Review AMC’s Mad Men: Episode 504 “Mystery Date”

For those who wondered what historical time frame Mad Men was currently operating in, we got a pretty definitive answer Sunday night as much of the episode revolved around a murder case that occurred in July of 1966. We first get news of the infamous murder case when Peggy’s Time magazine photographer friend crashes the copy-writer meeting to show off the grizzly photos she’s collected from the crime scene. We get a taste of all of the societal elements being touched upon in this week’s episode in a nice little package. The re-introduction of Peggy’s professional lesbian feminist friend let’s us know that we will be seeing elements of the women’s rights movement. The discussion of how the murder case is trumping stories about the race riots in Chicago is a tip off that we will be dealing with more of the civil rights movement, and finally we get the juxtaposition of attitudes about the murder case itself as Ginsberg is horrified by everyone’s giddy fascination with the explicit photos. Before we follow through on these topics and visit the first true “Holy Shit” moment of the season lets get move on to bigger and better things, ie. Joanie.

Greg has returned from Vietnam to the anticipatory arms of Joan and his newborn son but we soon learn that he’s returning for another year of duty, as a volunteer no less. The somewhat hapless doctor has found a place where he is important and respected and is eager to return. Joan doesn’t take guff from anyone and lets face it, Kevin isn’t really Greg’s son anyhow, so she promptly shows him the door. Goodbye Greg, good luck in the late 60’s Vietnam, I bet his return in a year won’t be so damn proud and patriotic. As we see in the teaser at the end of the show Joan will soon be returning to the office where the awkwardness between her and Roger can resume.

Meanwhile at SCDP Roger is again caught with his pants down as he is completely unprepared for the upcoming Mohawk Airlines meeting, and he is forced and coerced into bribing Peggy to get his campaign in order. I missed the mark when it came to a potential Peggy/Roger romance last week, but their exchange was peppered with a bunch of great one liners.

Peggy’s late night of cramming in the office leads her to discover that the new secretary Dawn is sleeping in the office because of the riots in Harlem. Peggy forces Dawn to come home with her to crash on the couch and gets promptly drunk, and espouses on her difficulty in being the first woman copywriter in the all-male office hierarchy, but unfortunately spoils all of her good will when she gets caught doing a double take before leaving her cash filled purse in the same room as her black secretary. This is a classic example of Mad Men subtlety as we know that Peggy has a good heart, and doesn’t truly mean any ill will, but she is also a product of the time and environment and truly has a moment of doubt when faced with the moral dilemma of trust in her racial and socioeconomic underling.

We get a healthy does of Sally Draper for the first time this season as she continues to progress through the awkward transition into her adolescence and her personal battle against her evil step grandmother-in-law. Her grandmother is particularly strict on Sally because she believes that Betty doesn’t provide enough discipline and though she is right, she is militaristic and sometimes cruel which is no way to win over a child.

In this week’s case much of the tension between the two revolves around Sally’s curiosity about the murder case that she reads so many obvious signs about. After stealing the newspaper and scaring herself silly, Sally and Grandma have a strange bonding moment as Grandma finally opens up a bit in the form of sharing proud stories of her borderline abusive father, descriptions of the heinous murder incident, wielding a steak knife to protect them from any intruders, and drugging young Sally to help her get to sleep. In the end in some odd way it will probably help their relationship as all Sally really seems to be seeking is some kind of motherly leadership.

Finally we come to Don’s tale this week. Early in the episode we experience and awkward moment where Don and Megan run into one of Don’s old lovers in their buildings elevator which sets off a minor tiff between the newlyweds.

Don, suffering from a nasty fever-inducing cold doesn’t stop smoking but is convinced to head home early to get some rest. Don is in for a surprise though as his old flame from the elevator is back to repeatedly haunt him. He first forces her out of his home only to have her resurrect him from his sleep and tempt him out of his new found marital steadfastness. Don is awoken a second time by his haunting harlot with more “threats” of marital impropriety at which point Don loses his shit, chokes her to death and shoves her body under his bed.

We of course learn, not too long afterwards, that Don is in the throes of his fever and has been imagining these episodes under the influence of the Chicago murder sensationalism, and his inner struggle with fidelity. Don has such a checkered past and can be so volatile at times that the scenario certainly left enough doubt that it had me, as well as many of the audience I would guess, truly stunned. It’s definitely not a stretch for Don to cheat on his marriage, see previous seasons, and frankly it wasn’t that much of a leap for me to believe he might just snap and become a murderer as well, he was a veteran of the Korean War after all. This is the beauty of Don Draper. You love him for his ability to get the best out of others and his frank reality but you aren’t surprised by any depth he might sink to.

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