Don struggles to adapt to his new working situation during the arrival of a new computer, Peggy's given the lead with an exciting new client, and Roger deals with family problems involving his daughter...
It wasn't a surprise Don (Jon Hamm) spent this episode feeling sorry for himself, as his return to SC&P was about as humiliating as feared. The "stipulations" of his return were a bitter pill to swallow, but on top of that he's now being sidelined in running of the agency (unaware a new computer was inbound), literally helps move furniture around with lowly Ginsberg (Ben Feldman), and had to suffer the awkwardness of being an underling to erstwhile protégé Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) after Lou (Allan Havey) put her in charge of a new account with Burger Chef. The Don/Peggy relationship has always been integral to Mad Men, so it was fascinating to see them both in this new power dynamic. Peggy clearly took delight in summoning Don to her office for a meeting, as the shoe's on the other foot now—despite the fact Don's still listed as a Creative Director as is a partner in the business. How does that work?
There was a moment when Don was laid on his office sofa, looking at the ceiling and upside-down walls, and this topsy-turvy viewpoint matched his professional situation. Even after finding a potential new source of revenue with IBM after chatting to a genial techie (Robert Baker) installing SC&P's new room-sized computer, he's unable to get Bert's (Robert Morse) support after raising the issue. Don was once the golden boy of the office, but now he's an overpaid lackey the partners would rather see disappear forever. As he's reminded by Bert, his loss for two months wasn't disastrous. He isn't as integral to their business as he always thought he was, as the indispensable "ideas man". How long can Don continue like this? He's either due a career resurgence his peers can't smother, or he'll up sticks for good. Freddy (Joel Murray) was fortunately around to give Don a pep talk when he turned to drink as a response to Peggy's rule, but he won't always be there.
I have a hard time caring about the family of the main characters, although the early season's close attachment to Don's marriage made Betty's stories feel worthwhile because she was being lied to be an identify thief. But people like Roger's (John Slatter) daughter and ex-wife? They have never interested me on any level, so this wasn't the best of B-plots for me. However, it was notable for the reason that Margaret (Elizabeth Rice) had fallen into a (seemingly benevolent) cult, and while Mona (Talisa Balsam) reacted with outrage and shame at this, it was Roger who tried to see things from her perspective. Clearly because Roger's dabbled in the late-'60s counter-culture, he made an attempt to live in her commune and appear to be the "hip dad". But, somewhat inevitably, he just couldn't stomach the cold hard fact his daughter's shirked her responsibilities as a mother to go peel potatoes with a bunch of hippies and sleep under the stars. The same stars that computers are helping "mainstream society" reach, on the eve of the year's famous Moon Landing.
- How exciting to see Harry (Rich Sommer) get his way, with the introduction of a fancy new IBM computer for the company. But it unfortunately means the loss of the central lunch room, and there's a feeling the partners only agreed because it makes SC&P look cutting-edge to visiting clients. I'm not sure what they'll use that system for, unless it's to help the number-crunching for the accounts department. Computer Aided Design is awhile off yet!
- "The Monolith" of the title alludes to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, which concerns man's fear of replacement by artificial intelligence. The monolith here was the big IBM computer, which Don half-jokingly suggests could one day replace them all.
- After three episodes spent looking like the bad guy, "The Monolith" humanised Lou slightly. He backed getting Don back to work, gave Penny a $100-per-week pay rise, and put her in charge of Don. But maybe he did all that because he knew it would get Don's back up? He can't enjoy being one of two Creative Directors now, even if he's technically Don's superior, so maybe he's trying to force him out more subtlety?
- We haven't had much from Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) this season, but there was a scene that underlines how over his marriage to Trudy is—when an old friend mentioned his ex-father-in-law had a heart attack he wasn't even aware of. Pete's no longer in the loop when it comes to "family" matters, as he left all that behind. But that may be to his professional benefit, in the short-term, as his ex-father-in-law's business friend George (Josh McDermitt) is keener to work with him now he's free and single.
- After six seasons, how have I missed the fact John Slattery's real-life wife, Talia Balsam, is playing his fictional ex Mona on this show?
A great episode whenever it was focusing on Don and his quiet indignation at his new work life (has he been replaced like that IBM installer thinks all computers will be once they're outdated?), but less compelling when it switched to Roger's storyline with his free-spirited daughter.
written by Erin Levy | directed by Scott Hornbacher | 7 May 2014 | Sky Atlantic