Mad Men: "The Monolith" Recap


Cass Mastern lived for a few years and in that time he learned that the world is all of one piece. He learned that the world is like an enormous spider web and if you touch it however lightly, at any point, the vibration ripples to the remotest perimeter and the drowsy spider feels the tingle and is drowsy no more but springs out to fling the gossamer coils about you who have touched the web and then inject the black, numbing poison under your hide. It does not matter whether or not you meant to brush the web of things. Your happy foot or your gay wing may have brushed it ever so lightly, but what happens always happens and there is the spider, bearded black and with his great faceted eyes glittering like mirrors in the sun, or like God’s eye, and the fangs dripping.

 – Robert Penn Warren, All The King’s Men

“Monolith” closes with the Hollies’ 1967 song “On a Carousel.” That recalls Don’s Kodak Carousel pitch in Season One. He cycles through a series of sentimental family photos, wincing at each turn with nostalgia, the “pain from old wounds.” Old wounds he’s now exploiting as an artifice to sell advertising.

Past decisions impact on us more broadly than anticipated. They can’t help but shape the present and the future. Don, Roger and Pete experience that truth in this week’s episode.

Don inhabits Lane’s old office. That’s pretty much all he’s doing. No one bothered to tell him about the new computer. He discovers Lane’s Mets pennant, crumpled under a heater, and rehangs it. Lane was sort of where Don is now. His importance no longer has currency. Don’s colleagues no longer trust him. It was Don no longer trusting Lane that, perhaps, pushed him to “leave the company” in the manner that he did.

The Burger Chef account opens the door for Don to get working, but as Peggy’s copywriter. Bert informs him he has a “fundamental misunderstanding” and no “creative crisis” will swing him back into favor. This gets him back drinking, albeit out of a Coke can. Freddy Rumsen drags him from the office, sobers him up and reminds him he has to “Do the Work.” At the episode’s end he is back at the typewriter.

The Mets pennant is an ominous connection back to Lane’s failure and suicide. But, in 1969, it can also mean rebirth.

Roger is charged with chasing down his daughter Margaret, who has run off to become Marigold at a hippie commune. He sympathizes with her desire to escape “the hierarchy.” Margaret is just like Roger, even if that means “she is a perverse child who only thinks of herself.” Like Roger, she abandons him in the night as they were forming a connection.

Margaret is intent on being an absent mother, as Roger gave little thought at the time to being an absent father. As he well knows, “it’s not that hard.”

Pete is absorbed by his new California life. But, through a chance encounter with George, he’s brought right back into his old life. He discovers his father-in-law has suffered a heart attack, one that he probably helped precipitate. No one thought to inform him. He’s jolted, but not enough to avoid flipping it into a major national account.

* The Monolith refers to the inscrutable machines in 2001 Space Odyssey, an obvious parallel to the large computer being loudly installed throughout the episode. Don has a conversation with Lloyd about “finite” men and “infinite” machines. Mad Men often frets about free will, and whether there is a broader meaning to human existence. What is that existence when man’s tools for understanding have overpowered him? Or, specific to the show, what value is the intuition involved in creativity, if people’s preferences can be spelled out with precise data?

* Don is readying Philip Roth’s 1969 novel Portnoy’s Complaint. Man balances conscience with insatiable urge for sex that leaves him empty, as he grapples for identity amidst a changing world. Sounds familiar.

* Lou Avery possibly heard Peggy’s jab at him. But regardless he’s trying to drive a wedge between her and Don. A $100 per week raise adds up to about $35,000 per year in 2014 dollars, so not insignificant.

* Ginsburg, with “masturbating gloomily” and now the couch full of farts, is batting 2/4 this season on best comic relief lines.

* The “Frazier the Key Tonight” headline seems to be a reference to Walt, rather than Joe. The boxer would obviously be “key” in a boxing match. So, if the Knicks are still in the playoffs, that puts us around Mid-April.