Following a slowly-paced episode,  Mad Men is back at it with multiple intriguing plotlines. And despite the popularity- and even fake twitter account—“Fat Betty Francis,” is nowhere to be found in this episode full of big confrontations and violent thematic elements.

The Players:

  • Director: Matt Shankman
  • Writers: Victor Levin and Matthew Weiner
  • Cast: Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Jessica Dupre, John Slattery, Christina Hendricks, Ben Feldman

The Plot:

[Spoilers ahead!]

Joan’s husband Greg Harris has finally returned from Vietnam. At first, Joan is thrilled to have him back and introduce him to his baby son (who is actually Roger’s).  However, elation suddenly turns to anger when Joan learns that Greg has volunteered to go back to serve. Joan tells him to leave and never come back, hinting at his past abuse and how she will never be enough for him.

Meanwhile, Megan’s fears about Don’s philandering past come to fruition when he ends up seeing an ex- flame (Andrea) in the office building of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. In a fever induced dream, he ends up sleeping with her, and after she accused him of being a deviant, Don strangles her and hides her under his bed. When Don wakes up, Megan is the by his bedside and he realized it was simply a nightmare.

The Good:

  • Maturing Sally: Sally is maturing as a normal pre-teen should be, and the writers do a good job of this portrayal. She questions authority (he step grandmother Pauline), wants to stay inside and watch TV instead of being outside, and generally is up to mischief you would except of someone her age.
  • Going Ginsberg: Ginsberg comes up with two great ad ideas for Casten shoes, which impresses the company; but his last minute switch of ideas enrages Don (what else is new). He fits in seamlessly with the rest of the Mad Men crew. Weiner managers to add a new interesting character with flaws, but someone we still care about.
  • Conniving Peggy: Roger, desperate to meet Mohawk’s demand for advertising during an airline strike, bribes Peggy to write the ad.  Peggy extracts a large sum from a desperate Roger, displaying both her growing gravitas and Roger’s ever increasing desperation for relevance.
  • Dividing Vietnam: Mad Men accurately showcased the dichotomy of sentiments surrounding the war, from Greg, to New Yorkers at an Italian restaurant, to his family who desperately wants him to stay at home.
  • Buggle Binge: After criticizing Betty’s weight in the previous episode, Pauline is caught doing some late night Buggle eating of her own in an unintentionally humorous scene.
  • Late night bonding: After inviting her over to sleep at her place, Peggy and Don’s secretary Dawn drink beer and discuss the workplace. Peggy reveals that it’s hard to be a woman in a man’s world, and we begin to feel the sympathy for Peggy that’s been lacking at the beginning of the season.

The Bad:

  • Chicago Tragedy: The historic Chicago murders and subsequent riots in the late 1960’s were an undercurrent of the episode, but it felt a bit out of place, until the final scene of the episode when Don acts out like the Chicago killer in his dream.
  • Greg’s Decision: We are not sure how or why Greg came to the decision to return to Vietnam, and it feels like a forced plotline to keep Joan miserable and alone. However, Joan is strong in her decision to leave him and this feels like a strong a justified moment for Joan.
  • Lovers Lost: The confrontation with Don’s ex-lover Andrea in the elevator of SCDP and then again at his apartment felt an unnecessary plot device to make Don uneasy about their marriage. Don’s dream about their tryst not only made me want to slap Don, but just reminded me of so many times when he’s screwed up before. His appetite for sexual variety I fear has not matured, and it feels like it’s only a matter of time before Don slips up.

Overall:

Despite the all-over-the-place plot line, Mad Men really can do no wrong. We gain more insight into Don and Megan’s growing rift, gain respect for Joan and her refusal to put up with her husband’s unilateral decision, and begin to fall in love with the dorky but well-meaning Ginsberg. “Mystery Date” is not without its flaws but is still excellent television is what is shaping up to be another superb season of Mad Men.

Rating: 8/10

Mad Men airs on Sunday nights on AMC.

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