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MAD MEN 7x04:
We have met the enemy

May 5, 2014 - Ray Eckenrode

Episode title: “The Monolith”

Significance: A direct reference to the angst-inspiring giant IBM computer being installed in a former lounge of Sterling Cooper and Partners, physically displacing the creative team and, of course, threatening to one day professionally displace them. In a beautiful dichotomy, Don recognizes the dawning information age as both the business opportunity of a lifetime (although his “the apple is right there” speech falls on deaf ears) and the work of the devil.

Time passages: The episode likely takes place in April of 1969 when the New York Mets have taken the field again and Joe Frazier is preparing to fight Dave Zyglewicz in Houston, Texas. The Frazier headline on the newspaper Don is reading and references to the not-yet-accomplished moon landing are the only time cues in the episode and it’s possible it’s June of 1969, when Frazier fought against Gerry Quarry, but the sleeping bags at the commune say spring, not summer, to us. Plus, April here in Episode #4 puts us on track for the moon landing in Episode #7, this mini-season’s finale, and Woodstock in Episode #8, the 2015 premiere.

Episode essay:
Actions have consequences.
If there’s a theme developing in the final season of “Mad Men” it’s that Matthew Weiner is not going to let any of these characters (and their six seasons of mostly bad behavior) off the hook easily. There might be forgiving, but there will be no forgetting.
In this episode, that starts with the ongoing communal comeuppance being brought upon Don by the partners and co-workers who once suffered (and to be fair, benefited) at his self-centered hands. There’s real glee in the eyes of Bert Cooper as he gloats about the firm doing “just fine” creatively without Don (although we’ve seen plenty of evidence that’s not really the case) and although Peggy realizes on some level what’s going on with Lou’s “divide and conquer” strategy that doesn’t mean she doesn’t relish giving orders to her former boss.
Last week, we saw evidence that Don was making real progress toward needed change in his life. This week, we were reminded that change is not a straight line and there’s plenty of zigzagging involved. Faced with the humiliating circumstances at work, he falls back into a (stolen) bottle of vodka. But even in that state of inebriation, Don isn’t ready to go back to rock bottom (which is what everyone expects him to do) and decides (perhaps subconsciously) to call the one man who can help him navigate this particular zag in his personal recovery.
Freddy Rumsen’s deft touch in helping Don avoid an office scene (that would have gotten him fired) is expected, given Freddy’s years of experience in doing same, but his on-point personal advice to “just do the work” (perhaps the precursor to a more famous “just do it” slogan) is a revelation to Don and leaves him clean, sober and typing away at his Selectric by episode’s end.
Meanwhile, in upstate New York, Roger Sterling receives a different kind of communal cosmic message, from daughter Margaret, now Marigold, who’s fled to a hippie enclave, leaving behind the Manhattan rat race, that lurking technological bogeyman and her your son to shack up with the head hippie. (“There’s always a hierarchy,” Roger pointedly and correctly reminds the starry eyed flower children.)
The expedition by Roger and former wife, Mona, to retrieve Marigold provides some of the best dialogue (and worst CGI) we’ve seen in a while on the show. But once they arrive at “Shangri-La,” it becomes apparent that Margaret’s foray into peace, love and forgiveness only goes so far. She quickly sends Mona off in a snit with a pointed remark about her gin-fueled parenting (hopefully Mona remembered to bail out poor Brooks!), leaving Roger on a solo mission.
At first, Roger’s own foray into psychedelia and alternative lifestyles makes it seem like father and daughter might be able to reach common ground (even if it is on the moon), but Marigold’s late-night tryst snaps Roger back to reality where his ham-handed attempt to physically remove his daughter winds up with her dragging him through the mud, literally and verbally. The charm and wit that get Roger through most of life’s bumps are of no use against the daughter he ignored for most of her formative years. Roger is left limping away from the fight with the daft and damaged hippie he helped create.

About last week: Several well-versed bloggers made an immediate connection after last week’s episode between the “no drinking” stipulations placed upon Don and another famous “no drinking” story that is rooted in the lore of Alcoholics Anonymous. A closer look shows more parallels between the fictional ad man and one of the real-life founders of AA. You can click the background story link at right to learn more.

Quick hits:
+ Lou Avery likes to think of himself as a leader.
+ Most passive-aggressive game of Solitaire ever?
+ Joan is taking just a little too much glee in Don’s tribulations for our taste.
+ In the same vein, Pete's Cali girlfriend is just a little bit too into him. Something is amiss there.

Historical notes:
+ Layne Price’s New York Mets pennant makes a bittersweet reappearance, found under a radiator by Don and re-hung. Many think the pennant signifies some kind of bad luck on the horizon for Don, but keep in mind the “amazing” 1969 Mets will be world champions in six months’ time.
+ Lloyd and Harry briefly mention the failure of a TV show featuring Tim Conway, undoubtedly “Turn On,” which aired for a single episode in February of 1969. The premise was a sketch comedy show (similar to “Laugh In”) about sex produced by a computer. Turn on. Get it? Sex? A computer? Get it? Yeah, that’s why it lasted one episode.
+ Speaking of sex, one of the things we saw Don doing instead of writing tags was reading Philip Roth’s sex-soaked “Portnoy’s Complaint,” which was published in January of 1969 and made Phillip Roth a household name.

Brand names: We saw two of the most iconic brands of all time in the episode in the form of IBM and Coke (and got a sly reference to a third, Apple), but Burger Hut and Vicks also played prominently in the story.

Sweet tweet: From @marriotta: “RIP typewriter.”

Lines of the night:
+ “It’s going to do magical things, like make Harry Crane seem important.” –Roger Sterling
+ “He’s gonna implode.” –Sweet Lou Avery
+ “Isn’t it Godlike we mastered the infinite?” –Lloyd from LeaseTech
+ “These people are lost and on drugs and have venereal diseases.” –Mona Sterling
+ “You go by many names.” –Don Draper

 
 
 

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The creative team meets a formidable opponent in "The Monolith" in the form of an IBM supercomputer. "They're driving us underground," Stan decries.

 
 
 
 

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