A Creepy “Mystery Date” on Madison Avenue

Last week I wrote about the unfortunate dichotomy that exists between watching Game of Thrones and then switching over to Mad Men. This week I didn’t get to re-test my theory thanks to traffic. My guess is that my distractedness would have been less pronounced, as this week’s GoT started to wind down the action in its closing moments. Luckily, I am glad that I didn’t risk detachment to Mad Men like last week, because “Mystery Date” was…AWESOME. When AMC teased that fans of The Walking Dead should be equally excited by the return of zombies of the 1960s, they weren’t kidding. And by that I mean Mad Men was really channeling the rise of Hitchcockian terror with Richard Speck’s infamous killing spree of eight nurses in Chicago. By July 1966, Psycho, The Birds, and a plethora of Roger Corman films had entered into mainstream pop culture. But this post is about “Mystery Date” and the personal nightmares that enveloped our characters this week:

Megan: Her nightmare is by far the most…usual: How long will I have to continue to face my husband’s philandering past? Should I be worried? Questions that all spring from a chance encounter with Andrea, a former fling of Don’s. (Don’s defense: They are in Midtown. I mean, what does she expect? What exactly are the stats at this point, Don?). For the most part, as we will see, Don is way more concerned about this than Megan. And while these are legitimate concerns, Megan seems in control: she rightly points out that it is Don that brings up Andrea again later (“And all I can think is that you feel guilty, which makes it worse than I thought”) and that he cannot blame Betty for his (numerous) past indiscretions: “That kind of careless appetite — you can’t blame that on Betty.” Preach!

Don: One path I can take with this is that Don’s nightmare is himself, or his former self, the man he no longer wants to be yet is obviously very paranoid about changing back into. The other path is that Don…has some problems, clearly, because he imagines murdering Andrea for accusing him of loving his old ways. Would I have been so disturbed had his fever dream been about him reverting to his old ways and cheating on Megan? I don’t think so. But I guess we can also assume that Don is equally paranoid about another hidden aspect of himself, one which has the capacity to rage-strangle former lover Andrea and then shove her body under the bed. The imagery was also startling: it reverses what we learn from the Richard Speck murders (that beneath the bed is a safe place) and it drudges up the imagery that new wunderkind Michael used in his Cinderella pitch (a woman with one shoe, hobbling along the cobblestones).

Roger: This week in Roger’s nightmare we still see his struggle hinging on a fear of irrelevancy. And even though he was shamed by Pete last week, he still decides that napping in his office is preferable to giving Michael his Mohawk assignment. So he must turn to Peggy, who swindles him out of a cool $400 to lie about covering his tracks. The Roger horror show lives to nap, drink, quip and smoke another day.

Peggy: I like that Peggy’s “nightmare” segment starts off with an actual horror movie riff. The SCDP hallways are dark but Peggy hears a sound. She thought she was alone but…actually Don’s secretary Dawn had decided to sleep in the office for fear of the night time commute for a female African American. High on power from her encounter with Roger, Peggy insists that Dawn stay at her apartment. And as much as she tries to commiserate with Dawn (they are women in a man’s world, they were both Don’s secretaries) she is put in her place almost immediately by a 5 second lingering glance at her purse. How shaming for Peggy who was probably about to float away on her goodwill and progressive actions; she questioned the safety of her money and Dawn saw it. That, along with asking Dawn whether she “acts like a man,” leads us to Peggy’s true nightmare: when it all boils down, she isn’t who she thinks she is.

Joan: Joan is the only character that makes headway into effectively vanquishing her nightmares in this episode. Her biggest problem can probably be summed up as the embodiment of her husband. He raped her, she married him anyway. He goes off to Vietnam when he fails as a doctor in New York and Joan gets knocked up by Roger. By kicking him out of her life, things can only look up: she can find a non-rapist boyfriend (Lane?!) and avoid the nasty issue of paternity (for now). Joan, dropping some knowledge: “You’re not a good man.  “You never were. Even before we were married, and you know what I’m talking about.”

Sally: Sally, separated from the rest of the action at the Francis Haunted Mansion, is being looked after by Mama Francis. Pauline is engrossed in the coverage of the Speck murders but tries to hide the details from Sally. Of course, overcome with curiosity, Sally rescues the paper from the trash and reads about the gruesome crime in bed. Naturally, she is too scared to sleep and appears abruptly to startle Pauline (another horror movie trope). Pauline does more damage by imagining, along with Sally, the scenario in which Speck entered the duplex and then offers Sally a Seconal to help her fall asleep. Both of them end up knocked out, with Sally having crawled under the sofa as a means of feeling safer (meanwhile, somewhere, Don in his fever dream is stuffing Andrea under the bed). Sally may have avoided her nightmares at the expense of opening herself up to a new one—as many have pointed out, this will probably be the first of many pill-infused nights for Sally.

Michael: As opposed to everyone else, newbie Michael seemed to be spinning the nightmares himself.  He may have shied away from graphic images of the Richard Speck murder victims but he wasted no time in pitching his Cinderella ad for a shoe company: she hobbles along the cobblestones missing one shoe when a strange man comes out of nowhere to touch her shoulder from behind:”She knows she’s not safe, but she doesn’t care. I guess we know in the end, she wants to be caught.”

Mad Men brought the creepy and I liked it. Also, Mystery Date, the game is now terrifying to me. “Will your mystery date be…?” Dreamy? A dud? A psychopathic serial killer and/or rapist that will shove you under the bed? Or just a thief? What happens if you marry your mystery date even though he raped you, is terrible at his job and chooses Vietnam over you and “his” baby? What if your mystery date is preying on you because you lost a shoe outside the castle?

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About Staciellyn Chapman

Grad student at the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. This blog is an attempt to condense the craziness that is my TV viewing habits (with the occasional aside into film, music, and general life).

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