So much for the Mad Men fans who think this season’s been short on action. Tired of dream sequences and dance routines? Try Episode 6: Gore! Mayhem! So much blood they had to use a squeegee!
I loved it. Mad Men’s been mining dark territory lately—sexism, death, racism, homophobia—and despite the violence, the tractor scene was a pure lark. (The episode’s punning title, “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency,” underscores just how disposable the charismatic Brit was; we’re supposed to cackle at his sudden footlessness.) The scene built beautifully: from the awkward small talk and the first tentative sips of Champagne, to the shot of a loosened-up Cosgrove with a secretary on his lap, to Lois’ frenzied how-do-I-drive-this-thing face, to the gloriously abundant blood. I particularly enjoyed Peggy’s swoon (did you see it was Pete who caught her?) and the moment when Mackendrick pounds the desk in pain. (It’s also worth reading this interview in which Crista Flanagan, who plays Lois, describes how maddening it is to play someone so dumb.)
Mostly, I was impressed at how well the show executed this shift in tone. Mad Men has been playing with genre this season—trotting out musical episodes, fantasy episodes, and now something along the lines of Reservoir Don—and it seems remarkably assured and confident in these wildly diverse registers.
The show pulls off these varied approaches, I think, because its fully drawn characters anchor it throughout. It was absurd to see the sleek midcentury walls of Sterling Cooper spattered with pulverized leg, but the scene worked because it was a showcase for Joan and her unshakeable competence.
John, I think you’re right that the moment Don and Joan shared at the hospital was electric, and I buy your theory that what we saw there was not a sexual spark but a charge of recognition. I’ve often thought of Peggy as the show’s distaff Don: Like him, she’s secretive, inscrutable, and decisive (and she writes good copy). But this episode suggests that Joan is Don’s true parallel: Both of them always know exactly what to do. They can command any situation. They inspire the unfettered confidence of everyone around them. And both of them are completely lost.
Even Peggy’s comment to Joan this week—”I’m really happy that you got what you wanted”—echoed what she told Don last week: “You have everything. And so much of it.” She misreads both Joan and Don—who appear successful, despite their misery—in just the same way. It made me wonder what Peggy was about to confess to Joan, just before John Deere ran amok. “If we don’t [see each other],” she says, “I just have to say—” And then blammo. Any thoughts on what she might have been about to confess?
The emphasis on Joan’s competence this week also raises interesting questions about the way she handled her sad-sack husband when he came home drunk and unpromoted. She scolds him for not calling but then prods and listens, prying the story out of him, getting the answers she wants while offering the sympathy he needs. When she tells him, “I married you for your heart, not for your hands,” is she speaking the truth? Or just applying that lie like an emotional tourniquet?
Patrick, I’ll turn this over to you—I’m dying to hear your take on Roger Sterling shamed, unwanted, and stripped of his drollery.
I’m going to go get something to eat,