Mad Men Musings: The Monolith

If you’re a Mad Men fan, join us regularly for Mad Men Musings – a space to discuss selected highlights, low points, or just plain water-cooler worthy moments of each episode.

hardhats

The ineffable and mysterious cosmos – putting a man on the moon, the titular reference to Kubrick’s 2001, and counting stars in the night sky – is the framework of “The Monolith.” It’s a worthy metaphor for the encroaching technological changes to come, a change that will shift culture permanently, and it also highlights the upending of the known and familiar. In this brave new world, SC&P gets techy, Don struggles to find his place and Mona and Roger see their daughter transformed.

Trio

In the literal sense, the office is undergoing a major transformation: Harry gets to spearhead the installation of a brand new IBM computer, an object that will not only change the way business is run but also lends the agency a certain cachet. This upends the office a bit, particularly the creatives – they lose their lounge to construction and, most importantly, at least to Ginsberg, they lose their orange couch. I mean, nobody wants that other couch, because “it’s full of farts.”

peggy

A bored Don, still treading water, finds Lane’s old NY Mets pennant in his office – a painful symbol of what was. Later, Don has the first of several run-ins with the IBM guy, where their banter about new technology takes on a deeper resonance. As Don argues the merits of manually counting stars, Peggy is receiving what seems like great news: she’s going to spearhead the Burger Chef presentation, a lead that Pete garnered, AND she’s getting a raise, direct from Lou.

The catch? Peggy’s to put Don on the account. Becoming the erstwhile boss of your former mentor and sometimes nemesis? No, that’s not super awkward AT ALL.

Lou’s playing the long con here; he thinks Don is going to implode, and what better way to hasten it than to have Peggy bossing him around? Peggy navigates this new role in typically blunt fashion, ordering Don to her office for the first meeting.

Side note: how funny was it that Don’s secretary food-shamed him? “Don’t eat that [candy bar]! You’re so trim!”

Death-Stare

Peggy gives a prim speech to Don and a junior copywriter, explaining the new pitch and her expectations. The junior adman is all smiles, but Don emits a total death stare the whole time and leaves without a word.

Subsequently, Don’s typewriter takes a little trip – ah, there’s the temper we know so well. When office life resumes the following Monday, Don is playing at mutiny; he refuses a follow up meeting with Peggy because he’s got a pressing game of solitaire to attend to. He and Peggy are locked in a game of chicken, essentially.

Don does talk to the computer guy again, though, and sniffs out a great opportunity to pitch his company. There’s also A BIG GIANT HONKING METAPHOR – to paraphrase the computer tech, people just don’t realize how resilient the old models are and are too quick to deem them obsolete. In this scenario, Don is the dusty desktop in the corner – a little outdated, yes, but potentially worthy with a reboot.

Don tries to tell Burt that SC&P needs to pitch the computer company immediately, but Burt excoriates him and reminds Don of his new place at the agency – basically, to twiddle his thumbs in his office and look pretty. This escalates to Don stealing booze from Roger’s office and getting properly sloshed; he calls Freddy Rumsen and insists they go to a Mets game together.

Before they leave the office, though, Don confronts the computer guy, telling him “I know who you are” and generally acting offensively weird. Though Don tried to jump immediately to the business angle earlier, it’s clear that the previous conversation about obsolesce and resilience struck him quite hard.

Thank God for old Rumsen, though. Freddy is still in possession of some hard-earned sobriety, and he ends up giving Don strong black coffee and some equally unsugared wisdom – “Are you just gonna kill yourself…Do the work, Don!” This moment was almost a little too easy, to pat, but maybe it was especially effective coming from Freddy.

Unlike other people in Don’s life, Freddy’s actually been to Don-Draper-self-loathing-from-the-bottom-of-a-bottle-territory, and he doesn’t seem to want much in return; Freddy wants to help.

Accordingly, Don returns to work, tells Peggy he’ll have ideas for her by lunch, and sits down to write, slowly but surely tapping out ideas. Is this the Don Draper reboot that we’ve seen signs on so far?

A far different kind of reboot is taking place with Roger and Mona’s daughter, Margaret. She’s left her husband and son to go live on a commune. After a botched “rescue” attempt by Margaret’s husband, Roger and Mona go down themselves to talk some sense into her.

Mona-Marigold

The contrast between the two generations was most striking here, especially between Mona and Margaret (now calling herself Marigold). Mona is wearing like ten pounds of eye shadow, her hair sprayed impeccably into place, while Marigold is fresh-faced and greasy-haired (she’s also wearing what’s either a bathroom rug or some unidentified kind of animal skin).

Mona reminds Marigold she has a son at home and that she needs to suck it up for him, but Marigold responds by saying how happy she is that she doesn’t have to “lock herself in the bathroom with a pint of gin every day.” Apparently Marigold’s version of hippie-dom comes with a side of maternal BURN.

Hippie-Roger

After Mona storms off, Roger remains behind, and he’s super genial – peeling potatoes, smoking a j, ribbing Marigold’s housemates. The two of them bunk down, talking about a man on the moon, and it’s all sweetness until Marigold sneaks off in the middle of the night for lovemaking. Normally, I’d never use that word, but it’s like the only option available here, right?

The next morning, Roger snaps. The cool dad vanishes and the authoritarian one remerges. Roger attempts to literally drag her away, resulting in a struggle and a mud bath. This was all fascinating; after all, Roger is enmeshed in many of the counter-cultural values his daughter’s dabbling in right now.

The main difference is that Roger hasn’t fully tuned in and dropped out; he confines his drug and sex activities to his home, and he still puts on a suit and goes into the office every day. His power and position afford him the luxury of dabbling without consequence.

It’s also fine for Roger, as the male, to neglect his own child, but it’s patently not okay for Marigold to neglect hers – as Marigold scathingly points out. When Roger says, “How could you just leave him? He’s your baby,” she responds: “It’s not that hard, Daddy…he’ll be fine.”

Looks like Don’s not the only one in need of a reboot.

Readers – Do you think Marigold’s tenure at the commune will last? Where do you predict Don goes from here? And WHY IS THERE NO BOB BENSEN YET?

all photos: via AMC

Amity writes and teaches in Central PA. Her obsessions include: Rodarte (she can’t afford any Rodarte, mind you, but a girl can dream), espresso, books, vintage/thrift fashion and fountain pens. She thinks you should dress like a weirdo once in a while, just to shake things up.

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Written by amity

9 Comments

  1. Avatar of Tyna Werner
    Tyna Werner

    Bleh – why is everyone in the office still such a-holes to Don?! I mean it wasn’t Peggy’s fault that Don was added to her team, but she could have handled it so much better than the way she did. Don’s death stare cracked me up!

    Although I have to say Don was being an a-hole himself. The way he boycotted the work was pretty funny – but I couldn’t help but think he was acting like a bratty kid. How nice that Freddy was able to help set him straight (at least for the time being, not so sure that little pep talk will keep Don on the straight and narrow).

    Back the the meanies at the office – I could not believe how awful Bert was to Don! Like what is so terrible about bringing in new ideas for getting a client? Don even said he didn’t need to be involved in it, just that the computer people could use them.

    On the plus side – I loved Roger making himself at home at the hippie commune!
    Tyna Werner recently posted..MAC Proenza Schouler swatches and review

    1. Avatar of amity
      amity

      Oh, Burt was SO MEAN. I wanted Don to tell Burt where he could stick those shoes he insists everyone takes off!

  2. Avatar of krista
    krista

    I felt bad for Don until he swiped the booze from Roger’s office. Then I was like, “SERIOUSLY?!?” Get it together, Don! Also, how sad was it he put Lane’s Mets pennant up on the wall? 1969 was the year of the Miracle Mets and I’ll admit that I’m hoping that Don comes up with his own miracle.

    As for “Marigold”…she complains about her parents abandoning her to gin and work, etc.–does she think her kid is going to think it’s awesome that she left him to peel potatoes and have sex with unwashed hippies in the middle of nowhere? Her abandonment is total and complete and IMO worse than any abandonment she feels her parents are guilty of. I hope there’s an episode where they drink poisoned Kool-Aid soon.

    1. Avatar of amity
      amity

      The irony with Marigold is pretty sharp, definitely. I wish Betty could somehow be worked into a plot line where she visits the commune–can you even imagine?

    2. Avatar of Tyna Werner
      Tyna Werner

      I didn’t know about that 1969 was the year of the “Miracle Mets” but I am sure hoping there is some symbolism going on there!

      And I was so annoyed with marigold that i couldn’t even write anything. But you hit it on the head – she is so distraught from her parents abandoning her that she’s going to show them by abandoning her child…what?!

    3. Avatar of turboterp
      turboterp

      I love the idea of Betty at the commune. After her Farm Field Trip outfit, can you imagine what she’d wear to visit Marigold (whose poncho does look like a linty bathroom rug, @amity !)

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