I’ve been watching the wild-eyed speculation about where “Mad Men” is going this season with amusement, particularly the claims that Megan is going to get murdered because she wore the same T-shirt that Sharon Tate did in the Esquire photo. (Or dumber still, that she’s already dead and there’s some Sixth Sense thing going on.) This isn’t that kind of show. The roving bands of murderous hippies of the 60s phenomenon was limited to the Manson family, despite the paranoid imaginations of many straight-laced Americans at the time. There’s violence on “Mad Men”, but it’s of the more everyday sort that most people encounter: accidents, suicides, domestic violence, ordinary brawls where feelings are hurt as much as skin is bruised. This show has its soap opera roots, but characters’ fates always go back to their own follies, and murder falls well out of the range of things that can happen because of that. “Mad Men” is, in no small part, about retraining an audience that is regularly offered murder and other shocking crimes for their titillation on TV shows to remember the smaller horrors of real life, such as having your daughter walk in on you in flagrante delicto with a woman you had previously considered a kindly neighbor.
I’m kidding on the square in the video when I call the incident the “Red Wedding” of “Mad Men”. Narratively speaking it really is, even if no one died and had to have a tired-looking servant mop up the blood. That’s because it represents an inarguable point of no return. The game is really different now, and nothing anyone can do will change that. This entire season has been about reminding us that Don’s ever-present fantasy of hitting the reset button—of running away and starting over—is becoming gradually impossible with age. Now he comes face to face with the most salient reminder of that, his angry teenage daughter. There is no reset button with your children. You can’t divorce them and get new ones. (Though sadly, many men and some women have tried before.) Don has toyed all season with the possibility of getting caught by Megan or Arnold, which are relationships he frankly sees as disposable at the end of the day. But it clearly never occurred to him that his children might be the ones who discover him. There are many ways to interpret the painful expressions on Don’s face, but I think the primary thing that was going on was Don realized he can’t just get rid of Sally and go get a new Sally who doesn’t know that he’s a cheating piece of shit. This Sally is the only one he’s got. In one brief moment, he utterly failed at the one adult responsibility he can’t cavalierly blow off, to get his children into adulthood without dishing out major trauma with his recklessness.
So that’s sad. But the episode wasn’t a total downer, as Peggy got a cat. I’m not entirely sure we’re supposed to be happy about that, since, as Marc notes, cats are the universal TV symbol for “sad single lady”. But it didn’t feel that way onscreen. On the contrary, it felt pretty empowering to me, because having a cat on rat-killing duty means that Peggy doesn’t have to make pathetic late night phone calls with half-assed promises of sex to her male friends anymore. Plus, a cat gets a home. Cats and single ladies are a winning combination, and it’s a shame that a sexist society that fears female independence has successfully demonized this particular pairing that tends to work out well for all parties involved. Just remember the golden rule of cats, Peggy: Max out at two, three if there’s overriding circumstances, but never, ever have four.
A small programming note: Because of our travel schedules, Marc and I won’t be able to have any more Orange Couches first thing Monday morning for the rest of this season, which means the next two episodes will be released late Monday or possibly early Tuesday.
Thoughts on this episode? Where can things go from here? It’s hard to imagine that this Sally thing won’t spiral even more out of control.