Mad Men Monday Recap – ‘The Monolith’

By: Daniel Reynolds

Heading into the first half of the final season, the Same Page welcomes you each week to the Mad Men Monday Recap. A show as deep as this one needs some diverse commentary so jump in and enjoy our irreverent breakdown of each episode. 

Mad-men-title-card

What’s Happening on Madison Avenue?

It is worth taking a minute to discuss what happened in each episode. If you’re looking for some straight talk on what we just saw on Mad Men, read this section (and then read the other sections because, why not).

Pete’s out on the west coast with his real estate agent, I mean, your real estate agent Bonnie. He’s still wheeling and dealing, it’s what he does. Despite deciding to stop talking to Ted last week – not to mention his new found sense of ennui – Pete Campbell is always ready to talk the talk. “The Monolith” starts with Pete as he susses out a potential new client and national campaign in Burger Chef, the fast food chain. As perceptive (or paranoid?) as Pete can be at times, he has no idea of the turmoil roiling back in Manhattan. He just keeps doing the work.

Don is having his own perception problems. He marches into his office, now three weeks in, still with nothing to do. Maybe he noticed how similar the black door across from the elevator looked to a different famous monolith, maybe not. The office is quiet but the noise picks up. There stand Harry and Jim (naturally, the only two to proudly wear hard hats) announcing SC&P’s great leap into the future (note: Don is not invited to the announcement). The creative lounge will be replaced with a machine. Ginsberg is irate; the company steels itself for its own office space odyssey.

There’s an obvious metaphor at work here. In fact, it’s so obvious that Lloyd Hawley, square jawed computer expert, says this out loud. His company, Lease Tech is buzzing around the SC&P office. Lloyd believes people have trouble with accepting computers. Don usually has trouble with accepting people, so its refreshing for him to hear Lloyd’s musings. The computer is infinite, Lloyd opines, but humans are finite; we’ll never be able to count all the stars, but a computer will never dream of going to the moon. Don knows a potential pitch when he hears one.

Roger walks into his office to find his ex-wife and his son-in-law. He’d probably rather be on Jupiter, or perhaps beyond the infinite with his hippie friends, than dealing with his daughter’s new found sense of independence. Roger attempts to dodge the responsibility at first – he even tempts Don with a little off-campus drinking beforehand. Roger is long past giving much thought to doing any work. What can he do though? Roger gets philosophically boxed so easily by Mona and then by Margaret (er, I mean Marigold). They take turns seeing through his charm. Margaret, cruelly calm in her appraisal, is tired of watching mommy and daddy fight. She’d rather go for a roll in the hay. Sadly, Roger is faced with a daughter who shares his sense of work ethic.

Speaking of fighting parents, Peggy finds herself being manipulated by Lou, a man who’d probably like to nuke the whole office out of spite. She immediately understands the problem of having Don work for her. Don sees it too. He’s working in the office of a dead man and sliding down the organization’s depth chart. Bert disabuses Don of the notion that they need his help. Peggy gets a raise, but is suddenly saddled with an “underling” that won’t do as he’s told and a boss that wishes she would take off. Peggy stares at Don and he remains completely unmoved, a different kind of monolith. I felt bad for Mathis; children of divorce are always hit the hardest.

Lloyd talks about a computer’s ability to stay useful beyond the two year mark (the same length as Lou’s contract). He doesn’t want to find his product in a junk yard. Don now understands: he is obsolete. That’s how he justifies his bender. Hey, it’s the one thing we’re sure a computer can’t do. Freddie Rumsen won’t let him off the hook so easily. He chides Don, offering advice that more at SC&P should hear. If you’re going to be confronted by your own negation, your own defeat, the end of your own legacy, you could at least focus for a time and do the work.

The Symbolism Rankings

Enjoy, with minimal comment, the weekly rankings for whatever symbolism Matthew Weiner has heavily stacked into each Mad Men episode. A show set in the world of advertising is only as good as its symbolism, right?

1) Mets Pennant

2) Red Couch

3) IBM 360 Computer

4) Phone hanging off the hook

5) Empty lighter

Back in the Day

Remember the 1960s? Mad Men really values its sense of place. To that end, here’s where we make mention of whatever anachronistic or historical element popped up this week.

So we’ve had poor Paul Kinsey run off with the Hare Krishnas, and there has been a steady stream of chatter regarding Megan’s choice of friends, but who guessed that we’d see Margaret Sterling run away and join a cult first? Anyone? Anyone? I suppose it shouldn’t come as a shock; cults were quite the deal back in the 1960s.

Having grown up in the rigid world of the 50s, a young person learning of the benefits of commune living would be easily seduced. You get to go off and live by your own rules, tend to work that will directly benefit you, and maybe even get a groovy new name. No one ever seems fastidious or particularly concerned with wardrobe or hygiene. And, added psychological bonus! You get to drive your parents absolutely crazy. While it does seem odd that the Sterlings, Roger and Mona, would decide to drive upstate to rescue their daughter from the wilderness while wearing a three piece suit and an elaborate fur coat, respectively, it does feel appropriate. Even given Roger’s sexual proclivities, neither of them are made for that kind of living.

But you know what really killed the loving spirit of the commune, right? It wasn’t angry parents or police summons, nor a tax man coming to collect. No, the real reason for the collapse of communes is simpler than that. Say what you will about the distant Sterlings, at least they dressed for the weather. The hippies always underestimated the winter.

This Week in Ken! (Cosgrove. Accounts.)

As the most likeable guy in the entire series, Ken Cosgrove deserves his chance to shine. Here’s where we discuss what everyone’s favourite earnest moonlighting sci-fi writer was doing or not doing on the last episode.

This is disappointing. The office is in upheaval, there’s lots of construction, Harry Crane is making things happen, and Ken Cosgrove is nowhere to be found. You’re telling me that SC&P has one of the finest sci-fi writers around and he doesn’t get any camera time with the new soul-crushing computer? Just think of the ruminative narratives that Ken could construct if he got to meet a man both as lifelike and strangely robotic as Lloyd Hawley. That alone would have been such valuable research! (Just between you and me, I feel like Lloyd has probably been staring at the monolith too long.)

Maybe it’s for the best. Ken’s writing career has probably taken a back seat to more pressing matters. He has a son now, and more responsibilities at work. Then there’s the whole one eye thing. Maybe it’s best if Ken isn’t reminded of the joys his writing used to bring him.

Or maybe he’s got a story brewing about a computer that outlives its two-year life span, crawls out of the junk yard and seeks revenge. Ken’s got to put his rage to use somewhere, right?

Know Your Role

Since so much of Mad Men is predicated on minute character interactions, here’s where we discuss the top conflicts that happen in each week’s episode and decide on a winner.

You know, for a guy who is as charming and successful as Roger, he really does seem to have a hard go of it most of the time. Let’s go through his actions here one by one.

Action #1: Roger fights for a greater role for Don, thinking that he should be given some work.

The result? Don gets some work but Lou sets up Peggy, Peggy talks down to Don, and Don goes on a vicious bender.

Action #2: Roger opposes Mona and insists that Brooks, his son-in-law, go upstate to rescue his daughter Margaret.

The result? Brooks apparently gets into a fight with rednecks and ends up in jail.

Action #3: Roger sends his ex-wife home and decides to bond with his daughter at a hippie commune.

The result? Roger hears Margaret disappear into the night, realizes she is just as wanton and reckless as he is, gets told to his face that he has been a terrible, negligent father.

Oh yeah, and he totally ruins that beautiful blue suit.

Winner: Not Roger.

Actual Advertising

Between the drinking, the social commentary and the drinking, sometimes the people of Madison Avenue actually do some work on advertisements. Here is where we sit in the seat of the client, trying to figure out what the hell these ad guys are talking about.

It’s been a difficult time to be an SC&P employee. Your bosses are playing mind games with each other, your cool lounge is now a grey cinder block of a room, and the spectre of Don Draper looms behind a closed door. Even the phones are hanging themselves.

But why does this office have to be so cut-throat anyway? Let’s try to make sense of the timeline together. Don goes nuts, the partners put him on leave (but really they just want him to go away). They bring in Lou, who, as we’ve established, is an asshole. Fast forward, Don returns! Peggy, Lou and other partners (Jim, mostly) are not pleased. Pete, in LA, wants Don on the campaign he is trying to land (because Bob Benson). Ted wants Peggy (because heart). Don wins! But Jim grins. He seems much too happy with the outcome of the partners’ debate. Lou plots for the demise of all involved. He puts Peggy in charge, with Don as an underling. Even as the words leave his mouth, “You can have whoever you need. And Don,” we sense trouble. Don chaffs, Peggy is upset, Lou gets to act smarmy behind his goofy cardigans. Jim plays with his computer. These guys are supposed to be working together!

All this to develop an advertisement for Burger Chef. Mathis writes 25 tags, but no one seems to care. Ironically, in less than 30 years, Burger Chef will be wiped off the face of the earth. And the machines will just be gearing up to take over. Meanwhile, all Ginsberg wanted was his couch full of farts. Times are changing in SC&P, man. Being good at coming up with advertising pitches just isn’t enough anymore.

Monolith

Next Episode Predictions

This is where we watch the totally opaque preview for next week’s episode and make wild guesses as to what will happen next.

Two things jumped out at me in the preview for next week’s episode. The first: Betty, Betty, Betty. She sets the table while she smokes, she has things to say, she looks brittle and upset. Oh Betty, will you ever be happy? Will you ever get us to think anything besides, “You’re terrible”? Will Henry ever wonder what the hell he is doing with a child-like grown woman and a house full of someone else’s kids? See how soap opera that got? That’s Betty.

Second: Ginsberg with, um, something in his ears (?), hiding behind a desk. You know what, I can’t wait.

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