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Oedipus wrecks

May 20, 2013 - Ray Eckenrode

“Mad Men” 6x08:

Episode title: “The Crash”

Significance: A red-herring reference to a car crash Dancing Ken Cosgrove is involved in while babysitting the Chevy account, but less directly and more importantly a reference to the post-Sylvia crash Don suffers while he and most everyone else at the agency is coming down from an “energy serum” high.

Time passages: This most unusual episode, nearly devoid of historical references, takes place in June of 1968, at some point after RFK’s assassination.

Episode essay:

Talk about your mommy issues.

Leave it to Matthew Weiner to take an episode where we got some of the most important details yet about the nature of Don Draper’s complicated and destructive relationship with women (and why he’s fallen surprisingly and desperately in love with Sylvia Rosen) and wrap it in a trippy, time-bending, and ultimately distracting narrative that left most viewers flummoxed, bemused or just plain angry.

But “Mad Men” is Weiner’s baby and if we need to question him on why he’d deliver such critical information to us in such an obtuse way the answer might likely be that oldie but goodie: “Because I said so.”

So while our first instinct after watching the episode might be to dwell on the ways it was unlike a regular “Mad Men” episode, the ultimate test of “The Crash” might be remembering the ways that it was. And that starts and ends in the whorehouse where young Dick Whitman was banished to the cellar because of a chest cold before a kindly hooker with the proverbial heart of gold (and a prominent beauty mark) took him into her room, nursed him to health, fed him soup and, oh, almost forgot, took his virginity. The fact that his evil stepmother administered him a vicious beating after she learned of the tryst only muddies the picture more for the teen. Love and sex, right and wrong, pleasure and pain – it’s all mixed up for young Dick Whitman as it remains for Don Draper 30 years later when a soothsaying hippie easily guessed the one question he wants answered: “Does anybody love me?”

In 1968, the older but no wiser Don Draper is frantically and desperately trying to come up with the right words to save his doomed affair with Sylvia, whose maternal qualities, and prominent beauty mark, can’t be denied. “If this strategy is successful, it’s way bigger than a car,” Don says. “It’s everything.” Of course, Don’s strategy turns out to be sound and fury signifying nothing, as he’s snapped back to reality, literally, by the news his own abandoned children (remember them?) have been terrorized by a grifter who lets herself into the Drapers apartment via the door that Don futilely left open for Sylvia.

Yes, the collateral damage of three failed relationships is starting to pile up around Don Draper. The question is whether he’ll ever realize that he, and not some woman with a beauty mark, is the only person who can ever repair it.

Brand names: The Chevy Impala got an early mention as the project CGCSCDP is not working on and the X-acto knife had a brief, but hilarious, cameo.

Quick hits:
+ Um, hello Skinny Betty.

+ Longest. Elevator. Ride. Ever.

+ What an interesting and subdued sidebar on the way we often medicate our grief with sex, starring Stan “The Beard” Rizzo, Peggy “The Booty” Olsen and Frank Gleason’s crunchy daughter, Wendy.

+ Remind me never to order Grandma Ida’s Midnight Eggs.

+ Dr. Hecht does not appear to a historical figure, but is obviously based upon Dr. Max Jacobson, the 1960's physician to the stars renowned in song and story as Dr. Feelgood.

Pop culture notes:
+ It’s rare that an episode features three, count ‘em, three song snippets, but there was Ozzie Nelson’s version of “Dream A Little Dream” in the whorehouse, a 1960’s version of “Going Out of My Head” by Sergio Mendes playing on the radio in the Rosen’s kitchen and “Words of Love” from The Mamas and the Papas over the closing credits.

+ Just before the visit from Grandma Ida, Sally was reading Ira Levin’s “Rosemary’s Baby.” The film based on the book, starring Mia Farrow in the title role, was released June 12, 1968, possibly the same weekend as the events shown in “The Crash.”

+ A snipped of Edgar Allen Poe’s “Annabelle Lee” found its way into the amphetamine-fueled brainstorming session.

Sweet tweet: From @ditzkoff: And that was the story of how Alfalfa lost his virginity.

Lines of the night:
+ “I hate how dying makes saints of people.” –Anonymous CGC creative

+ “I’ve had loss in my life. You have to let yourself feel it.” –Peggy Olsen

+ “Are we Negroes?” –Bobby Draper

+ “Half of this stuff is gibberish. Chevy is spelled wrong.” –Ted Chough

+ “Then I realized, I don’t know anything about you.” –Sally Draper

+ “Every time we get a car, this place turns into a whorehouse.” –Don Draper

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"The Crash" provided critical clues about what brought Don and Sylvia together, and what ultimately tore them apart.


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