xoJane's MAD MEN Season 5 Recap, Episode 3: Women (And Men) On The Verge

This week, fever dreams got violent and Joanie got MAD.

Apr 9, 2012 at 5:32pm | Leave a comment

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Hm, this week was a doozy, wasn't it? There was a lot of yelling, a lot of suppressed rage, a lot of awkwardness and a lot of ... coughing. Don apparently had TB for a spell and it sent him into a tizzy. Let's recap.

The episode began with Don and Megan encountering one of Don's many past conquests on the elevator up to SCDP. Awkwardness ensued, and Megan felt a bit uncomfortable. She's young and sexy but is that enough to keep Don? It seems Megan was feeling a touch of what everyone else was last week, "Am I good enough?" and all that.

Don, meanwhile, was crankier than usual, suffering from bronchitis or the black lung or something similar. Ew. I hate hearing other people cough. I had the flu in December and feel really bad for everyone who was in the movie theatre with me as I hacked my way through the "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Sorry, cinema patrons!

Anyway, where were we? Peggy's friend, the lesbian bohemian TIME magazine girl from last season showed up to the office with crime scene photos from the Chicago murders committed by Richard Speck to horrify everyone with. I myself was previously unaware of these crimes and after doing some research about them after the episode I was sure of two things: 1) the crime was an absolutely horrific and gruesome case and 2) the Mad Men writers definitely took inspiration from it, not just as a news-story for the plotline, but for something much, much deeper. More on that later.


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Joan's rose-shaped earrings matched her rose-printed dress which matched her red heels. Dreamy!

Joan was all spiffed up this week (not that she's ever been anything but spiffy) as her blockheaded husband Greg was set to return home from the Vietnam war. Joanie was full of joy and ready for action, and I don't blame the girl. Greg's the worst but handsome in a Ken doll way, and months of being lonely and pregnant, then lonely and newly a mom, have surely left her craving the company of a man. (I wish she'd just hook up with Roger again, gosh.)

Greg was delighted to see baby Kevin, who-isn't-really-his-son-but-he-doesn't-know-so-whatever, but even more so delighted to see Joan and they had no qualms sending the baby off with grandma so they could enjoy a roll in the hay.

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Slow down there, party animals.

Poor Sally is stranded at home for the Summer with her miserable grandma. A woman who technically isn't even her REAL grandma, but her step-grandma -- boo! She's feeding her tuna fish sandwiches with relish in them which just reinforces my belief that while the 60s were incredible for fashion, film, music, and design, food absolutely went downhill. Blarf.

After the afternoon delight, Greg decides to tell Joan that he's headed back to Vietnam for another year. Joan is angry, and rightfully so. Greg told her it would be one year, and she's been struggling the whole time in his absence, trying to make do with a newborn baby (that isn't actually his, oops) and an overbearing mother. All she wants to do is go back to work, a place where she truly shines and loves her time there. It's a sad scene, especially since Joan looks so fabulous in her black and blue lace nightie.

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How could anyone choose to leave behind a woman who looks so ravishing in the afternoon? Usually I'm sitting around in mismatched, holey pajamas. Oops.

After a pitch for inexpensive-but-stylish shoes, Don is flustered, hot, frustrated with Michael Ginsberg, and coughing worse than ever. He heads home to the comfort of his apartment and is eventually roused from his sleep by a visitor -- his former lady-friend from the elevator. She wants Don, and she wants him now. Don is trying to be good, and Don is sick, so he pushes her out of the back door and tells her to leave. Good Don. Well-behaved Don. Stay strong, buddy!

In the meantime, Sally is becoming increasingly obsessed with the Speck murders, something she's only heard about from glimpses at the newspaper or bits of conversation overhead from her grandma. Like I've mentioned before, the new home of the Francis family is scary. It's big, it's dark, and when you throw a pre-teen girl's imagination into the mix along with stories of young, pretty girls being murdered, fear is bound to take over. 

Over dinner with the family, it is suddenly brought up that Greg isn't being sent back to Vietnam, he's volunteering to go. Joan attempts to keep her cool in the restaurant, but inside she is seething. Greg lied to her, and she's not going to put up with it anymore. The accordion from seasons past, something that formerly showcased a light and charming side of Joan, has returned in the form of a restaurant musician, now grating on her raw nerves. Oh "Mad Men," I love you and your consistent imagery!

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This is not the face of a happy woman.

Working late in the office, Peggy hears a sound and goes into little girl mode, somewhat mirroring Sally. With hesitance, Peggy investigates the sound and discovers it's only Dawn, resting in Don's office. She fell asleep and now she has no way of getting home. Peggy offers to let Dawn stay over and she accepts. Slumber party time! 

While all this was happening, Don has been revisited by his former paramour and finds himself alone, mysteriously without Megan in the house. He buckles under his urges and ravages the woman. Oh Don, you dog!

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It makes sense that as a man-child, Don would enjoy sucking thumbs ...

After digging the newspaper out of the trash, Sally gets the full story on the murders and is horrified. She can't sleep. She seeks comfort from her grumpy grandma because the woman is really all she has to turn to. Grandma offers basically no comfort (and in my opinion, scared Sally even more), but she does come with one positive. A Seconal! A little sleepy-time pill also known as the main character of "The Valley of the Dolls" (which was, interestingly enough, published in the show's current year of 1966!) Oh Sally, if you make it to 25 without a single stay in a mental health institution, I'll be amazed.

This is the part of the episode where things come to a boil. Starting at a simmer over at Peggy's house, we find her and Dawn. They're sipping beers and after awhile, Peggy loosens up. What follows is a well-meaning but poorly-founded moment from Peggy, who is trying to connect with Dawn. She believes that they are level, as women, and if they stick together they'll both be all right. And yes, as women they are both considered to be second-class citizens. What Peggy will never understand though is that no matter what, she will never be criticised or looked down upon as much as Dawn. As a black woman who was hired at the office under the pretense of a secret, stupid joke, Dawn will always be on a lower rung. When Peggy asks her if she'd like to be a copywriter, Dawn responds that no, she wouldn't. She likes her job. Her answer is sincere because in 1966, working at a Manhattan office like Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, as the young daughter of a black single mother, Dawn is essentially living the dream. Peggy only somewhat grasps this concept, and this little moment of understanding is practically erased moments later.

Before going to bed bed, Peggy returns to the living room and notices her purse on the coffee table, in front of the couch where Dawn is all set up to sleep. They both look at the purse, and Peggy wonders if she should take it with her. Dawn notices. It's awkward, it's painful, and it's sad. Peggy knows now that no, they aren't really all in this together.

Would any of the men at the office be afraid to leave their wallet alone with Peggy for a bit? Probably not. Would any of her girlfriends worriedly snatch their purse away if it was left alone in her presence? No. Peggy guiltily understands this and decides to leave the purse and collects some beer bottles instead, but the tension is still there.

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Nobody hurts Joan and gets away with it. I just wish she'd knocked him over the head with a vase again.

In Joan's world, she's had enough. Greg is irresponsible, empty-headed, cruel and to top it off: remember before they were married and he raped her? Yeah, the bastard is a rapist, and Joan hasn't forgotten. She's done with him, and she's ready to sever her ties.

 Joan has always done things her way, and even though she wanted the white picket fence life, the baby, and the doting, doctor husband, she knows it's never going to happen with this moron. She kicks him out and we know she'll survive, because she's Joan Holloway, damn it! (I never liked her being "Mrs. Harris" anyway).

Back at Don's apartment, he awakes and the woman is still there, and claims she'll be back for more. Don is enraged, he just wanted an easy release and now this woman is lingering and insulting him. He spins out of control. He strangles her until she no longer moves and then, stricken with fear, stuffs her under the bed. As the audience, we've just witnessed Don Draper kill a woman. Or maybe we didn't ...

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You might wanna get rid of the shoes, Don.


In the morning Megan enters, fresh as a daisy and smiling, ready to nurse him back to health. Nothing seems amiss and as Don leans over the bed to check for the tell-tale heels, he discovers there's nothing there. While "it was all a dream" is probably my least favourite plot device, this one did intrigue me.

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Nothing like OJ to rinse that "imagined murder" taste out of your mouth.

For one, Don stuffs the body under the bed. In the Richard Speck murder case, the only woman who survived did so because she hid under a bed. In the morning, Don realizes the body isn't there and the whole encounter never actually happened, but the "body" underneath it is still very much alive. It's the dark monster that Don is always trying to hide, that anger and rampant lust underneath his skin that is always just about to come out.

Does Don Draper want to kill women, does he hate them? No, I don't think so. But I do think he has rage and abandonment issues with them.

He's angry at his mother for dying before he ever knew her, angry at his stepmother for never loving him, angry at Betty for the Nordic chill that always ran through her veins and never kept him close (not that that was her fault, but bear with me here).

When Don was having an affair with Bobbie Barrett, she frustrated him so much that he once tied her to a bed and left her there. Plus, it's not like Don has ever shied away from violence in the bedroom (all though that violence is usually inflicted upon him, not someone else). The whole thing offers something to look into, but it's also very confusing too. Don is a man on the verge.

After the whole relief that Don isn't actually a murderer, the last few moments of the show still feel somber. Peggy awakes hungover to find a note from Dawn, (on top of the untouched purse, no less), thanking her for her hospitality. Peggy feels like garbage about it, and so do I.

Joan, now free of the shackles of her terrible husband is left with a lot to think about. She's a single mother now, and I know she'll make an incredible one, but boy, that's a heavy load. We're left with contemplative Joanie in the fetal position, in bed with her mother and little man.

It's like watching three generations of babies all nestled together in a way. Joan's life is being reborn, and she's at a new phase. She's going to have to rely on her mother a lot now, which will put her in the position of a needy child at times. Her mother, also, isn't always the most mature, and pretty soon Joan will be taking care of her too. And then there's Kevin, who is just a regular baby. Yeah. Was that a smart-enough-sounding metaphor for you guys?

This episode really gave me a lot to think about and I can't wait to hear what you guys think. Did you really think Don killed her? I knew in the back of my mind it was a fever dream all along, but I've been wondering if someone's really going to commit murder this season. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Dig deeper:
Audio: The Crystals - "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)"
Wikipedia: Richard Speck
Video: "Mystery Date" commercial