Mad Men: Fever Dreams and Bodies Under the Bed

“Our mothers all are junkies. Our fathers all are drunks. Golly Moses, naturally we’re punks!” —The Jets, West Side Story

Don has a fever! And the only cure is more ambiguous dream sequences! Reformed king slut Don’s nocturnal run-in with a former mistress played by a mod Mädchen Amick (Shelly on Twin Peaks) brought a David Lynch feel to this excellent episode. I was curious about Andrea, the tropical-colors-favoring copywriter who supposedly freelanced for Sterling Coop circa 1960. So Peggy has a female predecessor? How many times exactly did Andrea “handle” Don’s account? Certainly her level of over-familiarity with him in the elevator spoke of a longer hire, and I wondered if screwing Don is what ultimately terminated her employment. For every ex of Don’s we’ve met, there have to be millions more lurking in midtown (not to mention the rest of the New York area — or Greater Los Angeles for that matter). Megan is too smart to believe that Don’s constant cheating was Betty’s fault, or that it was for lack of sexual satisfaction. Megan picked Don up when he was with Dr. Faye. As baller as that was, it did not speak that well of Don’s prowess for long-term commitment or an ability to deny his ego gratification. What Megan fears is that Don will always want multiple women, will always lust for something different. The fairy tale that Ginzo pitched was Cinderella, but the psycho-sexual subtext of “Mystery Date” was all Bluebeard. What’s under the bed? Who’s tied up in the basement? You murdered all those other women in cold blood; I’m supposed to believe you won’t do it to me?

Richard Speck — whose rape and murder of eight student nurses in Chicago fuels the writers’ water-cooler talk and Sally’s nightmares — grew up poor, was emotionally abused by his drunken stepfather, and underwent a name change (cough cough, Dick Whitman). Speck slaughtered a barmaid behind her place of work, leaving her body in an empty pigpen. He raped a 65-year-old woman at knifepoint who later called him “polite” and described him as speaking “very softly with a Southern drawl.” Once, when asked why he killed the nurses, he said, “It just wasn’t their night.” That sounds like one of Roger Sterling’s punch lines, wit papering over an actual lack of remorse, laughter going where the guilt ought to be. Against the never-ending reggaeton song of background typewriter and office sounds, Joyce thinks the Speck case will make the cover of LIFE over the Division Street Riots because they’ve covered so many riots recently and sexual violence sells better than racial civil unrest. It’s an extremely cynical thought, and Michael Ginsberg calls out Peggy, Megan, and a nylon-masked Stan for salivating over the snuff pictures. Every time Ginsberg starts a sentence I expect “Gee, Officer Krupke” to come out instead.

For all his disgust over their interest in Speck, Ginsberg’s pitch is all about the connection between arousal and fear — the faster heartbeat, the shortness of breath, the desperate obsessive thoughts. In the Francis family’s American Horror Story house, Henry’s mom has her back massager out while she reads about the Speck case on her ’66 Kindle. The details of the Speck story stick in your mind like they would have in Sally’s: the tattoo on his arm reading “Born to Raise Hell,” the methodical rape and strangulation of the victims, the one surviving nurse climbing onto a ledge and yelling, “They’re all dead! All my friends are dead! Oh, God, I’m the only one alive!” I remember being 10 and having a very Sally-like reaction to the story of Polly Klaas, the 12-year-old girl who was kidnapped from her mother’s home in Petaluma, California, during her own slumber party, strangled, and buried in a shallow grave by Richard Allen Davis. I recall lying awake listening to the police helicopters that were always hovering around my neighborhood worrying that there were men out there who wanted to abduct young girls and turn our innocent sleepovers into bloodbaths, and feeling very powerless and small.

Don was really on his Tony Soprano last night, and not just because we saw him take somebody’s life. His line about pushing Ginsberg in front of a cab practically had a cut in it to Paulie Walnuts and Silvio laughing. As for Michael Ginsberg, didn’t I just see you in a Drake video? Ginsberg, like Don, is brilliant and erratic, a genius onstage and a total mess behind the scenes (and probably the former because of the latter). Peggy was horrified last week when she realized Michael could control his insane ebullience. He just had to want to. As much as Don likes to breeze in at the last second to casually blow executives’ minds while secretly fucking their daughters and wives, he does not enjoy seeing someone else successfully Bueller their way through a faux-spontaneous pitch. Disrespecting authority is all well and cool until you become the authority figure being disrespected. Ginsberg draws in the client with his self-deprecation and storytelling skills. This is what all women want, the room full of men agree. They want ravishment fantasies and guys with “big shadows,” that thrilling minute where they don’t know if they’re dealing with Prince Charming or the Big Bad Wolf and risk getting eaten alive. As Ginsberg puts it: “She wants to be caught.” Maybe she’s just exhausted from a constricting lifetime of avoiding dark alleys and empty streets. The feeling of being followed without consent is so awful and common. Maybe she wonders exactly what terrible, violent, and life-altering things would happen if she stopped looking out.

Best GIFable Peggy moments this season so far: (1) Peggy counting money, (2) Peggy’s face about Don being 40, (3) Peggy and Abe doing the twist at Don’s party. Peggy, afraid she can’t be as much of an asshole dude as it takes to succeed in business, proves she can be just as ignorant and clueless as any privileged man during her slumber party with new secretary Dawn. While I hoped they’d get steak belts, hookers, and matching “Born to Raise Hell” tattoos, Peggy’s fantasy of sisterhood was ruined by her drunken inability to stop talking about herself for one goddamn second. Having mastered negotiating and flirting with Roger Sterling (“Dazzle me”), she doesn’t know how to clock out, and brings the same condescending tone into her socializing. Peggy really loves to win, and that is what freaks her out. She worries that her fiercely competitive nature makes her masculine, and she cares more about landing the Mohawk account than speculating why women might like sheer pantyhose. Male-centric accounts legitimize her as a copywriter, while female-driven accounts just prove that she has a vagina. And, of course, the joke is that Ginsberg nails supposedly feminine seduction fantasies perfectly while Peggy understands the desire to best nature by flying through the air. Everyone is capable of playing multiple positions.

Joan’s voice drops from a Barbie coo to a stern alto when she tries to get through to Greg, whose head has swollen up with military pride. Given a choice between Vietnam and Joan Holloway, most people would not be so quick to rush back into combat. The bass drops when she tells Greg that he’s not a good man, and never was. It’s funny that Joan was so mad about Greg lying to her about his reasons for returning to Vietnam when she’s not exactly innocent herself. I need a supercut of all the shots of Kevin the baby, Toby the baby from Eastbound & Down, and Agent Van Alden’s baby from Boardwalk Empire. Babies be doing reaction shots! I hoped Greg would improve somehow, because I just want Joan to be happy, but it was satisfying — if slightly fan-servicey — to watch her blow up her shitty marriage to the doctor that promised her a dream date but turned out to be a rape-you-on-the-floor-of-your-boss’s-office dud. Now she is stuck with a baby and the world’s most invasive mom. Ooh, here’s an idea: Let’s set up Joan’s mom with Michael Ginsberg’s dad! As a couple they’d be just like George Costanza’s parents.

There is some prehistoric thing inside you that wants nothing but to eat and fuck and kill, what Megan calls Don’s “careless appetite.” You spend your life simultaneously developing and learning how to rein those instincts in. It questions everything we’re taught that somebody as blatantly deviant as Richard Speck can exist, somebody steering purposely into the darkness, clipping bodies for mere sicko kicks. At first when Don started strangling Andrea it seemed like good old-fashioned choke sex, another dangerous Draper kink, not so different from fucking a freelance copywriter on the loading docks behind Lincoln Center while your wife waits inside. How many girls is too many girls? How hard is too hard? How dangerous is actually too dangerous? The more often Bluebeard says, “Don’t look in the basement,” the stronger the urge to do so becomes. Sally wants to read the Speck story because she needs to know what the grown-ups do. Once she finds out with a flashlight fort under the covers she immediately wishes to go back to being a child. It’s only the really troubling ideas that burrow under the skin. Random violence scares with its anarchy, but serial killing terrifies because it involves planning, hard work, and good luck. Getting away with it proves that accountability, fairness, and punishment are fairy tales. Having cultivated the ability to kill and realized your true capacity for it, it’s a tough fever to break.

Filed Under: AMC, Don Draper, Mad Men, Recaps

Molly Lambert is a staff writer for Grantland.

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