Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Review: Mad Men "Mystery Date"

Non Spoiler Review:
Set against the backdrop of a serial killer making headlines with some gruesome murders, Mad Men delivers an uncomfortable episode. It was a good one, but the type that made you feel you needed to shower afterwards, as many of the characters behaved, or were wrapped up in the unpleasant goings on around them.

Craig has returned on leave, but has some surprising news for Joan, while Peggy has to work late and bonds with Dawn. Michael oversteps himself, and Don has a nasty flu that causes some interesting side effects. Meanwhile, Sally is left in the care of evil grandmother Paulina while Betty and Henry are away.

Some big plot points were hit as well, and probably not in the way initially expected. The characters all seem out of sorts trying to come to terms with the state of their lives. Paulina really stole the show, though, with her vile portrayal of messed up grandma Francis and likely leaving a lasting effect on fragile Sally.

Spoilers Now!
Don is sicker than a dog, and on the elevator up to SCDP he and Megan run into a lovely woman named Andrea, a former freelancer for Sterling Cooper, who chats up Don until he introduces her to his wife. It all doesn't go over well with Megan, who asks how many times is this going to happen. She's having trouble letting go of the continuing stream of girls Don's been with (especially knowing he was married at the time). She reminds him he's got an appetite and he can't blame Betty for that.

Michael and Stan present a new shoe campaign to Don. Michael had wanted to do a Cinderella theme, but Don dismisses it as a cliche. Later on, Michael aces the presentation, but as they're mingling afterwards, he goes on to pitch the Cinderella idea, and the client opts to go with it. When they have a drink later, Don is furious and warns him never to do it again.

Meanwhile, Joyce shows up to show some crime scene shots to Michael, Megan, Peggy and Stan. A serial killer murdered a bunch of nurses and it's the talk of the town. Michael thinks it's disgusting they want to see the photographs.

Joan is preparing the house for Craig's visit and she's had enough listening to her mother's advice about men. Craig returns home and gets to see his baby for the first time, but he needs to tell her something—he has to go back for another year. That night at a family dinner with both their parents, Craig's mother is upset about him going back and it comes out that he actually volunteered for another tour. Craig and Joan have a big fight afterwards.

Roger forgot about a campaign he needs for Mohawk, and Michael has disappeared for the weekend. He needs Peggy to work something up for them. Peggy takes pleasure in having Roger begging for help, so takes $400 in additional bribe money. 

Don goes home sick, but Andrea shows up unexpectedly at the apartment wanting to talk. He's furious, but she boldly walks in. He sends her away and falls asleep, but wakes up to her again and they have sex. Andrea gets ready to leave and says he'll still love it again because he's a sick man. Don strangles her, kicks her under the bed and crawls back under the covers. This is, of course, all a fever dream. Megan wakes up Don in the morning. She had been sleeping next to him the whole time. But his fever has broken.

Working late, Peggy finds Dawn sleeping on the couch afraid to go home due to the race riots. She invites Dawn to stay with her for the night, and they bond over a beer. Peggy really wants another woman to confide in and comments how she started out as a secretary, too, and seems to draw parallels with their mutual situations. Peggy wants to know if she acts like a man and Dawn admits she has to a little. Peggy doesn't know if she still wants to be that person. They go to bed, and Dawn sleeps on the couch, but there's an awkward moment when Peggy pauses to decide whether to leave her purse on the coffee table. Dawn is gone in the morning and leaves Peggy a thank you note.

Given Henry and Betty are delayed out of town, grandma Paulina is forced to look after Sally, who hates her. The feeling is quite mutual, and Paulina revels in subtly torturing her. After teasing her with tidbits about the murders, Sally finds newspaper articles about the serial killer that terrifies her, so asks to sit with Paulina at night. Paulina succeeds in frightening her further, so in order to sleep gives Sally some pills. Betty and Henry return home in the morning, with groggy Paulina on the couch and Sally sleeping underneath.

Joan tells Craig that she's thought about it and wants him to go...go and never come back, because she doesn't need him anymore. She's glad the army makes him feel like a man. And he's not a good man (reminding him of their premarital rape). He angrily walks out promising to never come back. Joan, the baby, and her mother have a nap on the bed.

The Verdict:
This was an ugly episode, watching everyone behave less than stellar, but, as usual, engaging, with some good bits. So far this season the major characters have been struggling to deal with how the world is changing around them, and Mystery Date continues that trend. First, Peggy—how far has Roger fallen that Peggy (with her feet on the desk) can negotiate terms for working late. But her talk with Dawn betrays that she could be tired of it all. Does that mean a change is in store, or was it all drunk talk?

And poor Dawn. She's just happy to have a job, but is pulled into all the machinations at SCDP because Peggy needs to vent and have a normal girlfriend at the office. Yet Peggy hasn't moved beyond her own prejudices yet.

Don's dream murder was an interesting outlet for all his pent up frustrations and fears with his appetites. Megan has a valid concern, given she's privy to all his infidelities and now she's the wife. No wonder she keeps trying to vamp it up for him to ensure his eye doesn't wander.

Don also has to deal with upstart Michael, who gave his own twist on the standard Don Draper client sell. He's fun to watch, but I wonder what direction his character will take—can he survive the season without stepping on too many toes?

Joan's marriage didn't end in the way I thought. Craig's departure was unexpected and he seemed rushed out the door, but is there more to it? Does he suspect the child isn't his, or was it all just him trying to be a real man and going back to fight? I could likely be reading too much into it. But I'm pleased Joan will be back in full form again absent his domineering personality (and she left him with some good parting shots).

Evil Paulina really steals the show. She manages to both elicit a bit of sympathy (with insight into her own upbringing) while continuing to sow discord everywhere and be the absolutely worst role model for poor Sally (who is likely on the road to a lifetime of drug addiction). 

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