This is the recap for Mad Men season five episode four, Mystery Date. This is where the series finally begins to make some headway with character development, lavishing in the exposition, after getting people caught up with what happened during the break.
WARNING: This post will probably also contain spoilers. Random thoughts on the episode in no particular order:
* This episode begins to examine the revised Don Draper: the content Don, the mostly-relaxed Don, the re-married and in love Don. It’s a move away from his behaviour with Betty, his incorrigible acquiescing to Betty’s attention-seeking (that was called out by Megan), his misanthropy, and his cheating. His multiple mistresses and hiring of prostitutes. His repressed sexual issues, his neediness, and his insecurities. Much of which seems to be assuaged by Megan, who acts more mistress than wife which is fitting.
* Speaking of cheating: would Don cheat? This episode suggests… maybe… if given the chance and knowing his wife would not find out. Don bumps into a woman from his past this week, Andrea (played by Madchen Amick), while he’s sick and just got done coughing all over Megan. Andrea starts flirting but is stopped when Don introduces his very annoyed second wife. Later, Don goes home ill and falls asleep only to hear a knock at the door. It’s Andrea, who’s aggressively demanding sex. She’s thrown out, only to return supposedly because Don didn’t lock the service door after kicking her out the first time. They have sex, only for her to refuse to leave and Don to strangle and kill her. He stuffs her limp body under his marital bed. And you’re thinking: “WHAT DID I JUST WATCH? DID DON DRAPER MURDER HER? HE’S A KILLER!” Well, some things are left semi-ambiguous… Megan says she returned home shortly after Don, and that she slept next to him. However, it’s still plausible that the ex-mistress entered the home earlier and was really thrown out. The time of Megan’s return is ambiguous enough that Megan could have arrived back later than she thought. The extramarital sex could have happened, possibly, although the murder almost certainly did not (as though Don would fall asleep after murdering someone). It’s more likely a reference to new copywriter Michael’s rapey Cinderalla advertising pitch and/or the Chicago nurse massacre where one woman escaped by hiding under a bed. About which Don probably heard earlier, and which becomes a running theme in this episode.
* Joan has been lonely, as a glorified single mother with her own mother’s help raising baby son Kevin (whose father is boss Roger Sterling). Joan plays the devoted military wife, ignoring the probable infidelity, excited for her husband’s return. Except he’s since decided his ego needs more help than his marriage. More help than his baby boy. Greg chooses to leave home for another year of service in Vietnam, Joan choses to leave him altogether but not before acknowledging his drunkenly raping her on the floor of Don’s old office; a rape only mentioned this once. Greg leaves with a slam of the door, with barely a look back for baby Kevin.
* Peggy questions herself, whether she’s “man” enough for her job. She is bribed by Roger to do a male co-worker’s project, then extorts more money to keep the “secret.” She was paid about $400, that’s around $2,600 in today’s money, although it’s not elaborated what that amount really means or what it could buy. Later, Peggy allows Dawn, Don’s secretary, to sleep on her couch. It is revealed that Peggy still holds predudices/ doesn’t know Dawn that well, as Peggy drunkenly stares at the purse stuffed with Roger’s money that has accidentally been left on the coffee table. Earlier, Peggy bragged about having lots of cash.
* And Michael nearly got fired for one-upping Don in the pitch, something contrived for which Michael won’t admit the mistake nor Don’s obvious anger. And Michael appears to have a soul, despite being annoying and aggressive, with a reaction to death photos from a journalist friend of Peggy’s triggering upset and speculation that Michael’s family are Holocause survivors (Sally Draper’s reaction to the same LIFE Magazine murder photos is hiding… under the couch… as her step-grandmother protects them with a butcher knife. About which newly thin Betty will not be pleased).
There’s SOOOO much to be parsed in this episode: the symbolism from beginning to end about fear, the past, one’s demons, and violence such as rape/ murder/ the Holocaust, war, in 1966. All aptly represented by the real Richard Speck massacre, missing shoes, darkness, and the literal mystery dates and knocks at the door and bodies under furniture. Punctuated with the song playing out the credits, following Joan leaving her abusive and neglectful husband, He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss).