Thursday, 23 May 2013

MAD MEN, 6.8 – 'The Crash'

Thursday, 23 May 2013

written by Jason Grote & Matthew Weiner | directed by Michael Uppendahl

It seems like Matthew Weiner so enjoyed "Far Away Places" from season 5, which featured hilarious scenes of Roger Sterling (John Slattery) getting high, that he couldn't resist co-writing an episode where almost every character was on amphetamines—prescribed by a doctor, at the behest of the firm's new partner Jim Cutler (Harry Hamlin), to inspire increased creativity and productivity in the workforce. I may be in the minority with this, but I found a great deal of this episode too self-consciously ker-azy for its own good, and consequently had a tough time really caring about some of the serious issues and sub-plots that were part of the mix.

I assume it wasn't unusual in the 1960s for a doctor to inject employees with "energy serums", but it was still a bizarre thing to happen in the context of Mad Men. It definitely produced some amusing moments; like Ken (Aaron Staton) tap dancing, or Stan (Jay R. Ferguson) getting a pen stuck in his forearm during an office version of William Tell's apple-shot, but it just wasn't as hilarious or compelling as I think was intended.

Still, I did enjoy watching Don's (Jon Hamm) absolutely meltdown: wasting three days work on an "ad campaign" for Chevy that turned out to be a plan to get Sylvia (Linda Cardellini) back now she's ended their affair. It was also good to see the Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) and Stan romance progress, after he revealed he's been secretly grieving the death of his cousin in Vietnam, shortly before they kissed. Sadly, this good work was later undone when Peggy saw him having sex with someone else, so maybe these two will never get together. But I hope they do, because Peggy deserves someone far better than Abe the loser.

While the 'drug-taking at work' scenario didn't sit right with me, I did enjoy a similarly bizarre storyline where Sally (Kiernan Shipka) was left to babysit her brothers, only to find a large black lady in Don and Megan's (Jessica Paré) apartment, claiming to be her grandmother Ida. Sally's an intelligent teenager, so I liked how she at least attempted to question Ida, before later trying to call the police, although I wasn't very convinced by her performance. If she knew Ida was deceiving them and was slowly robbing the place, she was suspiciously cool about it. Maybe that's a sign of how innocent kids were in the 1960s, but as a child of the 1980s I'd have been terrified if a strange woman was snooping around the house while my parents were out. It felt a little odd to me.

The flashback to Don's childhood was pretty good, even if my tolerance for these flashbacks has started to drain over the years. Here we learned that a sickly Don lost his virginity to a prostitute, Ms Swenson (Megan Ferguson), who played nursemaid to him when he was ill, to the anger and shame of his mother when she found out and beat him with a spoon. It was interesting, but I'm beginning to feel like Mad Men is beating us over the head about Don's mindset when it comes to women and sex. After six seasons, we fully understand that he's easily bored and doesn't like commitment, and much of that stems from his weird upbringing as a country boy living in a whorehouse.

Overall, "The Crash" was definitely an enjoyable episode with amusing moments and some excellent lines ("are we negroes?" Bobby asked Sally, upon hearing about Grandma Ida), but it just wasn't anything special to me. Maybe it was too peculiar for its own good, because I found it hard to invest in anything or take it too seriously, but it also lacked subtext and was so heavy-handed it irked me. On the plus side: Betty (January Jones) is back and she's lost weight, so now she's back to being a glamourpuss just in time for her husband to run for office...

22 May 2013 / Sky Atlantic