NAVA BRAHE: Alrighty; “The Crash” has to be the weirdest episode of “Mad Men” to date. The entire force behind the show decided to take every shocking element they could think of, and bombard the audience with them in one fell swoop. Sex, drugs, flashbacks, bad parenting, self-involvement, guilt, death; We saw it all, and then some.
I don’t doubt that the creative staffs of advertising agencies (past and present) indulge in their fair share of, how shall I put this: energy supplements that go way beyond a landslide of lattes from the local Starbucks. I’ve taken speed; I know what it can do to your mind and body. But, whatever was in the proprietary blend that was injected into the glutei of Jim Cutler, Don Draper, Ken Cosgrove, Stan Rizzo, and the rest of the creative team at SCDP, or whatever they’re calling themselves now, it did much more than stimulate their collective creativity. It made them fly their freak flags just a tad too high for my comfort level.
To start, I found Don’s flashbacks to his time at the brothel a weak bit of insight into his sordid past. We know where he came from and why he felt the need to try to become someone else. They were overstated, and a waste of time.
It’s also no surprise that Don keeps dropping the ball as a father; we’ve known this ever since he divorced Betty. Unfortunately, Megan is guilty of her own parental shortcomings, and their personification as an “old Negro woman” robbing apartments in the building was a clever way to illustrate that Don and Betty’s children are extremely vulnerable despite their privileged surroundings. We’ve seen time and again how the Draper children have been affected by neglect despite their parents’ affluence. Just because they come from a nice home doesn’t mean they’re well brought up and adequately cared for. Don checked out on his kids once again, and Megan followed suit by leaving Sally to look after Bobby and Gene with the promise of buying her boots to go with her skirt. She probably did not know that Don left the kitchen door open, but even still, you can leave a 12 year-old in charge for only so long. Sally’s instincts were good, but ultimately she could only do so much. It was heartbreaking to hear her admit she knows nothing about her father during the conversation they had at the end of the episode. She will never know anything about Don because he will never reveal his true self to anyone, not even his children.
I admire the way Sylvia is handling herself post-breakup. I think the domination-gone-awry snapped her out of whatever delusions she had about being able to keep up the charade. She’s figured out what kind of person Don is, and managed to extricate herself from the relationship before it was too late. Sylvia has the sense to know that her actions would hurt not only her husband, but the wife of the man she was sleeping with. She has genuine empathy for Megan, unlike Don, who couldn’t help himself from loitering outside her kitchen door like a starving puppy. Maybe the “old Negro woman” was supposed to be an allegory meant to represent what can happen when you screw around. In any case, Don should thank Sylvia for saving him from himself – this time.
Okay, I think I just figured out what the brothel flashbacks represented in the episode: Don’s closing line, “Every time we get a car, this place turns into a whorehouse,” though a total mystery to Ted and Jim, represents Don’s frustration at having to “whore” himself and his agency in order to get the coveted automobile advertising business. He literally used Joan to secure the Jaguar account, and now he’s frustrated at how hard he has to work in order to please Chevy. He doesn’t like it; and no amount of liquor, speed or sex is going to eradicate the shame he feels at being incapable to meet his most important client’s outrageous demands.
SONIA BRAND-FISHER: At this time I want to say a big ol’ “What she said” following Nava’s comments. I completely agree with the absolute chaos of this episode being a total overload of allegory, symbolism, and over-saturated themes. It was just too much. Too weird. With four episodes to go, I see nothing less than a total explosion erupting from this compacted, angry volcano that is SCDP/CGC.
Forgive me, but I wish to look at fashion and style (again) this week because it might very well decode some of the strangeness of the episode. Betty is suddenly back to being a size 4 with her Grace Kelly blonde hair, though the dark roots are visible from when her hair was dark. She does not have that pure porcelain elegance of Seasons One and Two, but she is back to being that stunningly beautiful presence instead of “fat Betty” whom we all felt sorry for, but couldn’t look away from. She is clearly trying to embody Henry’s partner and glow as a senator’s wife, which bares an even more striking contrast to the micro-miniskirt-wearing Megan, who in turn is influencing Sally’s style (“I earned [the skirt].” “On what street corner?”] Megan is an indulgent stepmother who is not afraid to buy love from her husband’s children in the form of toys, skirts, boots, and independence, represented by the playful patterns in her fucsia dress and heavy silver eyeliner. We see a freedom in Megan, a false sense of authority over Don’s kids: a hot pink patterned mini-dress and go-go boots with too much makeup and hair spray. In a word, “overkill.” It’s such an awkward image, seeing Betty and Megan side by side, representing such polar opposite yet immensely misguided maternal identities.
One small detail that was recurring throughout the episode that is absolutely worth noting is the detail of the turquoise silk chiffon bandana that Sylvia, Ms. Swenson, and the woman in the soup ad are all wearing throughout the episode. At the beginning we see Don standing outside Sylvia’s back door, and we cut to a scene inside where Sylvia has a bathrobe on and a turquoise silk bandana around her head. She is in her home, living her life and heating up “left over veal and cold pasta” for her husband. The next instance we see of the turquoise bandana is in the flashback where the prostitute, Ms. Swenson, is feeding Don soup to help him get over his cold. She is also wearing a bathrobe, and she is serving him food in a bedroom. That turquoise bandana reappears on the head of the woman in the soup ad from 1958, with the tagline “Because you know what he wants,” once more in a domestic setting. Though she is not wearing the turquoise chiffon in bandana form, Megan appropriates the material and the color in her nightgown at the end of the episode after Don collapses on the floor. She is in the bedroom, which is also a domestic space, but it has a very different implication from kitchen spaces. The bedroom and the kitchen overlap in theme, implication, purpose between these women held together by the visual cue of the turquoise silk chiffon. This is no accident. What is this turquoise silk chiffon supposed to represent for Don Draper? A mixture of the sexual and the maternal? The unattainable care that he has always longed for? A woman who exists solely for the purpose of his own desires? Sylvia played along with it for a little bit, and then saw the light. Ms. Swenson was the first woman in his life to combine the sexual but nurturing attention he has come to crave. The woman in the soup ad he created to convey these desires, in a “Pygmalion”-esque kind of way. And finally Megan, who tries to fulfill his needs without compromising her own happiness, is leaving Don anxious and unfulfilled. Turquoise is a color that both provokes and soothes, as these women have done for Don, and the links between these women come a few steps further into the light.
Wendy was totally unnecessary. I hope she does not return. Peggy kissing all of these guys in their respective offices intrigues me. Are we supposed to assume that “the crash” has happened already, and now we must deal with the consequences? Or is the crash more like a domino effect? I am only left with questions following this episode, that I hope are answered before the season ends.