The backdrop for last night’s episode, “Mystery Date,” was the mass nurse-murders that took place in Chicago in 1966. Eight out of nine victims were brutally stabbed or strangled to death. The ninth escaped because she hid beneath the bed — the killer had lost count. New York is somewhat removed from the horrific event, but the shock reverberates and disturbs each character. This glint of sheer brutality against women colors the episode’s events a sickly shade of fear. The employees of SCDP are unable to comprehend what people are capable of — including themselves.
In a moment of courage, Joan Holloway reinstated herself as a strong and independent woman, as well as one of the most likeable characters on the show. By kicking out her abusive husband, Greg, (he raped her in Season 2), Joan sets the tone for the rest of the cast as the show perpetuates themes of civil and women’s rights. Christina Hendricks’s jaw-dropping good looks and fiery locks could give her permission to play up to a catty, pretentious role, but her character is doting, kind, and, as seen last night, empowered. Breaking the standard of the hopeless housewife, Joan places herself alongside ballbuster Peggy Olsen and the new African American secretary, Dawn. Joan’s devotion to the firm is admirable, as is her indefatigable efforts at motherhood. She depends on her mother for help around the house, but not in a way that neglects her motherly duties (ahem, Betty). She’s a survivor and a fighter, just like nurse number nine.
Golden boy Don Draper, however, could not have looked more unsettled last night. He was feverish, coughing, and plagued by the ghosts of his past, who have not faded despite his marriage to svelte and sexy Megan. Don’s paranoia seems to be centered on upholding the Don Draper philosophy, which makes his disintegration all the more troubling. Only recently did “fidelity” make it on Don’s short list of values, right beneath “scotch” and “more scotch.” So far, Mad Men has promoted the sterile, clean-cut 1950’s ideal, except during Don’s departures from reality lead by women of varying backgrounds (he once went on a bender with beatnik Midge and her proletarian buddies). The set, the costumes, the politics — all Wonder Bread.
But when Don’s world, albeit illusory, is threatened, an animalistic instinct awakens. Old flame Andrea Rhodes, who flirted with him in front of Megan, appears at Don’s apartment and seduces him. But after the act, she insists infidelity is a “mistake you love making … because you’re sick, sick.” In a sweaty rage, Don strangles the woman and shoves her beneath his bed in a truly Lord of the Flies moment. He later awakens to Megan with no body in sight. It was only a dream.
But the vision lingers. What would Don have done if Andrea really had threatened destroyed his marriage? Unlike the sole survivor of the nurse-murders, Andrea’s lifeless leg stuck out from beneath the mattress. Perhaps Don’s lifestyle was just a veneer, and the only thing oppressing his id was the steady flow of alcohol and loose women. Would he have been capable of murder?
The writers have touched upon unfathomable brokenness of human nature. While characters like Joan are a rose among thorns, the world seems to have an awful lot of thorns.
Meghan Thomassen is a Boston native studying English, Philosophy and Literature at the University of Notre Dame. She aspires to work in publishing, or travel the world, or do both. Her favorite authors include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Plato, and Oscar Wilde. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow her on Twitter @thomassentropes.