Sweet mother of advertising! What the heck just happened?
It’s possible one day we’ll look back on "The Crash" as the exact moment when Mad Men jumped the shark? The jittery cousin to Roger’s blissed out acid trip in season five, this episode featured enough "Wha?" moments for an entire season. Where Roger’s acid trip became a plot device for him and Jane to reveal unspoken truths, it’s unclear exactly what this episode accomplished. Yes, we understand Don a bit better, thanks to the multitude of flashbacks. But does he?
Let's give the writers their due: It’s no accident that Don experienced a full-on, speed-induced meltdown only a week after his favorite mistress ended their affair. Then the anticipated death of Frank Gleason and a weekend work party handily dispose of anyone who might have kept an eye on things—Ted, Joan, Pete, Bert, even (God help us) Roger, who takes a giggling fellow druggie to the hospital. Don goes from mooning around Sylvia’s door to skidding around office corners, but even his frenetic work pace belies a preoccupation with getting her back juxtaposed with flashbacks of being deflowered by a prostitute. By the time he’s pitching Peggy and Michael, he’s just a sweatier, clammier version of a man already on the brink of collapse. "Have you been working on Chevy at all?" Peggy demands as he brandishes an Aimee/Sylvia look-alike oatmeal ad. Peace, Mercutio, peace. Thou talk'st of nothing.
With that, a nod to the seven biggest head-scratchers.
It’s an energy serum. What? With the whole office under the gun to crank out a new Chevy campaign, Jim Cutler makes himself useful and procures a doctor with a "complex vitamin superdose." For the record, here’s a rundown of who’s eventually on speed: Jim, Don, Roger, Ken, Stan, Ted’s copywriters, and someone named Ed. Peggy is drunk. What a smart choice to leave out Michael Ginsberg—he’s loony enough sober, and he gets some of the evening’s best one-liners: "I’m wasting my Saturday with lunatics."
Don Draper riffing on speed sounds a lot like Don Draper. It’s not often that Mad Men gets to draw on Jon Hamm’s incredible comic abilities, but a few scenes played like meta-jokes for an SNL sketch. Where else could Don declare with a straight face, "The timbre of my voice is as important as the content"? Ditto to his rally-the-troops moment in the lunchroom, so full of expansive drivel it has one of Ted’s underlings exclaiming, "Dear Lord, you’re as good as they say!"
Ken’s "Yes, I’m a monkey. Now watch me dance" routine. Was his girlfriend the star of 42nd Street? Ken’s self-deprecating wit is a treat any day, but we doff our hats to the man who knows he’s a pawn and plays the role with sublime panache. Even better was Don's vaguely impressed look as Ken strides away swinging his cane like Fred Astaire.
Michael Saint Sebastians Stan. Leave it to Michael, the only sober one out of the whole lot, to inflict the real damage—and then shrug.
Peggy doesn’t like beards. Or does she? Let’s get one thing clear. She has a boyfriend, and she’s saving herself for her other workplace crush: her boss. But Peggy clearly relishes the moment where Stan’s shaggy face nuzzles her neck, and she has to make an effort to break off that kiss. We gotta say, we like the look of them together. But Stan’s revelation that his 20 year-old cousin has just been killed in Vietnam also kills the mood (and marks the first time a character has been directly affected by the violence). Best of all: Stan’s respectful salute to Peggy’s backside and her dignified thank you, free from any high-horse puritanical indignation. You've come a long way, baby.
You remember Grandma Ida. Don’t you? The show’s oddest plot thread has to be the bizarre appearance of an unknown black lady, who presumably enters through the back door Don leaves open on his stealth vigils at Sylvia’s apartment. Besides reintroducing long absent Sally Draper, this incident seems aimed at reminding us what terrible parents the Drapers are (even Megan, who previously earned kudos as Stepmother of the Year, is slipping) and pointing out that despite her sass, Sally barely knows enough about her father to vet an intruder. If this lady really just wandered in off the street, how does she know Bobby’s name? His happy question ("Are we Negroes?") reminded us that while this kid doesn’t get many lines, when he does they’re golden.
30 seconds of silence in an elevator. Half a minute of dead time is an eternity on television, especially when it’s spent with two characters who refuse to look at each other. After spending the entire episode honing his elevator pitch to Sylvia, Don finally jettisons the opportunity when he gets the chance. It seems his post-collapse moment of clarity has convinced him: It really is over.
Read All Our Season 6 Recaps:
Season 6 Episode 7: "Man With a Plan"
Season 6 Episode 6: "For Immediate Release"
Season 6 Episode 5: "The Flood"
Season 6 Episode 4: "To Have and To Hold"
Season 6 Episode 3: "The Collaborators"
Season 6 Premiere (Episodes 1 and 2): "The Doorway"