The penultimate episode of Mad Men airs this Sunday night. When we left off at the end of last week’s episode, things were very much in flux. Don left the office, and Manhattan, and the entire East Coast behind as he barreled west on a whim. Joan left McCann in dramatic fashion after dealing with waves of misogyny and an ugly run-in with her new boss. Peggy showed up to her first day of work with a painting of octopus porn under her arm. There was a lot going on.
Let’s peek at the next episode’s summary to see if we can figure out where this is all headed.
Don has trouble sleeping; Pete is blindsided by a friend; Henry arranges a family reunion.
This will always be one of my favorites things about Mad Men. Yes, the plot and dialogue, too. And, of course, the furious bursts of actions involving lawnmowers and fisticuffs and pharmaceutical-grade speed injected into everyone’s butts. All of it, really. But the amount of joy I get out of Matthew Weiner and AMC trolling the world with purposely vague and dry summaries, to the point they’ve almost gone beyond the countless parodies they’ve created? Impossible to quantify.
Think about that description up there for a second. “Don has trouble sleeping.” Well, yeah. Obviously. Don walked out of his very lucrative job mid-meeting and set off for the Great American Midwest to try to hunt down the depressed diner waitress he had weird alley sex with, and when his amateur detective work blew up in his face he proceeded to keep driving around aimlessly and pick up a shady looking hitchhiker, despite his very poor personal history with picking up hitchhikers. He is nothing if not a man in crisis, and men in crisis generally toss and turn a bit at night. Saying “Don has trouble sleeping” with all that going on is like ending a cliffhanger episode with Roger getting shot and then opening the next episode’s summary with, “Roger gets blood on his shirt.” It’s borderline diabolical.
And this one isn’t even the best example. Hell, it’s not even the best example from this season. That honor goes to the summary from two weeks ago.
Don comes up with a big idea; Roger asks Joan for help with a clerical error; Peggy has a hard time with casting for a commercial.
The “clerical error” Roger asked Joan for help with? That was the thing where the lease on the SC&P offices didn’t get paid, which happened because whoooooops McCann was swallowing them up without giving them advance notice or a say in the matter, effectively ending the run — save a few vermouth-fueled roller skating shenanigans — of the agency all of our plucky heroes/anti-heroes had called home in one way or another since the pilot. But sure, “a clerical error.” Everything you’ve been building for seven seasons just turned to dust. Ho hum.
That’s not to say any of this is a complaint. Far from it. First of all, it’s hilarious and always will be. Try a few yourself if you don’t believe me. Just make it sound as boring as possible. Like this: “Don has an important meeting; Peggy buys a houseplant; Rogers tells Stan how much milk cost when he was a kid.” Actually, no, that last part is way too specific. Can’t give away that plot point about the milk. It would probably be, like, “Roger reminisces.” Or “Roger talks to an unlikely ally.” Or something. Give the people nothing. They will love you for it.
And that brings me to my second point: As much of a goofy self-parody as the summaries have become (and we haven’t even talked about the cryptic “Next week on Mad Men” segments at the end of each episode, which are practically art at this point), I kinda prefer this way to the alternative. There is nothing worse than seeing a trailer for a movie or a teaser for a show that gives away a major plot point. (Hyperbole. There are many things worse than that. Poverty, inequality, honeydew, etc. Still.) These short, plain descriptions leave the door open for literally almost anything to happen, especially given the history of the show. Remember the episode where Ginsberg cut off his nipple and gave it to Peggy because he thought the computer was turning him gay? The episode summary for that one, I swear to God, set it up with “Peggy helps Ginsberg with a problem.” Let your mind roam free. You probably won’t be right, but that’s half the fun.
So, what does “Don has trouble sleeping” mean? I have no idea. But just for the hell of it, let’s go with, oh, I don’t know… because there’s a giant neon tiger named Ralph in his room. Can’t rule it out.