“The Monolith” opens with Pete rambling and girlfriend, Bonnie, distracted. A man is staring at them, but it turns out he’s the bearer of opportunity.
They may serve up molded meat and fast fries, but cue the hot potato! No, not on the menu – in the SC&P offices, also known as Donald Draper. He’s become the albatross around everyone’s neck as he idly occupies a dead man’s spot, gnashing his teeth until there’s something to work on.
Don… Play Ball!
But hey, he’s trying to play ball. The Big Guy is sucking it up as he watches the other partners make decisions without him. He isn’t shooting off his mouth and he isn’t drinking. Besides, he has spare time to read Portnoy’s Complaint during lunchtime! How juicy (and fitting) is that?
Poor Don. He’s doing his best to swallow his pride and follow the rules.
Wait. Did I say he swallowed his pride? Did I say he wasn’t drinking?
Can that. Soda can that. As in swiping a bottle of booze from Roger’s office and filling a soda can as his frustration boils over.
Ever notice how Don looks more like Dick when he’s totally trashed?
Fast Times? Fast Food? Pulling a Fast One?
And so begins Don’s assignment to Peggy’s team, pursuing the potential of three million in billings as they prep a pitch for Burger Chef. But might Don be just as potentially “monolithic” as the new computer that takes over the Creative Lounge?
Let’s just say that computing power is the way of the future, and the future is moving in with or without Don’s participation. All hail the arrival of the IBM 360, to the chagrin of most, and the satisfaction of a smug Harry Crane and an upbeat Jim Cutler.
As for Don providing 25 “tags” to give to Peggy?
Lou thinks he’s pulled a fast one on Peggy and Don by tying these two together. And Don treated like a Junior Copywriter? Hello, Bottom of the Bottle after all – especially when his idea to pitch Lease-Tech and dive into the computing marketplace is ignored by Bert Cooper.
The role reversal scenes in this episode are engaging, as Don finds himself copywriting for Peggy and she’s doing her thing keeping him in his place: She sends her secretary to tell him she wants to see him and Don says “send her in,” but he’s told “no, I’m to send you in.”
Crane has curried Cutler’s favor as he, too, finds himself in a position of power, sniping at his former boss: “Some of us have work to do.”
But who would have thought that it’s Freddy who saves the day, rescuing Don from his self-sabotaging impulses?
Freddy whisks Don out of the office, pours him onto his couch that evening, wakes him with coffee in the morning, and lays a lecture on him that only one who’s been there can. He reminds his former colleague that he’s been given a second chance and he shouldn’t screw it up. He can give the partners what they want by killing himself or, as Freddy says in no uncertain terms: “Do the work, Don.”
It isn’t summertime yet, but the moon landing isn’t far off and Woodstock, only a few weeks later. Did we have enough references to the moon and the stars in this episode? Hello?
A bit of overkill on that score, I’d say, but Margaret Sterling running away to a commune is a delightful twist. Did I say Margaret? Make that “Marigold”… as Momma Mona reports to Roger:
She woke up and got in a van with some hippies…
Mona has a few other choice words for and about her daughter later on, and her son-in-law as she comments on marrying off Margaret to Brooks:
I thought he was good enough for the time being.
And let’s give it up for this line maternal Mona delivers, trying to convince her daughter to hightail it out of Hippie Land and head home:
These people are lost and on drugs and have venereal diseases.
Meanwhile, I wonder how many others on the show will be donning their love beads and going wild at Woodstock. Think Sally may give it a go?
More Over Creatives, Here Come the Computers!
There’s an apocalyptic feel to the scene when Don enters a seemingly silent office – no staff, a phone dangling off the hook, the corridors completely empty. He hears voices upstairs and joins the meeting at which few are pleased at the arrival of the new “technology,” and we see the Creatives crowded out by the coming of the computer. Stan comments: “That computer is the Mona Lisa.” His perception is the exception. Everyone else is skeptical at best, and Don is concerned with how many people will be replaced by machines.
Lease-Tech Lloyd, the guru responsible for installing the IBM 360, tells Don that people are fearful of computers because they can store infinite amounts of information. Don starts to see infinite ad revenue!
Too bad Bert shuts him down.
As for Cutler’s vision, he wants every client to see the IBM and know “this agency has entered the future.” After all, “the computer is going to do all sorts of magical things, including making Harry Crane seem important.”
Redefining Ourselves, Late 60s-Style
Isn’t the decade of the 60s about rebelling against type, about saying no to the establishment, about seeking and asserting both individual and collective redefinition?
One of the more appealing lines in this episode is spoken by “Marigold,” as she tries to explain to her parents that she is where she wants to be – namely, on the commune. She’s happy, she wants this happiness, and she rejects her parents’ expectations. She says:
I’m tired of accepting society’s definition of me.
Great line! And couldn’t Peggy have said the same, or Joan, or Dawn, or in his own way, Dick Whitman before becoming Don Draper?
Margaret says “I’m grateful I don’t have to lock myself in the bathroom with a pint of gin everyday… I’m telling her the truth and she doesn’t want to hear it.”
Mona won’t be receiving any mother of the year awards as she tells her ex: “I’d think she was brainwashed but there’s nothing to wash.”
Lou in a Suit
This episode delivers us Lou in a suit. He finally steps out of his Mr. Roger’s sweater, though he’s no more impressive in his conservative duds. Threatened by his predecessor’s presence, he stops Cutler and protests: “I thought we’ had an understanding about Don… He’s going to implode.”
Cutler is one cold, “cutting” SOB. He responds: “That’s a distinct possibility. On the other hand… you might get some good work.”
Don’s an asset, right? They’ll either squeeze some value out of him or push him into calling it quits.
And speaking of suits, what’s not to love about the IBM uniform on most of the men of the “older” generation? They’re all in white shirt, dark tie, and seemingly a blue suit – hair neatly trimmed and above the collar. Even Peggy is standing against a blue-gray background in one of the key scenes in Lou’s office, and later, don’t we love the effect of the skyline through the blinds, creating a visual reminiscent of the punch card? Nice touch.
Moments Worth Pondering
Several scenes caught my attention as intriguing, or slightly off-base.
- Don schmoozes with Lloyd and seems to enjoy it. Of course, that’s before he’s pissed… and pissed… In a sloppy state, he gets in the guy’s face. He says: “I know you… You go by many names…” Lloyd resembles a younger Don. Does drunken Draper think he’s talking to Dick in the mirror again?
- Let’s consider the handling of Peggy’s raise – $100/week is a pile of money for 1969, and frankly, I don’t buy it. Though Lou positions it as paying her for what she’s worth, Peggy quickly understands it’s the price of dealing with Don, as Lou says, “You’re in charge… Sweetheart.” Perfect. Give with one hand, slap with the other – twice.
- There are poignant words between Roger and “Marigold,” seemingly appreciating each other in father-daughter scenes. Touching to see, though it all goes bad the next morning.
- As for comments on the “importance of fathers,” it’s not very 1960s… or 70s… or 80s. Those remarks (as well as Mona’s commentary on motherhood) seem all too 21st century and don’t ring true.
- The last scene provides nice closure. Don gets off the elevator. He sees the computers settling in. He can’t be the obstacle, the immovable object, the monolith. Not if he wants to stop his fall. Peggy walks by and says: “Good morning.” Don replies: “I’ll have your tags by lunch.”
That’s right, Don has to dig deep and dig in. He may have looked at Lloyd and glimpsed his past, but Freddy is his future if he doesn’t “do the work.”
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