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Recapping Mad Men: The Monolith (spoilers)

“You thought there was going to be a big creative crisis and we’d pull you off the bench but in fact we’ve been doing just fine.” – Bertram Cooper to Don Draper in last night’s Mad Men

I’d been wondering since the end of last week’s episode how long Don would last under the new restrictions placed on him as conditions to his surprise return to work and, as it appears everyone at Sterling Cooper & Partners plans to make it as difficult on Don as possible, I would not have been surprised had he not made it to the end of the latest episode as a member of the firm. Anyway, I think there is still a hole in my head from the laser beams Don was shooting out of his eyes at Peggy during a key scene in last night’s show. vlcsnap-00252

On the face of it, the title of last night’s episode “The Monolith” refers to Harry Crane’s massive new computer which is being installed in what used to be the Creative Department’s lounge (side note: I’ve been rewatching the early seasons of Mad Men and after tonight I’m wondering if there’s an exact moment when Crane went from being a likeable enough dufus to being kind of a prick).

At the same time, maybe the monolith is Don himself. He’s a stubborn, ancient, immovable rock object and that was never more apparent than last night when Don-enemy Lou gave Peggy a raise, made her head of a major account and then assigned Don to her as though the Creative Director were merely a copywriter. Peggy immediately tries a few not-so-subtle power games on Don, like calling him into her office for a meeting instead of going into his, but this is where the laser beams come in. Don does not play ball. Instead of writing the tags Peggy has assigned him, he tries to throw his Selectric out a window then goes home for the weekend in a huff.

Monday morning finds him at work on time, but he hibernates in his office playing solitaire, reading from Portnoy’s Complaint, and finally drinking a bottle of vodka out of a soda can (one of the stipulations of his return to SC&P is that he not drink). While ruminating on Lane Pryce’s Mets pennant (Don occupies Pryce’s former office), he’s inspired to convince recovering alcoholic Freddy Rumsen into a Mets game (“Meet the Mets. Meet the Mets. Step right up and greet the Mets!”). We’ve seen Don in every phase of drunkenness over the years, but I don’t quite remember him ever getting quite this goofy… Well there was the post-Cleo award Life Cereal pitch I guess.

Luckily for Don, Freddy just takes him home to sleep it off. The next morning, Rumsen gives Don the tough love he needs: “Are you just going to kill yourself? Give them what they want? Or go in your bedroom, get your uniform, fix your bayonet and hit the parade? Do the work, Don.” You know it’s been a rough couple of days when the voice of reason in your life is a burned out dinosaur best known for drunkenly pissing himself before a client meeting.

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But it works. Don takes the advice. The end of the episode finds him returning to work work looking sharp and determined. He sits down to his desk with the promise to Peggy he’ll have his tags in by lunch and he starts typing away as The Hollies’ “On a Carousel” kicks up on the soundtrack. It’s an interesting song choice since the season one finale “Carousel” featuring Don’s famous pitch to Kodak is arguably the man’s professional peak. It’s a reminder of his talent and value and I read it as an optimistic sign Don might make it through this stretch. On the other hand, a carousel goes around and around and winds up letting you off right back where you started. So, who knows?

In the episode’s other major development, Roger Sterling heads upstate with his ex-wife Mona to bring their daughter Margaret back from a hippie commune and return her to her husband and son. Roger tries a little Rumsen-style tough love of his own, reminding his daughter that her son needs him and that she can’t just abandon him. “How could you leave him? He’s your baby.” But Margaret throws it right back in his face: “How did you feel when you went away to work, Daddy? Your conscience must’ve been eating you alive, calling your secretary from a hotel to pick out a birthday present for me. I’m sure you were sick.” A lifetime of parental guilt written all over his face, Roger leaves without Margaret. Ouch.

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s Freddy Rumsen: 1, Roger Sterling: 0

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Craig Kennedy

Craig Kennedy is looking for the best on screens small and large. Follow him on Twitter (@LivingInCinema), on tvtag, on Facebook and listen to him along with Sasha and Ryan on the Oscar Podcast.

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