With episode four, Mad Men is finally getting into the swing of things. Or are we? The problem a lot of people seem to be having with Mad Men, my flat mate included, is that some of the fans are having a hard time getting back into the grove of the 1960s ad world. We’ve waited for so long, with such bated breath, for this fifth season, that only something seriously dramatic and something seriously BIG, would be able to satisfy the fan base. The major flaw in this being that Mad Men isn’t a BIG show, it doesn’t do LOUD, it doesn’t do DRAMATIC. Mad Men is subtle, pragmatic, quiet in a under-the-surface way. Or at least it was until Don strangled someone.
It feels strange to say it, but Don was definitely the weak link in this week’s episode. There was promise at the start. His burning fever, and the appearance of an old flame, which subtly hinted at his body rejecting the new monogamy his marriage requires. For a moment, as Don beaded with sweat and open the door to his forceful ex, I thought: ‘Finally! This is the Draper I remember!’ Ever since episode one I’ve been waiting for him to slip. Despite Don’s claims that his unhappy marriage is what led to his past promiscuity, we all know that Betty wasn’t a hundred percent to blame. Don is a flawed man, and that doesn’t just go away with a sexy French dance. But then for this moment of weakness to be swept under the carpet as a dream, to me it felt… cheap. A bit of a cop out, which isn’t something I’m used to in Mad Men. And the strangling? I know they were going for a bit of a macabre theme with the Chicago murders but, really? It was all just a bit too in your face for my liking. And it almost felt like the writers were trying to give the audience the BIG BANG they think they want. Except in this case it back fired, blew too loud, and just left you feeling disorientated.
It wasn’t all bad though, Kiernan Shipka put on an engaging performance as Sally Draper. The bonding scene near the end with Grandma Pauline was touching and uncomfortable all at the same time. I’m personally a fan of playing the ‘How fucked up is Sally going to be when she hits her teens’ game. For a moment we had a glimmer of hope in Grandma Pauline, with her talk of discipline and her nice tuna sandwich. Only for it to be tarnished with a very mature bed time story (‘You’re old enough to know what’) and an introduction into soft-core drug abuse. However, despite this unorthodox approach, I’m interested to see where Sally and Grandma Pauline’s relationship will go. Unlike Betty, Grandma Pauline seems able to treat Sally like the grown up she’s becoming. Hopefully this might undo some of the damage Betty’s ‘go watch TV’ parenting has caused.
And speaking of relationships and growing up – Greg came back from Vietnam! And the quickly went back there. Personally I’ve never liked Greg, he’s always felt a bit tacked on to the storyline. As if the writers suddenly realised ‘oh wait, there’s no way a woman like Joan would stay single in the 60s’ and whipped Greg up. He’s so forgettable as a character that I was surprised to find the famous rape scene (one of the most disturbing Mad Men scenes) happened in season two. Other than get cheated on by Joan in season four, what else did he do? Where was he in three? Can anyone remember? This is kind of fitting I suppose, for a man so insecure in his own significance and masculinity. “I’m tired of trying to make you feel like a man,” was Joan’s perfect summary of their relationship as Greg left to feel ‘wanted’ by the twenty men serving him in Vietnam. Good riddance is all I can say.
There were also some smaller plots going on. Rodger now seems permanently relegated to office clown. Peggy tried to have a ‘I’m a woman, you’re black… and a woman’ bond with Dawn, only to blow it with a moment of casual racism regarding her purse. And Ginsberg talked, a lot. He likes to do that. My only quibble with Ginsberg (I’m forced to like him purely on the basis of him looking to be a good match for Peggy) is that why, after a very publicised murder of helpless women, would you push an ad campaign that revolved a woman being followed by a would-be attacker? The reasoning of ‘she wants to be caught’ doesn’t sit right with me, and maybe it is supposed to. Maybe it’s more subtle than that.