Greg and Sean,
Last week, Sean spoke of Anna’s death as an “important milestone” in the Dick-to-Don devolvement. And though Anna’s ghost remains absent from Season Six, it lingers by way of Don’s relationships with other women: Don longs for the emotional openness that Anna allowed him, but also struggles with intimacy in the face of performance. Anna, his wife-on-paper, represents both his truest self and the beginning of his life’s performance as Donald Draper, ad man. It’s no wonder, then, that “The Crash” helps itself to the same vulnerabilities that the Anna plot line develops; Don has come to a point where intimacy and performativity seem one and the same (“You exist for my pleasure.”). Identities (his and others’) are lost in the shuffle.
Grandma Ida makes for a compelling (albeit easy) play on Don’s Life in Fakery. Sally, always in nightgowns, struggles to recall the details of her father’s life, but she’s at a loss; Ida’s con artistry takes advantage of Don’s, well, con artistry. “Your daddy still handsome?” Ida asks Sally. Yes. This is the one thing that Sally knows for sure. A floor down, Sylvia sweeps up Don’s post-swagger cigarette butts. Or, rather, trans-swagger: it’s changed courses and objectives (“The timbre of my voice is as important as the content.”).
It’s in this line that we find the episode’s hardy-har farce. “The Crash” puts SCDPCGC on literal speed for sake of literal simulated brilliance. If we hadn’t yet seen Don’s yammering maw for the hole that it is, then we’re sure not to miss it now. This is, again, an easy play. But I tend toward Mad Men’s dippings into the absurd, even the ones that lean on convenient devices (read: acid). But shrinking cigarettes are a far cry from bum shots of Energy Serum, and this time, the whole office is whack. I’m into it—don’t get me wrong. But it makes me uncomfortable in the way that Jim Cutler’s voyeurism makes me uncomfortable. Which is to say, I’m creeped out, but also entertained.
Don’s flashbacks are another matter. Regardless of backdrop, nothing bores me more than a kid who can’t act (see: Moonrise Kingdom*). Moreover, flashbacks are prefab devices. We assume their significance on existence alone. And it’s not as if Don’s oedipal tendencies need a soup session as thematic backing. So given my indifference, I’m most intrigued by Don’s flashback triggers. Why, for instance, does Don think of Amy when he spots Peggy comforting Ted? Does he sense their professional/sexual ambiguity or does the Energy Serum heighten his already-mounting inclination toward those who comfort? Yes and yes!
Further: Is Frank Gleason’s daughter the Tiresias to Don’s raving Oedipus? Why not! Her “does someone love me?” line and heart check-up do the work that we’ve already done. Other thematic pop-ups follow suit (“You’re like my brother,” Peggy says to Stan before they kiss; “My mother, no, my first girlfriend,” says Ken when asked about his otherworldly tap dancing skills; “Your mama don’t know how to take care of nobody,” coos Amy to a young and passive Dick Whitman), and extend past the latently sexual and into the generally ambiguous (Sally takes on a maternal role, Bobby asks, “are we Negroes?,” and Don—naturally—becomes a babbling dummy with a pull string, though this role is less ambiguous than most). Greg—does all this rapid-fire excite or tire you? Or is it like speed i.e. does both?
All of these sideshow antics make me wonder: where is Bob Benson? Why is his character not put to use? Why does he not scuttle down the stairs in bystander enthusiasm? Why does he not join the office footrace, completely and utterly sober? Why does he not throw a pen above Stan’s head and hit the apple’s dead center?
One miscellaneous observation of minor worth:
Speaking of impalement arts, I’m reminded of Elisabeth Moss in Top of the Lake when, in Episode Two, her character purposefully hits a man in the chest with a dart. I watched this episode right after I watched “The Crash” and thus had to merge scenes:
Your face looks like a bag of walnuts,
*Do I say this to ruffle feathers? Who’s to know.