Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Mad Men Episode 6-8: The Crash

Recap: Working in Detroit with his counterparts at Chevy, Ken begins the episode behind the wheel of a Chevy Impala, nervously speeding as his drunken Chevy companions surround him inside the car and harass him with mocking laughter and even a pistol, urging him to go faster. This joy ride, leading to an off-camera crash, sets the tone for an out-of-control weekend at the new, as-yet unnamed ad agency, SCDP+CGC.  

At the office, Ted, Don, Roger, and Jim sit around a table looking worn out, with Jim and Roger playing checkers as they all try to come up with new ideas for the Chevy account. Ken enters the room saying, “Sorry I’m late,” but gets chewed out. “No one cares that I almost got killed?” he challenges, but in response he receives only abuse. The bad news he bears is that Chevy, the agency’s new overlord, has given them a three-year calendar and wants a constant stream of new ideas throughout that time, in exchange for the hefty sums of money they’re pouring into the agency.  

Dawn enters the meeting room and tells Don he has a phone call from Dr. Rosen. When Don goes to his private office and answers the phone, it’s Sylvia, who is angry about Don’s repeated visits to the hallway behind the back door of her apartment, where he leaves old cigarette butts. She says Arnold thinks she’s smoking again, and she tells Don that she’s afraid she’s going to burst into tears and tell her husband everything. Don tries to schmooze her as if he doesn’t understand the situation or the danger inherent in it, and she eventually hangs up on him.  In frustration, Don picks up the telephone and slams it against the booze cart, smashing glass all over. Just outside his office, Dawn hears the crash and buzzes him to see if he’s all right. He tells her he’s tired and just needs to take a nap. As he coughs, he begins to remember an episode in his teenage years when he had a bad cough and was fed soup and nursed back to health by a prostitute named Aimee who then molested him. More than two hours later, Dawn enters Don’s office to say that Mr. Cutler wants to see him, and she offers to clean up the mess of broken glass.

Jim Cutler announces to the team that Frank has died. Visibly upset, Ted excuses himself from work for a few days, and Peggy says that she can go to the funeral but also be available to work over the weekend. Next, Jim announces that “the doctor’s here,” and that Don should see him first. Not knowing what that means, Don follows Jim’s instructions and heads upstairs to meet a “Doctor Feelgood” who dispenses an “energy serum” via shots in the butt. The shots, which take a few minutes to kick in, are supposed to supply one to three days of “focused energy and confidence.” Nearly everyone in the creative department gets the shot and remains at the office all weekend to try to meet their next deadline with Chevy. Only Mike Ginsberg and Peggy seem to remain sober. The result is a lot of hyperactivity and chaotic bursts of energy among the creative staff, including Don, who are totally confident of their brilliance as they spout platitudes as if they were fabulous concepts. Don searches for artwork from an old ad campaign and is sure it contains the solution to his problem, but he’s more focused on the problem of winning back Sylvia than coming up with work for Chevy.

Ken comes to see Don and explains that he has no power in his relationship with the Chevy guys, but Don demands to be in on Ken’s next meeting with them, convinced that the timbre of his voice will make all the difference. Ken, feeling no pain after his energy serum shot, expresses his frustration and anger by performing a tap dance for Don on his injured foot while delivering an incredibly artistic rant about “It’s my job…” – as if he were a servant doing whatever his master says and wearing a big smile to mask his resentment. Don walks to the area where the creative team is working and gives an emphatic but empty-sounding speech: “There is no reason to give in…This is a test of our patience and commitment…” Peggy commends him for sounding inspiring, but when she asks for his ideas, he says he doesn’t have any yet, although he won’t stop looking.

Next, Don encounters Wendy, who is sitting in the creative office doing i-ching readings. Wendy offers to do a reading for Don, telling him he can just think of a question for the reading and doesn’t have to say it aloud. She later has sex with Stan in someone’s office, and at another point waits in Don’s office where she plays doctor with a broken stethoscope and tries unsuccessfully to seduce him. Much later, Don learns that Wendy is the daughter of the deceased, Frank.

Sometime during this crazy weekend, Stan challenges Mike to throw a makeshift dart (a pen? a hypodermic needle?) at the picture of a large apple positioned above his head. Mike misses and punctures Stan’s raised forearm, causing significant bleeding. Peggy dresses the wound in another room and Stan kisses her, saying that women resist men but they really don’t mean it. Peggy appears to enjoy the kiss but tells him to stop and that she has a boyfriend. Then Stan confesses that he’s feeling bad because his cousin, age 20, was recently killed in the Navy. He then jokes about the job of being a mailman to those on the front lines. Peggy advises him that he needs to feel his grief and not try to cover it up with sex and drugs.

Throughout the weekend, only Mike produces a couple of good nuggets that could become ad ideas, which Peggy acknowledges. At one point Stan excitedly says, “I did it! I’ve got 666 ideas!” Mike says, “I’m wasting my Saturday with lunatics.” At some point, Peggy tells Jim Cutler, “See what a mess you’ve made?”At another point, Don is excited about his new concept: “History cannot be ignored!” As he explains his idea, Mike tries to build on it, saying “Promise them anything – you’re going to change their life – take away their pain – Chevy.” But Don quickly rejects the “Chevy” statement and talks about “getting in the door” – which doesn’t make sense to the others. Peggy realizes Don is out of it. Jim Cutler then calls Peggy over to peek on Stan and Wendy having sex, and Peggy is disgusted and decides to go home.

Meanwhile, Don calls Megan from the office. She needs him to come home immediately to watch the children so she can go out to a play and meet a producer. Don apologizes but says he’s in the middle of something and can’t leave. Megan ends up quickly trying to ensure that the kids will have something to eat before she walks out and leaves Sally in charge. When Don finally leaves the office for home, he first goes to Sylvia’s back door and knocks, but nobody answers. Leaning in, he overhears the kitchen radio blasting the lyrics, “Well I think I’m going out of my head…out of my head over you…day and night…I must think of a way into your heart….” At this point, Don is crashing from his drug high and meanders through the hallway to the front door of his apartment, muttering aloud instructions to himself and rehearsing private lines, such as “Sylvia, don’t close the door on me.” When he enters his home, he’s stunned to see two cops, Betty and Henry, Megan and the three children all sitting in the living room looking at him. He then learns that while Megan was out and Sally was babysitting, an elderly black woman who called herself Ida snuck into their apartment through the back door and stole valuables while pretending to Sally that she was a long lost relative. Don suddenly passes out and falls flat on his face, recalling in his unconscious state the beating he took from his aunt as a teen after being molested by Aimee.

That night as Don rests on the bed staring off, the ever-supportive Megan tries to reassure him. She also apologizes for leaving the children alone, saying, “Sally seems so grown up but she’s really still a kid.” Don, however, can hardly relate to Megan as he ponders his own frustrations.

On Monday morning, Don and Sylvia happen to ride the elevator together. Sylvia asks, “How are you?” but Don stares straight ahead and says, “Busy.” When Don is at work, he calls Sally at the Francis residence to reassure her that he’s okay and that he didn’t have a heart attack. Sally says she’s embarrassed, and that she “acted like a stupid kid.” She also comments that she knows very little about him, which gives him pause. Don replies that he was the one who left the back door open, and that she did everything right. His final advice is: “Try and forget about it.”

Later that morning, Don meets with Ted and Jim in Ted’s office. Ted demands, “What the hell went on this weekend? This work is gibberish!” He also asks, “How could you bring Frank’s little girl [Wendy] here?” to which Jim replies, “It’s better than if we let her go to the Village like she wanted to.”  Then Don announces that, from then on, he will evaluate the work of the creative department for Chevy but not work directly on the account. Indignant, Ted says, “I can’t do it all!” Don replies, “I’m sorry Ted. Every time we get a car, this place turns into a whorehouse.” As Don strides confidently out of Ted’s office, Ted and Jim stare after him in shock and disbelief.

As the title and opening scene reveal, a major theme of this episode is a loss of control that leads to a crash.

·         Ken lost control of the car because his Chevy companions pushed him too much, leading to a car crash.

·         Don lost control of Sylvia, and then of his temper, leading him to crash the phone into the booze cart in his office that created a mess for Dawn to clean up for him.

·         In Don’s flashback of being molested, he lost control over his own body, and this resulted in being beaten by his step-mother, a sort of crashing of his psyche.

·         Most of the office, including Don, lost control of their moods and their thought processes because their boss, Jim Cutler, took control and pushed them to take a mind-altering drug. This led the creatives to “crash” at the office all weekend and end up with nothing but a mess of gibberish to show for it. At one point, Peggy told Jim Cutler, “See what a mess you’ve made?”

·         By leaving his back door open, Don lost control of his own home when the intruder, Ida, “crashed the party” of Sally and her brothers by trespassing.

·         When Don came down from his drug high, he lost control of himself and literally crashed onto the floor in his apartment, becoming “a mess” that Megan attempted to “clean up.”

·         The agency itself was out of the control of its own executives, being controlled instead by their Chevy counterparts; this caused the agency to “crash” in the sense of becoming dysfunctional.

A related theme is work as a form of prostitution. This is similar to the crash theme because prostitution involves a woman giving up control of her own body and allowing men to crash into her in exchange for money. At the new agency, Jim Cutler and most of the others agreed that the large amount of money they were receiving from Chevy was a good reason for them to allow the Chevy execs to screw them over as far as workflow. By remembering his experiences as a youth in an actual whorehouse, Don understood this transaction for what it was and, by the end of the episode, closed the door on it and said no to having his talent prostituted in that way.


A motif throughout the episode is closing doors that should never have been opened.

·         Although Don obsesses about finding a way to get Sylvia to open the door for him, Sylvia closes the door on him permanently, and says he should be happy he got away with it.

·         The drugs in that “energy serum” opened doors in people’s minds that are normally kept closed for good reason.

·         During Don’s attempts to get Sylvia to open her back door to him, he leaves his own back door open, thus allowing Ida the intruder to enter his apartment, threaten his children and steal his valuables.

·         When Stan and Wendy were having sex, they left the door open and Jim Cutler (and Peggy) were able to peek in on them.

·         Don tries to convince Ken to “open the door” to allow him to accompany Ken on his next sales trip to Detroit. Ken doesn’t hold that door closed, but rather explains that he lacks the power to open that door.

·         In taking care of Stan’s wound in a nurturing way, Peggy “opens the door” to an intimate encounter with him that she then explains to him is inappropriate.

·         Jim Cutler opens the door to Wendy hanging around at the office all weekend while her father is being buried, which Ted feels is inappropriate.

·         Wendy tries to “open the door” of intimacy to Don, but Don realizes it’s inappropriate and keeps that door closed.

·         Don’s memory of his first sexual encounter is the memory of being molested, against his protestations. This sexual abuse happened because he wasn’t accorded the right to privacy and a room of his own where he could close the door to intruders like Aimee.

·         At the end of the episode, Don walks out of the office, through Ted’s open door, and Ted and Jim both think his behavior is totally inappropriate.

A key quote in this episode is Peggy’s advice to Stan that he needs to feel his pain, and that sex and drugs ultimately can’t cover it up. That same advice could be applied to Jim Cutler, who felt that drugs could ease the pain of his employees who had to work through the weekend. It could also apply to Wendy, who was using sex and possibly drugs to mask her pain at the loss of her father. More broadly, it may even apply to Don to some extent, although Don also uses sexual relationships to grow and learn, not just to avoid his marital problems.

Given all the control issues in this episode, it was nice to see Don shift from feeling out of control to getting back in control of his life. Sylvia rejects Don first, but by the elevator scene at the end, Don rejects Sylvia too and feels more empowered because of it. At work, Don at first goes along with Jim’s advice and takes the shot he was told would give him more energy and confidence, but by the end of the episode, Don tells Jim what he will and won’t do. Over the weekend, Don puts his home life on hold because of his altered state and his need to produce new ad ideas quickly, but by the end of the episode, Don places a call to Sally from work and handles the conversation like a strong parent, one who takes responsibility for his mistake and gives his daughter an appropriate sense that he’s still in charge.



  1. You really think that Don is in control of his life, even by the end of the episode? Hmmm . . . we'll see.

  2. Rosie, good point - you're absolutely right. What I should have said is that he FELT out of control at the beginning of the episode (and he was), and by the end of the episode he FELT like he was back in control (although that's just his feeling or perception).