In July 1966, Richard Speck entered a dormitory that housed nine student nurses. He methodically murdered and raped eight of them. He left the dormitory in the morning, unaware that he had missed a girl. She hid from him under a bed. Speck was caught three days later. “Mystery Date” revolved around Speck’s act, though it did so in ways you might not have initially noticed. I certainly missed the subtler references to Speck on my first viewing, and the episode only began to make sense after I googled the murder to see if it had actually occurred. I’d not heard of it before. But the murder of the eight nurses was real, of course, and Speck's act is integral to understanding “Mystery Date.”
The episode juxtaposed three pairs of characters—Don and Andrea, Sally and Grandma Pauline, and Joan and Greg—all of them ‘mystery dates’ (a term borrowed from the advertisement Sally saw). The episode had the pairs trying to figure each other out. I don’t think Don, Sally, or Joan were successful in unweaving the other person they were paired with, though at least Joan’s thread came to something like a resolution. Let’s examine the three sets.
The Sally we find in Season Five is almost an adult. She might have made it into adulthood far before her years, but she lacks the crucial contexts that would allow her to navigate life. She's only twelve-years-old after all (I’m assuming she’s around that age); she has no actual life experience. Though the women in her life—Betty and Grandma Pauline specifically—are desperate for her to act like an adult, they persist in treating her like a child. I imagine it feels like you’re being pulled apart at the seams.
Grandma Pauline wisely refuses to clue Sally in on the Speck murders, but the kid ferrets the newspaper out of the trash, reads the horrific details, and promptly can’t go to sleep. She finds some solace in her step-grandmother—there’s a modicum of humanity under that fatty, thorny exterior after all—and is lulled to sleep by a delicious pharmaceutical. So she’s well on the path to adulthood! And where does she pass out? Hiding under the sofa, where Richard Speck won’t find her.
Sally’s segment was simple, though it reaffirms to us one thing: this kid isn’t ready for the bigs yet, and probably never will be, because her mother certainly never became an adult. Sally’s sexual switch has already been flipped (she was caught masturbating during a slumber party in Season Four), and everyone certainly wants her to become more mature, but she’s being forced into a place she isn’t ready for. It’s truly tragic. Sally’s compass has been spun like a dreidel. She has been ruined.
Last night, Don Draper tried to kill a part of himself. The episode set out, neatly I thought, with Don and Megan being intruded upon by an old flame of Don’s, Andrea. Don, plagued by some nasty fever, ended leaving work to rest, only to find his home invaded by his old lover.
Andrea was, of course, a hallucination. That much was clear from the beginning, but she was also a very real part of Don’s psyche. Andrea was, for all intents and purposes, the part of Don that relishes adultery and bad behavior, the part of Don that feasts on chaos. He ended up exorcising her by strangling her to death. So, Don desperately wants to settle down with Megan. He earnestly wants this relationship to work. In killing Andrea, he was trying to cure himself. Andrea became limp—the adulterous part of him became limp—and he collapsed backward.
That one girl that Richard Speck missed? The girl that was hiding under the bed? She lived to see another day. Don may think that he’s conquered that demon, but it’s not going anywhere. Andrea’s body wasn’t there when he woke up. It wasn’t there because she wasn’t real, but it also wasn’t there because she got away. She’ll be back—that part of him will be back—don’t you worry.
The dream sequence was utilitarian and as effective as it needed to be: we got a clear look into Don’s state of mind. This is the first concrete evidence we have that he actually wants this marriage to stick, but the sad thing is that he’s not capable of it. His childhood, the abuses he’s suffered, the bad experiences he’s had—they’re all still haunting him. He’ll never be rid of them, not without therapy. He’ll always have to deal with that side of himself. Did you notice the nice piece of framing where Megan appeared to split Don from his bad half? I’m not convinced that he’ll ever win the battle he’s fighting.
Andrea: I’ll see you later.
Don: No, you won’t.
Andrea: Don’t argue with me... I have to get out of here—hotel next time?
Don: No next time. It was a mistake.
Andrea: A mistake you love making.
Don: I better not see you again. You’re not going to ruin this.
Andrea: You loved it. And you’ll love it again.
I’ve always admired Joan. She has a tremendous amount of agency and confidence and canniness, and she unveiled it all in a flurry here. Joan’s mystery date of two years has come to an end. She realized that she didn’t know Greg when she married him and that she still didn’t know him years later. But she knew one thing: she knew that he was a very bad person.
She approached the separation more coolly than how we might have expected. How is she going to support her child, after all? But we can’t forget this: she knows, and we know, that’s probably not Greg’s kid. In fact, it’s surely not his. It’s Roger Sterling’s. And that has to make ejecting Greg easier for her. She can’t have been comfortable with the fact that the man raising her son wasn’t actually the boy’s father, especially a man like Greg, a man she describes as fundamentally disturbed.
I expect Lane to come into the picture. In the season opener, she broke down in tears before Lane, something that she wouldn’t do before anybody else, except maybe Roger. There’s always been an energy between Lane and Joan. It came to the fore in the premiere, and I think that when Joan returns to the office next week we’ll see their relationship start to develop. (Regarding Lane’s marriage, we’ve never seen him happy with his wife. And you’ll recall he was dating the black hostess for a while.)
I found this episode to be well-handled, but I’m definitely getting the feeling that Season Five is more lightweight than the previous four. It almost seems a little cartoony in parts; Peggy has become comedic, her facial expressions bordering on slapstick; I can’t tell whether it’s because it’s the late-60s and the youth is coming unwound or whether it’s because Mad Men has become too easy. I hope it’s the former, though I’m really not sure.
Did anybody else think Peggy was going to make a move on Dawn at some point? Peggy was crocked, and there was some weird sexual tension going on in that scene. Or was I just imagining it? Will Joan get together with Lane? And will Don’s adulterous personality clamber out from under the bed and bare its fangs again? I think so. I hope so. He wouldn’t be Don Draper otherwise, right?