Two steps forward, one step back — this young but already nearly-over season (sigh) hasn’t yet found a rhythm. After last week’s terrific episode, which we (well, I) thought might pave the way for a triumphant Don Draper stunt return, “The Monolith” felt sluggish and metaphor-laden. (The tech guy seems like he might be this season’s Conrad Hilton — a symbol, more than a character.) Speaking of metaphors, say goodbye to the creative lounge, which is being demolished to make room for an enormous mainframe computer. Nobody seems to know exactly what the computer will do (though, to be fair, nobody seemed to know exactly what the creative types do all day, either; remember how the visiting Japanese executives struggled to understand?) , but it’s the future, and people sitting around spitballing ideas — something at which Don excels — is in the past. The future belongs, Matthew Weiner seems to be saying, to people like Harry Crane. Hmm.
But I think my disappointment in this episode had to do with, yet again, watching Don fall and lift himself up. We saw him, in Season 4, cut down on his drinking and apply himself to his work; now he’s fallen further (the suspension, the general contempt in which he’s held), and he seems to be starting fresh yet again. This time, his savior was Freddy Rumsen (who knows a bit about alcoholism), and his new boss is Peggy — who seemed a little too pleased at Don’s fall. (These past two seasons have shown Peggy struggling a bit with becoming an authority figure; she wants to get ahead, but hasn’t quite learned how to read people along the way.) Don created SC&P, now he’s being shut out of it, with his former ally Bert Cooper dismissing his (very smart) ideas; Don created Peggy, only to have her condescend to him. Can you blame the man for stealing a bottle of vodka (a key choice; unlike whiskey, you can’t smell it) from Roger’s office? Note how, though, he’s got Lane’s Mets banner hanging on the wall, even though we saw him toss it in the garbage initially — and that, history tells us, the Mets had a miraculous come-from-behind year in 1969. Surely Don will too — but let’s get to it.
More interesting was Roger’s subplot this week, in which he and ex-wife Mona followed their daughter Margaret to an upstate commune or cult, depending on how you look at things. Mona, furious at Margaret’s abandonment of her young son, left quickly; Roger, always willing to check out something new, stuck around, helping out with the potato peeling and spending a sweet night under the stars with his daughter — until she slipped away to, as her mother would have phrased it, possibly catch a venereal disease. That changed things: Roger demanded Margaret’s return home in the morning, but quickly found himself in the mud, humiliated, while his daughter told him that he had no right to shame her for non-parenting. Game, set, match to Margaret/Marigold. Anyone else distracted by how much Elizabeth Rice, who plays Margaret, looks like Ellen Page? And I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised that this character — not Peggy, who’s close to her in age — is the one on this show to fully embrace the counterculture, at least for now. (Remember when Margaret was a spoiled heiress, sobbing because JFK’s murder meant nobody would come to her wedding?)
I miss Lane. And, already, the creative lounge. But what remains for me, from last night’s episode, is Don’s icy stare when Peggy ordered him to crank out 25 taglines. Something’s ticking away in there; too bad we have to wait another week to find out what.