Mad Men as Horror Movie: A Few (Not So) Good Men
Jon Hamm, Sam Page
When did Mad Men become a horror movie?
Set against the backdrop of panic caused by Richard Speck's 1966 massacre of eight nursing students in Chicago, Sunday's episode, "Mystery Date," was filled with chills (a strangulation, things that go bump in the night at the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce offices, grandma Pauline's butcher knife) and at least one thrill (Joan finally shipping her husband off to Vietnam for good).
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Let's start with the thrill first. Unlike Joan (Christina Hendricks), I've never been able to see redeeming qualities in Greg (Sam Page). Sure, he's a doctor with a pretty face, but he's also the jerk who raped his then-bride-to-be on the floor of Don's office in Season 2. (He also reduced Joan to a party trick in Season 3 by making her play the accordion for his boss, an act that got a hilarious callback in this episode.) So, when he returned home from Vietnam not in a box, I was more than a little sad. Greg hardly seems to care much about the baby he's never met (to be fair, neither does his real father) and eventually Joan learns that Greg doesn't care enough about her to stay home. He volunteers for another year of service, barking at a dissenting Joan, "I've got my orders and you've got yours."
After a sleepless night, Joan tells Greg their marriage is over, adding that she's "glad the Army makes you feel like a man, because I'm sick of trying to do it." When Greg violently grabs her wrist and protests, Joan continues: "You're not a good man. You never were, even before we were married, and you know what I'm talking about."
While Joan frees herself from the stranglehold of her marriage, Don (Jon Hamm) does some strangling of his own in a visceral fever dream. After Don and Megan (Jessica Pare) bump into Andrea (guest star Madchen Amick), one of Don's former conquests, the Ghost of Infidelities Past begins haunting chez Draper. Having gone home early to sleep off his nasty cold, Don soon envisions Andrea having found her way to his new apartment. Although he sends her away (Don's already jealous-making pad has a service elevator too!) she later returns and seduces Don into his old habits. When she refuses to leave and insists that she's a mistake Don "loves making," he strangles her to death and pushes her corpse under the bed. (A nice twist on the Speck case, in which the only survivor stayed alive by hiding under the bed.)
When Don wakes, a divinely backlit Megan brings him breakfast in bed. Having presumably killed his inner philanderer for good, Don tells Megan, "You don't have to worry about me." Based on the homicidal subconscious we just witnessed, color me unconvinced.
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Thanks to more incompetence from Roger Sterling (John Slattery), Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) is forced to work late on a Mohawk pitch — but not before fleecing Roger for the 400 bucks in his pocket. (Seriously, that guy needs to carry less cash. Also: We need at least one Peggy-Sterling scene a week.) When Peggy hears some strange noises in the office after dark, she eventually learns that Don's new secretary Dawn is sleeping on her boss' couch because it's too late for her to go home to Harlem. Girls' night at Peggy's!
Drunk Peggy (our favorite kind of Peggy) tries to inspire Dawn with her own rise from secretary to copywriter. ("I know we're not really in the same situation, but I was the only one like me there for a long time," Peggy says.) But as Peggy realizes how different Dawn's plight is, she begins to question if she acts a bit too much like the men around her. "I try, but I don't know if I have it in me. I don't know if I want to."
Sadly, Peggy soon realizes that she has enough of "it" in her to be fearful of leaving her purse full of Roger's money lying on the coffee table while Dawn sleeps. Peggy tries to play off her pregnant pause, but it's too late. Dawn slips out the next morning, leaving a note thanking Peggy for her hospitality.
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The monster young Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka) faces is Grandma Pauline, the haunted mansion's dark overlord, who makes tuna salad with relish and sleeps with a butcher knife at her bedside. But the fact that Pauline strikes Sally for wanting to know more about the Speck murders is a reflection of the not-good man who raised her, a man who once kicked her just so she'd always keep her guard up. "That's not nice," Sally says. "No. But it was valuable advice," Pauline says.
The increasingly petulant Sally finds the newspaper and reads about the murders by flashlight anyway, spooking herself and ensuring that she won't ever get to sleep again. What's Grandma Pauline's solution? Just as with Fat Betty, Pauline suggests popping pills, giving 11-year-old Sally a Secanol, which does the trick. When Henry and Betty arrive home the next day, both are zonked out, with Sally, thematically, hiding under the sofa.
So, what makes men feel like men? For the Richard Specks of the world, it's the violent, sexual domination of women. (See also: New Guy Ginsberg's re-telling of a shoeless Cinderella as "wounded prey.") And even though Don thinks he's "killed" that part of his own being, I suspect it's Megan who will ultimately take control of how Don behaves moving forward. Take control or, like Joan, eventually take out the trash.
What did you think of "Mystery Date"?