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Your ‘Mad Men’ Season 6, Episode 8 Talking Points: Body Horror

No current TV show generates more Monday morning conversation than Mad Men. With that in mind, Flavorwire is recapping Season 6′s Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce drama by giving you a handful of talking points to spark your own water-cooler debate. Aptly titled “The Crash,” last night gave us this year’s equivalent of Roger’s Season 5 LSD episode, with the characters’ tripped-out perspectives causing barriers to break down and thin veneers of sanity and stability to shatter.

The action of “The Crash” is set into motion when Ken Cosgrove fails to convince the all-important Chevy clients to take creative’s first batch of pitches, even after accompanying them on a terrifying joyride where they flash guns and cover his eyes while he’s driving. He’s late to a meeting and much worse for wear the next day, the first victim of an episode that plays a bit like a horror movie, especially to the extent that it finds characters’ bodies turning on them.

In a desperate attempt to generate a great new round of ideas for Chevy, Jim Cutler calls in a highly suspicious doctor to dose the SCDPCGC (or whatever we’re calling it) team — well, those who aren’t going to Frank Gleason’s funeral, anyway — with some kind of energy shot that’s supposed to keep them awake, alert, and creative over the weekend. As soon as the speed kicks in, all semblance of professionalism breaks down; Alice in Wonderland makes its way into the brainstorm, a game of office William Tell ends with Michael embedding an X-Acto knife in Stan’s arm, and Stan impulsively kisses Peggy. When he reveals to her that his 20-year-old cousin died in combat, she tells him, “You have to let yourself feel it. You can’t dampen it with drugs and sex.”

But, as has tended to be the case this season, it’s Don who suffers the most from the shot. A series of harrowing coughing fits (seriously, who else was afraid we were going to see blood on that handkerchief?) throws him back into his brothel childhood, where a whore cares for him while he’s sick and then takes his virginity after his fever is broken. These flashbacks give us a bizarre glimpse into both Don’s psyche and his creative process: the scene apparently inspired not only his conflation of sex with comfort but also a seemingly wholesome ad campaign for soup (copy: “Because you know what he needs”).

By the end of the episode, the horror has bled into Don’s domestic life, as he returns home to find Megan, Betty, Henry, and the kids surrounded by police and telling the story of “Grandma Ida” — a slightly disheveled elderly African-American woman who broke into the apartment while Sally was left in charge of her brothers. (If you’ve been watching Mad Men since the beginning, you don’t need me to tell you it’s no coincidence that Sally was reading Rosemary’s Baby in bed.) The adults start to play the blame game, but they don’t get far before Don passes out. And yet, when we see him the next morning, he’s smartly dressed, entirely composed, and doesn’t even flinch when Sylvia gets in the elevator.

Additional talking points:

  • Has anyone ever understood Don as well as Sylvia? “You’ve got me,” she tells him over the phone, in an attempt to make him stop smoking cigarettes in front of her door. She knows that he’s stopped caring about the consequences of their spouses discovering the affair, and all she has left to do is beg him for mercy. “I’m feeling a lot of emotions, too,” he replies, his voice registering no emotion. Sure you are, Don.
  • The SCDP stairs: So far, we’ve seen Pete fall down the stairs and Don collapse into a coughing fit on them, as he spots Peggy comforting Ted in a way that doesn’t seem purely platonic. Is there some foreshadowing happening here? Can we expect something major to go down on these stairs before the season is out?
  • The I Ching: A young woman who turns out to be Frank Gleason’s hippie daughter shows up at the office to do I Ching readings. Considering that I Ching translates to something like Book of Changes, it’s not hard to see the symbolism here. Add to that the moment when she appears, as if by magic, in Don’s office with a stethoscope and determines that his heart is “broken,” and you’ve got some pretty heavy-handed metaphors happening.
  • “Every time we get a car, this place turns into a whorehouse.” And speaking of heavy-handed metaphors…
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