Brow Beat

Why Did Mad Men Air Footage of Don in Reverse?

A still of Jon Hamm on Mad Men

Mad Men is known for its attention to historical detail, whether referencing advertising ephemera or obscure racial dust-ups. But “Mystery Date,” the episode that aired Easter Sunday, featured an unusually subtle Easter egg for keen-eyed fans: Footage of Don Draper that plays in reverse. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.)

Midway through the episode, Don wakes up from a nap to answer the door at his apartment. A minute later, after unceremoniously dismissing his guest, Don crawls back to bed—in what is, if you’re looking carefully, a rather familiar manner.

What rookie Mad Men director Matt Shakman, who’s directed a slew of episodes for other major shows, has done here is reuse—in reverse—the footage of Don getting out of bed moments before. Why? Because this is a dream sequence: Don didn’t really get out of bed, and Shakman signaled this as subtly as possible by using footage that is, in a sense, “not real.”  

The hint may even help Mad Men watchers answer the question—raised by our own Patrick Radden Keefe—of when Don’s dream sequence began. In the episode, Don has two encounters at his apartment with Andrea, an old flame. In the first, she shows up and he turns her away; in the second, she wakes him from his slumber to seduce him, but as the yellow-dressed vixen is leaving, Don strangles and kills her. Most viewers assumed the whole thing was a dream, but a few posited that Andrea really had shown up at the Drapers’ apartment and been turned away—that Don dreamed only the sex and the murder. This visual cue suggests that both encounters were just figments of Don’s fevered brain.

All credit for spotting this moment goes to Slate reader Mark Madel, who pointed it out in the comments below our TV Club, and created the video above. Yet more evidence, we think, that, contra David Simon, recapping TV shows as carefully made as Mad Men is worthwhile.