As suggested by the title, the episode has a theme of the “mystery date” where “you open the door and it’s a handsome man – who is it?” Besides the Mystery Date game show that Sally watched on TV until forced to turn it off, we see or hear of:
· Joan opening the door to see Greg, back from Vietnam with a surprise about his future
· Peggy opening the door to Don’s office at night and being surprised and frightened to see Dawn sleeping on the couch
· Eight student nurses who (we hear) opened their door and let a man into their apartment and were all raped and murdered except one nurse, who hid under a bed
· Andrea, an old fling of Don’s, appearing as the elevator door opens, stepping into the elevator toward Don and flirting aggressively in front of Megan before realizing Megan is Don’s new wife
· Don, home with a fever, answering the door only to be surprised by seeing Andrea once again, this time even more aggressive in pursuit of immediate sex (I believe this scene is not a dream, since it continues Andrea's behavior from an earlier scene, shows Don in his current state of personal development, and doesn’t seem unrealistic)
· Cinderella, according to Mike Ginsberg’s story, not opening a door but rather running down a dark street to get away from the handsome prince, then turning around as he catches up to her, she in her incredible gown, hobbling on one incredible shoe, frightened but yet wanting to be caught
A second major theme of this episode is people laying down the law and trying to take charge in a relationship. A whole lot of people tell others what to do and try to force them to obey; sometimes it’s aggrieved parties laying down a new law, and other times it’s people in charge reasserting power.
Examples of this theme:
· Pauline orders Sally to finish her tuna salad sandwich.
· Greg lays down the law about returning to Vietnam for another year. He claims he has his “marching orders.”
· Greg’s attempt to force Joan to accept his decision fails when Joan learns that Greg has volunteered for another year away from her: “You can’t make decisions without me and you never understood that” she scolds. She realizes that he never was a very good person and that she doesn’t need him, and thus she takes back her power and lays down a counter-law, “Go away.”
· Earlier in the episode, Joan’s mother tries to lay down the law and control Joan, commanding her to go and rest and telling her that she should go along with Greg’s decision. Joan goes along. However, when Joan later tells Greg off, Joan’s mother has not been consulted and Joan thereby shows her mother that she, not her mother, will set the rules.
· Roger forces Peggy to give up her weekend to work on a project that Roger has forgotten to assign to Mike Ginsberg, and he even suggests that he could fire Peggy if she didn’t comply. However, Peggy isn’t fooled by his threat, and she doesn’t allow herself to be completely overpowered by Roger’s “law.” In return for doing what Roger tells her to do, Peggy lays down a counter-law that Roger has to pay her everything he has in his pocket, and he does.
· Peggy tries to help Dawn when she discovers Dawn sleeping at the office late at night. However, she does so by ordering Dawn to “Get your things.” Dawn complies. Later that night, at Peggy’s home, Peggy positions herself differently, asking Dawn for her insights and advice and encouraging her to become a copy writer even though Dawn expresses no interest in doing so. Then Peggy shifts back to being in charge of Dawn and also momentarily suspects Dawn of possibly stealing her money. Before Peggy gets up in the morning, Dawn takes her power back by making the decision, without consulting Peggy, to leave.
· Pauline, Henry’s mother, lays down the law with Sally by bossing her around, and Sally complies. However, Sally asserts herself to some extent by telling Pauline her honest opinion of her, and by continually asking Pauline questions until Pauline finally repositions herself to Sally as more of a supportive advisor. Pauline relates a story to Sally about her own father, explaining that one time her father had kicked her across the room and told her, “That’s for nothing.” Pauline tells Sally that she learned an important lesson from that experience, although she never says what exactly she learned.
· When Sally talks to Don on the phone, Don is surprised to hear Sally say that Betty “doesn’t have any rules” regarding what television programs she gets to watch during the summer.
· After Don and Megan encounter Don’s old fling Andrea in the elevator, Megan confronts Don in the office kitchen and tries to lay down the law that there will be no more philandering without consequences. She tells Don he has to admit it wasn’t all Betty’s fault that he was a philanderer, and she makes a strong effort to control the conversation. Eventually Don repositions himself to Megan as the man in charge, taking control of the conversation and commanding her to not worry about Andrea.
· When Andrea shows up at Don’s home (before Megan gets there), she tries to lay down the law with Don by insisting on coming in and pushing him to have sex. Don turns the tables by taking control of Andrea and forcing her to leave down the back stairwell or elevator. Don even shoves her in the stomach to force her out the door.
A third theme of 5-3 is the processing of difficult events – sometimes via new personal decisions, sometimes through stories, sometimes through acting out, and sometimes in dreams. For example:
· Michael Ginsberg processes the fact that his mother died in a concentration camp through telling and interpreting stories. He interprets Cinderella as a dark story in which the prince chases her through the cobblestone streets and then catches up to her, where Cinderella is frightened but wants to get caught, suggesting that it might be the beginning of a murder rather than a love affair. He also interprets Snow White and Sleeping Beauty as references to necrophilia.
· The news about the eight student nurses being murdered in Chicago has a profound effect on women throughout society, and different females process the information in different ways. Sally processes this news by asking Pauline why a man would do something like that, by taking the drug that Pauline offered her, and by hiding under the couch the way the surviving student nurse did. Pauline processes the news by keeping a large butcher knife with her while watching TV (as if she could wield it against an attacker), telling Sally about a childhood experience where her father treated her violently, and taking Seconal as well as giving a dose to Sally. These actions also enable Pauline to continue to process the violence she experienced during her childhood.
· While sleeping off his fever at home, Don processes several experiences through a vivid dream. In the dream, Andrea got back into his home and seduced him, and he helplessly went along with her and had sex. Then he got mad about it, strangled her, and shoved her body under his bed with one high heel on and one high heel off. This is Don’s way of processing the unwanted advances of Andrea earlier that day; his own fear of being helplessly addicted to sex and wanting to take control and kill off the addiction; Mike Ginsberg’s retelling of the Cinderella story; and the news about the student nurses being raped and murdered except one, who stayed under a bed.
· Peggy processes her own past and the identity she has built when she talks to Dawn during their slumber party, asking Dawn a number of random questions having more to do with herself than with Dawn, such as: “Do you think I act like a man?” “Do you want to be a copy writer?”
· Joan’s mother processes her own marital experience when she gives advice to Joan. As Joan points out, “It’s all about Daddy,” meaning that her mother’s experience doesn’t apply to her situation.
· Joan quickly processes the news that Greg volunteered to return to Vietnam by making a self-affirming decision that would significantly impact her son's childhood.
A fourth theme is the acceptability of violence against women in 1960s American society. This theme is underscored by the final song, sung by a woman, who says “he hit me” and then goes on to say that it’s all right. Yet in this show, we see women protesting their bad treatment and/or trying to learn to defend themselves.