This sixth season of Mad Men really took its time to get going. For about five solid episodes, we got a lot of narrative wheel-spinning, with almost every character being put in some type of situation that we had seen before. Sure, the end of season 5 established a pretty new and exciting status quo for a lot of our major players, but that's exactly why it was so frustrating to watch Don have another affair, to see Pete acting exactly like Don slash destroying his own marriage from the inside out, and to see Peggy struggle with the relationship she has with both her boss and her workplace. We'd really been to all of those places before, but I think that's what made episode six ("For Immediate Release") so exciting. That forty minutes of television was about as up-and-down as it gets, and was extra thrilling as a result.
Almost makes me think that all the season's earlier repetition was aimed at setting a "business as usual" precedent so that they could go ahead and blow it on up with the merger and the IPO.
Because seriously, Don is having a gnarly year, and "The Crash" illustrates this better than anything we've seen so far.
When it comes to his relationship with Sylvia, it's interesting to see Don all slobbering and weak at the knees. Of course he leaves a bunch of cigarettes outside Syl's door, because Don wouldn't be Don if he weren't seeming to intentionally destroy anything and everything that he enjoys.
Sylvia, of course, is understandably pissed that Don's throwing rocks at the hornet's nest the way he is. Their conversation about the stakes is an interesting one, and sheds a lot of light on the gamble that's inherent when you do something like have an affair with a dude who lives in the same apartment building as you do. And who works in the same office building as your husband does. And is Don Draper.
The office, though, is where this episode really has its fun. We get a few decently broad strokes painted in terms of both story and characterization, but for the most part, this episode is a delirious fever dream of an affair, featuring nearly everyone at the office hopped up on some kind of (almost definitely amphetamine-based) "vitamin serum" given out by Cutler's doctor.
The SCDP/C(G)C team has to bust out some serious work for Chevy by Tuesday, because nobody at the automaker liked the work they've sent in previously. This was evidenced by the fact that they crashed a car with Ken Cosgrove inside it before returning him to the office from whence he came.
So everyone freaks the fuck out and literally just runs around the office for almost a full forty minutes, and it's about as much fun as the series has had all season. Stan takes an X-Acto knife to the arm, then tells Peggy she has a great ass. ("Thank you.")
Don and the rest of the office spend the course of the episode both working and screwing around, and doing both at something of a breakneck pace. It's not really much of a surprise (though it is pretty hilarious) when Chaugh shows up at the end of the episode and notes that basically all of the work is complete shit (with "Chevy" misspelled, to boot). Nice. Kenny C does a gnarly tap dance. Don sprints around for a bit, then breathlessly talks nonsense to just about whomever will listen. It's fun stuff, really.
So Cutler, who's totally another Roger, basically cruises in and screws things up royally. He's more or less responsible for the team's biffing of an entire weekend worth of work, and Don just deciding that he doesn't want to work on the Chevrolet project anymore. Because, sorry.
All that is sufficiently crazy, entertaining, and hilarious, and leaves us curious as to how the whole Chevy account is going to work itself out, because that's kind of the only tension we've got going around the office right now. Well, that and Harry Crane. And also Bob Benson. And...well, I guess plenty of other things that the show's picked up and looked at this season, only to set it back on the desk, leaving us to wonder if it's supposed to fit into everything or not.
Which makes this season a tough one to review while it's actually happening. As mentioned, the whole "business as usual" feeling settles over episodes one through five in a pretty serious way, and while it got to be a bit frustrating, it made for a nice shock when we finally crested that big hill in "For Immediate Release." Sylvia has emerged as a highly interesting character, and Don's life seems like it's more complicated than it's ever been before.
He spends the episode pitching to her without even realizing that he's doing it, and in the end, everything he's got is just gibberish.
If anything, this season is giving us the feeling that everything is slowly piling up around Don, and is making us wonder if he'll even realize when his nostrils have gotten covered up and he can't breathe anymore.
Oh, and also...
• "You should take a nap. Your face looks like a bag of walnuts."
• Stan has 666 ideas.
• Grandma Ida was maybe the most terrifying thing ever. And of course Sally doesn't know anything about her dad.
• Don's remark that the "place turns into a whorehouse" every time they land an automotive account was not the episode's only instance of far-too-on-the-nose writing. ("I think it's broken!" *audible groan*)