In 1962, The Crystals recorded "It Felt Like A Kiss" in response to singer Little Eva (responsible for a little diddy called "The Loco-motion") who said her boyfriend's abuse was forgivable "because he loved her." The Crystals song was the controversial response to that, and it's what we hear in the closing credits of Mad Men's "Mystery Date": "He hit me and it felt like a kiss. He hit me but it didn't hurt me." Is this how mystery dates end?
In series creator Matthew Weiner's world (which sounds like an awesome fast food spot), yes, it is. In this episode, Mad Men's characters are all caught under the thumb of their own desires, and at odds with their own expectations for dates with the unknown, romantic and otherwise.
Meet Richard Speck, The Worst Blind Date Ever
The most disappointing date of all, of course, is Richard Speck, the man responsible for the nurse massacre, who, as Grandma Pauline points out, shows up like he's arrived for a date and allowed in the door, possibly because he's a good looking guy.
We hate to say it, but it sounds an awful lot like our beloved Don (Jon Hamm), who is murdering women like Speck did—well, at least in his fever dreams. Don gets off on a bad foot from scene one, when former fling Andrea (Madchen Amick) saunters up to him in the elevator and purrs about him being her "bad penny," while Megan (Jessica Paré) shrivels up in the corner. Don explains it away and blames it on being "unhappy" in his marriage to Betty, but Megan (who's more clever than Betty at her brightest) knows the source of Don's unchecked desires run much deeper: "That kind of careless appetite, you can't blame that on Betty."
Betty is not given many "Get Out of Jail Free" cards, but this is one of them. Too often we're urged by the show to sympathize with Don and point our fingers in another direction, which has the effect of villainizing Betty and letting Don off the hook, but not this time. For a moment, Don is on trial and we realize what his young wife is beginning to see that where Don goes, his indiscretions are not that far behind.
Don's dark side follows him home, quite literally, and Andrea hunts him down at his apartment, hoping the second come-on is the charm, armed with bad porno lines: "I can feel you against me."
Don takes her up on the offer, and Andrea becomes the first (literal) victim of Don's desires when she calls Don's infidelities "a mistake you love making" and tells him "You loved it, and you'll love it again because you're a sick, sick…" Suddenly, she's a dead girl, tossed under the bed with her shoes sloppily sticking out like she's the Wicked Witch of the East.
It was all dream, of course, and Don's shocking act of violence can be seen as an assault on the worst part of himself. He's having fever-induced reveries of strangling a part of himself he fears the most, trying to cut off its oxygen supply once and for all. Megan wakes him, bathed in light like an angel, wondering if he's feeling better. He tells Megan she doesn't have to worry about him, and we know he's not talking about his cold as much as the actual mental sickness he's affected by. Megan looks fearful behind those young, confident eyes, and Don? He looks just as scared.
Ginsberg Woos The Crowd
Back in midtown, new guy Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) is presenting to clients, but isn't satisfied with just winning them over with the team's ideas. After they say yes to the campaign, he goes off on a storytelling tangent, wooing the client with his interpretation of Cinderella's lost shoe. "She knows she's not safe but she doesn't care," he says. "I guess in the end, she wants to be caught." It's Don's carousel pitch all over again—a nostalgia-drenched, ruthless and systematic pulling of the client's heartstrings—and of course, it works.
Don isn't as tickled (partially because it was needlessly risky, and partially because he knows there is a new creative genius in town), and poor Ginsberg needs Kenny to clue him into the fact that he just narrowly avoided being fired. Is it just us, or is this guy comedic gold?
Meanwhile, at the Francis residence, Grandma Pauline is doing some of her own storytelling, unsuccessfully attempting to comfort Sally (Kiernan Shipka) after she reads about the Speck murders. "All those young innocent nurses in their short uniforms, stirring his desire."
When Sally innocently inquires "For what?" Pauline is all like, "What do you think? You're old enough to know." Grandma is gossiping with Sally like she's a peer, but at least she's acknowledging her maturity in a way Betty cannot (and in a way only Grandpa Gene did). Grandma splits a sleeping pill with Sally to ease her anxiety, and while it's not exactly a kosher move, it does seem like some sort of strange bonding experience for the two of them. The only nurse that survived the Speck murders was one that managed to hide under a bed, and when Betty returns to find Sally hiding under the couch Grandma Pauline is on, it draws a strange parallel that seems to imply Grandma will be Sally's saving grace.
Peggy Wants To Be Dazzled
Meanwhile, Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) is gleefully finagling cash out of Roger (John Slattery). It's our favorite scene in the episode, because Peggy is reveling in the power she has, playfully flirting with Roger (a partner) and shamelessly robbing him of everything he has ("Do you want me to take your watch?") with no fear of repercussions.
Well, maybe a little fear. Later, when Peggy saves Dawn from sleeping at the office and takes her back to her apartment, she reveals her insecurities: "Do you think I act like a man?" Peggy is walking like a man and talking like a man, but does she really want to be one? The Peggy we know is driven by ambition, but maybe her idea of what being a career woman means are at odds with the reality of it, and of her own desires. "I try but I don't know if I have it in me. I don't know if I want to," she reveals.
Greg Is No Dream Man Either
The mystery date metaphor, the idea of out hopes vs. the actuality, and the failed expectations that result are glaringly apparent between Joan (Christina Hendricks) and Greg (Sam Page). Joanie's boo is no dream man, and he never lives up to what he is on paper. He shows up at the door looking suave in his new uniform, but underneath he's still the same sad and insecure guy. When poor Joan finds out he's volunteered himself for another year in the service, in spite of the needs of his wife and newborn, her barely latent anger rises to the surface.
"I'm glad the army makes you feel like a man, because I'm sick of trying to do it." Joan's snap highlights what we've seen along: Joan is a powerful, confident woman and she's being muted by Greg's inferiority complex. Joan is indispensable at her job, while Greg is fighting for even a modicum of respect, and in search of a place where he feels needed. What's sad is that he doesn't see that he could get that satisfaction from his family. Joan sees this, and it cements Greg's fate. She even calls him out for his office rape way back when: "You're not a good man and you never were. Even before we were married, and you know what I'm talking about."
Greg was never what Joan hoped for. He was her birdcage, like the one Roger gave her in season one, and it was circumstance, not legit love, that kept her behind those bars. But in acknowledging that Greg will never meet her expectations, Joan is freed. Maybe that's why she's so calm as she hands him his walking papers.
Written by Shanté Cosme (@ShanteCosme)