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“The Crash” is an episode that surely polarize the Mad Men audience; it will incite strong feelings of both praise and disapproval from viewers, while at the same time leave some viewers perplexed, questioning whether they liked it or not. But regardless of the attitude one takes about the episode, it is without a doubt a memorable hour of the series as a whole. After Jim Cutler gets the majority of the creative staff insanely high on a sketchy “complex vitamin superdose,” the show takes on a very deliberate surreal and trippy turn, making even the viewer feel as if he/she is under the influence of Dr. Hecht’s super energy serum. As Don experiences the effects of the recently administered drug and his subconscious seeps into the reality of his surroundings, we go through the mind-altering, disorienting symptoms along with him. Don’s psyche jumps back and forth between the memories of his past as a young man and his present, and the two meld together and are ripped apart in odd, sometimes jarring transitions giving much of the episode a hallucinatory quality.
The episode definitely harkens back to season five’s “Far Away Places,” in which we accompany Roger in his first LSD trip, and the interwoven, yet disjointed storylines of the episode imparts the appropriate surreal touch to the installment. While the episode employs uncommon narrative and stylistic techniques (for Mad Men), it is still very much about the characters (in this case Don, Roger, and Peggy) and what they are going through in that specific time. The new style helps to communicate the state they find themselves in and doesn't distract from the characters’ stories. In “The Crash,” the fact that most of the people in the office, and most importantly Don, are under the influence of this energizing serum becomes the focal point, instead of the characters themselves. Sure, there is some character development with Don; the flashback scenes provide us with personal insight into who Don is (nothing that we couldn’t have inferred from his behavior: serious mommy issues, sexualization at a young age, etc.), and even Stan gets his moment, but the bulk of the episode consists of disparate moments of people being wacky.
I spent most of the episode anticipating what the next insane thing would be, waiting for another bizarre and nonsensical event that would certainly leave me laughing out loud or just completely stunned and mystified. As a result, this episode offers no real storyline to latch onto, or the one provided is not strong enough to pull the episode together, which is where the episode ultimately fails. “The Crash” essentially becomes a string of zany moments that, although absolutely enjoyable as they occur, don't amount to much as the episode comes to a close. Admittedly, there is a myriad of brilliantly amusing and entertaining moments in this hour, which also makes it one of the funniest episodes to date. Ken’s improvised and manic tap-dance as he talks to Don, “It’s my job!”, Stan racing Jim Cutler through the office, Don’s intense motivational speech, the copywriters attempting to out-William Tell one another: all fantastic moments which, along with many others, made the episode worthwhile. Some might say that this was too much of a departure from the Mad Men we all know and love, but there have always been these kind of "experimental" episodes in the series’ run. As I mentioned before, “Far Away Places” took a departure from the standard narrative, as did the beloved season four favorite “The Suitcase,” a bottle episode that focused on the relationship between Don and Peggy, and even earlier episodes like “The Fog,” “Marriage of Figaro,” and “Seven Twenty Three,” among others, played with audience expectations of the show and its narrative.
So the writers are no strangers to trying new things and taking risks, even if some creative departures have not been entirely successful. For that alone, there should be some appreciation for Weiner’s zeal and the conviction with which he writes and runs the show. He is unafraid to alienate or even anger fans, as we have seen in the past (the decision to have Joan essentially prostitute herself last season was deeply contentious amongst fans of the show), for the sake of his creative authority and his desire to tell his story. While “The Crash” might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it cannot be denied that it is a creatively ambitious work of television and has a lot going for it. So I find myself defending the cluttered episode, for its unabashed determination, even if it does dissolve into an aimless exercise. Regardless of the misgivings I have about the episode, there is a lot to enjoy in the hour and, ultimately it is a lot of fun to watch. I let myself be carried by he crazy and absurdity of it all and don't find myself hating it; on the contrary it is quite entertaining to just let the episode fly by. Fundamentally, television is a means of entertainment, and this is, if anything, wildly entertaining. No one could accuse the episode of being dull or boring; at the very least it will incite a reaction from the audience, which is by far a better reaction than indifference.
-- From the very opening scene it is evident that this is not the average Mad Men episode; the car scene has a dreamlike quality even before the drug theme is introduced. I even questioned whether what we were watching is real or just a glimpse of one of Ken’s short stories or an actual dream.
-- Don’s obsession with Sylvia gets increasingly disturbing in this episode and kind of pathetic. After that initial phone call, Don seems like such a sad character; it is hard to remember an instance when he appeared more pitiful, even with everything he has gone through.
-- Blonde, almost-skinny Betty is back - still a gigantic, amazing bitch, though. Her anger is somewhat justified, but her jab at Megan is pretty harsh, “…she’s off on the casting couch.” Ouch.
-- Given the episode’s dreamlike and heightened style, "Grandma Ida’s" appearance is uncanny and gives the impression of another weird dream/hallucination scene; even though Don isn't there I keep expecting him to show up as if he were imagining the whole thing. Poor Sally, she knows absolutely nothing about her father. Does anyone?
-- The Stan and Peggy scene is probably the best one in the episode; I appreciate the fact that they slow down the pace of the office scenes. Out of all the potential love interests Peggy has had on the show (Pete, Duck, Abe, Mark, Ted, even Don) Stan Rizzo is probably the most appropriate and logical pairing, and even though she does say that he is like her brother, I would not be against this connection. It would probably be a better idea than attempting something with Ted. Elisabeth Moss and Jay Ferguson have a nice chemistry together, so I kinda wanna see it happen. It is also nice to have a pretty Stan-heavy episode as well.
-- After Don’s realization regarding his feelings for Sylvia, and we see the signature elevator scene with them together, he finally seems as if he is beginning to let go. Let’s hope this is the last of that drama.
-- In the end, Don refuses to be a toy thing to the people at Chevy (unlike Ken who is forced to essentially be their dancing monkey – used for the dinners and perks he provides). Does this show Don’s descent, his refusal to work hard or care for the agency, or is this a power play to make Chevy take notice and pay attention to their ideas?
-- Just one scene with Mr. Peter Campbell, a brief appearance by Harry, and absolutely no Joan this episode.
-- “Chevy is spelled wrong!”