Mad Men recap: Drug-fueled antics in "The Crash" may leave some fans out in the cold
Mad Men fans can be a fickle, exacting bunch.
Two weeks after swooning over an episode featuring a merger of the Sterling Cooper ad firm with a competitor, some Mad Maniacs online were already fed up with the series, courtesy of Sunday’s surreal, drug-fueled episode, “The Crash.”
My theory: the show moves at such a snail’s pace sometimes, that developments which would seem less momentous on a different show take on gigantic proportions in the Mad Men universe.
Two weeks ago, uniting Don Draper’s nemesis Ted Chaough in the same firm and bringing along a more confident Peggy Olson, seemed a move pregnant with possibilities. But the last two episodes have spent so much time avoiding obvious storylines that they have felt flat and redundant, particularly on Sunday.
Mad Men creator Matt Weiner also worked on HBO’s The Sopranos, which seemed to take perverse pride in pissing off some of its fans with dream episodes which essentially kept plotlines running in place while delivering absurdist visuals and clues to deeper motivations of the characters.
Weiner seems to achieve the same result on Mad Men in different ways; earlier, with a fever dream Draper had while ill, and on Sunday night, with a episode centered on a crazed weekend in which almost every major character gets hopped up on a mysterious injection delivered by a doctor brought in by Jim Cutler, L.A. Law alum Harry Hamlin’s oddly perverse accounts manager. (it's interesting that this happens when both Ted and office manager Joan Harris were out; Joan with an illness and Ted attending a funeral.) Click here for more on Cutler's Dr. Feelgood.
Draper becomes obsessed with the idea of comfort through mothering, as we learn via flashbacks that he only seemed to get such comfort as a young teen from a prostitute who worked in the brothel where he lived. She also deflowered him in the process, creating the weirdly toxic ball of need for mothering, sexuality and comfort Draper often displays, only to reject it later, once he’s found a woman willing to provide it.
Unfortunately, this is stuff we already guessed weeks ago, when we saw that Draper’s stepmom had to sleep with the brothel’s owner in order for them to stay there. Watching his stepmom beat him after his loss of virginity was revealed did help to explain why the adult Draper could care less when she died of stomach cancer – but that’s something else any sharp-eyed fan could guess.
The reason fans like me hate these surreal sequences is because Mad Men requires so much attention to detail for viewers, anyway. We’re constantly picking apart episodes to decode meaning – setting an entire episode in a fever dream caused by drugs drops all kinds of new details to consider, when most of them won’t be relevant.
Weiner also took time to drop an unsavory character of color into the mix, capping Sunday’s episode with scenes in which a an older black woman snuck into Draper’s home while he and wife Megan were out, telling his children she was their grandmother.
The woman, who called herself Grandma Ida, knew the names of the children, Draper’s name and details about their lives which seemingly no random burglar could possess. Which left me wondering whether the incident would blowback on Draper’s black secretary in the future – does she have an addled relative who took advantage, somehow?
In the end, you have children who are supposed to be spending a weekend with their father stuck in an apartment, threatened by a burglar while dad is off tripping on energy injections and pining over his lost mistress.
More and more, Mad Men is putting the test to an essential question every viewer asks before they sit down with such a challenging series:
Do I really want to spend this much time with these people?
If Mad Men presents many more episodes like “The Crash,” I know what my answer will be.