We get a break from Betty this week, but Harry Crane is still in full force, as he now has the computer he has desperately wanted being setup in the office. Being that it’s 1969, this means an entire room is required for such a construction and the unsubtle choice of the Creative team’s workroom is the victim. That does not stop work from being done by Peggy though, as she gets a raise, a new project, and an unwilling Don to handle. Meanwhile, Mr. and the former Mrs. Sterling go on a hippie commune adventure, with hopes of rescuing their daughter. Sometimes it is nice to go outdoors, I suppose.
Let’s start with the Sterlings. As it is hard not to be entertained by Roger in any situation, whether he is projectile vomiting in the office or going on an LSD trip (or of course going for humor via a performance in blackface), there is always a little something special to go with seeing him share time with his family, as it basically grounds his character. I would say the same for his interactions with Joan as well, but this week we are dealing with family affairs, which include a number of scenes with his ex-wife, Mona (continually played wonderfully by John Slattery’s real-life wife Talia Balsam.
Their daughter, Margaret, has apparently run away to a hippie commune. Margaret’s husband, Brooks, is instructed by Roger to go bring her back, but he ends up in jail. Mona and Roger then go out to the country to retrieve their daughter themselves. The natural chemistry that Slattery and Balsam have continues to work very well, with the two of them bickering over how to handle this situation, what things are like now, and so on, which is a great way to keep us up on who Roger wants to be, when he is not in his sex dens or planning out ways to get drunk with Don off-campus. Given that Mona and Roger ideally want to present a united front, in order to get Margaret back, only to have Mona give up rather quickly, after her blunt attempt to say all that is wrong with this commune scenario, there is a bit of sadness to see in the way Roger hands over the keys and finding himself alone, in his very nice and very blue suit, against the hippies, in an attempt to keep things to at least stay at a former status quo, instead of having the family reunite for at least some span of time.
One can see how this fits with the mess that is made of this BurgerChef (real former chain) situation, back at the offices of SC&P. It has been three weeks since Don said yes to the horrible offer that allows him another chance, but he’s been given nothing to do. Now the opportunity arises and affords him the chance to work with Peggy again, let alone the other creatives. The problem is with who holds the power, as the project was given to Peggy, along with a raise, but only as long as her team consists of Don. Given the amount of anger Peggy seems to harbor these days and is directing towards Don, among others, having the chance to lord things over Don would likely go exactly the way one would think at this point. Don’s reaction is frustratingly expected as well, as he refuses to do any of the work assignments given to him by Peggy and resorts to tying one on instead. Again, any chance to find joy in a reuniting is hindered for the time being.
At least there is something more hopeful in the Don/Peggy side of this episode, by its end though. Even though Don went through a hissy fit, fitting of a middle-aged man with identity and alcohol issues, he did eventually start doing the work and can perhaps do what he can to reach his old status. Roger, on the other hand, after trying to be reasonable with his daughter, spending a day and night with her in the commune, is eventually pushed over the edge, once Margaret sneaks out to sleep with the hippie-dippiest of commune members. The following morning finds him back in his nice suit and ready to drag Margaret away from this place, with many mentions of the daughter she is leaving behind. He is unsuccessful and then shamed for his own abilities as a parent, finally finding him walking home, after slipping in the mud. The suit may be ruined, but for now, this relationship definitely is, until Margaret makes her own choice in the matter.
Back to the offices of SC&P, the idea of societal evolution is certainly quite present this week, which is fitting, given the tile of this episode, “The Monolith,” which easily brings to mind 2001: A Space Odyssey, where a monolith serves as a literal source of inspiration to primates. While various lectures from the likes of Bert and Freddy Rumsen (Freddy!) serve as more of an inspiration than say the giant computer being assembled in the office this week, the way things keep changing and growing provide the bridges needed to push Mad Men closer to the work environments of the future. The office is getting a computer. Joan, Peggy, and Dawn are all women with plenty of involvement in this ‘man’s world’ of business. Hell, Peggy is given a raise and more responsibility, not necessarily because she earned it, but her skills are certainly not being overlooked either. So what is left for those who are not really needed?
Don is now in the office of Lane Pryce, the office of a dead man, which this show happily points out. Much like how Lane found himself useless in a company he helped start, Don is told by Bert that the company has done just fine without him. Now it comes down to how Don can keep himself from becoming antiquated technology in the same way the computers that IBM replaces are. It is frustrating that we must force ourselves to get through Don making all the wrong and stubborn choices, before deciding that he needs to “just do the work,” if he ever wants to feel like a whole person, as far as work is concerned, again. In the end though, Don decides to soldier on. He steps back from violating the rules he must follow and decides to take on this challenge of change.
While there are only three episodes left for this half of season seven and Mad Men continues to be a show that moves at its own pace and is confident in throwing a character like Roger literally out in the wilderness and finding a way for that to connect with the rest of the show. A father-daughter bond broken up, with reasoning stemming from how the ‘daughter’ was treated and how she’s throwing that back at the ‘father’ addresses both main plots this week, with an attempt to still add the office politics, with some kind of end game likely in mind, as far as the show (and Harry Crane) are concerned. All that said, the show continues to excel at deliberate pacing and confident character work in a way that finds me happy to count the stars, rather than let a computer do it for me.
Any Other Business?
- Another Bob Benson mention this week, will we see him before this half of the season ends or does CBS have James Wolk in their clutches for good?
- Pete, Lou, and Harry battle out for who is the biggest dick this week, but Harry rose to the top, as his nefarious computer dreams come to life!
- Mona on the commune, “These people are lost, they’re on drugs, and they have venereal disease.”
- Freddy’s hangover cure, “It’s as black and strong as Jack Johnson.”
- I loved the scene between Peggy and Joan, given their history and how their positions in this world have changed considerable. It is a brief conversation and there are some biting remarks, but some really interesting exchanges as far as who holds power and how they can remain united, even if they never have been ‘friends’.