Well, last night's Mad Men — the eighth episode this season, titled "The Crash" — was interesting to say the least. Some people loved it, others hated it, and it left a lot of us a bit befuddled (much like Ted Chaough in the photo above). Perhaps this was because much of it occurred while a bunch of our characters were under the influence of "an energy serum" shot from a doctor who'd been brought in to "stimulate" them into creating an acceptable pitch for Chevy. The whole episode did feel a bit like the up and down and sideways side of a certain kind of drug experience. Speaking of crashes, this one was metaphorical (highs and lows, uppers and downers) but there's been so much plane imagery this season I initially thought it might men something more literal. The show does begin that way, literally, with a crash.
Ken Cosgrove is driving in a car that's filled with laughing, roughhousing, drunk men. He's trying to keep it together, and then one of them pulls out a gun, and they cover his eyes. There's a bright light, and a crash. Not to worry, though: Ken's mostly OK. We see him the next day in the office, limping and using a cane. Injuries or not, he's not entirely OK. because there's trouble with Chevy (the guys in the car were the agency's new, big client, GM) and they don't like anything. It is determined that the folks at the agency will be working all weekend to come up with something good.
Don is pulled out of the meeting when he gets a phone call from Dr. Rosen. The thing is, Don's been lurking outside of the apartment of his now-former mistress and her husband, lovelorn and chain-smoking. This breakup has hit him hard, but not because he was in love. It's more, I think, because he's never been on this side of things. When he answers the phone, it's Sylvia, not Arnold. She tells him to stop loitering in the hallway and gives some extra-marital affair advice: "It’s all about whether the other person has as much to lose as you do, because you want to be able to trust them when it’s over,” she says, realizing perhaps this time she's chosen wrong with Don, who she admits she's afraid of. Don says, "I’m feeling a lot of emotions too.” When she hangs up on him, he throws the phone and has a coughing fit that lurches into a flashback from childhood. He's in the whorehouse, coughing, and his stepmother tells him he's going to have to sleep in the cellar.
We shift to the Francis household, where the kids are getting ready to go spend time with the Drapers. Sally, de facto mom, is fastening her little brother's shoes, wearing a short skirt she bought with babysitting money from taking care of the boys while at the Drapers. Betty, with the promise of Henry's burgeoning political career (and the photos that will surely ensue) is blonde and thin again. She tells Sally, “You’re not a hired hand, you’re their sister.”
The agency learns that CGC partner Frank Gleason has died. Ted announced he won't work over the weekend. Peggy will work, but will also go to the funeral. Jim Cutler brings the doctor into the office to deliver proprietary "B vitamin and mild stimulant" shots. Pretty much all the men at the office, including Roger with his heart condition, get them — except Ted, of course. There's a quick but important scene as Don heads downstairs after his shot. He sees Peggy in Ted's office, consoling him, which sends him into another flashback, of himself sick as a boy, again. He's taken care of by a prostitute at the whorehouse who calls herself Aimée. "Your momma don’t know how to take care of nobody,” she tells him. “She ain’t my mother,” he answers. In his dazed state, he stares at Ted's secretary, who asks asks if she can help him. "Do I know you?" he says, correcting his weird question with "from somewhere before"? She says no. The drugs are taking effect; there are weird echos, laughing from upstairs, and Stan and Cutler are chasing each other around the office. The creatives are working, but just barely, spewing a bunch of nonsense. “The child is the father of the man,” says Peggy. “Spectacular,” says Stan.
In his office, Don, his brain having alighted on some vague idea that remains mysterious even to him, is looking for something in his office. Ken Cosgrove comes in to find out if there will be new work to present to Chevy, and performs a spontaneous dance routine that is both hilarious and sad in its cartoonishness — the ad man is the clown being asked to perform for the clients; he's the dancing jester with the gun to his feet. (Gif here). Don's voice is suddenly loud and hollow and serious; he's much more vocal than he's ever been. "I must be in the room with them!" he tells Cosgrove. Then he goes in to see the creatives and tells them, “I know you are all feeling the darkness. There is a way around this system. This is a test of our patience and commitment. One great idea could win someone over.” Peggy: "Do you have any idea what the idea is?" Don: "No."
Don feels he's been left behind by Sylvia. She's refused to take care of him. And so, in his mind, he reverts back to another woman who did: In his next flashback, he's in bed with a fever and Aimée is giving him broth. This strikes, again, the idea in his present-moment brain. “I’ve got it!” he says, and heads in to see the creatives, who've gathered again to work. It's another day; Peggy is in her funeral clothes, having come from Frank Gleason's service. There's a girl named Wendy there who's dressed like a hippie and reading fortunes. She tells Don to ask her a question: “You can just think it. You don’t have to say it out loud. Perfect.” Don asks Peggy to check the archives for the time they had a soup account: "It’s going to crack this thing wide open.” Peggy is not amused. "You see the mess you've made," she tells Cutler.
When Don gets back to his office Wendy's there. It's hard to tell how much of what's happening is real, and how much is drug-induced fugue state. Wendy propositions Don; Don says he's on deadline. "Does someone love me?” she says. “That’s what your question was. That’s everyone’s question.” She listens to his heart through a stethoscope, and pronounces it broken. "You can hear that?" he asks. But she's talking about the stethoscope, not his heart. He tells her she has to go.
At the Drapers, Megan is going to a play, and Don's still not home. She calls and he tells her he has to work. Sally will again babysit. Speaking of babysitting, at the office the creatives are playing a game that involves throwing pens at a picture of an apple tacked to the wall over Stan's head. A writing implement hits his arm and sticks there. Peggy takes him to wash it, taking care of him, and he responds by trying to kiss her. When she pulls away, saying she has a boyfriend, he tells her of his 20-year-old cousin who was just killed in action. She listens. He puts his hand on her leg, and she holds his hand. “I’ve had loss in my life,” she says. “You have to let yourself feel it. You can’t dampen it with drugs and sex; you have to get through it.” She leaves the room. "You've got a great ass," he says. "Thank you," she responds.
Don has gone home, sort of. He's listening outside of Sylvia's kitchen door as “I’m out of my head over you,” plays on the radio. He puts his head on the door and closes his eyes. In the Draper's actual home, Sally’s in bed reading Rosemary’s Baby. She hears noises, and gets up to see an older black woman in the apartment. She tells Sally she's her Grandma Ida; "I raised your daddy,” she says, fixing the girl eggs after finding out that only children are in the house. Sally is suspicious and tries to find out more information, but when Ida tells Sally two indisputable truths: her father is handsome and her mother is a piece of work, Sally believes her, at least, enough to eat some eggs. Then Bobby wakes up, tells the non-grandma where Don's watches are, and wants to watch TV. When Ida goes to check out the watches, Sally tries to call the police, but Ida stops the call in progress.
Don finally finds what he wants back at the office. It's an ad for oatmeal, not soup, featuring a mother and her son. The tagline is “Because you know what he needs.” What does "he" need? It's time for another Dick Whitman flashback. He's in Aimée's bed, and he's better. “Do you like girls,” she asks. “Do you want to know what all the fuss is about?” "No," he says. “It’s O.K., I’ll do everything," she tells him. Don has his big idea, or he thinks he has it, typing in his office, sweating. He calls in the team and shows them the oatmeal ad. “History should not be ignored!” he says. Peggy asks if he's even been working on Chevy.
In the hallway, Cutler is lurking outside of another office. He beckons Peggy toward it. Inside, Stan is having sex with Wendy. "I'm going home," Peggy says.
Back at the Draper residence, no one is taking care of anyone, until the cops show up. Betty and Francis are there, too. Don comes in, and is told, “Some elderly negro woman held your children hostage and robbed you blind.” (Betty takes this moment as well to inform him that Henry's running for office.) “She said she was your mother,” says Bobby. Don collapses on the floor, and there's one last flashback of Aimée getting kicked out of the house by Uncle Mack. “I took that boy’s cherry, $5 we’ll call it even,” she says, and Dick's stepmother begins to beat him with a wooden spoon, calling him trash. When he wakes up as Don Draper the amphetamines have worn off and Megan is trying to console him. "I’m surprised we didn’t all faint,” she says, and then, "Sally seems so grown up but she’s really still a kid.” The child is the father (or mother) of the man, right? Don Draper has never had anyone who really knows what he needs.
Then it's time for an awkward elevator ride. Sylvia gets on and Don's there, in his suit, going to work. “How are you?” she asks “Busy,” he says. There's silence. Long, long silence. And finally the ride is over and he gets out. At the office he calls Sally and tells her he didn't have a heart attack, he's just been working too much. She tells him she acted like a stupid kid, but he is reassuring and even dadlike. "I realized I don't know anything about you," she tells him. And of course, that's true. Don admits he's the one who left the door open; it was his fault Ida got in.
The last scene happens in Ted's office. Don comes in to Ted and Cutler talking. Wendy, it turns out, is Frank's daughter. "How could you bring her here?" asks Ted. Also, half the work produced over the weekend is gibberish, he says. Don isn't going to be criticized. “I’m going to continue as creative director, evaluating other people’s work,” he says, and walks out with the final comment: “Every time we get a car, this place turns into a whorehouse." Ted and Cutler stare at him. We all stare at him.