“Every time we get a car, this place turns into a whorehouse.” – Don Draper
Early chatter about “The Crash” suggests that it's the most polarizing “Mad Men” episode so far this season. Framing any narrative with a drug-altered state is precarious, and the approach fails more often than it succeeds. But “The Crash” co-writers Jason Grote and Matthew Weiner more than just pull it off: They got one of the very best performances we've seen from Jon Hamm in an episode that delivers scenes almost too funny to be believed alongside genuine, nail-biting terror. “The Crash” may have not worked for everyone, but had a near-narcotic effect on those who fell under its influence.
The doctor who injected the apparent nootropic into the derrieres of select Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce creatives said it was a compound of Vitamin B and a “mild stimulant.” Within minutes, Harry Crane, Jim Cutler, Don Draper and Ken Cosgrove are feeling the effects of the not-at-all mild upper: unbridled energy, immunity to pain, and for Cosgrove, the ability to channel Gregory Hines. Ken has been the face of SCDP for Chevy, who's turning out to be a difficult mistress. In his tap-dance solo, he complains of the song-and-dance routine he's had to perform for the Chevy execs, who demand nonstop entertainment while rejecting all of SCDP's ideas. Everyone's spending the weekend at the office to come up with new rounds of ideas to deliver on Monday. (Well, not everyone: Joan was completely absent in this episode, and Roger Sterling disappeared after going into the office for his injection – and warning the doctor that he had a heart condition, which the doctor shrugged off. I'm a little concerned!)
Don has rarely worked this hard on a pitch – though it quickly becomes apparent that it's not Chevy he's aiming to impress. He's channeling his superhuman concentration and idea overflow into a strategy to get Sylvia back – he has only “a sentence, maybe two" to win her over. As we suspected, Don is not taking the rejection well, and has been lurking outside Sylvia and Dr. Rosen's apartment door. If the scene wasn't so pathetic, it might be sad: When not busy stalking Sylvia, Don has been consumed (again) with flashback memories to the whorehouse and his evil stepmother – who we learned this week is even worse than we'd thought. We also learn that he lost his virginity, not entirely voluntarily, to a prostitute who tended to a sick Dick Whitman after his stepmother banished him to the basement.
Don's mind has been traveling to the whorehouse a lot this season, but as far as we can see, he still hasn't been able to make any meaningful connections between what he endured there and his toxic relationships with women. What I wouldn't give to see Don Draper in therapy, even just for an hour!
Speaking of therapy, Sally Draper's chances of become a well-adjusted adult are fading before our eyes, thanks most recently to a nighttime visit from Grandma Ida, who I hope to sweet Jesus is not anyone's actual grandmother, because she's more terrifying than a murderous circus clown. I also hope we can revisit the break-in in a future episode, because I don't think the whole story is in the police report. Yes, Grandma Ida robbed other people in the building, but who besides Don Draper's children would a total stranger have any chance of convincing she had raised their father? And how did she know their mother was a piece of work? A lucky guess? Of course, any sophisticated burglar would likely find out whatever they could about their potential victims, but I can't shake the feeling that Don was targeted for more than his gold watches.
There was a crash at the beginning and the end of the episode, which found Don face-first on his living room floor after hearing the news of Grandma Ida's visit. Never one to let a chemically-fueled epiphany pass him by, Don is a new man once he sleeps the drug off, and awakens with resolve to unshackle himself from Chevy and those pesky feelings he has for Sylvia. (I didn't time it, but the awkward elevator scene between Don and Sylvia may have been the longest silent elevator ride on “Mad Men” yet.) With Jaguar gone and Joan temporarily out of view, I thought we would get through an episode without a reference to Jaguar and prostitution, but no: Don is washing his creative hands of Chevy because all car accounts turn SCDP into a whorehouse. From now on, he only wants to be involved in a supervisory capacity – maybe to double-check the spelling in the copy? We didn't see a whole lot of Ted Chaough this week, but he got one of the best lines when he complained that someone spelled Chevy wrong in a draft.
I can't tell if Megan should be feeling more or less guilty about leaving Sally to babysit while she was out “on the casting couch,” as Betty so helpfully offered. (More on this later, but seriously, who's this Jay character Megan's been spending time with, and is she sleeping with him?) Sally, Bobby and Gene are Don's kids, after all, and he had promised to be home to watch them. Megan can't reasonably be expected to cancel her career-boosting plans at the last minute (we're talking about Megan, after all), and Sally's plenty old enough to watch her siblings for a little while, but what time did Megan come home? I'm surprised Betty still lets her children come to Manhattan to visit their Dad; and after what she said about the filthy city, we can probably expect a change in the visitation arrangements.
-- When she heard Grandma Ida bumping around the living room, Sally Draper was reading “Rosemary's Baby” in bed – the Ira Levin novel about a devil baby was published in 1967, and adapted to the screen by Roman Polanski and Mia Farrow's pixie cut in in 1968. This feels like a good time to remind everyone that I have been predicting an unplanned pregnancy for Sally Draper since season five. Please no one rape her, please. Especially Satan.
-- The late Frank Gleason's hippie-psychic daughter was almost as scary as Grandma Ida, and that was even before we knew she was his daughter. I don't have time to think about everything that's wrong with all of that, but I'll ask if we think Peggy was more disgusted or more jealous when she found her with Stan Rizzo. Peggy may have turned him down, but she sure was flattered to have the chance.
-- If you didn't get to it freshman year, you can read Aldous Huxley's “Doors of Perception” in its entirety right here. And ICYMI, Jim Morrison named his band after the book, which took its title from a passage in William Blake's “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”:
“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.”