Season 6 of “Mad Men” continues to reflect the spirit of the times far better than previous seasons. I’m not referring to people thinking cigarettes aren’t unhealthy or the sexism that was commonplace in this era. The spirit -- the chaos, the overindulgence, the sense of instability -- are impressively captured this season.
Last week’s episode was a display of each character’s attempt of control, from Don’s attempt to play power games with Sylvia, to Ted and Don’s back and forth power struggles, and finally Pete’s problems with his mother and her dementia. In the last few moments of the episode, we learn of the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. And in this week’s “The Crash,” we see the aftermath.
“Mad Men” has explored drug use before, but never in this surreal, hour-long experience. It starts with seeing Don pace outside his former lover’s apartment, and then telling her in a phone conversation that he’s “experiencing a lot of emotions.” If we thought that would be the height of seeing Don’s vulnerability (when has he ever admitted to having feelings?), we were wrong.
From the very first terrifying scene of Ken Cosgrove having no control over the group he’s driving with to Grandma Ida’s visit, we see our characters descend to a state of pure chaos. Time is lost; it’s hard to differentiate between the days and nights, both for the characters and the viewers.
We see Stan dealing with grief and he tries to hook up with Peggy, sparked by his cousin’s death in Vietnam. We see Sally and Bobby deal with a thief in their house, and Sally's defense of mistaking a woman for her grandmother: "I realized I don’t know anything about you."
And Don. I’m not a huge fan of his flashbacks -- they seem so disconnected from that past. But, they do shed some light onto the elusive Draper. We see how Don lost his virginity, and a partial explanation of his love of secrecy. What happened between him and the prostitute was his secret, until it was discovered. She not only was the first woman who was intimate with him, but possibly the first woman who was kind to him.
Don goes from a shattered mess to spending three days high thinking of Sylvia. Finally, with the realization that his actions (leaving the back door open) could have seriously harmed his children jolting him back to his unemotional self, followed by the longest elevator ride, ever. It also leads to his refusal to continue with Chevy’s ad campaign. “Everytime we get a car, this place turns into a whorehouse.”
Bobby Kennedy’s passing wasn’t mentioned in this episode, but the sense of uncertainty, the continuing themes of death, and the disjointed storytelling quality captured the times extremely well. When Peggy talks about loss and says you have to feel it -- “you can’t dampen it with drugs or sex” -- it seems like she’s talking to a whole generation of people.
Plus, Woodstock is only a year away. It was about time we saw these characters get high, and it was very comical.
Some additional thoughts:
“Chevy is spelled wrong!” Awesome.
Betty’s back and gives us a few great lines. She asks Sally where she got money for the skirt, and when Sally says it’s from working, Betty asks, “on what street corner?” She tells Megan she was hanging out on a casting couch, and randomly mentions her husband’s campaign in the middle of a police scene in Don’s apartment. And wait, she’s blonde again?
Bobby. “Are we negroes?”
“I hate how dying makes saints out of people.” Although Gleason was discussed here, it’s hard not to think of the famous deaths that happened in 1968.
“I could be dying in Vietnam and I can’t have a car?” Love Ginsberg. Leave it to him to give a reminder of the cushy lives being lived in the Time-Life building.
This week’s favorite scene: Ken Cosgrove tap dancing (of course).
Sally is reading “Rosemary’s Baby.” Um.
Moles. Sylvia has one, the prostitute had one, and so did that woman in the ad about soup Don made years ago. Weird.
It’s the '60s. A druggy, dream-like episode was expected, and finally, we got it. What did you think of Grandma Ida? Of Don’s way of dealing with loss? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
About Viewer Discretion
ContributorsMatthew Gilbert is the Globe's TV critic.
Sarah Rodman is a staff TV and music critic for the Boston Globe.
Michael Brodeur is the assistant arts editor for the Boston Globe, covering pop music, TV, and nightlife.
Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.
Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.
Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer at Boston.com.