Yeah, I Was In the Sh*t: Vietnam Hits Home on "Mad Men"
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Yeah, I Was In the Sh*t: Vietnam Hits Home on “Mad Men”

By Sarah Carlson | TV Reviews | May 21, 2013 | Comments ()


Programming note: In last week’s recap, I noted this season of “">Mad Men” will be shorter, at only nine episodes. That may not be true — some sites have this season listed as having 13 episodes. But the titles, writing credits and such for episodes 10-13 haven’t been released, so it can appear like the season would end with next week’s episode, “The Better Half.” What I’m saying is, I’m probably wrong and we’ll get 13 episodes. I’m OK admitting that. This is what I get for injecting all those amphetamines …)

At times during “The Crash,” the eighth episode of “Mad Men” Season Six, it felt as if most of the characters were losing their minds. Their behavior was mainly thanks to a mixture of drugs, alcohol, exhaustion and exasperation as they worked on endless pitches for Chevy, but endless is the key here. An end barely is in sight for the employees of the newly merged, still-unnamed agency as they work around Chevy’s schedule, a three-year calendar of monthly deadlines sure to suck each of them dry. No matter how they try to distract themselves and ease their pain, the characters are stuck in a battle beyond their control. Between working weekends in a nice Manhattan office and trudging through the jungles of Vietnam, I think all viewers would choose the place of people like Stan over that of his 20-year-old cousin, who was killed in action during the war. But the parallel is important for representing the greater chaos of the ’60s and the feeling of helplessness pervading society. The war can’t be won; Chevy can’t be placated. Even stone sober, it is hard for someone to tell which way is up. Now, too many tragedies later, the dream of resilience is starting to crumble.

MadMenJump.jpg“The Crash” isn’t as trippy as Season Five’s “Far Away Places,” which took viewers along for the ride as Roger and now ex-wife Jane took LSD, but it definitely is an event. Jim Cutler (an increasingly entertaining Harry Hamlin) hooked most of the creative team up with his doctor’s “energy serum,” when injected was promised to provide “24 to 72 hours of uninterrupted creative focus, energy and confidence.” Just what they needed to tackle another long weekend of trying to make Chevy happy. But first: races through the office. And arm wrestling, and tap-dancing, and Ginsberg (the only sober one) throwing X-Acto knives at a drawing of an apple pinned above Stan’s head. The office goings-on aren’t quite as ridiculous as a man’s foot being run over by a secretary-driven John Deere tractor (Interesting that that clip, set in 1963, starts with men dismissing the threat of Vietnam), but the collective breakdown among the agency’s denizens is even more poignant. Of course the near free-for-all atmosphere is hilarious, and I almost prefer Don on speed than off. But the disillusionment their actions reflect is quite real. Chevy is pulling the strings by demanding new idea after new idea, and Jim has a point — that’s what Chevy is paying them for. But his other statement to the partners presents the bigger problem: “It’s not our clock; it’s theirs.”

The ad men and women are their own sort of soldiers — notice the use of Army green and its variants in several characters’ outfits, from Ken’s tie to Stan’s shirt — and they turn to the serum in desperation but also necessity. They can’t keep functioning at this rate, not and produce quality work, anyway. Unfortunately, most of what was created during the drug-addled weekend was “gibberish,” according to Ted, who spent the episode away mourning the loss of friend and business partner Fred Gleason. Peggy and Jim make it to the funeral, but they return to the office and everyone’s shenanigans with Wendy (Alexa Nikolas), Fred’s hippie daughter, in tow. She pops up now and again, first as she flirts with Don in his office and later as she has sex with Stan, and her scene with Don is one of several for him that appears jumbled. Time skips around, leaving the viewer as dazed as Don as an entire day goes by without him knowing it. He keeps slipping in and out of flashbacks to his childhood at the rooming house with his stepmother, Abigail.

A persistent cough links the memory with the present, as does his recollection of the prostitute Amy Swenson (Megan Ferguson), who took care of him when he had a chest cold. “Your momma don’t know how to take care of nobody,” she told the young Dick Whitman. “She ain’t my mother,” he replied. Once he feels better, Amy relieves him of his virginity, which infuriates Abigail. She calls Dick “trash” and “disgraceful” as she beats him with a spoon (as opposed to using the tool to feed him — nurture him). Amy’s face appears again, this time in an old oatmeal ad Don is convinced holds the answer to the Chevy account. In it, a woman smiles at a young boy eating oatmeal beneath the words, “Because you know what he needs.” Who knows if Don specifically thought of Amy as he designed the ad in the late 1950s or so, but her caring for him when he needed it — she also fed him — surely has played a part in his views on the role of women in his life.

Don isn’t handling the end of his and Sylvia’s affair well. He loiters outside her and Arnold’s apartment, smoking by the back entrance and eavesdropping on their conversations. Sylvia isn’t amused; Don isn’t holding up his end of the bargain — that when you have an affair, each partner trusts the other not to spill the beans. “When you start something like this, it takes a lot of convincing,” she tells him. “It’s all about whether or not the other person has as much to lose as you do because you want to be able to trust them when it’s over. And right now I’m wondering how I ever trusted you.” Sylvia didn’t sign up for Don’s recklessness, and she isn’t interested in babying him. He needs to move forward, as Peggy instructed him in last week’s episode, but he spent “The Crash” focusing on the past and trying to numb the present. Most of the characters did, and only Peggy (again) had the best advice to give on how to cope, which she gave to Stan: “I’ve had loss in my life,” she told him, after he made a pass at her and he spoke of his cousin. “You have to let yourself feel it. You can’t dampen it with drugs and sex. That won’t get you through.”

MadMenIda.jpgOne of the more disturbing plots of the episode came with the entrance of “Grandma Ida,” a stranger who broke into Don and Megan’s apartment as his kids were staying over. Don was at work; Megan was out networking. Sally was left to babysit Bobby and Gene, and although she’s a smart kid, the sly Ida fools her for a bit by pretending to be a friend of the family. She robs the place, and a battered Don returns home to find Megan, Henry, Betty and a police officer interviewing the kids, none of them pleased. Betty’s loathing is valid — much worse could have happened to her kids, who weren’t being looked after — and Sally can’t be blamed for the break-in, either. Don left the back door open, sure, but who was Sally to question Ida’s stories about Don? “She said she knew you,” Sally told him. “I asked her everything I know and she had an answer for everything. And then I realized I don’t know anything about you.” Never mind that the children have never heard of Ida, not to mention the fact she is black and doesn’t exactly look a woman who could be their grandmother. They don’t know what to believe anymore. Their lives haven’t been in their control — is their future what Don’s generation has sacrificed, a la Sally’s reading material “Rosemary’s Baby”?

Don speaks to Sally on the phone the next day, having collapsed at the apartment after learning of the break-in. He hadn’t slept in days, and his ability to function wore away with the drugs in his system. He seems to have learned one lesson, at least, telling Ted he’ll handle Chevy from his role as creative director and nothing more. “Call me around 1970 when they’re ready to make an ad,” he says. No more games, no more of an uphill struggle to achieve the unachievable. There’s got to be a better way to meet a goal than to lose one’s self in the process. “I’m sorry, Ted,” Don adds, “but every time we get a car, this place turns into a whorehouse.”

Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • lyndsay123

    FYI - Wikipedia states that the concoction that the real "Dr. Feelgood" (Max Jacobson) administered consisted of not just amphetamines but also "animal hormones, bone marrow, enzymes, human placenta, painkillers, steroids, and multivitamins." Yikes. No wonder Cosgrove was tapdancing.

  • Amanda

    Did anyone else think that at the end of the episode they were going to find Roger DEAD in his office after getting shot up with speed by Dr. Quacky McQuackerson?? "I have a heart condition..." "Don't worry about it."

  • lyndsay123

    Not at all. Roger Sterling is immortal. He's a pro at weathering the deadliest of heart attacks by this point.

  • Isn't it Frank Gleason?

  • MissAmynae

    megan ferguson (aimee the expositional raping ho) has a fantastic bosom.

    That was the only coherent, non WTF-just-happened thought I had when the credits rolled.

  • John W

    The tap dancing will be etched in my mind until I die.

  • PaddyDog

    I think you misunderstood the point of “It’s not our clock; it’s theirs.” He said with a big smile on his face.

    When you work for a consultancy/agency, their clock is gold because it means they are paying you for every hour spent as opposed to giving you a cap on the hours/fee, so you rake in the cash.

  • doomhasspoken

    Quick (but - and I can't overstate this enough - sincere) question: Why is it racist to portray Ida as a black person? Why was this scene racist? I don't think that I properly understand the problem here.

  • PaddyDog

    I've been having this discussion with my hubby since Sunday night. he was vaguely uncomfortable with it but didn't think it was racist per se. I was very uncomfortable with it and while I don't think it was intentionally racist, it just felt like a throw back to those ideas from the 1960s/1970s I have read about of "you can't trust them". Here was a woman who obviously got into the building under the guise of a maid and then manipulates the kids into helping her rob the place and always has that underlying current of menace in her. I just felt there was too much subtext there for it to be okay. I have read in other recaps that some people felt she was the first "real" black character as opposed to Dawn or Peggy's old secretary, but I saw her (as I wrote yesterday) as Hattie McDaniel: Cat Burglar.

  • TheEmpress

    I'm sorry, but this really feels like reaching to me. I thought it was a good idea, as a thief, to get into the building as a maid. I would have thought that if she looked like Megan's maid too. I think this might be a situation of making something out of nothing.

  • doomhasspoken

    Even so, great ideas here. Reminds me of Gangs of New York when Jenny Everdeane dressed up as a maid to ransack rich folks' homes in broad daylight. I didn't think of that. Provides a good cover story.

  • PaddyDog

    It's possible that I am over-reacting. I'm not saying I'm right, just that this was how I reacted to it.

  • prestocaro

    Oh I definitely thought she was menacing when she commanded Sally to give her sugar. And when she took the phone away. But that had less to do with her blackness than it did with her actual demeanor and tone of voice.

  • BWeaves

    There was no racial equality at the time Mad Men takes place. It's still debatable today, even with a black president. It's difficult to work in black characters into the storyline of Mad Men. I'm surprised they were able to work in as many women and Jews as they have.

    It was just a very jarring storyline, given the rest of what was happening in the episode. My first thought was, "Why does the thief have to be black?" It made me cringe.

    I think prestocaro pretty much sums up what I was thinking, too.

  • Amanda

    I have to wonder HOW that woman knew so much about Don. Part of me was wondering if it was a crazy relative of Dawn's - which would be awful but would explain how she knew so much.

    The fact that she was black didn't bother me and didn't seem racist. I agree with the opinion stated here that it just goes to show how little his kids actually know their father, and how obtuse he is with them.

    Also, Bobby asking "Are we Negroes?" was the HIGHLIGHT of that episode.

  • prestocaro

    I think it is problematic that basically everyone in Mad Men who is black is either subservient (or an actual servant!) or a thief. But also, I think if Ida had been a thin, young, jewish lady, or an elderly asian man, Sally would have straight up RUN to the bedroom and called the police. Since Ida was an older (but not elderly) black woman, it seemed plausible to her that she was maybe Don's nanny/housekeeper. She obviously had that kind of relationship with Carla, and Betty had a relationship like that with her parent's housekeeper (Viola? Violet?), so it isn't absurd to think "maybe my secretive dad WAS raised by a black woman I've never met!"

  • prestocaro

    "Amy relieves him of his virginity..."
    Wha? No. She raped that kid.

    1. He's supposed to be, maybe, 13 tops. He was 10 when his dad died, right? So he isn't even old enough to consent.

    2. He says no. She doesn't listen. Even if he is old enough to consent, he didn't.

    Why does every single recap gloss over this fact?

  • Three_nineteen

    Yep. She treated him like her child and then molested him.

  • JohnnyL53

    He looks older than 13 so obviously some years had passed living in the brothel. One thing you can't do here is judge actions in the 30's by today's reality. Boys in their middle teens were practically treated as adults back then, Today's idea of teen years is a modern invention that didn't exist in the past. I seriously doubt if judged by the standards of the 1930's that any legal authority would have treated this as a case of statutory rape. A male teen having his cherry popped by a hooker was probably almost looked on as legal back then.

  • toblerone

    So Sally Draper is also fair game? Were girls in their mid teens also treated as adults? She's 13 and in some countries, even today, that would be old for a new bride.

    Rape is Rape is Rape.

  • JohnnyL53

    Don't get your panties in a bunch. I explicitly said teen males. Attitudes were completely different about teen males and sex back then.

  • toblerone

    I just love people who try to use this argument to justify rape (sex with a minor).

  • prestocaro

    All that aside, he clearly says no, and she clearly keeps going. Or is that magicked away by your rape wormhole, too?

  • JohnnyL53

    Once again you are judging by today's attitudes. I interpreted it as typical shyness by someone with no experience. He obviously didn't push her hand hand away the second time nor did he say no. Teen males were practically treated as adults back in the depression and earlier. They often didn't finish school and were out working at adult jobs to earn money for the family. My grandfather was on his own at 16 hundreds of miles from home working in the Norfolk naval shipyards. Societal attitudes were different about teen males and sex back then. I doubt if you could find anyone back then who would even think it was possible for a male teen to be statutorily raped. This scene merely reflected real life for back then.

  • Morgan_LaFai

    While I understand your point in terms of cultural attitudes and norms, the psychological impact of not having completely consented is definitely a contributing factor to adult Don's problems. So the question becomes, "How are we defining rape?" If we are defining rape as a prosecutable act then this was not rape. But if we are defining rape as non consensual sex that leaves psychological scars then this clearly was rape.

  • Whether or not you want to apply a judgement about the definition of rape in that time/culture, what I think cannot be ignored is that a) that kid's face was not happy and b) the reaction of his mother figure - even though she wasn't his actual mother - had to have shaped his adult behaviors, even if he doesn't know it. I think it was shown as it was shown in order to explain why he's such a fucking mess in relationships.

  • Morgan_LaFai

    Absolutely the fact that Don didn't want the sex and his sudo mother's response certainly played a role in shaping Don. However, what I thought was more important was that the best mother figure he had, the mother who took him in and nursed him through his fever, then forced sex on him. Now that has got to leave some really bad scars.

  • Clitty Magoo

    I've noticed a distinct gender bias in this writer's reviews of the show.

    Betty’s loathing is valid

    My countering opinion regarding Betty's loathing. Given her "clean hands" problem Betty needed to STFU... a la Harry's urging.

    Alas, this writer hates Don unless he's being handsome and condones arguably atrocious behavior from the female characters... including statutory rape.

    At least the bias here is hamfistedly transparent.

  • BWeaves

    Good point.

  • This episode was nuts! I have to say that I love their adorable mod office. I want that white chair in the background of the pic of Stan jumping.

  • Stan, I've never claimed to not like beards, and I certainly wouldn't act like I didn't like them either. Also, please keep wearing ties around your head.

  • I don't like beards but I'd totally hit Stan.

  • Return of Santitas

    Seriously, Stan is doing it for me. Maybe it was the fringe-y leather jacket a few eps ago...

  • This was oneof the wackier episodes of Mad Men I can recall. After it ended, I sat back andwondered how I was going to break it down on Mad Cast. It was schizophrenic. It was manic. Thatvitamin shot affected different people in different ways. We spend the entireepisode thinking that Don is on a mission to solve the Chevy problem, when inreality, all he is trying to do is win back Sylvia. Maybe “The Crash” isn’t Ken Cosgrove’s “test” drive, or Don & gang coming down from their high, but it’sthe beginning of the end of Don Draper as we know him. Joe and I discuss TheCrash on MadCast, which can be found here

  • alwaysanswerb

    I can't even properly collect my thoughts about this episode, which is probably exactly what the writers were going for. In the midst of some more (heavy-handed, frankly) whore/brothel imagery were some of the funniest scenes of the series. Stan and Cutler racing? Cosgrove's tapping? Cutler (again, he was gold this week) calling Peggy over for some good ol' fashioned voyeurism? The entire X-acto/apple scene, and Don running in circles? I was in hysterics. Amphetamines for all! Even if, as Peggy pointing out, everyone is only faking happiness and creativity, those moments of levity go a long way in breaking the fourth wall and reaching out to viewers, giving us a bit of respite from so many downward spirals.

  • BWeaves

    Comment Diversion: Name the new combined SCDP and CGC company:

    I still like Sterling Cutlery.

    We Whore 4 Cars.

    Adamantine Comp.

    Falling Man Advertising.

  • googergieger

    The B Sharps.

  • toblerone


    Sterling Cooper Draper Cutler and Chaugh?

    Drop the dead men.

  • prestocaro

    DrapaChoughSter. Rolls of the toungue, no? Drapachaouster. Draaaapachaouhgughster...

  • alwaysanswerb

    I want Roger and Jim to hang out and be BFFs always 5ever.

  • MissAmynae

    5ever is a good name for the new company.

  • BWeaves

    What the fuck was that?

    1. Whoever was shipping Stan and Peggy last week, you got your wish. I thought their kiss was kinda hot, but I also think it was right for Peggy to say she thinks of Stan like a brother. I find it interesting that Peggy doesn't seem to mind having passes made at her by coworkers (Pete, Ted, Stan).

    2. Don kept talking about a soup ad, but when he finally found it, it was an oatmeal ad. I don't think he really knew how it was supposed to solve everything.

    3. Since Don hadn't been home in days, I think it was Megan who left the back door open for "Hattie McDaniel: Cat Burglar." Thank you, PaddyDog. That still cracks me up. Anyway, that storyline was damn creepy and racist. It really bothers me.

    4. This was the episode where I finally realized that Cutler is Harry Hamlin. I still don't recognize him.

    5. What was Ginsberg throwing? X-acto knives? Are we sure he was the only sober one?

    6. "Every time we get a car this place turns into a whorehouse." It's a good thing Joan wasn't in this episode to hear that.

    7. I was hoping for Cosgrove to have something more to do, and they give us this? An accident and tap dancing? Really?

    8. Sally is getting so grown up. But Megan really doesn't know what to do? HIRE A BABYSITTER. Geez, you people are rich. You can afford it.

  • Three_nineteen

    How old is Sally supposed to be? I took a babysitting course at 12 and was babysitting "professionally" (non-relatives) at 14.

  • toblerone


    6. "Every time we get a car this place turns into a whorehouse." It's a good thing Joan wasn't in this episode to hear that.

    Where was Joan? With the new guy? Where was Bert? I also don't get why SCDPCGC. only got the Vega? Why would Chevy not give it to the agency that does all of their cars?

    How did they get it in the first place if Chevy has a 3 year turn around time for approvals for 1 car?

  • chump

    Because it's actually perfectly normal for people to make passes at each other perhaps?

    I bet you get upset when ugly guys look at girls' breasts when they wear a low cut top.

  • Frank

    2. Don wasn't working on Chevy, he was working on getting Sylvia to listen to him.

  • Peggy was sober in the beginning but got drunk once she came back from the funeral.

  • alwaysanswerb

    Haha, I literally squealed! I wouldn't have expected it to go down any differently. Peggy knew what Stan was all about in that moment and she knew it wasn't right, but she still didn't completely hate it either!

  • Clitty Magoo

    While the chronology of this episode was an intentional clusterfuck, Don did go home at some point during the weekend and heard Sylvia's clock radio playing through her door. I thought that's when he left the door open for Aunt Jemima... er Grandma Ida. (And racially speaking... WTF, Weiner?)

  • E Robb

    I think the race thing was crucial, because it showed how little Sally knows about her dad, that Don having a black "mother" is somewhat plausible.

  • lyndsay123

    This. THIS. Thank you for making this point to counter everyone's "omg omg racism!" argument. My first reading of the character of Ida was that, because she first said "Don Draper", she was referring to the real Don Draper and not Dick Whitman's Don Draper. Sally doesn't know this of course, but my first thought was that she was the real DD's "mammy" growing up and Don's past would be foiled. Until she started looking in the cupboards, of course. I'm not that gullible. I also thought that maybe Sally wanted the story to be true because she misses the nurturing and caretaking she got from Carla. How menacing can a woman offering to make eggs for you be?

    There was an overall theme of the confusion and distortion of the madonna and whore in this episode I felt. Sylvia was Don's whore, but when he was sick and exhausted, refused to step into the "mother" role and coddle him, which was what he really wanted and needed at that moment. Amy the prostitute steps in and acts as a mother to him, then returns to the whore role to devirginize him. Don goes 'searching' for the soup ad when Sylvia won't see him because he's looking for a woman to take care of him. He sees Peggy comforting Ted in his office and it invokes a mothering feeling to him, but the viewers know that Ted and Peggy also have had this borderline romantic relationship. Peggy comforted Don in "The Suitcase" episode in a very caring way, but he realizes now that she can't and won't do that anymore. Meanwhile, a newly fatherless Wendy is wandering out and offering to have sex with the men in the office. The irony being that while he's out looking for a mom to take care of him, his children are left alone without their actual parents, although Sally gets rewarded for her stand-in as mother to her siblings in exchange for clothes that in Betty's mind make her look like she belongs on a streetcorner (another illusion to whores), and a dangerous "mammy" - the stand-in for a mother in upper middle class white households, (who during slavery was not even historically allowed to parent her own children because she had to take care of, and even bear, the master's children, but was seen as the master's "mistress" and thus a whore even though she had no agency or choice in the matter), comes in and feeds the children, then robs them - mothering actions again perverted or distorted. I am surprised the juxtaposition of both mothers and whores in the same scenes and sometimes same conversations has not been discussed in very many reviews I've seen of this episode thus far.

  • lyndsay123

    also, the only mother in the office that the viewers have been introduced to, Joan, is also the only woman in the office who has also literally prostituted herself.

  • BWeaves

    Yes, but Megan called Don saying she HAD to leave right then, and Don said he couldn't leave work. He doesn't go home until you see him fall through the front door stoned. I know the chronology is funky in this weeks episode, but I don't remember him coming home between Megan leaving and him finally coming home. I think the kids would have noticed him stumbling about the apartment if he'd come home inbetween Megan leaving and Grandma Ida showing up.

  • prestocaro

    They didn't show him going to his apartment; in my mind, he's enough of an asshole to go all the way home to moon outside of someone else's back door and then go back to the office without checking on his own children.

  • I thought Ida was wearing Don's overcoat, presumably taken when she saw him passed out outside Sylvia's door. Which would have explained how Ida knew enough facts to grift Sally.

  • He would DEFINITELY do this! He only cares about himself and his own happiness. Honestly I feel bad for Megan because she is clearly expected to be a single parent to the kids when they're in the city.

  • BigBlueKY

    that tap dancing was EPIC.

  • BigBlueKY

    I can't unsee Jim Cutler quietly beckoning Peggy over to watch Stan nail Wendy.

  • BWeaves

    When Peggy said that Cutler was just like Sterling, only with bad breath, she wasn't kidding. That's just the sort of thing Roger would have done, too.

  • southworth

    Those weren't pencils, they were frigging X-acto knives! *cringe*

  • Sarah Carlson

    You're right! Correction made, thanks.

  • You might want to double-check, but I'm pretty sure the old ad was for oatmeal, which is the reason why no one but Don could find it in the archives.

  • Great catch, thanks!

  • BWeaves

    I noticed that, too. No way Ginsberg was sober. He was just more sober than the rest of them.

  • Yea he wasn't on crazy amphetamines but e was definitely drinking with Peggy.

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