After getting shot up with a "mild stimulant," Don goes on a wild ride through sleep deprivation psychosis that went about as well as Ken Cosgrove's wild ride in the Chevy Impala, with both ending similarly, lending last night's episode its name: "The Crash."
Of course, "The Crash" might also refer to Don finally hitting rock bottom, making it an impressive triple entendre, something that's really hard to do but never fails to impress, like the album title of Snow's 12 Inches of Snow. (Dick size, LP size, snowfall.) More impressive were all the Easter eggs and intertextuality and flashbacks that have made watching this season—and this surreal episode, in particular—feel like Lost. Interestingly, over at The New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum said:
As the island was to “Lost,” Don Draper is to “Mad Men.” He was a great premise, a mystery we were dying to understand. But, the more the puzzle has been filled in, the more he’s begun to feel suspiciously like a symbol.
But we'll get there in a minute. First, it all started with the still-as-yet-unnamed firm's realization that a huge client like Chevy means that huge creative demands. Essentially: Mo' money, mo' problems. They're working themselves to the bone to try and satisfy General Motors only to learn that the process could take three years before they actually get an ad approved. So Harry Hamlin calls in his doctor to give everyone the jolt they need to keep going.
Amphetamines shots were pretty common practice in the 1960s. President Kennedy relied on them to deal with his chronic back pain. (I wouldn't be surprised if a re-blonde, re-thin Betty had a little help slimming down from that doctor her mother-in-law had recommended.) If it's coming from a doctor then it can't be bad for you, right? This is the mindset that killed Elvis and countless other addicts.
Considering what we know about Don and addiction—he's both an alcoholic and a sex addict—adding pharmies into the mix seems like a terrible idea. And it was! He had a terrible reaction, albeit only a little bit worse than the others in the office.
Stan, for instance, thought it would be a good idea to play a version of "William Tell," having people throw X-Acto knives at the paper apple above his head, only to wind up getting stabbed in the arm. I couldn't help but wonder if it was a nod to another speed freak who notoriously died playing the same game. William S. Burroughs shot and killed his baby mama Joan Vollmer—a noted amphetamine addict—while drunkenly trying to shoot an apple off her head. "William Tell" is just always a bad idea, although if anyone at the ad agency had an good ideas, they wouldn't have to work weekends to please their clients.
Perhaps the person who performed the best while under the influence was Ken Cosgrove, and when I say "performed" I mean as a musical number. He tapped his heart out as he described the Sisyphean difficulties of his job. He was physically and metaphorically dancing as fast as he could.
That phrase came to popularity—as a colloquialism for people trying to achieve delicate, and nearly impossible, balancing acts of some kind—from filmmaker Barbara Gordon's memoir I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can, which chronicles her "descent into hell" from her addiction and subsequent recovery, wherein her entire seemingly perfect life fell apart as soon as she quit the drugs her doctor got her hooked on. But they were merely a bandaid for larger, nameless problems lurking beneath the surface. As Peggy wisely pointed out:
I've had loss in my life. You have to let yourself feel it. You can't dampen it with drugs and sex. It won't get you through it.
Sex and drugs—or in his case, booze—is not helping Don get through his emotional trauma either, but it is certainly aiding him in his own descent into hell. This season of Mad Men has really been toying with this whole idea of hell-and-back, which is referenced in the opening moments of the first episode, with Don reading The Inferno. So if last season was about death (with Lane's suicide), and this one is about hell, we're probably not going to see any kind of recovery in the next few episodes.
Roger's approach to unsavoriness is less nuanced but just as applicable:
You gotta get used to it and stop thinking about it.
Don spent the episode doing the exact opposite as he refused to accept that Sylvia had ended their affair and only became more obsessive about trying to get her back. Simultaneously, he was reliving the sexual trauma from his childhood that made him the disappointing man he is today (or in the '60s) in spurts of disjointed time that left him confused and the audience enlightened.
Don lost his virginity to a pushy hooker when he was approximately 10 (the age he's supposed to be when his father dies, although the dork they hired to play young Don/Dick seems much older). It seemed very uncool, in the way that having sex with children is, of course, but also because Dick had turned to Aimée for motherly nurturing when he was sick and then she deflowered him for the hell of it, only to embarrass him about it later in front of everyone. His stepmother then beat the shit out of him, screaming things like, "You filthy, shameful, disgusting…You are trash…That's disgraceful." So now we know why Don prefers clandestine romances and secret intimacy, and why something like marriage—which, basically, is an announcement to the world about who you are supposed to be fucking—just doesn't work for him.
When Don would come up for breath from these reveries, time would be weird. It would be missing. Suddenly it would be several hours later. I don't think it was a coincidence that we knew that Grandma Ida ("Are we negroes?") took off with Don's watches. There couldn't be a better metaphor for his addiction than stolen time.
Another theme throughout this season has been this question about whether or not Don—or anybody really—is ever truly capable of change. It's something that's come up over and over again that seems to be tied to his addictions (in that he definitely can't change if he keeps feeding them).
On last night's episode we see little hippie Wendy, the daughter of Chaough's recently deceased partner, with the I Ching also known as The Book of Changes, with one of it's main ethos being acceptance of the inevitability of change. All signs point to the Serenity Prayer.