Mad Men Season 6 Episode 8 Deconstructed

by: L.P. Hanners

The office is swept adrift in a series of massive highs, and crushing lows, in “The Crash”……

What does it feel like to have a vitamin B super-dose, akin to a whopping fix of amphetamines, injected into your gluteus? One that promises to invigorate the creative juices and keep them flowing for a good 48-72 hours easy. I am not entirely sure, but I can only guess that it feels something like watching this week’s episode of Mad Men, entitled “The Crash”. A select few of the employees of SCDPCGC (for now) did just that – took a needle in the hind from a medicine man ((Jim Cutler (played by Harry Hamlin) brought in an unlicensed doctor to inspire the creatives working on the Chevy account. The doctor giving the shots is actually based on a real person, Max Jacobson, whom was nicknamed “Dr.  Feelgood” and administered amphetamines, once to JFK. He lived in Manhattan through the 60’s and 70’s. The shots, or “miracle tissue regenerators”, as they were referred to, were supposedly composed of amphetamines, vitamins, painkillers, and human placenta.)) that left Don flash-backing to his youth, Kenny tap–dancing, Stan bleeding (from the arm, and heart), and all of our heads spinning. This Sunday’s episode of Mad Men was the weirdest to date ((Including “Far and Away Places”, where Roger garnered temporary enlightenment with a little help from some LSD.)), a wild ride that could be described as David Lynch-ian in nature.

The entire episode felt like a dream sequence. Or more aptly put – the episode possessed all the wonderfully poignant confusion of a really intense acid trip. One that is a little bit scary, and where you are not quite sure what is really going on at any given point, but each moment seems easily more weird and interesting than the next, and ultimately far more important. And, just like any productive acid trip, we harvested some previously concealed insight, and we learned a few things amongst all the madness….

Vulnerability spewed from the fatigued office staff like blood from a fresh wound. The enthusiasm for the Chevy account is wavering due to their irrational demands and well-known practice of continuously rejecting initial pitches. Ted is at wit’s end over the account, and is sent over the edge with the passing of his friend and business partner Frank Gleason. Ken Cosgrove’s relentless courting of Chevy hasn’t left him only limping with a cane (The figurative victim of “The Crash.”) but also on the edge of madness as he literally has been tap-dancing for Chevy, appeasing their every whim. Stan, whose vitamin dose rendered him arguably the highest of them all ((Don may beg to differ.)), sought comfort in Peggy’s arms ((Only Mad Men could make the line: “You’ve got a great ass.” sound almost heartfelt.)). Peggy artfully withdraws from Stan’s advances, yet offers him some sound advice: to allow himself to feel his loss, and not bury the pain with sex and drugs ((Is Peggy speaking about her own loss here too, of her son?)). Promptly, Stan does just the opposite and seeks comfort in the arms of the late Frank Gleason’s daughter Wendy ((Played by Alexa Nokolas.)), who earlier in the episode poignantly diagnosed Don’s broken heart ((Wendy appears in Don’s office holding a copy of ‘I Ching’, also known as the Classic of Changes, one of one of the oldest of the Chinese classic texts.)).

Possibly the most vulnerable of all sat young Sally Draper and her brothers who are at home alone. Sally is confronted by a erie home intruder claiming to be kin. If things in the episode weren’t strange enough for you already, enter: “Grandma Ida”, an old black woman who has slipped in to rob the Draper’s declaring to have raised Don. Her creepy faux-charm fools Sally not, but how could she be certain this wasn’t true? She knows so little about her father, like the rest of us, so why couldn’t her dad have had a black nanny he called Grandma Ida ((Prompting Bobby to ask Sally: “Are we negroes?”))?

It was a trying, and confusing episode all around. And no one was put through the ringer more than Don, the centerpiece of this Joan-less episode ((Pete was only in that one scene this week, where he chastises the employee for talking shit about Frank on the day he died. Is that Pete’s new role now, moral compass? The Mad Men universe is strange indeed.)). It eventually appeared as if he had finally found some solid ground to stand upon after three days of drug-induced hallucinations, but the journey was not an easy one. Don has been reeling all season, and now he is dealing with an authentic broken heart ((Who would have thought it? Was it Sylvia’s power to see Don for who he really is also that also illuminated his flame?)). It’s been a month and a half since Sylvia broke the affair off, and Don is still in love with her. In one captivating scene Don finds his way back to Sylvia’s hallway. He quietly knocks yet no one answers and Don, mesmerized by the radio in her kitchen playing “Going Out of My Head” by Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66’, leans in and lustfully dreams about Sylvia.

Soon after, Don is frantically scrambling about the office searching for artwork from an old soup advertisement ((It turns out to be oatmeal.)), where the woman in the ad looks like the prostitute, Amy, who took Don’s virginity as a child. We learn that this woman who aggressively abducted Don’s innocence was soon thrown out of the brothel, and then as if that wasn’t scarring enough for Don, he is then beaten for sleeping with her ((Some of the most telling information we have gotten of Don’s youth thus far.)). This recollection also causes Don to wonder if anyone has ever really loved him, and he realizes that the key to life is certainly not a Chevy, but something else deeper and more meaningful. Jon Hamm mentioned in interviews a few months ago that we would get a deeper glimpse this season into the enigma that is Don Draper, and he was absolutely right. In “The Crash” we gained insight into why his mind is so warped romantically. His greatest sense of comfort, and his personal definition of love, is Amy nursing him back to health and then molesting him. Don connects his loss of innocence to this tender moment.

In “The Crash” we are once again awash with symbolism involving doorways. Don stands on the precipice of Sylvia’s door, exhausting cigarettes hoping that she will give him the opportunity to fix their relationship with one or two preconceived lines. In a moment of clarity Don rallies the troops up with a pep talk – “In my heart, I know that we cannot be defeated, because there is an answer that opens the door.” And ultimately, Don apologies to his daughter for allowing an opportunity for a thief to enter his home as “I left the door open, it’s my fault”.

Although disjointed, full of time lapses and dreamy symbolism of doors and prostitutes and doctors (All hailing back to one of the central themes of the season – the Arnold Rosen quote: “People will do anything to alleviate their anxiety.”), by episode’s end Don eventually crashes from the injection ((Literally, with a thud to the ground.)) and claws his way back into reality, seemingly stronger than before. Possibly Don has decided to close doors that he had left the open, that had left him vulnerable. He shuns Sylvia in the elevator at the end of the episode and then makes it clear to Ted that he’s no longer okay pimping out Joan to Jaguar and Ken to Chevy ((“Every time we get a car this place turns into a whorehouse,”)), and that he is just going to do his job and nothing else. His new colleagues seemed perplexed by his sudden disregard of their most important account. They are finding out the reality of Don Draper: He is not an anchor, and he has no anchor. He is essentially a nomad tethered to nothing. Don’s sentiments at the end of tonight’s episode signal welcome change in priorities by this lost soul. Someway, somehow Don reached a turning point in this episode. Where that leaves us is really anyone’s guess…..

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