It's true that Mad Men is not the most subtle show when it comes to showing the theme they're exploring in each episode. Sometimes, the allegories they use are so on-the-nose and obvious that they sink the episode around them (like Don's rotten tooth in "The Phantom"). But even if they are usually very obvious, they can also work in ways that not only don't bother me, but that I actually really like. Examples of this are the mirrors in "Maidenform", Don and Gene's elevator ride at the end of "Commissions and Fees" and even Roger's talking to his therapist in this season's premiere. What I'm trying to say is that this week's episode, "The Crash" is very heavy-handed when it comes to explaining the subtext of the episode we're seeing.
"The Crash" is really heavy on Don. It's without a doubt the most Don-centric episode we've seen this season and one of the most Don-centric of the series. We see Don is pretty much obsessed even after his nasty break-up with Sylvia last week, standing outside her apartment like a creep and all of that. He is determined to gain her back and so we get some flashbacks that show us how young Dick Whitman lost his virginity to a whore who fed him soup when he got sick while living in the whorehouse. What's exactly going on in Don's mind? Well, he spent a big part of the episode looking for an old campaign he did in which a mother fed soup to his child, then prepared an elaborate speech to win Sylvia back. Creepy, huh? Well, thankfully, he didn't get to see Sylvia when he got home that night. He got home to find out that an old black lady had come into his house while only his children where there claiming she was his mother. And so the next morning he just stands silently next to her in the elevator and later calls up his daughter Sally to show how much he cares for her.
Was it really necessary that we got all these whorehouse flashbacks and the deflowering of Dick Whitman so that we understand what goes on inside Don's mind? We know Don's persona is only a façade. We know he liked feeling in complete control because deep inside he is scared he isn't in control of anything. We know he has big mommy issues. Like many people pointed out while reviewing Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby, Don Draper is very much like a 1960s version of Gatsby. He looks desperately for something that he just can't get. He constantly obsesses over things he thinks will make him happy but don't. His marriage to Megan didn't satisfy him. Neither did the merger with CGC, especially once he realized how good Teddy Chaough is at doing what Don usually does and how much Peggy admires him. So did we really need to take such a heavy-handed glimpse at the whore that fed him soup? Probably not...
...But on the other hand... What the holy fuck?!
This episode might have been unsubtle to the point of actually weakening the whole a little bit, but my God if this wasn't a crazy entertaining hour of television. We got a glimpse of what happens when Mad Men looks like under narcotic influence last year when Roger took LSD, but I wasn't prepared to the crazy fever dream SCDP (or whatever the agency is called now) was going to become once its workers decided to take some amphetamines. The thing about Mad Men is that because it applies such a short-story-like feel to every episode, it has never shied away from experimenting in the way it tells its stories. Yes, this is a fundamentally Mad Men-y episode (I just spent a lot of words talking about the whore's soup), but its presentation was so crazy entertaining, really embracing the perspective of someone who has taken drugs without turning into Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas but always remaining Mad Men that I just had to applaud the people who work on the show.
Stan racing Cutler (in the photo above)? Ken Cosgrove tap-dancing? People who didn't like this episode? I don't know what to say about them.