Mad Men Discussion, Season 5, Episode 4: “Mystery Date”

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Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) and her mother Gail Holloway (Christine Estabrook) react to the unwelcome news that Greg Harris has volunteered for another tour of duty in Vietnam (Photo Coutesy of AMC).
Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) and her mother Gail Holloway (Christine Estabrook) react to the unwelcome news that Greg Harris has volunteered for another tour of duty in Vietnam (Photo Coutesy of AMC).

Katie: Hi Alex,

Wow. What a fantastic episode this past Sunday. If audiences didn't feel fully back in the "Mad Men" groove this season as I have, they certainly should now.

Let's start with one of the most notable aspects of "Mystery Date:" the very pronounced inclusion of historical events, like the Richard Speck murders in Chicago, as well as the race riots that were also occurring in Chicago at the time.

Of course, being a period piece, it's nearly impossible to not mention the current events of the 1960s in the show. However, what "Mad Men" has been so great about in the past (and in this case, I'd argue) is that the real-life events themselves aren't quite so intriguing as those events they affect and parallel the lives of Matthew Weiner's fictional creations.

For instance, this week the Richard Speck murders drew the somewhat macabre fascination of the young copywriters and co. at SCDP (including a welcome return from Zosia Mamet as Peggy's lesbian pal Joyce), as well as that of Sally Draper. Kiernan Shipka continues to stun with her arresting young talent, as she shifts effortlessly from petulance to curiosity to rage to fear during her squabbling/bonding sessions with Grandma Francis with riveting charisma.

What struck you most about "Mystery Date?"

Alex: Hi Katie,

You know, I actually thought this was the weakest "Mad Men" of the season thus far, and probably one of the show's lesser efforts to date, mostly for the Don storyline. I can certainly appreciate what Weiner's goals with this story, but there had to be a better way to show that Don wants to stay faithful to Megan. It was fairly clear from the start that his dalliance with Andrea (Madchen Amik) was a bed-ridden hallucination, and if there's one thing "Mad Men" doesn't know how to do, it's scenes set inside the characters' minds. This portion of the episode was probably my least favorite thing "Mad Men" has ever done, but the other story lines almost made up for it.

Joan has never had it easy in "Mad Men," and her marriage to failed surgeon Greg has been a reliable source for pathos in the past. Even so, it was insanely satisfying to watch her kick him to the curb, and Christina Hendricks really sold the dissolution of her marriage, a culmination of years of frustration exploding all at once. I especially liked the sense of history that the episode's script brought to this storyline, with callbacks to Joan's accordion skills and that ugly, ugly rape scene way back in Season 2. I can't help but wonder if this is the last we've seen of Greg, or if he's ever going to do the math on Joan's pregnancy.

A good bit of the episode was spent getting to know the new employees at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. While it was entertaining to watch Ginsberg nearly destroy his career before it even got off the ground, I'm curious what you thought of Dawn and Peggy's drunken late-night conversation.

Katie: I do actually agree with you about Don's storyline, which was far too blatant about Don's continuing struggle with marital fidelity. His altercation with an old flame (which, yeah, was pretty obvious was a fever dream from the start) was on the clumsy side, not to mention made episode's theme of violence against women far too obvious. That's a shame for a show like "Mad Men," which can be delightfully subtle on its best days. Had Don's story this week been altered or even left out, I think the episode might've been better off for it.

The scenes between Peggy and Dawn were a highlight for me as well, even though their story's thematic beats were almost as ham-fisted as Don's; it was just so much fun to watch the two of them interact. I loved seeing Peggy trying a little too hard to take the new girl (and the only African-American at the agency) under her wing, only to have all her carefully cultivated feelings of inter-racial sisterhood crumble with one suspicious glance toward her purse. Plus, you can't just go wrong with drunk Peggy.

A quick final rundown of some other details I found interesting this week:

  • Watching Don's face as Michael Ginsberg deliberately out-sold Don's pitch with his own for the footwear guys.
  • Actually watching Ginsberg deliberately out-sell Don's pitch for the footwear guys. The boardroom ad business bullshitting remains one of my favorite aspects of "Mad Men."
  • The uproarious back-and-forth between Roger and Peggy as she haggles the price of taking over the Mohawk account. I don't think the show has ever been as funny as it has this season.
  • Joan calling out her husband on his, thus far, seemingly ignored rape of her. What a powerfully earned moment. 

Any final thoughts?

Alex: I'm curious to see what the next episode brings for our cast. Joan will presumably be returning to work a newly single woman, and Roger's reaction to that will doubtlessly be priceless. However, I'm really fascinated to see how Dawn and Peggy's drunken night of bonding impacts the way Peggy treats her boss's secretary, and if it will have any impact on the office dynamic as a whole. More than anything, I hope Don is back on his feet, because if "Mad Men" is a few misguided dream sequences from collapsing under the weight of its own symbolism.