Mad Men Season Five, Episode 4 Discussion

What's the meaning behind Don's dream?

Throughout the fifth season of Mad Men, our writers will dissect and discuss the happenings of each episode. These discussions will contain spoilers  from the most recent episode. In other words, read at your own risk.

To view our previous discussions, visit our pop culture page.

Vinny Ginardi: Wow. There was so much going on in that episode that I don’t even know where to begin. The plot took a backseat so we could take an in depth look at three of our main characters: Don, Joan, and Peggy.

I guess we will start with Don because his story line tonight was the most bizzare. What to make of the dream sequence? In Don’s dream, a woman from his past (who he had run into in real life earlier that day) returns to his home and seduces him. Afterward, Don violently strangles her until she dies.

The dream represents the new Don that we are seeing this season. He’s still lustful to some degree (which is why he was able to be seduced) but is trying his best to not be that man anymore (which is why he killed the woman). For Don, the temptation for one night stands or for a new woman will always be there, and I think that was the significance of Don pushing the body under the bed. As we learned from the nurses story, just because something is hiding and can’t be seen doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. But what’s important is that Don is trying to put that part of his life in the past. He’s trying to move on. Is it because he truly cares for Megan or does he just not want to be that person anymore? It’s probably a combination of the two.

Michael Cresci: There are definitely a lot of plots I’d like to break down but this has to start with Don’s fever dream.  Allow me to make my English degree seem useful by offering some psuedo-intellectual rambling on the topic.

The killer being discussed throughout the episode is real life killer, Richard Speck.  He grew up poor and emotionally abused by his father.  He eventually changed his name.  Sounds awfully like the life of Dick Whitman, huh?

So Don murders the woman (a stand in for his lustful ways) who was in Twin Peaks and puts her under the bed much like the girl under the bed in Speck’s massacre.  Don’s been collecting women for years in his own way and Megan is smart enough to realize that it was never Betty’s fault so much as a part of who Don is.  Ultimately though, like Ginsberg’s Cinderella, she wanted to be caught by Don (that whole fear/arousal thing was a theme in this episode).  So did Don slay his philandering past with a brutal choke hold or did we witness a sweaty metaphor for what eventually befalls all the women who choose to play pelvic pinochle with the dashing Mr. Draper?  Could it be that, try as he might to fight it, women will always hold a power over Don and he will always sort of hate them for it? The man he wants to be loves Megan and wants to be faithful but the man he was wants to (figuratively) tie up and use all the women he desires so he can get his way and dispose of them at will.  I suppose the question becomes, once more, who is Don really and what does that mean for the people he entangles in his life?

Also Peggy is an endearing, and complicated, racist.

George Morris: That Don dream sequence was fantastic because it showed how much Don is really being challenged.  Of course, he’s the man and does the right thing by his wife.  It seems that he wants to change himself and that is the main part of the Draper experience.  Don is an ever-evolving mechanism who discovers himself each and every day.  Whether or not he’s into Megan I cannot speculate.

Peggy stole the episode in my mind.  All season we’ve seen her feelings bubbling under the surface and she would make the occasional nasty comment.  This episode she was in the driver’s seat the entire time.  The scene where Roger needs her to make a campaign for the airline is epic.  Roger was extremely vulnerable; Peggy knew it and pounced.  She got $400 for being wise and forceful, two traits she doesn’t already show. That did end up bothering her because she didn’t want to act like a man.  I’m sorry Pegs, but in the 60’s if you are to be taken seriously you need to add some testosterone to the repertoire.

Peggy's momentary pause brings up the issue of racism in the late 60's.

And Cresh, I don’t think Peggy is a racist.  I believe she had been raised in a society and time where she was most likely told to be weary of black people.  She showed she ultimately trusted Dawn with the bag in the room.  I also put a lot of stock in the beyond-tipsy Peggy’s monologue about how she used to be in Dawn’s position.  Once just a lowly secretary, Peggy can still relate to where she came from.  I genuinely believe Peggy wanted to be comfortable with Dawn and make things less awkward.  Of course being drunk made it a hell of a lot easier to navigate the situation.  Booze can do that.

VG: I didn’t take Peggy’s momentary glance to mean that she was a racist. As George pointed out, she was drunk, which definitely played a role. But more importantly, you could see it in Peggy’s expression that she regretted her pause right away. Whether the regret was because she knew she, for a moment, had a racist thought or because she knew that Dawn had also noticed the glance can be debated. But I don’t think it’s that important whether or not Peggy’s racist.

The point being made is that everyone in this time period was instinctively racist, even if it was to just a small degree. There was a reason they chose Peggy for this story line and not Don or Pete or Joan or Roger or anybody else. Out of all the characters we have met so far, Peggy is the closest to being a good person. We see that throughout the episode as she takes care of and provides for Dawn. But her pause as she looks at her purse shows that even with good hearts and generosity during this time period have some level of racism ingrained in them.

MC:  I think George sort of nailed it but used different words in that, while Peggy isn’t a bigot, she is the product of a society that preaches distrust of black people.  Peggy’s glance is a “racist” one and she is a racist in the sense that everyone was (or is depending on how you look at it) but I more meant that as a cheeky castoff comment to get the Peggy ball rolling.  The reason I wanted to move in the Peggy direction is that, as George mentioned, Peggy stole the episode.  And I loved it.  I actually found the Don dream stuff to be a little on the nose for Mad Men whereas Peggy’s story was subtle and interesting.

Before getting into the juicy stuff I just want to throw out that I was totally enamored with the scene in which Peggy strong arms Roger into $400 bucks. Also, Drunk Peggy was doing it for me to.  She plastered a huge smile on my face in many of her scenes.  Anyways, Peggy’s hearfelt sentiment about understanding Dawn’s situation was really telling and speaks to just how difficult her rise to still-sort-of-low-level copywriter was.  She accomplished this by embracing some of the masculine qualities she expressed concern over.  Peggy has always served as a great parallel to Don in that she is actively trying to make a transformation from the Regular Housewife/Secretary Peggy she was raised to be (Dick Whitman) to the Ad Business Peggy she’s chosen to be (Don Draper) but, because of societal constraints, finds the path to have much more obstacles.

I think the whole purse glance was actually playing off of this conflict of expectations/conditioning and desires.  Peggy is a genuinely good person (to the extent anyone is ‘good’) and offers Dawn a place to stay  yet she still can’t help but subconsciously worrying about her purse.  She is torn between who she is and who society tells her to be.  This is central to her arc as a successful professional woman in the 60’s and the writers did a wonderful job of highlighting it with her small “racist” moment.  Peggy is a generally unprejudiced woman who is very good at her job but society is telling her that she shouldn’t be embracing the qualities those jobs entail and she shouldn’t be trusting black women, not even polite ones. With Mad Menit usually comes back to duality.  Well, duality and cigarettes.

How long before we see Joan back at the office?

GM: There are cigarettes on the show? Now, I want to get your opinion on the whole Joan situation.  I have been waiting for her to come back to the office and get away from that apartment and her nagging mother.  It looks like things will return to sort of normal for her because Greg is back…..and then he drops the bomb on her that he volunteered to go back to Vietnam and he’s only really home for a week.  Actually, I take that back.  His parents drop it at dinner because he was too much of a pansy and a bitch to tell her himself. At least they didn’t kill him off in Vietnam (yet).  I do feel bad for the little baby, though.  We all saw what happened to Glen, the former neighbor of the Draper’s, after his parents split.

In my mind it is actually better now than before that the baby is Roger’s.  Now that storyline can be played out because I truly think him and Joan will have some sort of moment or get back together.  Joan is free but vulnerable.  Roger is certainly vulnerable.  Plus, there hasn’t been that much shamed/wild random sex this season that happened in real life and not in Don’s dreams.

The way that Joan has been handled this season is very appealing.  Showing just how exposed she has become is as important as any of the other story lines.  I’ve grown to appreciate her more than ever before because I realize how strong of a person she was way back at the beginning of the series.  She used to be just that know-it-all woman who wanted no part in helping a young (and sometimes fat) Peggy fit in as Don’s secretary.  But because she was a knockout in the men’s eyes she was never taken too seriously.  It was either be strong, or lose your self-worth.  Now that it’s several years later, she is respected more by her colleagues but appears weaker than ever.  Is her kicking Greg out of her life the turning point that she needs to get her mojo back?

VG: Joan was sort of trapped in her relationship with Greg and I agree, kicking him could be a turning point in Joan returning to the strong, confident woman that she once was. The physical abuse that she suffered from Greg, the emotional detachment with him gone, and the knowing that the baby is truly Roger’s all combined to change Joan into a person that was the complete opposite of the character we met in the beginning of the show.

Hopefully, she will be returning to the office soon. While I didn’t mind her story line with Greg, it felt like it was stretched out over too many seasons and it annoyed me that she didn’t have much interaction with several of the other main characters because of it. I agree with George that they have handled her character very well this season thus far, and I think getting rid of Greg was the most logical step in getting Joan to A) return to the office and lives of our other main characters, and B) transform from the vulnerable woman that she has become to the strong woman we know that she truly is.

MC: I loved Joan’s strong willed leaving of Greg Harris, Doctor of Rape.  I think this was Matthew Weiner playing off the fan expectation that he’d be killed in Vietnam. I’m also hoping this leads to some great Roger stuff because his life is going to hell otherwise and they are both at their most vulnerable right now.

I also love how well developed the minor characters are.  Greg’s decision to reenlist is so believable based on his past of not succeeding as a surgeon and feeling the need to be a rapist.  He never felt powerful or manly and it manifested itself in ugly ways.  Joan wisely notices that he finally found something that makes him feel like a man and her unwillingness to put up with it is a testament to what a great character she is.  Especially because I wasn’t left with the feeling that now things are going to start looking up for her.  She’s a woman of principle in a time when sticking to that principle couldn’t be harder.  It just goes to show that Mad Men probably has the most well developed cast of characters on television.

GM:  Three Up, Three Down!

Up!

1. Peggy Olson- She’s not racist! She showed she has balls by strong-arming Roger out of $400.  She is an independent woman of the 60’s and she’s accepting that.  Made friends with a black person this week.  Was one of the most awesome drunks I’ve ever seen.  After taking one step backward in the first 3 episodes she took 4 giant leaps forward this time around.

2. Sally Draper- Come on, we all new she would read the newspaper.  I feel so bad for her.  First, her parents get divorced.  Then, she’s made to live in that horrible mansion with her idiot fat mother, dolt of a father and non-factor two brothers.  This girl is a star! She’s a peacock captain! You’ve gotta let her fly! Young Sally is scraping the surface of life and we are getting a front row seat.  Giving her Grandma for the week is enough to drive anyone batty but Sally persevered.  She finally is beginning to figure out what all of these ‘grown-up things’ are that have been hidden from her.

3. Grandma Pauline Francis- For scaring the living daylights out of not just poor Sally, but pretty much everyone who watched the episode.  She kept things real with Sally and explained in vivid detail just what exactly happened to those poor girls who were raped and killed in Chicago.  All the while she has a monstrous knife by her side.  Then to cap it all off she give the adolescent some sleeping pills.  I can’t be the only person who thinks she’s great.

Honorable mention: Joyce Ramsay- Proudly brought the photos of the Richard Speck experience into the offices of SCDP.  Also helped to start the first of what will certainly be many Michael Ginsberg freakouts.

(I sadly just realized this is apparently Ladies Week)

Down!

Roger takes the top spot in George's "Down!" list.

1. Roger Sterling- What a tool.  Really, though, what is $400 to a man of his means.  That’s like Mitt Romney losing $10,000.  Sorry for bringing politics into this.  We all know Roger is headed for something terrible but we just aren’t quite sure of what that exactly is.  He’s flailing in the deep end of the pool.

2. Dr. Greg Harris- Would have been the easy choice for the top spot but life is full of surprises.  A Grade-A coward who needs the acceptance of and need from others in order to validate his own self-worth.  He’s done a real nice job abandoning his child (shhh, don’t tell him it’s not his!).  Everyone kind of knows we haven’t quite seen the end of him.  However, maybe he really is gone for good.  I got the impression he’s going to be a lifer in the military.  Good riddance.

3.  Megan Calvet/Draper- Simply because there needed to be three.  I didn’t care much for her jealousy on the elevator.  I’m sorry, it was a good week!  The first two were really the only negatives.