So now we’re at the halfway point in my Mad Men Season 7 rewatch: The Monolith. This is, sadly, the first of the four episode recaps lost to the total blog meltdown that happened last year. I don’t remember what I wrote before, of course.
Bert Cooper: Why are you here?
Don Draper: Because I started this agency!
Bert: Along with a dead man, whose office you now inhabit.
What I noticed this time, though, was the extent to which suicidality and despair permeated the episode. Specifically, Lane Pryce and his death are everywhere.
In the final scene of Field Trip, the somewhat odious terms of Don’s return are spelled out in the partners’ meeting. Several of the “conditions” are meaningful. They may be hampering Don’s creativity when they tell him not to go off-script, but his Hershey meeting is fresh in their minds. Restricting drinking in the office is also pretty damn reasonable. But giving him Lane’s office? That’s just cruel. It serves no purpose except as a symbol. Don is dead to them.
In episode 7.02, Pete said ” Sometimes I think maybe I died, and I’m in some kind of—I don’t know if it’s heaven, or hell, or limbo—but I don’t seem to exist. No one feels my existence.” Now, in the opening scene of The Monolith, Pete learns that his father-in-law had a heart attack. No one told him about it—as if he doesn’t exist. And the heart attack itself, even though Tom Vogel is fine, is a reminder of mortality.
Don arrives at the office and finds it empty, as if he is in limbo, and hears the tick-tick-tick of an off-the-hook phone hitting the side of a desk. Time and emptiness—those are some heavy motifs. The Creative team is told they will lose their lounge to make room for the computer, and Ginsberg wants the couch. As Stan and Ginsberg argue over the couch, Ginsberg refers to “Lane’s office,” and Stan corrects him: “You mean Don’s.”
Then Don finds Lane’s Mets banner under his desk. Lane loved that banner and hung it next to his door. It’s clearly visible in the scene where they cut down his body.
You have to wonder at the thought process there. You can think, Oh, he just found it unbearable to throw that last reminder away, something Lane found so precious. Don has plenty of guilt and remorse over Lane’s death, after all. Yet there’s a part of it that is a morbid sort of acceptance. They’ve given him the dead man’s office, the dead man’s couch, the dead man’s things. Meanwhile, they give him no work, no life.
The only work he’s been given is meant to be humiliating, not just because he’s working for Peggy, but because the work is structured in a decidedly uncreative way. Peggy was Don’s protege, so working for her is an insult. At the same time, let’s not forget how sexist Don is. It’s amusing to note that Don is reading Portnoy’s Complaint, a book about emasculation, while this is going on.
Then there’s a beautiful moment where Don appears to come “back to life;” when Lloyd invites Don to engage in a conversation about advertising. It’s very alive, and naturally, we’re reminded of the old Don. So is he, and he’s excited.
Then Bert slams him down. He’s a “dead man.” It’s as sadistic a thing as Bert Cooper has ever said. It’s bristling with cruelty. And it makes no business sense, frankly. All Bert has to do is get an account man (or Joan) to talk to Lloyd. He could (sadistically) cut Don out of the creative process while still going after the business. There’s a complacency (“we’re doing fine”) that is not just ugly, but that feels like the Devil’s own work.
You know—as in the Devil that Don later likens Lloyd to. Lloyd is Satan for awakening Don’s creative urge when he was supposed to remain dead.
But we’re not done with Lane references. Having been viciously dismissed by Bert, Don lays on the couch—the same couch where he helped lay Lane’s body after cutting him down—and gazes at the Mets banner. Lane’s banner is Don’s inspiration.
Meanwhile, at the commune, Marigold/Margaret and Mona obliquely argue about suicidal feelings. Though neither says it in so many words, the picture of a desperate Mona locking herself “in a bathroom with a pint of gin every day”, while Margaret runs away to avoid the same fate, is a picture of deep despair. Like Don and Freddy, Margaret and Mona know about drinking to drown the pain.
Finally, Freddy says to Don, “Are you just going to kill yourself? Give them what they want?” Here, at last, it’s all spelled out, and once an actual discussion of “Don=Lane” is voiced, Don is capable of going back to work.