The big ’60s topics of race relations and the Vietnam War combined with the decade’s most horrifying mass murder to create dramas that were both internal and external on “Mad Men” on Sunday.
It was the fourth hour and third episode of the new fifth season of the AMC series — an episode titled “Mystery Date.” That was the name of a TV show of the ’60s that budding teen Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka) was seen watching while she was babysat by Pauline (Pamela Dunlap) the portly, domineering mother of Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley), who’s now married to Sally’s mother, Betty (January Jones).
But the real “mystery date” was the woman Don Draper (Jon Hamm) bumped into in an elevator, in the presence of his young wife Megan (Jessica Pare). It seemed fairly certain that Don had once had a relationship — or at least a fling — with the mystery woman (played by Madchen Amick), but as the episode continued, it became unclear if Don had the affair recently, while married to Megan, or some years previously, as he seemed to indicate when he tried to explain the woman to Megan.
Later, his relationship with the woman became a lot less clear as the fever he was experiencing from an unspecified illness had him dreaming that the woman visited him in his apartment, had sex with him, and then he killed her, pushing her lifeless body under the bed.
At some point during his interactions with her, we guessed this visit was a dream, particularly when he murdered her. But when did this dream begin? Was it all the way back when he met her in the elevator? Whatever it was, the whole thing seemed staged to dramatize how Don is battling with his principal demon — which is, basically, his battle to remain faithful to Megan, and not revert to his former philandering self. Thus, in his fever dream, he “killed” the “other woman.”
In his dream, she wound up under his bed, dead. In the murder case making headlines in July 1966 — the time frame for Sunday’s “Mad Men” episode — a student nurse hid under a bed for hours while Richard Speck raped and murdered eight of her friends in a Chicago townhouse. She survived.
The story was in the news, and when young Sally read about it in the newspaper, she became so frightened that she sought protection from Pauline, who she happened to loathe. Pauline gave her half a Seconal and Sally wound up asleep under another piece of furniture — a couch or possibly a settee.
What else happened on “Mad Men” Sunday? A lot:
Most notably, Joanie’s husband, Greg the Army surgeon, came home from Vietnam, only to inform her that he was going back for a year — a tour for which he volunteered. Joan (Christina Hendricks) accused him of neglecting her and their infant son, and in the end, she threw him out. Their marriage is apparently over.
Brash, new copywriter Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) overplayed his role at a presentation for a client, angering Don, who threatened to fire him the next time something like that happened. The real issue: Ginsberg was so brilliant in creating and selling his ideas that Don perceives a threat from him.
Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) had substantial screen time during the episode, particularly one great scene with Roger Sterling (John Slattery), in which she shook him down for $400 when she realized how desperately he needed her to write a campaign for Mohawk Airlines so he wouldn’t lose face with Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser). Their scene together was one of the best so far this season and we couldn’t recall when Peggy and Roger had ever had a scene together previously.
Peggy later expressed concern that she’s becoming too much like a man, when she had a drunken conversation with the agency’s only African-American employee — a young woman named Dawn Chambers (Teyonah Parris) — who Peggy invited to come spend the night in her apartment when it was too late and too dangerous for Dawn to ride the subway home. It was a friendly gesture, but later, Peggy awkwardly revealed that she didn’t quite trust the woman, who was to sleep on a couch within reach of Peggy’s handbag, which contained the $400 from Roger. When morning came, the young black woman was gone.
“Mad Men” airs Sunday nights at 10/9c on AMC.