‘Mad Men’ Recap (Season 5, Episode 4): “Joan Asks: Because Why?”
Peggy’s a funny / sad drunk, Don has the worst head-cold since the Civil War, and Joan completes her self-liberation ahead of schedule.
One of the storylines in this week’s episode of Mad Men (technically episode 4 because the premiere counted as two episodes, for apologies if the title was misleading) contains a hallucinogenic dream. Try to guess which one! You might find yourself pleasantly surprised.
Remember back when Don was sleeping with half of New York last season? There was the bit where he started asking women to slap him, a friend of mine, distraught by his rapid downfall had this to say: “Jon Hamm does not get slapped!”
This season, I’m going to say what we were all thinking: Jon Hamm does not get sick. The episode needed him to be introspective though and nothing makes a man become introspective like the violent spring-cold Don was saddled with this week.
Everybody asked him if he was okay, most adorably, Sally, who wants to be best friends with her dad. With Betty and Henry on the other side of the family, who can blame her? While Henry and Betty are gone for the weekend and Bobby away at sleep-away camp (and pissing in his bed, according to her report), Sally is left with Grandma Many-Chins, Henry’s corpulent mother, a walking contradiction that dozes grasping a kitchen knife with one hand and the other up a bag of Bugles. Grandma Many-Chins is the worst kind of adult. She smells. She criticizes Betty’s rules. She insists abuse from your elders is good for you, recalling when her father kicked her across the room as a child for the best of reasons: no good reason. She tells Sally to grow up, but won’t allow her to read about the riots and killings around the country (until later, when she does so in graphic detail). As a capper, she drugs Sally when she can’t sleep after all of this.
It’s bad that Sally is getting mixed signals as she’s growing up but the slow-boil for her character development, considering all that’s occurred around her during the series, makes for good drama.
The conflict going down between Roger and Pete has yet to fully materialize. Its background placement is a good place for it at the moment, letting the bickering become political maneuvering and cloak-and-dagger deals. Roger trying, and eventually succeeding, to pay off Peggy to assemble some copy for him for Mohawk Airlines in the midst of the mechanic strikes was funny because it showed how shrewd Peggy can be when negotiating, even when drunk. Then it became more serious when Peggy made friend of Don’s new secretary, Donna (yay, new friend!), but then Peggy became self-doubting and depressed when she and Donna got to talking about work (boo, veiled racism!). Drunk Peggy, you were fun, scamming Roger out of $400! Why do you not like being a copywriter?
Well, because it means she’s pretty much stopped being a woman in order to succeed, even Donna confessing that she kind of acts like a man and, “You all really do drink a lot.” But Donna’s sympathy was welcomed. We’ll have to wait and see what comes of Peggy’s budding self-doubt. Self-doubt and a killer hangover. She realizes she is living the dream, it just isn’t quite as much fun as she probably imagined.
The same goes for Don, who is harassed by Megan for his stint as a bachelor post-divorce. Yeah, he may or may not have slept with a little bit of half of New York City’s women during his tumble down the alcoholism tree. He’s embarrassed, coughing a meager apology through his strengthening summer-cold. Both Megan and Don have an argument. Don was divorced, he was depressed, he slept around. Not admirable, and he’s ashamed. Megan knew what she was getting into marrying him, but she can’t help but feel that amongst all the randos Don slept with, she was selected as the Queen of Randos to become his life-long caretaker. It might have been a bigger bite than she imaged. Nevertheless, she sent Don home sick, where he was confronted by one of the women he’d slept with years earlier. She weaseled her way into the apartment. He tossed her out. Well done, Don. Then she got back in after he fell asleep. And then he nailed her.
Wait, no, bad, Don! Your days of. . . and then he choked her to death. No! Oh, come right the fuck on! Don, no, your days of sleeping around and. . . and then he kicked her corpse under the bed and went back to sleep.
Jon Hamm does not hide corpses under his bed!
Please tell me you guys picked up on the fact that this was all a fever dream by the time the girl came around again for some sickness-sex? Good. Good, good. Don finally wakes up to see Megan, who brings him breakfast, assuring him that he was pretty out of it for the whole night, making him forget that his bed has fallen out of the sky and killed the wicked witch of the east.
Don is hoping that Megan will be the angel capable of kicking the corpse of his philandering past underneath the mattress. That’s a misguided reason to get married or remarried, in Don’s case. The misguided desire to tie the knot is now kind of reminding me of Joan, who was a secretary that managed to marry a doctor in the grounds that, you know, it’s what you always hoped for. I imagine there was some moment in Joan’s life where she thought, “No, it’s not okay to keep fooling around with Roger. Grow up. Become domesticated. Find a doctor. Squirt out a little one.”
Which brings us to Joan, who is alone at a dinner table surrounded by family. Greg is back from Vietnam, and that’s great, right? Wrong. Because he’s going back in a week. For a year. Because he volunteered. So Joan expunges him from her life right there and tells him never to come back.
Joan was the real meat and potatoes of this episode. She’s always wanted Greg around and to be married, and for better or worse, that’s all she’s ever wanted. It was familiar — it was traditional, and for that reason, if nothing else, it made sense. Not anymore though. She asks why it should make any sense, demanding that Greg, and this whole damn situation, explain itself. This is seemingly a double-edged argument at first. So, hey, Greg is no longer any use to Joan because what good is a doctor husband that’s either dead or not around? How vain of Joan, right? No, absolutely not. In reality, it’s an admission that she was diluting herself about the whole, “Grow up. Find a doctor,” mantra. Her mother was a constant, terrible influence on her, maybe (definitely) living through her daughter vicariously after her own husband left her, urging Joan to stick it out for one more year. Greg is a piece of shit rapist and she always knew it and it isn’t that he’s no longer of any use — he was never any use, and if he needs the army to feel like a man, then she tells him to fuck off and die and never come back.
Joanie, you rule. I had this half-right in my predictions at the start of the season, but it wasn’t hard to predict that Joan would be kicking ass and taking names. We always knew you rocked, Joan, yeah, sure, but we just like to say it every chance we can get.
Plus, she plays the accordion. I think we already knew that though.
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