"I know I've made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I've still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you."—HAL (2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968)
"Hard times are when a man has worked at a job 30 years—30 years!—they give him a watch, kick him in the butt, and say, 'Hey, a computer took your place, daddy'—that’s hard times! That’s hard times!"—Dusty Rhodes ("Hard Times Promo," 1985)
Matthew Weiner ruined a lot of fun last night. For those of us who went into the latest Mad Men episode not knowing the title, the shot of Don greeting a tall, matte-black rectangle upon the opening of the elevator doors outside SC&P provided a neat reward. Kubrick allusion?! Got it, Matt!
Except to call that an allusion would require a less explicit episode title than "The Monolith." Now, none of us recappers get to lord our careful viewing and 2001: A Space Odyssey knowledge over the rest of the world. Never let it be said that Weiner is anything but a fair and gentle despot.
As in Kubrick's movie, Don's monolith is an ominous sign of evolution. SC&P is getting a real computer to go with the fake one Harry Crane invented. Now, everyone waits around for an ape to get brained to death with a femur, or for some other violent development that will accompany this next-level jump for adkind. (You can't make a star child without jettisoning someone from a fancy-ass hotel room into a tunnel of pure color and light, you know?)
The old guard is in trouble. They're having heart attacks, they're losing their women to hippie communes upstate, they're working in suicide-haunted offices where they have to take orders from a woman, and about a business named Burger Chef: woof. What happened to the great American pastimes like baseball or drinking away your malaise with a bottle of some clear spirit behind a closed door? (Turns out, there's a specific order of operations to those great American pastimes, and if you chose the latter before the former, you cannot attend the game.)
Men used to lie on their backs and consider the heavens above, those spinning celestial bodies. There was inspiration to be found there. Now, the computers have taken all the good lounging space, and they aren't even looking for inspiration—they're just counting stars. Data replaces art, and if you stare straight up in the meager place you've been allotted, there's only that weird, punchable Styrofoam-esque squares that count as a ceiling in modern office buildings. With those kind of drab reminders that human existence is finite, who wouldn't do like Don, and fill up an aluminum can with booze?
Q: What's the opposite of a computer? A: A commune of people. No use for hierarchies or science there—just Nature in the Romantic tradition. It's a tempting prospect for those of us with young hearts and pockets full of acid tabs (like Roger). It's a tempting prospect if you're actually just young, but have been fast-tracked into a bougie life where the variables are just how many kids you'll have and just how many glasses of gin you'll drink to deal with said kids, and the only constant is overwhelming sadness (like Margaret).
Out in the country, you can still glimpse the stars and the Moon through the slatted barn roof. It's a timeless pursuit, and don't forget: Jule Verne wrote From the Earth to the Moon in 1865. It's possible to want to be an astronaut before there's a name for it, just like it's possible to be sad in a shapeless, formless, and, yes, nameless way.
Human beings landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969. They planted (abandoned?) an American flag there. Presumably, it's still there, alone. It's possible that there is some significance to this. Depends on how deeply you read into it.
Ross Scarano is a deputy editor at Complex. He tweets here.