Mad Men 504: Mystery Date

Mad Men 504: Mystery Date

Late in the evening on July 16th 1966, Richard Speck broke into a student nurse dormitory where nine girls lie sleeping in their beds. Armed with only a knife, Speck gathered all nine into one room, bound them with bed sheets, and spent the evening taking a woman out of the room and either strangling or stabbing her to death before raping and strangling his final victim. One woman survived. She hid under the bed and went unnoticed. She remained hidden until the next morning when she climbed out of the bedroom window onto a ledge and screamed, “They’re all dead! All my friends are dead!”

That’s a spooky story. It shivers the spine. It keeps you awake at night wondering how you’d cope in the same situation, sure that you would do better; you wouldn’t open the door and let the unfamiliar man inside; you would fight; your guard would be up, but criminals often prey on our need to be polite. Remember the scene in The Silence of the Lambs when Jame Gumb captures Catherine simply by pretending he had a broken arm and needs help pushing a piece of furniture into a moving truck? Her guard is up; something about him is off, she can tell, but she still climbs inside the truck and is captured. There’s a line in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo when the villain tells one of the victims that the need to be polite always overwhelms the need to respond to instinct.

After peeking at the newspaper coverage and overhearing her step-Grandmother discussing the crimes, Sally steals the newspaper into her bed late at night and by the glow of a flashlight, under her sheet, on a hot summer evening, she reads about the grisly violations. She is distraught with the curiosity of such a horrible offense happening in such a safe place: at home, in bed. All women remember their introduction to the frightening outside world, where dangerous licentious strangers are waiting to capture you and perform unspeakable atrocities on a body you’re only just discovering. Sally lies in bed in that spooky mansion wearing her summer pajamas, sweet and frilly and almost grown up, and is haunted by the thought of what might happen when it becomes her responsibility to answer the knock at the door. “How am I going to sleep?” she wonders. Grandma Pauline has the answer in pill form and, like Alice, Sally tumbles down the rabbit hole, tucked beneath something large, solid, wise, and wielding an object that can defend against any potential threat. An old woman and a young girl may be alone in a house, but who needs a man’s protection when you have a large sharp phallus to clutch until sleep takes hold? And sure, Henry strides right in and stands over them, protective talisman in hand, but by then Sally is safe inside her head.

Don spends the episode striving to stay awake. When he’s awake, he’s at rest; his sunny wife is nearby, his mind is busy. Illness finally overwhelms Don and he gives in to sleep. We’re vulnerable when we sleep. When we allow our bodies rest, our mind takes advantage and roams free, sometimes to dark places. In the dark, alone, Don is the Big Bad Wolf and all his demons come out and dance gleefully about while he writhes and protests, wretched and unable to escape. Don gives in to base desires in his fevered dream: lust, passion, anger, vengeance. As viewers, there is a part of us that knows Don is capable of some degree of all these urges. Don is a lech; this is established. We know that deep within Don’s subconscious, he feels weak, and out of control. On the surface, we see Don a bit desperate, a little needy; wanting Megan to come home with him, needing to reassure her that he won’t return to old lovers. Is Don capable of trusting his happiness? Does his happiness come from a safe place? Can it hold true? Is it wise to place all his happiness in the hands of a young woman? Will he give in? To what will he give in?

Peggy plays the role of the mystery date to Dawn. Peggy’s a terrible first date. She gets drunk and talks about herself. She encourages Dawn to reassure her about her position at the agency, and insults Dawn’s lack of ambition, believing Dawn’s feeling of contentment in her job as secretary makes her less interesting than if she were a potential protégé. She likens her situation to Dawn’s which, while similar, is not the same. She mistrusts Dawn, even if ultimately she gives in to politeness over instinct. She doesn’t connect. Peggy fears she’s behaving too much like a man and, in her attempt to keep up with her liquor soaked male co-workers, she has developed a drinking problem that causes her to make callous statements. She feels superior, as if she rescued Dawn when Dawn seemed to be doing a fine job of rescuing herself, and, in the end, she only succeeds in making Dawn uncomfortable.

Joan has been willingly answering the intruder’s knock for years. She has tricked herself into a place where she can pretend she has chosen an honourable man. On paper, Greg seems like the perfect mate, and Joan is very aware of presentation. She wants to present to the world what she feels is expected of her: a handsome husband; his healthy baby boy; a well kept home, while also maintaining the independence and sense of importance she craves and finds answered at SCDP. Joan’s final tale with Greg begins dark and seductive: she is dressed first in a body clinging slip, a taste of what will lie beneath the kittenish seductress dress she shimmies over it. After she opens first the front door, then the bedroom door to Greg, she wears a black peignoir, still the seductress, proud that she pleased her prince. As Greg’s glamour fades, as Joan is reminded of his true nature, her clothing lightens, to a lilac gown, a periwinkle robe, and finally a modest pink and white top. She no longer has to feed a monster, but she’s left crowded in a bed with a mother and a son and no mate. Joan must begin opening the door again to mystery dates, or choose to leave it closed, to stay locked tight inside herself. This is the pain of all victims of abuse: the relief of watching the captor leave and the emptiness of the space once occupied by the abuser. Joan feels strong, sure, but also alone, even in that crowded bed.

Opening the door to strangers is always a risk. Sleep, which opens the door to a seemingly inescapable malevolence, is terrifying. We cope in various ways: medication, distraction. We trick our brains into staying somewhere bright and safe. There is no permanent solution though; we must simply trust our instincts as best we can and, when sleep comes, accept wherever our mind takes us. In our darkest nightmare, we’re still safe. That’s just sometimes hard to remember when you know there might be someone outside waiting to take it all away.

A few more words here.

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One thought on “Mad Men 504: Mystery Date

  1. Pingback: Bohemea’s Mad Men Words | LesBohemea

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