Normally I blog about each week's Mad Men episode here. I avoid Slate and Esquire and everywhere else that offers analysis and simply try to reflect on the more interesting aspects of the show. Then I'll go over to the other sites and realize I know nothing. I am reminded of Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor explaining to Otis that "some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it's a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe." Consider me the former.
I am also reminded of what the actor Joe Pantoliano once told me about The Sopranos. He called it "a TV show you really need to earn the privilege of knowing. Most people don't." (Pantoliano played the vicious Ralph Cifaretto.) He went on,
I get people who watch the show and they say, "Oh, it's the best show on television. I loved it when Tony strangled the guy when he was taking his daughter to college." Or they go, "Hey, what the fuck happened with you? Why'd you beat up that girl? What's a matter with you?" What they don't get is what the author was trying to say there.
Likewise on Mad Men, whose creator Matthew Weiner is a Sopranos alumnus, I'm left trying to figure out what the author is trying to say. (SPOILER ALERT) Was the break-in at the apartment a metaphor of Black America making its way into white culture or was it simply a break-in? I realize the opening scene involving Ken Cosgrove and the Chevy guys crashing the Impala was a metaphor for an entire episode that ends with a crash after the effects of a dexadrine shot wears off on most of the office. But what about the rest? Why are Roger Sterling and Jim Cutler playing checkers and not chess? Because they're accounts and not creative? Is it shameful to say at 11:04 p.m. last night, "Wow, that was interesting"?
Sure, the more effort you put into understanding a show, the more gratifying the experience should be. But what if it's too much work? In an effort to keep up with the show's aficionados, I will attempt (pretend) to recap last night's episode:
The crash of the Impala followed by the crash of speed wearing off in an episode entitled "The Crash" is way too obvious. We get it! But what about the crash of Grandma Ida entering the pristine white world of the Drapers and the children's loss of innocence while stepmom Megan is at the theatre and Don is driven, so to speak, to come up with ideas for Chevrolet that, in fact, allowed him to revisit his childhood in the whorehouse where he lost his virginity to a mother-like figure that reappears in a Sterling-Cooper oatmeal ad (note the same beauty marks!) and the coughing, which we are at first led to believe is tuberculosis but is instead a chest cold, though in 1968, it may be related to the smoking, which Don does a lot, especially in the stairwell while longing for his ex-mistress—and speaking of stairwells, it was Don's fault for unlocking the stairwell door allowing for Grandma Ida to rob them blind. But Don's life has always been about hidden stairwells—including to his heart, which the daughter of now deceased Frank Gleason seems to declare is broken, though in fact she means the stethoscope. Don is wanting to be loved despite being loved by his wife. But what he wants is a mother's love. It's an oedipal complex, hence his refusal to have sex with Gleason's daughter but his longing for Sylvia Rosen, a mother and wife of a doctor—a doctor who happens to specialize in hearts and who Don hopes will one day perform the first heart transplant. When that happens, Don will no doubt want to be Patient Zero.
And yet on a deeper level...