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Mad Men “The Monolith” Review (7×04)

5 May

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“This agency has entered the future.”

The actual dismantling of the Creative Lounge is pretty much the perfect encapsulation of not only Don’s crisis, but also of the state of SC&P. Gone are the days of pitches and gone is the essence of true advertising, replaced by fancy computers as the walls metaphorically crumble around Don. Essentially, the new world of advertising breeds fear.

So far this season, my reviews have elaborated on the concept of power, an idea that becomes even clearer in “The Monolith”. For each person, his or her monolith may be something a bit different from the other, but each monolith is derived from a fear of becoming obsolete, of wasting away while others coast to the top. Lou Avery, for example, drops Don on Peggy, knowing full well the danger the former brings with him. Peggy tells Don to meet her in her office. Don hangs out as his desk and plays Solitaire (while the computer is being built! Ha ha). Everyone is pushing against walls that are constantly closing in, clawing at each other as they attempt to hold onto what power and control they have left.

It’s in this way that Don’s and Roger’s storylines are paralleled; both are men who feel out of place in their surroundings, who try to keep up but eventually crumble under the pressure. In “The Monolith”, Roger’s surroundings consist of a commune–which his daughter Margaret is a part of–and although he attempts to connect with his daughter by embracing the lifestyle, it’s only for one night. For, they’re simply polar opposites of each other, and the gap is too wide to overcome. Neither is fully justified, and peace is fleeting.

When Roger looks up at the night sky, it’s akin to Don looking up at his ceiling; yet, Roger wants his daughter to embrace her future–her “real” future–while Don just wants to return to how it was before. These scenes are shot with a flatness to them, embodying the themes of the episode and contrasting with the image of Don exiting the elevator at the end. More on that a bit later.

Returning to Roger, it’s interesting how it becomes clearer and clearer that Margaret is essentially her father, not her mother; what makes her different from Roger, though, is the generational gap, the counterculture clashing with the business culture, her view on motherhood and independence clashing with Roger’s view. Yet, as much as they each use the idea of the generational gap as support in this conflict, in reality, they’re both stuck in the mud, with Margaret simply making all the mistakes Roger did. It’s sad, really.

As for Don, his problem is that as much as the small victories have built up recently, he still has to confront the greatest difficulty of them all: going back to work. Work is the embodiment of forward progress now, and he isn’t entirely ready to embrace that. In fact, he’ll never be able to embrace it, and when he goes to Bert with a fantastic new idea, he’s shot down and reminded that he’s working in a dead man’s office. Lane Pryce was a man with a downward trajectory that Don must work hard to avoid.

That’s the key: working hard, or at least putting in an effort. Freddy Rumsen gives him a pep talk after he starts drinking again, and it’s Rumsen speaking from a knowledge of pain (Roger tries to do the same, but the problem is that he hasn’t really improved himself) that motivates Don. At the end of the episode, he’s standing tall. He’ll never be out of the woods, but he simply knows what needs to be done.

“Do the work, Don.”

So we see Don, typing away.

GRADE: B+

OTHER THOUGHTS:

-The symbolism–with the pennant (1969 Mets=Don’s redemption), computer, etc.–is all a bit heavy-handed here, even for Mad Men. However, other people have raised a good point: the average viewer probably wouldn’t be able to pick up on this kind of stuff, as obvious as it may seem.

-Lloyd and Margaret have differing views on space: the former, on its scientific potential, and the later, on its spiritual potential.

-I think this episode disproves the idea some people had last week of Don accepting the stipulations due to a master plan or something. “They didn’t think about it at all” is a quote that can apply to Don as well; he was hoping for something good, but in reality, desperation did play a part.

-So, Don essentially calls Lloyd the Devil. Interesting.

– “They’ll want a woman’s point of view, or whatever Peggy counts as.”

-Jeez, only three episodes left this year.

-On the next episode: “What?”

Photo credit: AMC, Mad Men

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