‘The Monolith’ – what a title for an episode of anything not directly related to 2001: A Space Odyssey. The one shot that recalls 2001 comes early is blink-and-you-miss-it quick; a shot of the SC&P elevator doors, black and imposing against a white background. And like the monolith in 2001, this doors represent all the power and troubles of the world if man (…Mad Man? You’re welcome) wants them. Yet this isn’t the monolith proper of the episode; that title most obviously goes to the computer being installed in the office. The gigantic size of the machine and furore its installation creates in the office provides some easy “haha the past!” laughter that is mercifully not played too heavily for the laughs in the episode, yet there is a seriousness to this change. The entire series, especially the entire series when viewed as a world external to Don’s problems, has been about change. The old world of ad copy being written by 4 white dudes in a room is dying. And speaking of dying…
We’re witness to some of Don’s absolute lowest moments in this episode as he slowly kills himself, both metaphorically at work, and perhaps literally- both with booze. Having Peggy serve as the head of Pete’s potential new account (remember, they haven’t even pitched yet), and manner in which Lou framed it like it was a gift for her- was almost cruel. We, the viewers, know that she’s being played and perhaps paid off, and feel even more spite towards her when she’s bitter to Don. She’s truly become the Season 1 Draper of the office now – don’t forget that Don has never truly been a sympathetic character.
The B-Plot, to call it that, is one of the show’s more charming in years. Seeing Roger bond with his family is always an easy move for Mad Men, and his daughter especially. It is excellent having a little closure on her episode one reveal- even if she has just joined a hippy commune. Roger, already erring towards the hippy lifestyle somewhat (at least the casual group sex and a drug use), of course was able to abide it all for a spell. Yet naturally it wouldn’t last. The hippy lifestyle of free love and free opinions are all well and good until it infringes on a long held belief you have, Roger’s belief is just that his daughter is still his little girl. He can shrug off his business persona, his political views, his suit and apparently even his jealousy relationship hang ups. Yet through never dealing with his daughter growing up, he has only ever known her a young girl. Seeing her casually engage in the sex he’s, perhaps shamefully, engaged in his whole life is just too much. Some suits don’t come off so easily.
The episode, like every one of Mad Men, was excellent TV. Yet being masochists as we all are, following along this series for the better part of the last decade, we demand certain things and perhaps expect others. The best episodes of the show, outside of the crazy joyous ones where business is number one and it’s a long series of “Fuck Yeah!” moments, are the crushing ones. This season’s opening gambit of episodes has easily been the most depressing of the show’s series, and it’s been excellent for it. This episode’s ending marks a turn away from this. Freddy’s speech to Don at the conclusion of this episode was fantastic and needed; needed for both Don and for show. We can’t just have this season be 14 episodes of Don drinking and looking longing through windows (as enjoyable as that may be on a superficial level); change is needed. Don getting back to work at the end of this, getting back to work at the bottom of all places- recalled Sisyphus and his rock, and especially Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus. Freddy even tells him that he can’t just kill himself- he needs to go back to work. The genuine tone of it all, genuine in the face of the irony the shoe often revels in, combined with the overcoming of alcohol (to a point) also brought back memories of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Even searching for meaning in his work might just be enough to save Don. Was this all a little on the nose? Take it from Harry Crane and Don; “It’s not symbolic.” “No, it’s quite literal.”
Loose End Observations:
- Doesn’t Weiner just love having people fall down in moments of seriousness! Roger’s fall in the mud was good, but not enough to dethrone Pete’s crowning moment of tripping down the stairs.
- Marigold? Brilliant hippy-fication of Margaret.
- Does Bert want to be more a bastard this season? Racist earlier, and now effectively calling Don a dead man. Quit the Ayn Rand Cooper!
- Bob Benson gets name dropped for the second time this season- where is that guy? Someone might need some coffee!
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Mad Men airs Mondays, 4:35pm (repeated 8:35pm) on showcase