Spoiler Alert Thursday: Mad Men, “Mystery Date”

A question about Andrea:

When did Don and Andrea have an affair?  Don claims it was six years ago, at “the old firm.”  This seems implausible — in 1960, when Sterling Cooper could barely comprehend the notion of letting Peggy write junior copy, it was hiring female freelancers?  This, and the fact that Andrea incites so much guilt and anxiety that Don has a fevered nightmare about killing her, implies that their affair was much more recent, maybe even since Don’s marriage to Megan.

On the other hand, Andrea calls Don her “bad penny,” and seems surprised to see him in the building.  (Although of course the encounter could have been calculated and the surprise feigned.)  And Don is pretty obviously totally in love with Megan.

Perhaps the point of the Andrea incident is to underscore how the focus of Don’s life truly has shifted, as he said in the first episode, from his work to his wife.  Megan, not work, is the thing he cares most about.  His Dick Whitman secret can’t much hurt him anymore — Megan already knows about it, and doesn’t much care — so his self-hatred finds a target in his history of infidelity.  It’s a marker of how much he loves Megan that his infidelity to Betty never made him feel guilty when he was actually married to Betty, but he finally feels bad about it now.  As Megan says, the fact that he feels guilty makes it even worse.  She’s married a bad person.  She maybe doesn’t know it yet, but he does.

Also, poor Roger Sterling, who has no place in the world except that which he rents in installments of hard currency.  His wife, who can’t stand him, openly married him for his money.  And he’s now literally paying his job to keep him — he paid Harry $1100 so that he could keep his office, and he pays Peggy $410 to avoid revealing his screw-up.  Maybe Joan’s splitting up with Greg opens the door to reinitiating an affair with Roger.  There are no happy endings there, though, either.

16 thoughts on “Spoiler Alert Thursday: Mad Men, “Mystery Date”

  1. The Peggy plot was excellent. (And those shoes!) So great to see Peggy feeling her oats with Roger — playing him like a carnival sharpie and then giggling to herself after he leaves the room. Then with Dawn, riding that high, mixing drunken uncle with genuine connection. “I know it’s not the same thing” is a perfect lead — and then the glance at the purse, knocking it all down.

    You make a good point about Andrea (Mädchen Amick!), but I had less of a problem believing in her. Midge was doing illustration work when Don was having his affair with her in the pilot — it’s a slight stretch, but not a huge one, for her to have been in the mix at the old firm. You’re absolutely right that she represents the new focus of his self-hatred. It felt significant that his sequence was fuck followed by kill. (The reverse would have been even worse, for sure.)

  2. I didn’t recognize Mädchen Amick! Glad she’s still getting work.

    Did anyone else find it strange that Don’s fevered fantasy about Andrea took a minute for him to gloat about his interior decorating skills?

  3. A more serious thought: yes, Don obviously loves Megan very much, but I think the abject panic relates more to the trauma of Betty leaving him (which was ultimately due to his infidelity, even if she waited until she had a better option). Work is under control — the situation seems to have stabilized at SCDP, apparently due to Pete’s efforts — and as you say, the Dick Whitman issue is no longer a threat. The only area where he — that is to say, his public image — is vulnerable is in his marriage. And it’s vulnerable from two directions. Obviously in this episode, it’s the danger from his side that’s highlighted, but in the premier, it was the danger from Megan’s side: her youth opens up the possibility that she’ll get bored, etc., but also that she’ll embarrass him (as with her song).

    Surely part of his dogged devotion to Betty was the fact that she unfailingly performed appropriately in public, in addition to her embodying the ideal of “beautiful wife” (two duties that she’s now given up on).

  4. I thought that the basic thread of sociopathy was timely for Adam’s book- the episode opens with voyeuristic pleasure from looking at a mass torture and murder scene, and interestingly enough the photographer quotes the book of Job (“I alone have escaped to tell thee”). The questions in this episode seem to stem from the same questions as the book of Job – the seeming randomness of evil/chaos and the omnipresence of human pathology. Notice how the introduction to Job, chapters 1-2, spend quite a bit of time dealing with Job’s – and the satan, and God’s – fears over what actually lies in the depths of the human heart. Job constantly worries that his perfect children may be hiding terrible curses towards God in their hearts (1:5) and the narrator then shows God and the satan worrying over what is in Job’s heart, even though he seems perfect on the outside, too (1:8-9). Think of Megan wondering what Don’s really capable of, what he’s hiding, and what Greg is hiding from Joan, and Joan’s mother wondering about her husband’s (and all soldiers’) wartime activities, the way that Cinderella can be misconstrued as a story of a psychopathic killer. The themes of (1) uncontrollable evil/chaos in the world and (2) the inscrutability of humans to themselves and even divinities seem to be linked.

    I think it’s fair to say that these themes run throughout this episode of Mad Men, too. Why does Joan’s husband, Greg, decide to return to Vietnam? Why does Don continually cheat, and even if he ‘turns a new leaf’ could he possibly get rid of the thing that makes him cheat? Why do psychopaths murder innocent victims? Why do parents and grandparents treat kids so horribly and without cause (think about the relation between Job 1:8, “for no cause,” and the story Betty’s mother in law tells about her dad kicking her for no reason, “so watch out”, and Sally’s position under the couch, knocked out on drugs and terrified of this world, a casualty of human sociopathy.) Don’s sociopathic behavior with women, and his seeming inability to stop acting sociopathic even when he wants to (when he does try to ‘stop it’ in his fever dream he kills a woman!) alludes to this same dimension of inscrutability. I think this episode touches on the connection between the drives and innocent human suffering.

  5. Sally’s position under the couch seemed an echo of Andrea’s position under the bed.

    Ginsberg is turning out to be quite a weirdo, isn’t he? One wonders about the source of his disgust with the people examining the photos through a loupe, given the intensity with which he described his Cinderella scene.

  6. Echoing Brennan, I was really struck by the sociopath dimension. Specifically, the way in which the sex & violence theme recurred, possibly as psychic impetus towards sociopathy. Don’s past and fantasy, the recollection to Greg’s rape of Joan in the past, and of course the killer. And perhaps (using the Cinderella ad as mediation) the desire to look at this sex-violence scene as the disavowed core of advertising itself. With Ginsberg, i believe — in a Mad Men version of the critique against idolatry?!? — as the only “good man” (using the term to which Greg aspires).

    There seemed to be a masculinity studies angle here, as well, given the possible thesis that the satisfaction of these basic instincts (Don’s affairs, Ben’s war and authoritarianism, and again the killer) guarantees that one is not left vulnerable to the humiliation of denying oneself while others do not similarly refrain (Ben faced with Joan’s previous lovers, Don faced with the possibility of Megan embarrassing and / or cheating on him).

    p.s. don’t know if Weiner wrote the episode where Tony Soprano didn’t harm the soccer coach having an affair with the high school girl, and thereupon ended up crying on the floor, but that seemed an interesting point of comparision to Don’s own attempt to “stay faithful”

    also, regarding Ginsberg’s Cinderella ad, one possible reading — drawing off the client’s comment that he “understands women” — would be that woman in the ad refuses to subject her pleasure (the shoe) to the dynamic of violence that could be there … she sees nothing but the shoe. I took this as a redemptive moment. This in contrast to Betty’s mother-in-law’s identification with / pleasure in her own father’s random violence, given as instruction in “how life works.”

  7. Sally’s position under the couch seemed an echo of Andrea’s position under the bed.

    Which itself was an echo of the position of the student nurse who escaped murder by hiding under the bed.

    this episode touches on the connection between the drives and innocent human suffering.

    I agree, but in light of ben’s observation I would go a step further and say that both the drive and the suffering are gendered — the need to “feel like a man,” as Joanie puts it, drives men to violence, specifically rape and other violence against women.

    We have Greg, the rapist, who now wants to return to the violence in Vietnam in order to prove his masculinity. Don, through Megan, has found a new way to be a man — instead of being Manhattan’s number one Lothario, he’s trying to be a good husband. When Andrea threatens this, he fantasizes about strangling her to death. Michael’s Cinderella fairy tale is dark indeed, but it just reflects the atmosphere of sexual violence — you don’t know whether your Prince Charming is going to make you happy for ever after, or rape you and murder you.

    And Sally, who just wants to watch an episode of “Mystery Date” — who’s going to be behind that door? — ends up hiding under the sofa, terrified of being raped and murdered. Sally’s fear is especially poignant — after all, the primary model of adult male behavior in her young life has been Don, a sociopath whose Prince Charming exterior conceals a cold, dark heart.

  8. It strikes me that the “Mystery Date” is predicated on the idea that they mystery is ultimately resolved when the identity of the date is revealed. Yet this episode points out that nobody’s identity is ever fully revealed, and that the mysteries of the Mystery Date are mysteries even to the Mystery Date (to stupidly paraphrase Zizek’s paraphrase of Hegel). Don seems to shock himself with what he does in his fever dream.

    Also, in light of the “only I escaped to tell thee” quote — much of the episode seemed to point to the humans whose brutalized existence continues to testify to the existence of sociopathic behavior. If you destroy everything, no one would know about it, and so there are the stories of serial killers and so on who let people “escape” in order to advertise their brutality, such as the nurse who escaped, but there are lots of other examples in this episode of human ‘waste products’ of sociopathic behavior: Sally, who is basically collateral damage of the war between Betty and Don, all of Don’s lovers who are symbolized by Andrea, and so on. As Dan and jms point out, this is gendered — women keep getting stuffed under the bed, the female body being the primary ‘remainder’ that testifies to male brutality — as with the opening sequence, wherein the shocking pictures of the bodies are put on display.

  9. I love reading the AUFS commentary on Mad Men; especially your thoughts jms-thanks.”Mystery Date” may be my favorite episode of Mad Men yet; it was all so cohesive-all the elements and different storylines woven into this theme about male power/violence and sex.

    One more thought-Obviously, Don murdering Andrea in his state of feverish hallucination revealed how conflicted a person Mr. Draper still is, but did anybody else think there could be a notion of purification/purgation attached to Don’s fever: he is sweating out impurities and killing off past flings in his dreams? Probably not..

  10. perhaps (using the Cinderella ad as mediation) the desire to look at this sex-violence scene as the disavowed core of advertising itself

    I love this. Michael’s emotional reaction to the crime scene photographs, along with his enraptured retelling of the Cinderella story, demonstrate his empathy for women — and in particular, victimized women. As ben notes, this comes off as creepy and weird — but where the other men are enactors of predation, violence and sexual threat, Michael’s horror at violence against women makes him closer to being a “good man,” as dbarber points out, than anyone else in this story.

    I especially like dbarber’s point about how Michael’s Cinderella story (which in his telling, is a rape threat story) is one that turns her fear into need, desire, and ultimately, the redemption available in a consumer product. In the end, all she can see is the shoe. Michael doesn’t like this ad (he rejects it as “too dark”), because he — unlike the other men on the show — is capable of empathy. But in the end, he agrees to make the ad, and without too much concern, either. In a previous episode, Michael says that he didn’t choose this career — advertising chose him — and maybe that’s right. What’s a good man doing in advertising? He can’t stay that way long.

  11. It turns out that I missed an essential element of Michael’s monologue (the part about the offering of the shoe). But I’m not really sold on the redemptive moment in the story. Here’s the monologue:

    Nah, I don’t think so. I mean she’s running down this dark side street, and it’s outside a castle so it’s got those walls, and, and the cobblestones, … and, and she’s running but she’s only got
    this one incredible shoe for her incredible gown so she’s hobbling, wounded prey … She can hear him behind her, his measured footsteps catching up. She turns a corner … those big shadows … and she’s scared. And then she, she feels and hand on her shoulder and she turns ffaround … and it doesn’t matter what [it? he?] looks like. He’s handsome, at that moment, offering her her shoe. She takes it. She knows she’s not safe but she doesn’t care. I guess we know in the end she wants to be caught.

    See? It’s too dark.

    She wants to be caught? Is that her seeing nothing but the shoe? I dunno. It’s also far from clear that Michael doesn’t like the ad, or really thinks it’s too dark. Listen to how he delivers the verdict! (Why would he even bring it up, if he didn’t like it?)

  12. “I wonder if we’re supposed to hear a parallel with the grandma’s telling of the mass murder story from the women’s perspective”

    Maybe. But it was so creepy, and Sally so frightened, that it felt weirder to me than that — the grandma was almost savoring the horror. I also noticed that when the grandma revealed that she was wielding a knife, she held it at crotch level, so that it stuck out like an erect penis from her seated lap. Just a goofy visual gag, probably, but that, along with her excitement over the rape/murder news story, and Sally’s trapped powerlessness in grandma’s dark mansion, contributed to the sense that the grandma was acting as the predatory male figure in the Sally story.

  13. The sense that she’s the predatory male is reinforced by her strong identification with her father’s random violence. I just wonder if the parallel between these two similarly-told stories is meant to cast a creepy light over Michael for those who didn’t already get that vibe.

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