Mad Men Review by Henry Tran

Mad Men 7.04: The Monolith

Mad Men 7.04: The Monolith

Written By:
Erin Levy
Directed By:
Scott Hornbacher

When an episode is named "The Monolith," it has to be loaded with references to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Being that Mad Men is currently set in 1969, a year after the film was released in theaters, makes even more sense. The show doesn't make any attempt to hide the subtlety of its symbolism in the narrative. It's practically in the opening shots, as Don exits an elevator in the firm to see the opposite elevator doors that are framed to look like the giant monolith that pops up from time to time in the film. 

Not only that, but the computer Jim Cutler and Harry Crane have been raving about finally arrives in the office. Here's hoping the IBM computer doesn't emulate HAL-9000 in the film and lock everyone out of the common area it has taken over in the office. Since the episode is meant to invoke that specific film, it seems much more focused on Don than anything else. The other subplots spin around the actions that Don takes (or doesn't take) at work.

Don is clearly on a different wavelength than the rest of the partners. Perhaps that was what made it so jarring for him being at work. He wasn't told about the "groundbreaking ceremony" for the computer beforehand and so was left to his own devices when he comes in. Pete's brief conversation with the Burger Chef executive lands the company that account and Don is put on it without his knowledge. I think Don thought it would be business as usual and that the partners weren't too serious about the stipulations they laid out in "Field Trip."

And if they were serious, he could find some way to do an end around on them without their noticing. He's an equitable partner in the business, albeit with less power than he's used to, so he shouldn't have to be put into what amounts to scut work. He's looking big picture while the partners are comfortable with the current status quo, which is mediocre right now at best.

If we're to stick to the evocation of 2001,  then the episode is really about how everyone is looking to evolve past their current circumstances. Specifically, Don and Peggy. Pete springs the new business on the firm and Ted suggests that Peggy be put in charge of the account. Lou grits his teeth at the arrangement (either because he recognizes how little power he has as chief creative director and that puts him in a position to be easily manipulated or he's genuinely sexist and a bit afraid of Peggy's malleable talent) and so he uses that fear to try and bring Peggy onto his side. Peggy's mainly just angry at everything so it's uncomfortable to watch how all of the animosity from every party play out. She hates that Don has been forced onto her team. He hates that he simply has to work on taglines for the account. Again, he has creative differences with those higher up on the totem pole than him.

Throughout the episode, their work patterns don't change. Their attitudes about their work don't change. He wants to promote LeaseTech and their vision of the future through the new IBM computer, which the company lead man thinks will become trash within two years. There's the risk that Don will retreat back to his old ways, which involve stealing alcohol from Roger's office and then going out to a Mets game with Freddy Rumsen. The arrangement is untenable by the end. Freddy tells Don that he needs to get himself in line. Do the work or perish otherwise, like the previous occupant of his office. So he's at his typewriter, working up taglines, with no resistance to Peggy. There isn't enough to suggest he will turn into a Star Baby like Dave at the end of the movie, but again, Don is making every effort to change his circumstances for the better. It can benefit everyone around him.

The 2001 symbolism plays less so in Roger's storyline. It's a long continuation of what his daughter did a couple of months before when she "forgave" him for everything that he's done as a father. Margaret has joined a hippie commune, abandoning her husband and son in the process, and Roger is tasked with bringing her back into the fold. This is something not entirely unexpected since Margaret is going along with what was happening at the time. Plus she is a product of a contentious divorce so that would add to her resistance against the "mainstream" course of being an urban wife and young mother. Being in the country keeps her away from electricity and the modern comforts that everyone takes for granted.

The commune lifestyle, with its free philosophy on drugs and sex, strikes me as ironic given that Roger was introduced this season as a playboy without any true attachments in his life. He can then seem to have the most in common with his daughter (as opposed to her WASP-y mother who admonishes her endlessly), yet when the new day comes around, he reverts back to the worried parent. Margaret has responsibilities to her family, yes, but she was never given that model of ideal parenting by her mostly absent father. It's not something for her, and Roger ends up taking the brunt of the punishment for that decision. All he can do is walk away dejectedly.

Don and Roger are products of an old system that was once flourishing but now seems outdated. The advancement of technology can only do so much to change what's in place now. They don't know what's around the corner, though. Inspiration is coming sooner than they think. Man will walk on the Moon. The Mets, recognized here by Lane's old pennant buried in Don's office, will become the Amazin' Mets who win the World Series in six months' time. If they can win unexpectedly, then there's hope yet for the old guard to prevail as the turbulent decade of the 1960's comes to a close. They just have to survive long enough to get that point.

Our Grade:
The Good:
  • Don's path continues to be painful
  • Good use of 2001 symbolism
The Bad:
  • Roger's experience at the commune

Henry Tran is a regular contributor of review for Critical Myth; The Critical Myth Show is heard here on VOG Network's radio feed Monday, Wednesday & Friday. You can follow him on twitter at @HenYay

Mad Men by - 5/6/2014 7:00 AM150 views

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