Mad Men is known for being occasionally excruciating, and the discomfort it creates in its viewers is a hallmark of the viewing experience. The rudeness, the callousness, the vindictiveness—they are all a part of life, and this show has never been afraid to dive right in and show you the ugliness that comes along with breathing.
But “The Crash” is different. If you thought it was crazy when Roger Sterling did LSD, well…get ready, because apparently the Mad Men writing staff got eaten by a Godzilla-sized Philip K. Dick novel as filmed by David Lynch. Instead of a known and recognized narcotic like acid, this show’s craziness is fueled by a mysterious vitamin megadose brought by Jim Cutler’s doctor that is probably some sort of speed. What follows is a frantic, fractured and surreal hour of Mad Men, a rather radical departure for a program usually dedicated to verisimilitude.
It’s hard to tell if the result is audacious or desperate. The drug device is problematic.
Uppers were in wide use even in that era, and it seems unlikely that nobody would realize exactly what was happening to them. The show feels incomplete because the viewer only sees tiny bits and pieces of what happened. This is definitely a Don episode, and the arcs for this week’s other major players—Peggy, Stan, and Sally—feel forced and artificial, especially Stan’s sudden production of a cousin who died in Vietnam.
Don hits rock bottom this week. But his line this season is frustrating. He is not doing anything he has not done before, but for some reason Sylvia Rosen is creating a much higher level of turmoil than any of Don’s other affairs. That is fine, but why? Can you hear those crickets chirp? Therefore, Don’s literal and figurative collapse this week appears to occur through some bizarre Nietzschean will of its own, and not as the organic result of aggregated stress, which feels…strange.
Notably, Don seems to learn enough this week to give up his quest to be Ted Chaough’s match. The drug-addled weekend resulted in Don’s most significant failure—he does not come up with an ad. He gives Ted the Chevrolet account and the fortune and glory that may come with being the one who figures it out.
And, finally, that burglary…yes, it was extremely weird. And it felt unnecessary. A lot of this week’s show did. It is hard to shake the feeling that the makers of Mad Men are aware that the story they are telling about Don is derivative of previous seasons, and are trying to dress it up with various sensational bells and whistles in the hope nobody will notice. Last week, it was a confinement fetish. This week, it is drugs. Who knows what they will come up with next?