‘Mad Men’ recap: ‘You’re in charge, sweetheart’

May 5

Jay Ferguson as Stan Rizzo, Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson and Ben Feldman as Michael Ginsberg. (Justina Mintz/AMC)

After last week’s plotline-packed episode that thankfully had the return of Betty but rather mortifyingly brought Don back to Sterling Cooper & Partners, “Mad Men” has decided to have a little bit of fun.

Except the fun “Mad Men” gets to have is usually at the expense of a character, and this week is no different. Peggy, Don and Roger all get their separate turns at being shot down both professionally and personally, but it’s Peggy’s “promotion” of sorts that sets the whole thing off.

By way of a Burger Chef account, Don must report to Peggy, effectively putting her in charge. She is given a $100-a-week raise (a roughly $32,000-a-year increase in today’s market), but since it’s Lou who tells her about the promotion, she’s escorted into the role with one demeaning line from the TV world’s worst boss:  

“You’re in charge, sweetheart.” What a beautiful combination of condescension and faux-empowerment. We all hate you, Lou Avery.

So yes, the big buzz this week is that Lou has put Peggy in charge of Don, which quickly – very quickly — turns out to be a not-so-pleasant situation. As much as Peggy is proud of her new position, she also immediately knows what comes with it. Lou has given Peggy the work and responsibility he so feared to take on, because when has keeping track of Don ever worked out for anyone?

She assigns Don to deliver her 25 leads to start off the Burger Chef campaign. In response, he walks into his office and throws a typewriter at the window. Things just get worse from there.

He has a telling advertising conversation with Lloyd, the supervising engineer for Lease Tech, who is setting up SC&P’s first ever computer, an IBM 360. This technological upgrade welcomes “Mad Men” into the very early dawn of the technology boom and, in a sign of the times, the creative team’s meeting room has to be completely taken over by the computer. The installation of the computer also begs the question — who is really in control: man or machine? Given the state of Don in the next few moments, it is definitely the machine.

Most people are fretting about the computer and the creative team is outraged. However, Harry Crane seems rather smug since he’s been one of the pioneers for the future in the office. His obsession with TV ads worked very well with Sunkist last season, a campaign that allowed SC&P to acquire a Los Angeles office in the first place.

After his exchange with Lloyd, Don runs into Bert Cooper’s office and tries to tell him that they should help advertise with Lease Tech since they’re a “virgin” company. Cooper won’t hear it and smacks Don with a hard reality. “You thought there was going to be a big creative crisis and we’d pull you off the bench but in fact, we’ve been doing just fine,” he says.

Don then sneaks a bottle of liquor out of Roger Sterling’s office, returns to his own desk and starts to drink. It all goes downhill from there. He gets college freshman-level sloppy and drunk-dials Freddy Rumsen from his office. Disguised as perhaps the show’s secret super hero, Freddy shows up at SC&P to drag Don out. When a man who got fired for peeing his pants during an office bender has to save you, you know you have a problem.

In terms of ominous foreshadowing, this episode spared no expense. In the first ten minutes, we see Margaret’s son Ellery running around with a toy gun. For all those English and Creative Writing majors out there, this could be a Chekhov’s gun — a narrative rule where if a gun is shown in the beginning of a story, it should go off by the end. Keep in mind that Don resides in the office where Lane killed himself last season. All signs are leading to Don’s death, something seemingly inevitable for the season’s end. This is keyed towards the end of the episode as well, with Freddy and Don back in Don’s wrecked, soiled apartment. Point-blank, Freddy asks him: “Are you just going to kill yourself and give them what they want?” The clues are all there, but maybe they’re getting too obvious. Or maybe “Mad Men” is getting too tired. So now let’s let Roger perk us up a little bit. 

This week, Matthew Weiner & Co. offered one of the singularly most entertaining “Mad Men” scenes of all time: Roger and his ex-wife Mona visit their daughter on a commune. Yes, that’s right, that already trippy, white-haired man takes another step into the psychedelic to visit his daughter, who is living in a very concerning love shack and ditching the traditional “Margaret” name for a more flowery “Marigold.” 

“These people are lost, and on drugs and have venereal diseases,” says Mona within minutes of being there, offering up the most delicious line this week. But the issue here is that this storyline veers away from the “Mad Men” allusions to both accountability and identity. Maybe there is identity here in that Margaret/Marigold is ditching her’s much like Don did. But Roger’s daughter’s change feels more like a prop for the hippie generation. It seems like a last-ditch character switch to key viewers to the fact that it is indeed 1969 rather than a genuine plot point with propulsion and an end goal.

Plot issues aside, we get to see Roger smoke a joint on a front porch with his daughter and two of her commune buddies. We also get to experience an uneasy scene with Roger and Margaret/Marigold sleeping on a bed of hay under the stars. It could have been a sweet scene of father-daughter bonding, but things get creepy when Margaret/Marigold sneaks away with her chosen commune lover. In the morning, Roger’s back in his three-piece suit trying to drag his oatmeal sweater-clad daughter back to the city and back to her son, but she takes his mother-shaming and flips it back on him. “How did you feel when you went away to work, Daddy? Your conscience must have been eating you alive. Calling your secretary from a hotel to pick out a birthday present for me?” she says. And with that, Roger can’t make many moves other than to walk away from the white farmhouse covered in mud with his tail between his legs.

The episode ends with Peggy stepping into Don’s office to see him finally working for her. The Hollies’s “On a Carousel” plays out the episode with the line “riding along on a carousel, will I catch up to you?” For Don, maybe there really is no catching up to Peggy, but at least now he looks like he’s going to give it a shot.

In Los Angeles news: We only get to see Pete and Ted via a conference call with SC&P about the Burger Chef account. It’s revealed that the partners are gunning for Don to deliver the advertising campaign, but they basically want Peggy to make sure he stays sober. And as we all know now, that isn’t going very well. We also see Pete and Bonnie having dinner, where they both garner up as much emotion as an animatronic puppet at the “Hall of Presidents” ride at Disney World. Los Angeles looks to be slowly moving off the map in terms of where the show’s real action will take place, and I think that’s a good thing.

There was no Megan, Betty or Sally in this episode, so I’d expect them all to be present next week. If last week was any indication, that will be a very good thing for the show as we only have three (!) episodes left and are in desperate need of a truly dramatic, jaw-dropping scene.

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David Malitz · May 5