Dark times all round in this week’s Mad Men, as an old flame sends flu-ridden Don into weird guilt trip murder dreams and real life murders haunt his daughter Sally. Elsewhere, the spectre of riots and Vietnam signal the troubled world of the late 60s that the show is moving into, albeit with hope symbolised (as ever) by Peggy.
After a patchy episode last week, this was much better, even with Pete Campbell totally absent and Roger only making a fleeting cameo appearance. The best thing about it was how much Joan got to do, with her Vietnam soldier husband back from the war to meet his (well, Roger’s) baby for the first time. At first, it’s all romantic and ‘behind closed doors action’, but a typically awkward dinner date with the parents leads to the revelation that he’s not only going back to the war for a year, but volunteered for it.
Joan’s initial reaction is heartbreak and anger, but by the end of the episode, she’s in control, telling him that if he goes, he doesn’t come back, ever. Given their history, it’s a smart move and a sign that she’s not lost her edge in motherhood. Closing the episode with her, the baby and her own single mother lying on a bed to the opening strains of that controversial Crystals classic He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss), this was Mad Men on top, top form.
As was the opening, with coughing Don and his mismatched bride getting the lift to work and having to share it with an old flame played by a totally unrecognisable Madchen Amick (possibly because I’ve not seen her in anything since Twin Peaks). This immediately sets Megan on the offensive and Don has to defend himself against accusations of infidelity just as his immune system caves in. After being sent packing to his sick bed, he gets visited again and again by Amick and ends up strangling her to death. Much to his relief, once daylight comes, her body is gone and it was all a dream.
Not much chance for poor Sally Draper to dream though. Being watched over by her unloved step grandmother, she wants to know more about the Richard Speck murders that everyone’s talking about. The wonderfully precocious mini-Betty then sneaks the newspaper into her bed and reads it all, but can’t cope with the horrors, so ends up getting comforted, then sedated by her babysitting behemoth. In a great shot, we see Betty and hubby arrive home and start searching for Sally, who is revealed to be asleep hidden under the sofa for protection (much like the one survivor of those real life crimes – albeit under a bed).
That theme of too much too soon also plays out a little bit for Peggy. She starts off strong, dressed very snappily and sharing in the fun when her liberal reporter friend shows up with gory details about the Speck murders, then talks Roger out of a shedload of cash to do a favour for him. She’s come a long, long way. But when she discovers Dawn (the accidentally-hired new black secretary) sleeping in Don’s office and takes her home to get (even more) drunk, Peggy lets slip that she’s still vulnerable, worrying about how much she’s compromising of herself to fit in with what is still a man’s world.
And finally, we have Ginsberg, who didn’t make a fantastic impression on me in his introduction last time out. However, he was much more likeable this time, getting upset at the morbid office gossip, then blowing clients away in a pitch before letting his motormouth get the better of him and blowing them away again with a completely different pitch, much to Don’s frustration. I’m definitely warming to him. This was all prime Mad Men, and great to see Peggy, Joan and Sally all featured so prominently, hopefully lots more to come from them.