Mad Men "The Monolith" Review: The Future's So Bright, They'll Have to Wear Shades
Don was spotted reading the sexually explicit bestseller Portnoy's Complaint. The former Mrs. Sterling, Mona, lamented their daughter's "mucking up" of her one job in life: to find a husband. And Peggy was deemed the best candidate for the Burger Chef job because she has a vagina. Sexual politics have popped up on Mad Men from time to time throughout the series' run. It would be virtually impossible to set a show in the 1960s without a mention of the strides that women made with regard to their place in workforce, not to mention the the shift in the role of non-working women and the idea that there is really no right or wrong way to be a woman. Whether or not the newly christened Marigold is making the right decision for her son is a completely different argument, but when it comes to debating whether she made the right decision for herself, right now, she's in a good place. Will that change? Most certainly. But she sold me when she pointed out that she isn't locking herself in the bathroom with a bottle of gin like her mother used to do, and she's happy with that.
In the Mad Men universe, women's changing roles have reached a point where the men in their lives are confused: When is Pete interacting with Bonnie the real estate agent, and when is he interacting with Bonnie his girlfriend? Can she be both at the same time? Does he want her to be? Does she want to be? Pete seems to delight in the self-sufficient aspect of Bonnie's persona; it's the polar opposite of Trudy. Pete has always been drawn to working women, or, in the case of Alexis Bledel's Beth, women who've found themselves unsatisfied with their socially sanctioned housewife roles. In a way, the society springing up around working women is proving equally liberating for the men who are willing to accept it. It wouldn't be at all surprising, given Pete's background, if we learned that he was raised to believe that a woman with a job, or a desire to leave the house once in awhile, was not the sort of woman it was acceptable to pursue.
Since the start of Mad Men and the 1960s as a whole, the status quo that once dominated all things has slowly been flipped upside-down, and with the advent of sideburns, miniskirts, and office computers that require an entire construction crew to install, the future has arrived at SC&P and not everyone is thrilled with the altered view. Joan told Peggy that she doubted her gender or her past with Don had anything to do with Lou's decision to put Peggy in charge of the Burger Chef campaign. If she really believes that, she's either naive enough to drink the Kool-Aid or too blinded by her own rapid rise to the top that she's incapable of seeing where there are still very real, very wrong problems in the office, even for women of Peggy's stature and skill. At best, Lou, Cutler, Ted, and the others thought Peggy was the right woman for the job because she was a woman, but also because she was a competent woman who has done her time pitching taglines and proving that she can hold her own with the men. At worst: they're counting on her emotion to get the best of her, as well as her inability to control Don, mostly to get Don fired, and in Lou's case, both to get Don out of his hair and put Peggy in her place. I'm jaded enough with the men on this show to go with door number two.
Don is also struggling to regain his place in the office and by some miracle, managed to make it the entire episode without getting fired-- though it was close, with the whole drinking-vodka-out-of-a-soda-can like it's homecoming weekend or something. He also called Lloyd, the computer guy, the actual devil, leading me to believe that Don and Ginsberg should totally hang out and get trashed while lamenting the loss of the orange couch, the creative lounge, and the vast conspiracy at SC & P to oust all the creatives, replacing them with shmucks like Harry Crane and Lou Avery. Lol, they're so screwed-- and the horrifying thing is that no one sees it except Roger, maybe, and Don, whom no one listens to anymore. Even the supposed "creative" one in the upstairs offices, Bert Cooper, is Team Toolbag all the way.
The computer itself, a giant monolith dominating the center of the SC & P officers, doesn't have to be a bad thing. It is cutting edge technology that will change the landscape of the working world forever. However, the current battle being waged in the offices of SC & P-- and the mistake that both sides of that battle are making-- is that there is only room for one way of thinking and that one approach is inherently wrong, while the other is right.
Don's pre-drunken rant at Lloyd offered the first glimpse of compromise-- short-lived, though it was. The rational camp at SC & P believes that the quantifying capabilities of the new computer will render the annoying creative types obsolete. They don't have to wait for Stan to smoke a bowl and come up with an idea that might sell a lot of crap to some housewives in Hoboken. The computer will just tell them who to target and how. It takes the guesswork out of the advertising equation, but it also takes the art out of it-- which is where Don's disgust comes in. He asked Lloyd, "What man laid on his back counting stars and thought about a number?"
Lloyd countered with, "He probably thought about going to the moon."
Perhaps Lloyd intended for his answer to fall strictly in the pro-rational, pro-technology, pro-science camp and it can certainly be interpreted that way, but the idea of going to the moon in the first place is an inherently creative one. The space race spawned an entire segment of American pop culture in the 1950s and 60s. It was an adventure that captivated the world for almost two decades. Yes, it took an enormous amount of rational thinking, math geniuses, engineering all-stars, and literal rocket scientists to make it happen-- but it also required a great deal of creativity, and people daring to think that it was a thing that could happen. The quest for the moon is the ultimate symbol of the limitless possibilities available when daydreamers and number-crunchers collaborate.
No good will come of SC & P's one-or-the-other approach. The world that Mad Men exists in is much more complicated than the one it started in, but those complications are only as good and as bad as the individuals in question make them. As predicted, Don lost his shit at the idea of Peggy being in charge of him, but came around to working within the new system after nearly losing the return he fought so hard for. It's an increasingly blended world in 1969: from traditional female roles colliding with the non-traditional, to the technological making sweet, sweet, space-race love with the philosophical, to the past and the present trying hard not to hurt each other anymore. Don Draper is the man who freaked out when his son wore a dead man's hat; he now hangs a dead man's Met's pennant on his office wall. After being a square for at least the past two seasons, it seems as though Don Draper is finally at least trying to put his finger back on the pulse of the world.
EXTRA TAGS FOR PEGGY
– When did Cooper become such a dick?
– "We're getting a computer. It's going to do all sorts of magical things, like make Harry Crane seem important" —Roger
– Wait... so why did Cooper get so pissy about Don proposing new business? I don't recall that being one of the rules.
– Next week: Betty smokes a cigarette! Ginsberg acts crazy! Lou is a jerk!
What did you think of "The Monolith"?
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