to find out what anyone's really all about. You learn to differentiate between what someone says they believe and their actual beliefs; between what they say they're going to do and what they do. We are often mysterious to ourselves. Every human being is steered by several stars. Inside each person are a naive sailor, a seasoned captain, a scientist, the girl next door, a foxy redhead, a millionaire, and his wife. We contain multitudes.
Margarine will never be butter. But it can only really be compared to butter, and butter will always win.
"Sky pilot, how high can you fly? You'll never, never, never reach the sky." —Eric Burdon & the Animals ("Sky Pilot," spring of 1968)
I know it can be annoying to see GIFs loop during a post, but it's impossible to get tired of watching Pete Campbell fall down the stairs. Do you like when his butt hits the step and then scoots him down one more step, like a final apple bonking him on the head before rolling into a pig's open mouth? This is a really well-executed pratfall; it almost looks like a real accident. Pete has reason to be all pent-up. Trudy insists on pretending to the world that the Campbells' marriage is fine, but she won't do the horizontal Charleston with him anymore. Pete is actively keeping the secret that the company is about to go public, and he doesn't understand that an honest compliment about Joan's flawless paperwork skills is much more important to her than some dude she would never touch wanting to bone her. It crosses the mind that Pete and Joan are both technically single and could hook up, but Joan wisely passes on that final nightcap. Like Pete could ever handle that little red Corvette. He barely knows how to drive!
"The Forbidden Zone was once a paradise. Your breed made a desert of it, ages ago." — Dr. Zaius, Planet of the Apes
In the wake of a horrible tragedy, traditional comforts don't always work. Things that usually make you feel better might make you feel bad or, worse, entirely disconnected. Television shows that were comfortingly absurd are suddenly jarringly unreal. All food becomes tasteless. Awards become meaningless. The usual Marxist bullshit can no longer blunt emotions about how terrible the world really is. Disasters tear open the screens put in place to protect us from horror and fear. All the other hungers and lusts are replaced with just one need: more information. After an unjust death, there can be no true satisfaction or closure. Just new facts, and an agonizing desire for more of them.
"We deplore the encouragement of an American myth that oppresses men as well as women: the win-or-you're-worthless competitive disease. The 'beauty contest' creates only one winner to be 'used' and forty-nine losers who are 'useless.'" — Robin Morgan ("No More Miss America," August 1968)
H.J. Heinz is the largest manufacturer of ketchup on the planet, so popular that its bottle has been the sauce's genericized trademark for over a century, but that doesn't mean the company is infallible. No company is. Remember the "Blastin' Green" and "Funky Purple" EZ Squirt disaster of '00? Somebody once stood in a room and pitched Heinz crazy-colored ketchup as the future of food, and Heinz listened to them. The squeeze bottle was even specifically designed with a narrow nozzle, all the better to draw pseudoplastic ketchup squiggles likes the ones Don rhapsodizes about to Stan. In a 2001 press release, Heinz's VP of marketing promised purple ketchup's success, claiming "Just look at kids' entertainment, and you'll find everything from purple computers to Harry Potter purple lightning bolts. Purple is a bold, fun color that brings a hint of mystery and magic to kids' condiment creations." Although the novelty sold well initially, Heinz's colored ketchups were quickly considered a huge flop, a failed attempt at forward-thinking rebranding on the level of New Coke or Crystal Pepsi. By 2006 they'd been shelved.
[Previously on Mad Men Power Rankings: Don despoils Lindsay Weir ... Peggy gives the copywriters a meatball sub ... Beards and sideburns ... Betty goes brunette ... Roger's mom really loved him.]
1. Don Draper (Last week: 1)
"That was the deftest self-immolation I've ever seen," Roger told Don after he doused himself in gasoline, lit a match, and gave a vigorous bear hug to Herb Rennet's plan to carjack Jaguar's national ad budget for his local dealership. But as entertainingly flame-engulfed as Don's sabotage was — he did everything to steer the campaign fatally down-market but pitch a buy-one-get-one-free offer for northern New Jersey's most upwardly mobile sanitation engineers — it couldn't hold a flickering Zippo's worth of heat to Draper's torching of his personal life. The situation with Sylvia has gotten so irresponsibly combustible that we're probably just a week away from the two of them stumbling into the Draper living room in a furniture-torching bout of extramarital passion and asking Megan if she wouldn't mind fetching them an asbestos blanket. (You know how Don feels about dirtying up a pristine carpet.)
"Someday someone who loves you / Will make you cry / Though he loves you he'll hurt you / Till you feel you could die / But if he says forgive me / Forgive if you can / For you are his woman / And he is your man" — Vicki Carr ("The Lesson," 1968)
In his 1964 book Understanding Media, Canadian theorist Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase "the medium is the message" — theorizing, roughly, that the way an idea is presented is almost as important as the idea itself. By 1967, McLuhan had incorporated his own theory into the work and released The Medium Is the Massage, a slim, 160-page volume that restated his major points about the effects of mixing media formats by pairing them with attention-grabbing artwork from graphic designer Quentin Fiore. Fiore's style incorporated text and visually arresting images with collage, turning McLuhan's conjectures into slogans, helping the writer along as he suggests that mass media can be used to disperse profound ideas. The book — which practiced what it preached down to the title pun — was a bestseller and became influential in the developing field of media theory. While McLuhan's work briefly fell out of favor in the ’70s, it was critically revived with the arrival of in-home Internet.
"Frank Sinatra, holding a glass of bourbon in one hand and a cigarette in the other, stood in a dark corner of the bar between two attractive but fading blondes who sat waiting for him to say something." — "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,"Esquire, 1966
Don Draper has a toothache. It's a symbolic ailment, representing the aging of his once sublime body — of which he's always taken poor care — and his ever-present stubbornness about recognizing that his physical actions have repercussions. For a guy always advising people to reinvent themselves, Don sure is path dependent. When Don first shoved his fingers in his mouth I assumed he was either trying to make himself throw up after a rough night or reenacting some sense memory of a time Megan shoved her fingers in his mouth while they were carpet-banging. But no, it's just a regular, old-man tooth problem.
Pete Campbell's sleazy commuter buddy brings his wife, Beth, around Pete again, not realizing he's helping set himself up to get cuckolded some more. Beth is off to the smoking car and then her sister's apartment; Pete fondles her silk scarf lest we worry he had lost any of his creep factor. In the still very-much-operational elevator, Harry pesters Joan about the potential new office space upstairs. Don gets out of the elevator and sees a ginger getting in who looks just like his dead brother, Adam, the one who hanged himself after Don refused to acknowledge him as kin.
"The moment was so prolonged that it would have taken but little more to make me doubt if even I were in life." — Henry James, The Turn of the Screw
Mad Men, like sports finals, can be unbearably tense. The dread is magnetic, pulling you in closer to the screen while you beg for something like a joke to break the spell and help you shake the feeling that something truly horrible is going to happen. Lane's suicide was cut with a very dark laugh — the Jaguar his wife bought him not working as he tried to use it to poison himself. He moved on to the more efficient — if no less grisly — method of hanging. From the second Joan opened the door and encountered the smell, there was the question of whether we would get to see Lane's dead body — the long tease as the characters peeked over the cubicle walls to view something the audience couldn't, coaxing us into admitting that we want to gawk at the corpse, and then punishing us by granting us that wish.