SC&P is all-abuzz with the Harry Crane-prompted arrival of computer technology in Sunday’s Mad Men, and the radical implications of such a huge technological step parallel Don’s mounting sense of obsolescence and frustration at being shoved to the agency’s periphery. “The Monolith” begins with Don entering a deserted office to find that nobody’s cared to notify him about the computer party upstairs – in fact, nobody seems to really care about him whatsoever.
This episode sees the wobbly first steps of Don’s ungainly rebirth as a mere mortal at the agency – far from coasting along on his natural talent and reputation as he did in the last pre-meltdown years, Don finds himself actively pushed to the bottom of the heap by everyone at the office. When Pete snags a deal with an old Vick’s acquaintance’s new account, the prolific and expanding Burger Chef, he pointedly suggests that Don be assigned to the project – but Lou, frustrated and disillusioned by his predecessor’s all-too-rapid climb to such a big account, decides that Peggy will helm the operation. The result is a complete role reversal from previous seasons, and it’s huge fun to watch – Peggy absolutely relishes her newfound ability to order Don around and demand 25 tags by Monday – but the vestiges of his pre-meltdown sense of ego and entitlement create petty defiance and Peggy-aimed death glares. Finding himself at the feet of his former protégé is difficult for Don, and he clings to his pride by ignoring her assignments and ditching her meetings – all the while, the intense strain between the two is palpable.
Roger takes the day off when Mona and son-in-law Brooks show up at SC&P to report that Margaret has bailed to a hippie commune and refuses to return to her son. That explains all the weird faux heart-to-heart business that went down over brunch with Roger a few episodes back – she was tying up loose ends before ditching NYC. After Brooks makes a miserable attempt to retrieve his wife and ends up in the slammer, Roger and Mona take it upon themselves to go drag Margaret back on their own. Roger’s scenes with his ex-wife are always electric – their long-standing chemistry and history screams that they’ve probably belonged together all along – but what are the odds of those two ever admitting to a thing like that? Their little road trip comes to an abrupt halt when they reach Margaret’s – er, sorry, Marigold’s new home – a stereotypical hippie farm where we all eat dinner by the earth’s natural cycle and shun our real-life responsibilities in favor of spliffs and firewood. Margaret has undergone a classic transformation from selfish NYC brat to an equally selfish but greasier “free spirit.” The brainwashing would be funny if it weren’t so creepy and painfully self-serving. Okay, it’s a little funny – but it boils down to the brokenness of Margaret’s upbringing and her father’s conceitedness, so things go from stoned potato-peeling to mud wrestling pretty quickly. Mona storms off shortly after arriving at the farm, leaving Roger to get in touch with his flower child side and rough it with the hippies for a night. Things go pretty smoothly until the next morning when Roger does a 180 and literally drags his daughter to the car, pleading with her to consider the young son she’s left back in the city. But as Margaret points out in a scathing and decidedly non-hippie retaliation, this is coming from Roger. What right does he have to preach about neglectful parenting? The response comes as a very sharp blow and Roger skulks off with a muddy suit and crumpled face.
Back at the office, Don’s partially self-interested suggestion to make an account out of the “virgin” computer company sends Bert on a somewhat abrupt and yet necessary rant that’s meant to knock Don back into place. The fact is, SC&P is doing just fine without the man that “started the company,” and Don’s attempts to sidle up to the partners and reinstate himself as a creative trailblazer are entirely transparent and unwanted. He can’t seem to grasp the idea that his now measly position at the agency isn’t a mere pretense that’s meant to briefly diminish his ego and then send him back to the top with some laughs and drinks – the old Don is gone, as far as the office is concerned. Bert’s sass propels Don straight back into the bottle – Roger’s bottle, actually. He gets absolutely smashed and calls up guardian angel Freddy Rumsen for a Mets game – but he ends up safely passed out at his apartment instead. Who would’ve thought it’d be everyone’s favorite pants-pisser who finally, finally got through Don’s thick skull? “Are you just going to kill yourself?” he asks Don. “Give them what they want?” Amazingly, the pep talk works. Don returns to work the next day a more amenable and malleable guy, agreeing to do some tags for Peggy and generally accepting the idea that he’ll have to “do the work,” as Freddy put it. He’s finally on the road to legitimate recovery of both a clean liver and a functional life.
The Don/Peggy dynamic is one of my favorites in the show, and I’m looking forward to seeing how their backwards power-struggle will or will not pan out with Peggy on top. I’ll always hope that they’ll go riding off into the sunset together, BFF’s 4 lyfe, but they’re too similar for that – there’s no way Sunday’s Cold War spat is the last of its kind.
What do you guys think? Is Don on his way back up to former status, or will his pride render him incapable of coping with sofa-mover status? Leave your thoughts in the comments.