‘Mad Men’ Season 7 Episode 4 Recap: “The Monolith”

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Hey fans of Angry Males! Do you like metaphors? Because this episode was chock-a-block full of them. It was called “The Monolith,” and the central monolith was Sterling Cooper & Partners’ brand spanking new 1969 computer, installed to make Harry happy, taking over the creatives’ “lunchroom.” Is the monolith the moon, hanging over this (late February/Marchish 1969) episode like a looming Great American Moment? After all, the moon landing was July 1969, but Moon culture was a big part of the 60s (as detailed in Lily Koppel’s interesting, somewhat frustrating The Astronaut Wives Club, a book eventually coming to your TV through ABC). Is the monolith just a reason to get all Kubrickian with references galore to 2001: A Space Odyssey, released in 1968? Mystery! Is the monolith this particular recap? (Yes!) Or was this episode about another monolith, a sad-eyed man who built this company and melted down in front of Hershey’s like he loves s’mores? A man named Don Draper? Quite possibly!

Don is a rock and an island in SC & P (Simon and Garfunkel, “The Sounds of Silence,” is from 1964. Will we ever hear it?), arriving at an empty workplace like it’s the end of the world, neat and clean in an arguably Pete Campbell blue suit. Nobody’s around, the phones are off the hooks. He finally finds his coworkers upstairs in the middle of a meeting: SC & P is getting a computer. Harry and Jim look silly in hard hats. Creative is grumbling about moving, about losing their freewheeling indoor kid rec room (Feel you, guys) — since this is all about how to “make Harry crazy important.” Ginsberg has a hissy fit about the couch: “they’re trying to erase us, but they can’t erase this couch!” And Don goes back into his office, finding Dead Lane’s old Mets pennant underneath the desk. He’s alone with a ghost.

At a partners meeting, sans Don, the men discuss what to do about Burger Chef, an account brought in by Pete wheeling and dealing in California (in one perfunctory scene that establishes that Pete can be ruthlessly good at work and Fake Betty of Cali sees that). The men are all jockeying to figure out who will get the account and build the team around it. Lou’s solution is to give Peggy a raise (yay), the account, and he insists that she has to have Don as an underling in this case (ruh-roh).

Meanwhile, Monolith #2, Roger, has walked into an office trap. His grandson, looking very Scout in the To Kill a Mockingbird movie is running around, because wife #1, the magnificent Mona (played by John Slattery’s IRL wife Talia Balsalm, also known as the only woman to ever lock it down legally with, yep, George Clooney until last week’s big engagement news) is in his office, along with their daughter’s husband Brooks. Turns out that zombied-out Margaret from a couple of weeks ago has made the jump and ran away upstate to live with a hippie commune. Brooks wants the grandparents to take care of their grandkid while he goes to get his wife back.

So that’s one monolith’s story. The other monolith, the computer, is where Don and Harry and the computer guy, Lloyd, are having a conversation. Harry is mentioning a TV show (probably the single episode of Turn-On that aired in February 1969), where “Tim Conaway is trying to kill himself the whole show.” Matt Weiner is biting his thumb at Don Draper death pool bettors, obviously.

Immediately afterwards, Harry and Don discuss the computer with “It’s not symbolic,” “No, it’s quite literal,” and then Don slips into a conversation with Lloyd who says, “These machines can be a metaphor for whatever’s on people’s minds.” Lloyd then talks about people’s fear, how computers are infinite where people are futile. Don and Lloyd mention the moon and how we’re getting there, to the moon with computers. To process all of this metaphor properly, you probably need to be on a hippie commune upstate. Perhaps. Or maybe you can understand that it’s relevant to right now, dig?

Peggy tells Don he’s on the Burger Chef account underneath her, but not, like, sexily. Don has a face of stone. (Sad Don Draper — a thing this episode.) He is maybe a monolith, Mount Rushmore, stock still and frowning with his eyes (not very Tyra). The camera lingers, in Don’s office, on Dead Lane’s Mets pennant. If I knew about sports, it would maybe have some resonant significance. Like a metaphor!

Back in the office after the weekend, the ambient noise of the computer is mighty loud. Don is refusing to meet for the Burger Chef account, playing solitaire on his desk like a dick. Peggy is silhouetted against the blinds, like the opening credits. Roger learns that Brooks is in jail upstate in Kingston, so he and Mona decide to let the dimwit inlaw rot, and drive upstate to save their daughter. “She was so cruel and so serene,” they note, about Margaret’s strange behavior. “I thought she was finally happy.”

Don is in his office, reading Philip Roth’s classic Portnoy’s Complaint, released in February 1969. (A million points to Jason Diamond, who called it earlier.) It is a book about guilt and being a creep and stuff. Computer Lloyd comes in, with his familiar actor soap opera face (yep, he was on Justified!) and has another symbolic conversation with Don. He asks him about how advertising works, Don says, how is what you’re selling unique? Then Lloyd observes, that “they’ve got a great product, they don’t trust it.” Is that another metaphor? For a monolith? Named Don? Then Harry comes into the room and totally breaks up the bromance.

Don looks for Roger, inspired. Roger’s gone upstate. Don walks into Cooper’s office and tells him that they need to do a presentation for Lloyd’s computer group. “The apple is right there!” He says, presaging the future. Burt replies that their hands are tied, and they’re there “along with a dead man whose office you now inhabit.” Cold. How does Don respond to this condescension? Like all great men. He sneaks into Roger’s office, takes a bottle of vodka, and starts drinking privately in his own office. Maybe it’s straight-up alcoholic bullshit, but it’s also fairly similar to the stunts Peggy was pulling during Valentine’s Day. Is it SC & P that drives us all to drink? Or does Don have a problem. I mean, it’s not the best way to deal with your sadness.

Roger and Mona hit the hippie hideaway looking for their daughter, who is now a vision in drapery who goes by Marigold. “Marigold” is very different from Margaret Sterling/Hargrove — her hair’s undone, she’s in gigantic layers, and she’s achieved some sort of hippie oneness with the world, man (Must we mention that we are in upstate New York in 1969, presumably fairly close to Woodstock?) Roger is a sore thumb in his gorgeous three-piece suit, amongst the hippie youths. Marigold says, “I’m tired of accepting society’s definition of me,” and she has a life versus kids fight with her mother. Marigold leaves when she points out that Mona’s happiness wasn’t just with the kids, she also had to lock herself in the bathroom with a pint of gin. Mona storms out and Roger opts to stay. His daughter’s on some weird experimental path not unlike his own. He can almost hang here, even though they may not have electricity and they may speak like stupid hippies.

Don is on his couch, Peggy Olson-ing it, mad drunk, staring at the Mets pennant. He calls a mysterious friend and invites him to Shea Stadium. Turns out it’s Freddie Rumsen, of course. And Don is wasted, wasted. He sees Lloyd on his way out, and gets in his face, saying “you talk like a friend but you’re not,” that he’s one of many, many people. That Lloyd “killed the magic.” They lost their connection the minute drunk Don opened his mouth.

As Don sneaks out, Peggy ends up, frustrated, confiding in Joan. Joan says, in response to Peggy talking about all the politics that ended up with Don on her team, and Peggy taking the brunt of the abuse on that one: “I don’t know if it’ll make you feel better, but I don’t think they thought about it at all.” That may be something to needlepoint, frame, and put on your office wall at work, right?

Roger and Marigold are sleeping on hay. They are looking up in the sky, at the stars. They talk about the moon, and Jules Verne. Marigold tells Roger that she’s really happy here. They fall asleep. But in the middle of the night, Roger hears some rustling: Marigold wakes up to do some weird sex stuff with some hippie.

Don is drunk at home, waking up with a hangover. The morning after involves a tough love speech from Freddy Rumsen. He looks so sad Don Draper, and he needs to quit drinking.

In hippielandia, the morning after, Roger is like a boy whose love is unrequited. Margaret eventually stirs, following a dumb hippie boy, and that’s when her dad loses it. He insists on taking her back to New York. “It’s time to leave Shangri-La.” He pulls her into his arms, she’s kicking and squirming, and they fall down in a puddle of mud. Roger ruins his blue, Pete Campbell man-out-of-time suit. Marigold accuses him of being a negligent, shitty dad and Roger starts the very long walk back to the train.

Don is looking fresh. He is at the elevator. He stares at the computer, his fellow monolith. It’s a brand new day and he’s going to type up some tags for Peggy on his computer. The Hollies play on the soundtrack, a song called “On a Carousel,” a literal symbol and metaphor — of course — and we fade out on Don’s typewriter clicking and clacking, physical and loud. It’s a brand new day.