The title is a direct reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it won’t be the only one. A first visual clue comes in the form of a closed elevator that strongly resembles the monolith — a foreign piece of advanced technology that, in the works of Arthur C. Clarke, seems to trigger a sudden leap of evolution in those around it. In Mad Men, this god-like object is an IBM 360.
Living in the 21st Century, we’re all too aware of how computers have revolutionised the world; so listening to Ginsberg‘s prophetic warnings about how the machine is going to erase the creative team sounds like an accurate prediction of the future: those who adapt to this new technology will be fine; but those who remain stuck in the old way of making ads will be out the door in no time. In 1969, it’s evolve, or die.
But Roger will have his share of trouble in this episode: his daughter Margaret has runaway to join a hippie commune that rejects technology. Roger spends the night, perhaps seeing some resemblance between the free lifestyle they lead and the time when he tried to get away too. But with the morning light, reality and parental duties dawn on him. He fights to get his daughter back, literally dragging them both through the mud as Margaret‘s resentment comes out: Roger says she can’t just runaway because Margaret has a son, but isn’t that exactly what he did?
Ginsberg freaks out about the computer, trying to salvage anything he can from the creative room. He asks Don to help him with moving a couch, until Stan notes that it’s not going to fit and Don drops his end as he says to Ginsberg, “You’re on your own“ – a line who’s meaning will resonate on the next episode.
Don‘s day had a weird start: he arrives at SC&P looking sharp as ever, but the office is like a wasteland, with no one in sight and one of the secretary’s phone dangling creepily off the hook. Everyone is upstairs getting briefed on the arrival of IBM — a memo Don didn’t get, rendering him invisible. He returns to his office, from which “he never leaves”, with absolutely nothing to do.
Meanwhile Pete brings in a new client, the fast-food franchise Burger Chef. In a meeting with the partners Ted suggests that Peggy leads the campaign and everyone agrees, until Pete asks incredulously “Is Don not even on the list?“. We know this is in part due to Pete’s chauvinist ways but still, it’s nice to see someone thinking of Don.
Lou gives Peggy a raise and delivers the good news that she’s in charge of Burger Chef, just before informing her that Don is on her team, that he will be working for her; and of course, she’ll have to tell him that — which she does, with brilliant malice.
Peggy begins by asking him to come to her office. She then asks if she can offer Don anything to drink (clearly not aware of his comeback stipulations). The revelation is preceded by a “I’ve got great news” speech, like Don should be glad to work for her. But worst of all, Don‘s not the only one in the room — that guy from the creative team who’s name no one knows is there too, sitting right next to him, as if he’s on the same level as Don.
Of course guy is super excited, shockingly and hilariously contrasting with Don’s silent anger, and can’t stop himself from asking questions and congratulating Peggy. And while Peggy answers and thanks him, she has a whole conversation with her former mentor through some intense eye contact.
Jon Hamm doesn’t move a muscle throughout that whole bit, and I’m pretty sure that if looks could kill, Peggy would be dead on the floor right now. Don is furious and humiliated as he walks back to his office, but Peggy just smiles in contempt, and rather devilishly, too.
In the meantime, the IBM philosophy class continues as Don meets Lloyd, the tech guy. It’s a bumpy meeting thanks to Harry, who’s remark on SC&P having three creative directors diminishes Don in front of someone he’s just met (again, if only looks could kill). Finally he leaves, and Don is left with Lloyd, who starts talking about the IBM metaphor as if it is a casual conversation topic.
He speaks about how people are afraid of the machine because its ability to store infinite amounts of information reminds them of their own mortality. Lloyd further notes that the IBM can count more stars in a day than we can in a lifetime, to which Don beautifully replies, “but what man laid on his back counting stars and thought about a number?“
At lunchtime Lloyd comes to Don‘s office and they have a conversation about the prospects of his tech company. Don sees the potential for a new client and wants to tell someone at once. Roger is not there, so he goes to Cooper — bad move. He walks in all excited and ready to work, but Cooper puts him down with unexpected harshness:
Thus the symbolism of being in Lane’s office is resonating again, having Don thinking if he has become obsolete just like an old IBM model, and if he’s destined to rot in that tiny and grim office, as Cooper seems to want. The thought is infuriating, and he spends the rest of the day getting drunk in that death hole. Don wakes up from a nap, staring at the ceiling where Lane hung himself, and decides to drunk dial Freddy to invite him to a ball game.
Once again Freddy comes in and saves the day. He gets Don out of the office (thank god Meredith is clueless), and in the morning gives one hell of a pep talk. He asks, “Are you just going to kill yourself? Give them what they want? Or go in your bedroom, get in uniform, fix your bayonet and hit the parade? Do the work, Don.” So finally, Don arrives at the office, sits at his desk and stars typing the tags for Burger Chef. He’s back on the carousel.