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TV Diary | Mad Men – “Mystery Date”

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TV Diary | Mad Men – Episode 5.04 – “Mystery Date” – Original Airdate: 4/8/12

Episode Grade: B-

I think it’s probably fair to say that “Mystery Date” was one of the stranger Mad Men episodes… perhaps ever. Its jarring change in tone made it feel well below your average installment of the show and honestly, I’m having a little trouble with it. Mad Men can often be more than a little dense to unpack but “Mystery Date” is proving tougher than usual for me. OK… let’s break it down. A-plot: Don is suffering through an illness that eventually induces a fever dream in which he imagines that he’s strangling an old bang buddy to death, eventually pushing her lifeless body underneath his bed in the hopes that no one will notice. Wait… WHAT?! Without question this is the weirdest thing that Mad Men has ever done. Backing up a little – things between Don and Megan seem a bit tenuous, what with his thoughtless reaction to her birthday gift, his worry over Betty’s condition, and his callous assumption that Megan wouldn’t care about Betty’s possible death in “Tea Leaves.” With all of these things rattling around the relationship, the appearance of Don’s old lady friend [1] Andrea (Madchen Amick, Twin Peaks), a freelancer who Don worked with back at the old agency, raises Megan’s antennae, even more so when Andrea blatantly comes onto Don in front of the new Mrs. Draper in an elevator. After begging out of work early due to his deteriorating health, Don heads home to sleep the illness off uninterrupted. Uninterrupted, that is, until Andrea shows up at his apartment to er… rekindle things. After being shooed away once, Andrea returns and since Don’s resolve has been severely tapped by this point, he and Andrea end up going at it which leaves the audience wondering exactly what in the hell is going on. After the harsh light of… mid-afternoon (?) hits, Don realizes what a mistake he’s made and takes the rash step of STRANGLING ANDREA TO DEATH as a means of escaping from the jackpot he’s placed himself into. He then pushes her lifeless body underneath his bed and, oh, goes back to sleep like nothing happened. The way writers Matthew Weiner and Victor Levin, along with director Matt Shakman, structure the plot it’s not entirely clear whether what we’re seeing is reality yet with this being Mad Men it’s highly unlikely that the show’s lead character is going to: A.) Become a murderer out of nowhere or; B.) Be stupid enough to dispose of the body by shoving a rotting corpse underneath his bed. However, it’s to Weiner/Levin/Shakman’s credit that the next morning when Megan wakes Don up to check on him, there’s that one minute second where you think, “Did Megan play the role of cleaner in all of this?” Of course, it all turns out to have been a creation of Don’s fever-addled mind but it also likely serves as more than a little bit of foreshadowing. As I mentioned, Don and Megan’s relationship was not exactly on solid ground to begin with and now his subconscious is cheating with other women? Hmm. Speaking of [2]… Joan finally manages to drop the 200 pounds of dead weight around her neck [3], upon Mr. Not-So-Perfect’s return from Vietnam. She’s initially enthusiastic for his return – in part because she has to spend time with someone other than her overbearing and condescending mother, and in part because she’s anxious for her son to finally meet his “father [4].” Following a little forced happiness [5], Greg eventually informs her that he has to return to service for another year, something that Joan initially handles with aplomb but after it’s revealed that Greg volunteered for the second tour himself [6]. Greg’s deception and selfishness forces Joan’s hand and she kicks his sorry ass out while at the same time THROWING THE RAPE BACK IN HIS FACE [7] as he walks out of her life (and hopefully the show) forever. While I would have liked to see him go out incredibly, incredibly painfully on the battlefield or something, this works too. More importantly, it removes Obstacle One from the Don/Joan hookup I’ve been theorizing on this season. Coupled with Don’s unfaithful subconscious, hell… I might be onto something. Call this half of a good episode with a lot of, “What the hell?” thrown in for good measure.

[1] Or is it his special lady?
[2] And I still think there’s a good chance that this is going to be related material by the time the season is complete.
[3] Also known as her douchebag husband Greg.
[4] Which, of course, he actually already did in “A Little Kiss.”
[5] All Greg really seems to be interested in is doing the sex to her.
[6] It’s left for the audience to strongly infer that Greg did this because of his washout status as a surgeon. He sees the military giving him purpose, one that sadly cannot be found with his wife and for all intents and purposes son, apparently.
[7] You’re damn sure right I cheered her here.

*What parts of “Mystery Date” that didn’t focus on Don and Joan were spent with Peggy and Sally, with varying degrees of success. While each storyline found Peggy and Sally reacting to the Richard Speck massacre in Chicago in their own ways, without question Peggy’s thread was more effective. Her initial introduction to the murders comes via photos from her friend Joyce, something that’s surely in the back of her mind during a night of working late alone at SCDP. Upon hearing a strange noise (and probably creating the closest thing to a horror movie atmosphere that Mad Men will ever pull off), Peggy makes her way out of her office only to find Don’s secretary Dawn sleeping alone in Don’s office. Peggy learns that Dawn has indirectly been affected by the Speck massacre as well since her brother has forbidden her to travel home from work alone late at night due to his fear for her safety. Peggy – believing herself to be progressive – invites Dawn back to her place where a friendship seems to be in bloom as both women bond over alcohol and work gossip. However, Peggy’s split second of glancing at her purse before she leaves the room to dispose of some empty bottles lets both she and Dawn know that perhaps she isn’t as evolved as she likes to believe she is, fatally damaging any chance of any friendship she and Dawn may have had. This was some of the most effective material Elizabeth Moss has been given yet this season, going back even perhaps to “The Suitcase.” A high point of the episode for sure.
*On the other hand, the curious upbringing of Sally Draper continues as she’s left alone at Betty and Henry’s home with Henry’s mother while her mother and stepfather are traveling. After reading about the Chicago murders in the newspaper, Sally is understandably rattled and her guardian’s response is to ply her with sleeping pills in order to calm her down. Really. It’s no wonder that this little girl is on the path to psychosis. Betty is her mother and her babysitter thinks it’s OK to supply a pre-teen with prescription meds to calm her down. Wonderful. Not much of this landed, to be honest.
*”Mystery Date” marks the second time this season that Roger has been shaken down by a younger staffer, this time Peggy when he asks for some last minute help with a Mohawk corporate image campaign. More and more, Roger’s being relegated to the sidelines in concert with the rise of the younger generation in the 60s.
*Why is Betty suddenly not fat? And why was it not addressed?
*With Zosia Mamet taking a regular role in HBO’s Girls, will that do anything for her availability for Mad Men? Maybe not, given Alison Brie’s dual jobs here and on Community but it perhaps bears watching.
*No Roger Sterling Line Of The Week this week. Perhaps he was too shaken by his encounter with Peggy to come up with anything quippy.
*This really was a weird episode.
*”You know, there are some parts of town where we can run into people I worked with.”
*”Holy crap! Look at him!”
*”I’ll take him so you two can visit a spell.”
*”I married you and I’m going to be with you until the day I die. Which may be this afternoon.”
*”I need to store up as much of you as possible.”
*”He’s such a decent guy.” “You know you almost got fired just now.” “I don’t think that’s right.”
*”I’m sorry. For Mohawk your ‘man’ is Ginsburg.”
*”The work is $10. The lie is extra.”
*”That’s for nothing, so look out.”
*”I’m sorry if that little display of respect slowed you down, but a lot of kids your age would be thrilled to be waiting tables right now.”
*”Y’all drink a lot.”
*”I’m glad the Army makes you feel like a man because I’m sick of trying to do it.”


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