“The Monolith,” episode 4, on the surface seems the most direct ep of season VII. But, as the farmer explained about potatoes during last week’s “The Field Trip,” there’s plenty beneath the surface—unlike his daughter’s considerable décolletage, which was barely hidden, to the consternation of Betty and another chaperone.
The episode’s title refers to the computer-phobic film by Stanley Kubrick, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which was released in 1968 but was still playing in 1969. Certainly there are parallels with the film: both computers are IBMs; Don talks about computers taking over mens’ jobs, as they did in the film to disastrous results; the sequence when Don enters the office and finds nobody around until he gets upstairs and sees everyone gathered around is reminiscent of similar scenes from the film; and, of course, the initial shot of the elevator resembles the monolith from 2001.
As it is 1969, a space travel reference is in order and we get a reference with Roger and his daughter Margaret, aka Marigold, sleeping under the stars, staring at the country sky. Just before she’s whisked off for amour, she muses about Moon travel, which will become a reality just a few months later. [The many parallels with 2001: A Space Odyssey, and a bit of reasonable speculation, are illustrated and explained nicely by Forrest Wickman of Slate here].
Rumsen to the Rescue
Beyond this episode’s computer hating and hippie baiting, the most important scene has to be Freddie Rumsen’s tough-love speech to a seriously hung-over Don. Speaking from experience, Freddie doesn’t sugarcoat his advice/admonition to Draper. The former SC&P wunderkind is throwing away a great chance to make a comeback at the firm, Freddie believes. You don’t want to end up like me, he tells Don, an alcoholic former ad man peddling yourself door to door. As we know, the pep talk works and Don sucks it up and gets back into ‘the parade,’ promising to get Peggy 25 tags by day’s end.
The complication in all this, of course, is that it’s even more apparent this week than last that SC&P’s partners don’t really want Don back. While Roger seems ready to skirt the conditions of Draper’s return, asking Don to drink with him “off campus,” the other partners seem less sanguine and more interested in enforcing the bans against drinking, solo fraternization with clients and improvisation in presentations. The most troubling partner Sunday night was Bert Cooper.
A Bloodless Cooper
After talking with the computer installer about his business and advertising, Don, probably correctly, judges Lloyd’s company to have tremendous growth potential. After seeking an absent Roger he approaches Bert to suggest a potential account with the installer. Bert, usually a voice of reason and often omniscient, responds badly, totally dismissing Don’s suggestion and making it abundantly clear that he’d be fine seeing Don depart. Based on episode III last week, you’d have guessed Bert was on the side of bringing Don back at least on a trial basis and supporting Roger’s stance. Maybe not; perhaps it was Roger as the lone wolf, with Pete’s tacit consent, against the other partners.
And while we’ve seen Bert ‘stretch the truth’ on a few occasions, he issued a bold-face lie last night when he told Don that SC&P creatively “was doing just fine” without him. While it’s true that clients haven’t left in droves, what Bert said essentially is false. Just last week it was Bert who said he was upset with the way SC&P was being thought of creatively in the wake of just 1 Clio award nomination. In addition, even Jim Cutler, who seems to be the leader of the anti-Draper camp, labeled Lou Avery as only “adequate” as a creative director. [He said nothing about Lou’s office wear, which looks like Mrs. Blankenship chose it for him.] Further, Roger last week noted the agency wouldn’t be profitable until 1973. All is not going swimmingly at SC&P, and Bert knows it. That he would risk losing Don during a time of creative paucity at SC&P is troubling.
Interesting, too, that Cutler, while assuaging Lou about Don’s being under control while he’s assigned to the Burger Chef account, notes that Draper might provide some “excellent” creative. Of course, he might also “implode,” he agrees with Lou, a barely perceptible grin on his face. Clearly Cutler is being pragmatic in a way that Bert, who usually is, wasn’t in this latest episode.
Why did Don, in the space of 3 weeks, go from a willing participant in the charade to give him another chance to an obstinate employee, flinging his typewriter against his office window and racing to the bottle? Had Don not been given the Burger Chef assignment would he have been content to remain in his office and play solitaire? Did he think his new situation at SC&P would be a sinecure? This obviously is another storyline for Weiner to pursue in the coming weeks.
A parallel with Roger. Don remained calm for a bit, about 3 weeks apparently, and then blew up. Similarly Roger took in stride the news of his daughter leaving her marriage for a commune, as opposed to his estranged wife Mona, who was apoplectic that she’d leave Brooks and little Ellery. As we know, Roger finally trudges up to the commune, but instead of ordering his daughter to leave he surveys the situation, even does kitchen duty and spends the night. Eventually, though, he insists on hauling Margaret off the premises. As stubborn as her father, she resists.
A Matter of Business
While we know Mad Men is not a series about the ad business, but rather a study of character and a time period, with advertising providing a useful background, you have to enjoy the knocks creator Matthew Weiner is making this season against business. First there’s the partners’ quick tossing of Don to the garbage heap after he helped build the firm; this week it’s the gutless way Lou hands Peggy the keys to the Burger Chef account, which, by the way, brings with it the task of managing Don, who essentially taught Peggy everything she knows about advertising; as noted above, Bert’s emotional and faulty evaluation of Don; and the questionable management of SC&P, forgetting to inform Peggy that Don, an employee under her supervision, is working under strict guidelines. As Joan empathizes with Peggy, the business is not thinking about you. Hmmm, sounds like something the IBM360 would do.
GGGGGGinsberg: This character had a fair amount of potential coming into the season, what with his ethnic background, his status as a single young man and obvious talent for producing catchy copy—he’s the sole nominee for a Clio. At the moment, however, he seems more annoyingly monotone than anything else. At first it was funny to have essentially a shleppy, low-cost, young version of Roger Sterling around, a lightning-quick wit with a lower East Side accent in need of a sensor. Now, though, quips, often tasteless, are all we get from Ginsberg. Sunday night’s were fecal, likening the introduction of a computer at SC&P to Harry Crane “taking a dump” and preferring one couch to another because the latter “has too many farts” in it.
Burger Chef: Even History, formerly The History Channel, must appreciate Weiner’s attention to historical detail as he resurrects not only 2001 and lunar travel but also Burger Chef in this episode. The Indianapolis-based firm, as mentioned Sunday night, had some 1,000 locations at its height in the early 1970s and seems to have given McDonald’s a few ideas, including the look of its restaurants and the Happy Meal, which Burger Chef introduced as the funmeal platter for kids.
A Side of Hamm: At times it’s a subtle twist of the head or a puzzled look, but Jon Hamm, whose performance in eps 1-3 was noteworthy, seems a slightly different, less confident Don this season. This is entirely appropriate for the character he’s playing.
Shea It Ain’t So: I’m not sure which is worse, that we wondered for months what happened to the NY Mets banner that was a feature of Lane Pryce’s office or that we were overjoyed when Don found it. Even more for us Mets fans, Don, who’s made several anti-Mets comments during the course of the series, seems to have jumped on the Mets’ bandwagon at the start of what would become known as the Miracle of 1969. Don, despite having much alcohol on board, even sings a reasonable rendition of the first bars of Meet the Mets.
And while we’re talking sports, let’s misquote a sports adage: Who at the start of the season could have predicted the seriously compromised Freddie Rumsen would have delivered two of the most memorable monologues in the series thus far? Perhaps in a year when the last-place Mets went on to defeat the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles in the World Series and the former 13 colonies put a man on the Moon before the mighty Soviet Union could do so, underdogs Freddie and Don will have the last laugh. As Tim McGraw’s father would say of the Mets just a few seasons later, ya gotta believe.
Here’s Harry: He’s not gone, which was left unclear last week. Indeed, Cutler shows how pragmatic he is and Harry Crane gets his long-wished-for IBM computer, plus a nifty hardhat. The IBM360 displaces the copy writers’ room and the lunchroom to the consternation of the creative team, but, as Harry noted last week, people think, computers don’t. Still, the creative staff is more than a tad worried about their future.
Best Line of the Night: Is there any doubt? When told that his daughter has run away, Roger quips “Where? To Bergdorf’s?” Ah, what a father.