Mad Men "The Crash" Review: Uppers Give You Wings!

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Mad Men S06E08: "The Crash"

Last season, we were all treated to the trippy delight of Roger Sterling doing acid in "Far Away Places," so I guess it's only fair that Don Draper eventually got to dabble in drug-induced self-discovery himself—along with half the staff at whatever-the-the-hell-they're-calling-themselves-now. Cutler, of the former Cutler Gleason and Chaough, has repeatedly shown himself to be that firm's version of Roger with his amused cynicism and apparent willful ignorance of the difference between good ideas and hilariously bad ideas—like getting a chunk of the creative team to drop their drawers and take a shot of uppers to the ass in anticipation of a long work weekend that just so happened to be the same week a former partner kicked the bucket (bye, Gleason; your time was brief but sassy). 

I knew "The Crash" was going to be one of those episodes when the opening scene featured Ken Cosgrove stuck in a speeding car with a bunch of drunken Chevy executives doing their very best Animal House routine and failing miserably at it because TOO MUCH, GUYS, TOO MUCH. Were those firearms? It would have been too blatant to call an episode "The Crash" and then have it be all about Cosgrove's car accident, but for a second there, I thought they killed Kenny and I was real sad. 


Instead, "The Crash" was a jumbled mess of narratives bouncing off one another at a breakneck speed that seemed to reaffirm the cynicism of the late '60s, as well as the cynicism of Don Draper and how easily it spreads to everyone he interacts with.

Speaking of Don, he decided to go full-stalker in the wake of Sylvia dumping him, complete with lingering outside her back door and gettin' his emotional manipulation on every time they interacted—except for that last scene in the elevator, where our dear Don finally realized that Sylvia, like all women, was horrible. Or at least I'm assuming that's the lesson Don learned, since it certainly wouldn't be anything that could possibly point the finger at him being in the wrong... though admitting to Sally that he was the one to leave the back door open—thus allowing "Grandma Ida" to wander in and rob him blind while making the desperately-seeking-affection Draper children scrambled eggs as she cased the joint—was an okay start. At the very least it was a tiny gesture, a throwback to when Don was actually not the shittiest parent between him and Betty (I'd say they're about even these days). 

"The Crash" was an ode to cynicism, but it was also a tribute to the vast selfishness of Don Draper.  Despite the frat party atmosphere that erupted from Cutler's decision to give the creatives a little pick-me-up to help them through their surprise Chevy overtime, and despite the fact that apparently most of the resulting work was incomprehensible gibberish (according to Ted Chaough), at least Stan and the gang tried to come up with ideas when they weren't banging hippie chick Wendy Gleason or trying to bang Peggy. Don spent the entire weekend formulating the perfect pitch to woo Sylvia back between flashbacks to that time when he essentially lost his virginity through rape because in case you missed the memo, Don Draper is supposed to have the saddest and most miserable life on TV. I don't know if the revelation was meant to make me feel sympathy toward Don or not, because it seems like every time Mad Men gives us a reason to say "Poor Don," it turns around and cancels it out by making Don do something that inspires his audience (and co-workers) to say "Eff Don." In this case, it was the way he essentially wasted everyone's time by willfully not working on the huge, demanding, pain-in-the-ass account that is essentially the only thing keeping the firm economically viable. If Chevy were to take its business elsewhere, or Don were to cut the carmaker loose during one of his tantrums, it would affect scores of people at SCDP/CGC. Don's blatant disregard for the work, coupled with his final statement that his contribution would only be to pick through the underlings' ideas, rather than coming up with any of his own, cemented the notion that Don couldn't really care less about anyone or anything that isn't immediately related to Don. 


Honestly though, this isn't that new of a trait for Don, and as Mad Men progresses, the parallels between Don Draper and another TV icon Matthew Weiner had a hand in shaping—Tony Soprano—are becoming more clear. Or rather, if you adhere to the idea that The Sopranos changed the face of cable TV forever, and therefore everything that comes after it is influenced by it in some way, the influence of The Sopranos on Mad Men in the way characters' pasts and presents are hopelessly intertwined is becoming more clear. Tony's mommy issues got us through six seasons of psychoanalysis and while Don's own issues are certainly highlighted less than his predecessor's, when they are present, their purpose is obvious and in a twisted way, they kind of serve as a high-art PSA about not terrorizing your children/not being confused when they grow up to be assholes. 

Don's flashbacks are always awful and sad and depressing. His parents/stepparents are always shown to be callous, cruel, and capricious people with a hardwired selfishness that permeates everything they do. It wouldn't be a stretch to imagine a young Dick Whitman growing up and swearing to never act like the terrible people who raised him; the way he jumped at the chance to literally walk into another man's life as Don Draper was the grand gesture that symbolized a complete break with his old life. Unfortunately, picking a new name and a new location can't change the kind of person an individual is inside, and the influence of the people who raised Don colors everything that he does. He isn't necessarily a lost cause—in the past, we've seen him adamantly refuse to strike his children, and his declaration in this episode that automotive clients always turn the firm "into a whorehouse" implies that Don seems to understand, on some level, the wrongs that he endured growing up in one—but then there are the subtle tendencies that always seem to get away from him.


The influence of Aimee, the prostitute who popped a reluctant teenage Dick's cherry, can be traced through many of Don's romantic pursuits. She's "the one who got away," in a sense.  Even though Don seemed to understand that what she did was wrong, decades later, he also appears to continue to idealize her. Both the woman in his MIA soup ad and Sylvia had a mole in the same spot where Aimee drew hers on. Aimee was kicked out almost immediately after deflowering Dick Whitman—who was then punished by his stepmother for something that was essentially done against his will. Despite her final questionable act, for much of "The Crash," Aimee was the rare creature who was kind to Dick/Don during a time when not many people were, and despite the flaws in their relationship, it wouldn't be outlandish at all for Don to cling to that part of his memory of her. 

Megan was kind and gave Don the relationship he felt he needed both before they were married and early in their marriage. It's been implied that being married to Betty wasn't always a horrible thing; clearly, they once loved each other and Don once adored her. Despite generally strong starts, Don's relationships with both Betty and Megan fizzled and Don returned to constantly looking for "the idea," reflected in his answer to Peggy when she asked him if he even knew what the "idea" was. She was talking about Chevy, but Don was talking about his life, specifically the women in his life, and perhaps Don's inability to understand what or who he really needs all stems from his relationship with Aimee being interrupted before he could fully process and understand what'd happened. After all, Don's relationships always work well in the short term. 

All of the pitches for the Chevy Vega ad centered around the idea of car ownership as a rite of passage into adulthood, with the one eventually submitted to Chaough reading, "Make their first big step little," and the idea of growing up, specifically the idea that growing up is inherently painful and disappointing, brought us back to the cynical aspect of late-'60s Mad Men. Megan, we learned, had been paying Sally (with the sort of wardrobe items that made Betty's head explode) to watch her brothers while she went out and Sally was generally okay with it until Grandma Ida burst onto the scene. Sally is no longer the precocious little girl we were introduced to in Season 1, but has been hardened by her parents' divorce and general inattentiveness (and probably by hanging out with the weird but weirdly wise Glen). Up until walking in on a break-in, she considered herself quite the adult, but by the end of "The Crash," she was rethinking her status. She was disappointed in herself, but also struggling with the realization that she doesn't know her father nearly as well as she thought she did. 

Sally Draper hasn't idealized either of her parents in a long time, but in contrast to the overbearing Betty, Don has managed to maintain some small position of favoritism with his eldest child. Not knowing everything about your parents can be beneficial, maybe even a little bit liberating; Sally was free to liberally hate Betty for divorcing her father because she didn't fully understand that as much as we all love to hate Betty ourselves, the woman actually has some pretty justifiable reasons to dislike Don. By not knowing everything about Don, Sally could fill in the gaps as she saw fit, and in the face of Betty's constant nitpicking, Don's general neglect was probably a relief... especially with Megan essentially just throwing money and presents at her while also maintaining the standard hands-off approach to children in the Draper penthouse. However, a lack of knowledge can also be a threat to happiness in that it makes you vulnerable—as was the case with Grandma Ida—and it can make you unhappy when you find that the empty spots you previously filled with idealized versions of reality are suddenly overwritten with less pleasant, but more accurate, one—such as Don taking the opportunity to crash from his days-long bender during what was certainly a trying and terrifying experience for his kids. 


The still unnamed hybrid firm also experienced the unpleasant side of growing up as Chevy revealed itself as a beast that miiiiight just be too much for the baby big firm to handle. For Don, Ted, and the other partners, the union of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce with Cutler Gleason and Chaough was an exciting merger that turned both small-time firms into the huge power player each one wanted to be, and Chevrolet was the sort of A-list clientele both firms dreamed of working with. It's sort of like the sentiment children have, that when they grow up they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, and no one can stop them and it'll be AWESOME—and then they get to the being-a-grown-up part and realize that sure, certain parts are very very awesome, but many aren't. Chevy is an amazing client for the "new" firm to have in its stable, but it's also a difficult, frustrating, high-maintenance client that SCDP/CGC is going to have a bit of difficulty handling. 

When Frank Gleason passed away, Ted Chaough made the comment that "He's a piece that can't be replaced," and sure, that sounds like the sort of canned compliment that's served at a great many funerals, but Ted has shown himself to be a pretty sincere guy. Cutler's comment that Ted doesn't know how to "handle" these sorts of things only strengthened the notion, implying that Chaough's decision to treat Gleason's death like that of a friend—and to take the weekend off instead of maintaining professional distance and plowing through the upper-filled weekend—was the sort of quaint sentiment of an overly emotional man.

At first, with Gleason conveniently dying somewhere off-screen, the situation seemed primed for Don to infuse his own taste of reality into Chaough's more optimism-flavored work, but it's clear now that Don wants as little to do with actively guiding the new company as possible and frankly, Ted seems to be coming to the same conclusion. He knows that he needs that counterbalance—Gleason was the darker yin to Chaough's sunny yang—but he's realizing that Don Draper may not be able to provide it, and maybe, juuuust maybe, the two firms have gotten in over their heads by merging and winning Chevy as a client. 

Whew—still with me, kids? This was a messy episode, but not a bad episode per se. It was a fun one to watch, even though it was harrowing at times. A lot of it felt like a rehash of "Far Away Places"/every Dick Whitman childhood flashback ever, except this time we followed Don around instead of Roger, and it felt a lot like we were experiencing the same hyperactive marathon weekend as the drug-addled staff of SCDP/CGC. The structure of "The Crash" wasn't quite as seamless as that "Far Away Places," which featured three distinctive parallel stories all happening simultaneously. "The Crash" was essentially just that—a crash of a handful of STUFF and THINGS that barely related to one another and desperately tried to paint a coherent picture. Unfortunately, most of that picture resembled a lot of what we've already seen, and if you're going to make me explore new and exciting things with possibly illicit drugs, I'd appreciate it if they could actually be new and exciting things. Don Draper had a horrific childhood and as a result he's a generally selfish ass with woman issues. We got that one down in like, Season 1. 

Also: OMG please don't turn the rest of this season into a Ted vs. Don over Peggy thing. 



NOTES


– Everybody put your hands together and give a warm TV.com welcome back to Blonde Betty. Hi, Blonde Betty. 

– I'm not saying that Stan's assault-a-riffic pass on Peggy was okay, but her "I have a boyfriend!" excuse was pretty half-hearted. Zappa Abe, your days are numbered. Probably. 

– Sally Draper was reading Rosemary's Baby. Sally Draper is my salty, angst-ridden, tweenage hero. 

– For a second there, when she intercepted Sally's call to the po-po, I was really worried that this episode was going to go REAL dark and that Grandma Ida was going to chop the Draper kids into itty bitty bits. Idk. You never know with this show. 

– Greatest WTF LOL moment of Season 6 so far: Ken's tap-dancingor Pete falling down the stairs?